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

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RoslinLaura Roslin (Battlestar Galactica)
If there’s one female Battlestar Galactica character that I think is ultimately even more badass than Starbuck, it’s Laura Roslin. Sure, Starbuck could waste her in a fight, but Roslin’s too smart to let it get to that — she’d have figured out a way to outsmart Starbuck before she landed a punch. Roslin, who is Secretary of Education in the pilot, ends up being president of… well, pretty much of the entire surviving human race after the Cylon attacks on the 12 colonies result in the deaths of everyone ahead of her in the line of succession. When she takes the position, it’s clear she’s in over her head, but under the circumstances, who wouldn’t be? She deals with her presidency — as well as the terminal breast cancer she’s fighting — with miraculous competence, both cold and compassionate as each situation dictates. She even orders Adama around a bit, until he decides that she’s awesome and that he agrees with her about pretty much everything — that is, until she becomes religious.

Some people didn’t like the plotline involving Roslin taking the psychotropic chamala extract for her cancer and then having visions and hallucinations that jived with the ancient prophecies, but I loved it. Roslin is exceedingly rational, so when she starts to waver from that, believing that she may be the dying figure that will lead her people to their new homeland, the dramatic tension ratchets up off the charts — especially when her visions fuel a mission that ends in multiple deaths. Roslin, like Starbuck, possesses a dichotomy that deepens as the show progresses, vacillating between hard and soft, practical and spiritual.

One of my favorite scenes is when she orders the Cylon Leoben to be put out the airlock after Starbuck spends an entire day torturing him for information. She promises Leoben safety if he tells her the truth; he does, and she has him killed anyway. Even Starbuck can’t believe it, but Roslin sums up her decision, and her character, perfectly:

During the time I’ve allowed him to remain alive and captive on this ship, he has caused our entire fleet to spread out, defenseless. He puts insidious ideas in our minds, more lethal than any warhead. He creates fear. But you’re right, he is a machine and you don’t keep a deadly machine around when it kills your people and threatens your future, you get rid of it.

Damn straight, Roslin! Roslin for president in 2016! – Joelle

ScullyDana Scully (The X-Files)
Even though Dana Scully is a scientist and doctor extraordinaire, her character wouldn’t have worked without Fox Mulder. They were two halves of a team that kept me glued to my TV every Sunday night for years. Mulder was the conspiracy theorist, the guy who acted on hunches and believed in pretty much everything supernatural, while Scully demanded evidence and played the skeptic to whatever crazy idea Mulder cooked up. As a litmus test, she was invaluable — Scully buying into an idea was the equivalent of an investigative gold star. I always appreciated that she went to medical school but opted not to become a doctor. Obviously she made the right choice — she’d have been bored stiff.

Despite her overwhelming rationality, Scully indulges some doubts and has Mulderesque moments of believing in unprovable theories, such as a death row criminal who claimed he could channel souls, including that of Scully’s dead dad. She does something that not many characters (or people) do, which is to admit that her skepticism and practicality were largely due to her fear of believing in things she could not see or prove. After Mulder’s abduction, she changes her tune, but throughout the show her brushes with the creepy and the unexplained have a resonance that Mulder’s don’t, given that he’s an easy sell.

Scully’s character is dynamic — while she’s well-defined, she also changes, rather than stubbornly clinging to her same beliefs. Scully vacillates between eschewing her faith and buying into it, which seems to be a pretty common characteristic among these heroines. One detail I always enjoyed is that Scully expresses an appreciation for my favorite horror movie: The Exorcist, which is particularly ironic given Scully’s Catholic upbringing.

Perhaps the most terrifying ordeal Scully suffers is being kidnapped by Duane Barry, a paranoid lunatic who had been shot by FBI in a standoff, but whom Mulder believed was the victim of an alien abduction. A month after having vanished without a trace, she shows up in a hospital in DC, comatose. She eventually awakens and the audience later learns that the Syndicate was responsible for her abduction, the chip implanted in her neck, as well as the cancer she gets (which Mulder helps cure with another chip). Some people believe she’s immortal, given her numerous brushes with death and a few choice comments that could be interpreted as implying such. Interestingly, her father gave her the nickname “Starbuck.” Scully also becomes pregnant, despite having been diagnosed as infertile, and while the father of her child is never officially revealed, most people think it was Mulder (duh!). It’s not 100 percent clear until the movie that the two were romantically/sexually involved, even though the show suggests it before then. While it seems inevitable that the two would end up together, their dynamic tension is what makes their partnership, and thus the show, so compelling. Scully doesn’t need a man! – Joelle

AsukaAsuka Langley Soryu (Neon Genesis Evangelion)
Asuka Langley Soryu is one of five children from around the world tasked with piloting giant robots called “Evas” in a post-apocalyptic Japan. She’s the half-German and half-Japanese pilot of Eva-Unit 02 and she’s brash, arrogant, aggressive in battle, and one of the best pilots of Nerv. She is pure Ego and she’s not afraid to flaunt it.

Asuka was introduced in episode eight of the original Neon Genesis Evangelion anime series, designed to act as a counter-balance to the series’ protagonist, Shinji Ikari. As the episodes unfold, we come to realize that Asuka’s demeanor is just at the surface level; beneath that, she’s as vulnerable and fragile as any other teenager. However, despite her feelings, she can completely get the job done to prove that she’s the best Eva pilot out there.

Ever since Asuka was introduced into the show, she has become a fan favorite for both the original series and the reboot. She’s also one of the more complex characters on the show, with plenty of her own demons and darkness to deal with. – Rudie

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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!