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

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AerynSunAeryn Sun (Farscape)
We’re introduced to Aeryn Sun just as the worst possible thing in the universe is happening to her. Well, what she would consider the worst possible thing in the universe at the time, anyway. The hard-ass Peacekeeper warrior and pilot is being held captive aboard a living ship full of escaped prisoners, and to make matters worse, they’ve tossed her into a cell with some doofus who looks like one of her species but who keeps insisting he’s from somewhere called “Earth.” Before you know it, she’s been declared “irreversibly contaminated” by alien influences, meaning she’s been booted out of the Peacekeepers and pretty much everything she’s ever known is now in the toilet. Or whatever the Farscape equivalent of a toilet it.

Like most of the women on this list, Aeryn has a long journey ahead of her, taking her from what she believed to be her lowest point into a future she never could have anticipated. Those escaped prisoners? They’ll become her most trusted friends and comrades. The Peacekeepers? She’ll find herself taking up arms against them time and again. And that doofus from Earth? Well, his name is John Crichton, and he will become not one, but two of the greatest loves of her life. Raised in rigid military fashion by the Peacekeepers, her time aboard Moya shows her the challenges and rewards of questioning authority and charting your own course, even when you’re kicking around the Uncharted Territories.

And while Aeryn is by no means solely or predominately defined by her relationship with Crichton, that relationship is nevertheless one of the best ever explored in the genre, partly in thanks to the white-hot chemistry between Claudia Black and Ben Browder. Part of the fun of that relationship is the way it flips the stereotypical dynamic: Aeryn is by far the more physically capable of the two, and Crichton is often more in touch with his emotions than she is, a legacy of her Peacekeeper upbringing that she never quite shakes off. Her journey through the series is a reminder that the things you take for granted can drop out from under you without warning, but what matters then is how you rise to the challenge. – David

RiverRiver Tam (Firefly)
Joss Whedon’s Firefly is one of my all-time-favorite shows. I discovered it in 2008, long after it was canceled and long after the feature film Serenity was released. I knew nothing about the TV show, but felt compelled to watch it for some reason. The pilot was OK, but it really didn’t capture my interest until Captain Malcolm Reynolds opened the mysterious box that one of his new passengers, Simon Tam, brought onboard his ship. Inside was River Tam, played by Summer Glau, Simon’s younger sister.

Why did he keep her in the box? Why was the Alliance after her? As the show unfolded and many other storylines were introduced, River’s story was one of my favorites. In fact, my favorite episode of the series is “Objects in Space,” where the bounty hunter Jubal Early captures the ship. River shined in this episode as we began to learn more about her special skills.

It wasn’t until Serenity that we got to see River in action, taking down an entire bar full of people, that we finally got a glimpse of why the Alliance wanted her so badly. We may not have gotten much of the Firefly ‘verse, but we’ll always have River kicking ass against an entire room full of Reavers. – Rudie

StarbuckKara “Starbuck” Thrace (Battlestar Galactica)
Love her or hate her — and I’ve met plenty of people who feel both ways — there’s no question Starbuck is a compelling character. Dirk Benedict, who played Starbuck on the original Battlestar Galactica series, was beyond angry about what he called the “castration” of the character, but in case you haven’t seen the original BSG lately, Katee Sackhoff’s Starbuck has far bigger balls than Benedict’s. She’s not afraid of a fight, whether it’s with a Cylon, her XO, or a boxing match with her lover. After surviving a crash landing, she figures out how to activate and fly a Cylon raider, which she later uses to successfully fly back to Caprica to locate and retrieve the Arrow of Apollo, which was then used to “open” the Tomb of Athena and show the survivors of the Twelve Colonies the way to Kobol.

My favorite Starbuck moment is in the episode in which they’ve teamed up with Battleship Pegasus and its terrifying, insane, civilian-slaughtering Admiral Cain. After it becomes clear that the crews of Pegasus and Galactica can’t live in harmony, Cain’s got an assassin ready to off Adama and Adama’s got Starbuck ready to off Cain, despite the fact that Cain just made Starbuck her CAG and Cain understands Starbuck in a way no one else does. That Starbuck is prepared to shoot Cain in the head on Adama’s orders, despite not being a cold-blooded killer and despite honestly respecting and appreciating Cain, exemplifies all of the dichotomies of the character — single-minded yet torn in different directions, compliant yet subordinate, spiritual yet practical, afraid of disappointing others and afraid of disappointing herself, yet somehow afraid of nothing.

We’ll forget back-from-death Starbuck. I never did buy that whole ending. On io9, Ronald Moore said of resurrected Starbuck:

She is what you want to think of her. It was left deliberately nebulous and vague. And I think she was a representative of an entity that didn’t like to be called God, but everybody else talked about it in godlike terms. If you want to call her an angel, you could say that.

I don’t want to call her an angel. I want to call her an asshole — and I mean that in the most affectionate way possible. – 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!