Ladies First: The Best Female Characters Of Sci-Fi Film And Television

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SarahManningSarah Manning (Orphan Black)
While many of the females on this list always seemed destined for greatness within the context of their stories, there is nothing about Sarah Manning’s life that appeared to be headed in the same direction as justice. Our entry point into Orphan Black is a lawless deviant struggling through a point in her life where her close proximity to drugs and criminal activity has kept her away from her daughter for a year’s time, and she is in need of a quick money fix. And in front of a speeding train steps Beth Childs…

This unlocks the door to a conspiracy-filled world populated by her clone sisters, a potentially evil corporation run by a smooth-talking mad scientist, and religious fanatics who believe that the science behind cloning is evil. Through the brilliant acting of Tatiana Maslany, we see Sarah step outside her comfort zone to pose as a cop and fool the most inefficient police force on TV, as well as impersonating her suburbanite clone Alison to fool an entire dinner party’s worth of possible spies, in a season that sees her character turn from a duplicitous thief to an eager detective driven by mysteries with outrageous implications. And she’s got a temper that’s as dark as her sense of humor. We can only imagine her heroine status will rise exponentially when season two airs next month. – Nick

LeiaPrincess Leia Organa (Star Wars)
Perhaps the most famous sci-fi heroine of all time, as well as one of the most beloved fictional princesses, Leia of Alderaan is as archetypal a character as there is, and she’s all the more memorable for it. Her beauty is only matched by her humility and indifference to her own appearance, her regality is mostly unassumed, and her bravery knows no bounds. She’s as quick to fire off a blaster as she is a sarcastic quip when Han Solo’s machismo comes on too strong. Plus, she makes a metal bikini look like the clothing of the gods. But you know what really makes Leia the most hardcore genre heroine in existence?

Not only does she begin the original Star Wars trilogy as a prisoner of Darth Vader for stealing the blueprints to the Death Star, but she eventually must fight against her captor knowing that he was responsible for destroying her entire planet, not to mention everyone she’d ever known and loved. Instead of going off into a dark corner and crying about it, she reaches under her signature hair buns and flips on her beast mode without ever looking back. And even though being lovesick isn’t always a beacon of strength, Leia is forced to cope with her newly admitted love Han Solo being frozen in carbonite and handed off to a deadly bounty hunter, so this is a little more complicated than high school puppy love. And you know what? She wins! – Nick

RipleyEllen Ripley (Alien series)
Other than Sarah Connor, I’m not sure there’s any heroine on our list who could stay in the ring with Ripley for longer than 10 seconds. She’s almost as frightening as the xenomorphs she fights at times, and she never pulls a punch. She’s often not particularly likable, but that never matters — the question of likability as it’s generally assessed is irrelevant with Ripley. She kicks ass, she saves lives, and she’s as serious as a heart attack. Even sci-fi writer John Scalzi
says that’s she’s so clearly the best female sci-fi character that she causes sci-fi writers to rest on their laurels and to not strive as hard to render heroines as compelling as her. And maybe it’s true. Ellen Ripley in a power loader, telling an alien to “get away from [Newt], you bitch!” and then preceding to beat the crap out of the terrifying creatures three times her size, really sums it all up. She never shies away from a fight, even if her opponent has teeth like razor blades and acid for blood. Ripley is such an iconic character, and Weaver is such a great actress, that she received an Academy Award nomination for her role in Aliens (and won a few others); the Academy likes to ignore sci-fi, but not even they could pretend Ripley/Weaver wasn’t awesome.

A scene that’s always stayed with me is in Alien 3, when the alien traps Ripley, snarling and drooling and being generally terrifying…and then doesn’t kill her. What’s scarier than having a xenomorph all up in your face? The realization that it didn’t kill you because you’re carrying an alien queen embryo. Ripley also faces the possibility of being used as a biological weapon by the Corporation, which is one of those painfully ironic and compelling twists that motivates such a character to do what needs to be done — i.e., swan diving into a furnace while clutching the alien bursting from her chest. It’s a great death scene — part sacrifice, part duel to the death, part funeral pyre. All badass. – Joelle

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  1. Glen says:

    This isn’t so much a list of the best, more just a list of female characters. Still, they’re all awesome.

  2. Nathaniel Bacon says:

    Where the Hell are Buffy Summers and Xena of Amphipolis?… This is inexcusable.

  3. Joelle says:

    I’m the biggest Buffy fan ever, but didn’t put her on the list because she’s not really sci-fi–she’s more fantasy. But yeah, she deserves a spot on any list!

  4. Denise Nader says:

    Hi there! I see you missed Samantha Carter from Stargate… She blew up a sun and saved Earth more than a couple of times whith science. Plus, she could kick ass in battle.

    Anyways, I’m glad to see Ivanova there. And Aeryn Sun. And Roslin!

  5. trekkie says:

    Where is 7 of 9.

  6. MrSatyre says:

    No Major Motoko Kusanagi?

  7. Johan Andersson says:

    See a lot of my favourite characters here, but no one from Stargate series at all? and way to few from Star Trek universe…

  8. kabienvenue says:

    I know this is just SciFi but where are some of the Doctor Who Companions? Sarah Jane Smith? River Song?

  9. Trickster says:

    River Song?

  10. ram says:

    The idea of having this list without Kira from DS9 is ridiculous.

  11. Palious13 says:

    What about River Song from Doctor Who? She should totally be on the list.

  12. Yahraah says:

    Where is Lt. Colonel Samantha Carter?

  13. Singanddance says:

    You have missed 7 of 9 from Star Trek: Voyager, while apparently ODing on Battlestar Galactica. Blech.

  14. Sarah Jane Smith says:

    You completely ignored any Doctor Who ladies. Bad bad bad… Surely River Song and/or Sarah Jane Smith deserves on this list.

  15. Dona McAdam says:

    Why didn’t you include Sam Carter from Stargate SG-1? She blew up a sun for cry in’ out loud!!! Saved the world A LOT!!!

  16. Mitch S says:

    Ripley needs to take a flamethrower to the AdExcite people.

  17. je says:

    What about Capt Janeway–Voyager, or Aeon Flux, or 7/9, or the original space babe Barberella, the blonde girl form the Maxx, or La Femme Nikita–tv series. he lady from Buck Rodgers, or even Xena- Warrior princess.

  18. Harriet says:

    How about Vasquez from Aliens?. Sje was the baddest, but she never got he respect she deserved …

  19. Lloyd Thompson Campbell says:

    No Janeway? WTF.

  20. James Verdejo says:

    Where the hell is Mila Jovovich/ALICE??

  21. dave says:

    what about River Song from Dr. Who?

  22. Brus says:

    They forgot Buffy.

  23. ffontao says:

    Nobody mentioned T’Pol of Star Trek: Enterprise! Kira Nerys of ST:DS9 is worth mentioning too, a real badass and not hard to look at either. But Ripley is the all-time winner badass of sci-fi!

  24. Francis Sanchez Rivera says:

    Uh… What about Sarah Walker from Chuck? and Agent Romanov aka Black Widow?

  25. Cee Ees says:

    Where on Earth (and the Milky Way) is Sam Carter??? I mean, really.

  26. Ashley Beeching says:

    I would of added Judge Anderson from 2012 film Dredd, as played by Olivia Thirlby.
    A very well rounded character and action heroine.
    Great list though. 🙂

  27. Spirit Sixtyseven says:


  28. Kristi Kinch says:

    Uh, no Samantha Carter from SG1? oookaaay then.

  29. kon says:

    I only know Ripley and Sara Connor..All the others are not so famous to the world. PS where is Xena the Warrior Princess anyway? When I hear kick ass women my mind goes straight to Xena..

  30. Vinnicius Dantas says:


  31. Ollie Walton-harrod says:

    Princess Leia Organa is definitely worthy.
    I get to Ellen Ripley: “Wait, why does the list continue”. – She’s so good.
    I get to Aeryn Sun “Yes”. I’m surprised Farscape is remembered here because it’s not too famous a series. But I’m glad; and she is definitely a good character. And I prefer her to Zoe and River, I think actually (Zoe, only just, though).
    River Tam – Yes, obviously. It’s ‘Firefly’. Though I hadn’t actually thought “oh, they’re definitely going to be on there” when I read the introduction.
    Trinity – I suppose, is badass. But I don’t like ‘The Matrix’, Possibly, mainly because, I don’t like the acting of Keanu Reeves (Neo) or Carrie Anne-Moss (Trinity) in it; I found both their characters boring. If only Will Smith had accepted the offer of the role of Neo.
    Nyota Uhura – Isn’t she just as good as anyone working on a spaceship console? I don’t think she’s anything special. – Other than, of course, being controversial at the time by being a black woman, but that wasn’t her character, that was her.

    Zoe Washburne – I would certainly not put as the best. I do really like her. But I prefer Aeryn, Leia and Ripley.

    I don’t think much of ‘The Hunger Games’ but Isuppose Katniss Everdeen’s character is a strong one; despite her inability to deal with telling a guy she doesn’t like him. – I’ve only seen the first ‘The Hunger Games’ film.
    I can’t really remember the ‘Terminator’ films.

  32. jeffrey says:

    what about SEVEN OF NINE or Captain JANEWAY

  33. Mathias says:

    Where the f*ck is Buffy Summers ?! This list is meaningless without her.

  34. Daniel Learmouth says:

    No Major from Ghost in the Shell?

  35. Awesome list! I had a really hard time putting together my top 10. I wanted to add Zoe and River but my list was about movies and I think they are more associated with Firefly and not Serenity. Check out my list over at New Geek Protocol!

  36. Daniele Fernandes says:

    Where is Samantha Carter? Or any lady from Doctor Who? There are some great characters on the list, but c’mon, Sam Carter is one of the best sci fi character from all time!