Sarah 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
Princess 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
Ellen 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