Science Fiction is filled with badass, hardcore ass-kickers, both men and women. Yeah, it took a few decades to get beyond the whole “simpering female” schtick, but once the genre transitioned, it quickly developed more and better female action stars. The goal in putting together this list was to get the best and most badass sci-fi heroines. The ones that are more than just eye candy. Sure, they can be sexy, but they have to be more than that: sorry Emma Peel and Barbarella. Also, only one person from each title/franchise, or this whole article would just be Firefly characters.
I wasn’t really sure if Leeloo should make it on this list. She’s definitely a total badass, but part of the reason I wanted to put this together was to avoid a list where all the heroines are merely fap-fuel. I wanted a list of badass sci-fi ladies who weren’t just defined by their sexuality, but by other skills too, so it’s hard to ignore that Leeloo spent the first half of the movie wearing nothing but tiny bandages. Even so, that’s not the core of her character. She is a genetically engineered super-killer. Plus, the bandages don’t look out of place against the mad outfits that everyone else wears in the future.
18. Sapphire from Sapphire and Steel
Sapphire and Steel never made its way to America the way that Doctor Who has, which is a shame, because it’s much, much more mind-bending. There were only 34 episodes made over its four year run, about the titular pair of “time menders” who investigate and repair breaks in time. The episodes generally provided more questions than answers, which drove fans wild. Sapphire was played by Joanna Lumley, who was the marginally more human and empathic of the two otherworldly creatures, but she had just as big a hand in solving the reality warping problems that they faced as did Steel.
17. Olivia Dunham
Fringe took a while to grown on me, Olivia especially. The first season was spotty, but by the time season two rolled around, I was hooked. Dunham evolves into an incredibly nuanced character, and Torv’s acting is incredible, especially when she’s called on to play the much more free and careless Altlivia. And then she has to play an alternate version of the character pretending to be the main character, or the main character possessed by Leonard Nimoy. And through this all, she battles insanity, reality destroying dangers, is captured and escapes constantly, and can kick ass with the best of them. A consummate FBI agent, she’s not to be trifled with.
16. Sam Carter
Samantha Carter was the token woman on the SG1 team for a long time, but that didn’t make her any less competent or awesome than her compatriots. Team physicist and mathematician, she holds her own in fights, and was instrumental in most of the big plots to take out the bad guys in the show. It was her that came up with the idea of detonating a star in order to take out Apophis’ fleet, nobody blinked an eye when she was promoted to lead the SG1 team. She’s also appeared in all the Stargate series at one point or another, and always been an incredibly cool and competent character.
Both the original and reboot Uhura were incredible characters, but the original deserves some major freaking respect. Despite being something of eye candy for the bridge, Nichelle Nichols played the role with utmost professionalism, and brought a black lady into a multicultural future, while being an utter badass at the same time. Sure, her job might mostly have been a glorified secretary, but that didn’t stop her from getting in fights, going to alien planets, and being just as important as any of the men on the show. She was one of the first black women in a non-subservient role on TV, and was half of the first interracial scripted kiss on US TV. Don’t tell me that isn’t incredible.
14. Martha Jones
All of the Doctor’s companions since the refresh have been incredible. Rose was a shopgirl destined to save the universe, Donna Noble was in it just for the adventure and fun, and Amy is the girl who waited. But Martha? Unlike the Doctor, she’s an actual doctor. Even when in the middle of an alien war, her first instinct is to help the wounded. She’s unflappable, blisteringly smart and not putting up with anyone’s crap â€” yet empathic and feeling. Of all the new companions, she’s felt the most capable, most fully rounded, and most cool. The series is set on deifying Rose, but for my money, Martha’s a much better companion.
13. Dr. Eleanor “Ellie” Arroway
Female scientists are often weirdly portrayed in movies. They often have to be super-competent sexpots, reduced to brains with boobs, which are then loudly proclaimed as “three dimensional characters” because they’re smart AND beautiful! What they’re missing is any of the flaws that make for a real and interesting character. Jodie Foster as the opinionated and stupefyingly intelligent Dr Arroway in Contact shows how it should be done. Sure, she dresses up nice for formal occasions, but spends the vast majority of the movie dressed like a scientist, while still undertaking one of humanity’s most important possible tasks: contacting other life.
Sure the plot of Avatar was tedious and predictable, not to mention being the epitome of the Mighty Whitey trope, but Zoe Saldana as Neytiri kicked ass and took names. The daughter of the tribe’s chief, she’s competent, tough, intelligent and more than able to handle herself in a fight. Blending diplomacy with warfare, she’s a far more interesting character than Sully, a point made even clearer by the utterly incredible special effects that made her character possible. In a movie utterly dominated by cliches, she’s a developed and interesting character, which is more than you can say for the rest of the cast.
11. Devon Adair
Okay, I’m getting a touch obscure here, but bear with me, you should know the rest of the characters on the list. Devon Adair was one of the main characters in the short lived sci-fi series Earth 2, playing a billionaire with a dying son who finances a colonization attempt of a distant planet to try and find a cure for him. Adair is an effective and brilliant leader, and as cutthroat as anybody when she needs to be â€” but with a much softer side, attempting to care for her sick son. Unlike most other shows, Earth 2 rapidly switched to a metaphysical bent, playing with ideas of symbiosis and the Gaia hypothosis, the needs of people and the land and how they interconnect. For such a short running show, it had remarkably strong characterization, and Devon was a fantastic character â€” it’s just a shame the show never had a proper ending.
No surprises here. The Battlestar Galactica reboot shocked many when the first miniseries took the role of Starbuck â€” previously played by the smarmy Dirk Benedict â€” and put a hard drinking, smack talking tough-girl in it. Played by Katee Sackhoff, Kara Thrace is a top-gun pilot who is quick to jump in a fight and willing to sacrifice herself for her fellows at the drop of a hat. Plus a drinking problem. She was also one of the most well plotted characters on TV for years, with actual character change and evolution. Except for that whole bringing her back from the dead thing, what was that about?
9. Susan Ivanova
One of the more prominent officers of the Bablyon 5, Susan Ivanova was a major part of the first four seasons of B5, the archetypal warrior woman, but cursed to never find happiness. Throughout the series, her love and joy are fleeting, and every promotion she receives is met with more responsibility and less freedom to do what she really wants. Every relationship she enters into in the show ends tragically, most famously when the ranger Marcus Cole gives up his life to save hers. Noble and tragic, she’s one of the more fiercely loved and remember characters of Babylon 5.
I know many people remember Leia most in her slave outfit, the fodder of a million fantasies and poorly considered cosplays. Since I’m trying to skip the overtly sexual on this list, it would do you well to remember that she viciously murdered the alien who put her in that outfit. Despite being a princess in a royal family, Leia was independent, intelligent, willful, and knew which end of a blaster was which. Think of when she was rescued from the Death Star, and ended up being the one to grab a blaster, and get them out of there. Equal parts warrior and politician, Leia was a badass, slave outfit or no.
7. Zoe Washburne
I had an incredibly hard time limiting myself to a single character from Firefly, but in the end it has to be Zoe. Mal’s right hand woman has been in more fights than she cares to remember, will follow his orders to the letter, and then kick his ass for leading them wrong. She’s an awesomely tough woman, and then on the flip side is married to the most rational human being on the Serenity, Wash, who couldn’t hurt someone if he tried. Loyal, deadly, and with an understated, dry wit, Zoe was the toughest broad in the galaxy, and
Okay, yes, Trinity did wear a catsuit for most of the Matrix trilogy, but somehow it was different than, say, Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman or Emma Peel from the Avengers. She wasn’t all curves and sexy closeups, she’s razor edges and harsh angles in an outfit of black plastic. She’s not a sex kitten, she’s the archetype of the cyberpunk warrior, mirror shades and faster than you can think. The opening scene of the Matrix with her escaping from the agents is such a powerful and out of this world intro. Watching her in action throughout the trilogy was exhilarating, but as much as she was a fighter, she was also Neo’s tie to the real world. Or “real world” depending on which interpretation you like.
Man, watching this montage, I didn’t realise how incredibly 90s all of Scully’s suits were. Those are some sensible skirts and big shoulders, lady. Sensible foil to Mulder’s batshit insanity, Scully was every part as integral to the story as her partner, and even though he was the dramatic force behind much of the show, it was Scully who held it together. Even after Duchovny’s departure from the show, the character of Scully provided continuity where otherwise it might have fallen apart. It also helps that she’s actually a competent human being who spends as much time chopping into corpses as resident doctor-type as she does chasing down people with her gun drawn.
4. Aeryn Sun
Oh man, Claudia Black as Aeryn Sun. Farscape was so freaking good, wasn’t it? That show was just incredible, and helped along by Aeryn Sun, the meanest, toughest, fightingist woman in the galaxy. Raised a soldier from birth and then exiled from the army she lived in, her arc over the course of the show is about her growing the ability to love and feel emotions â€” plus beating the living crap out of everyone and everything in her way. The transformation from killing machine without feelings to badass warrior with a loving husband and child is a pretty impressive one.
3. Sydney Bristow
Sure, JJ Abrams has a history of making completely incomprehensible and needlessly thematically dense works, but he also puts together compelling and interesting characters. Example: Alias’ Sydney Bristow. Double and triple crossing CIA agent who has to constantly shift identities to undertake missions, her role marks the only time Jennifer Garner was culturally relevant. For the first two seasons, half the fun was watching her switch between the different roles she needed for the missions, seductress to action heroine to stealthy ninja. Yeah, the plot gets bogged down and bewildering in later seasons, but Bristow is still a consummate badass.
Ripley was a freaking badass in all the Alien movies â€” even the frankly mediocre Aliens 3 and Aliens Resurrection, but she really shines in the first two. Much was made of the fact that her role in Alien was originally written for a man, but casting Weaver in the part showed the easy egalatarianism of the future, as she’s not treated any differently from her compatriots for being a woman â€” and she’s the only one who survives the attack. The second movie? That’s when she really comes through. Fiercely angry about the actions of the company, protective of Newt, and an all around badass battler, she represents the closest thing that exists to an expert about the bugs. And that final battle scene in the exosuit? Dang!
1. Sarah Connor
Sarah Conner, the movie one, not the TV show one. In the first film, she was this wallflower, dragged out of danger by the badass from the future. The second one? She had time to prepare. She knew the apocalypse was coming, and she was going to be ready. What we see then in an institutionalized Conner, toned and combat ready. Obsessed with being prepared, she’s on the edge of losing all touch she has with humanity. She wants to be ready to fight the robots when they come, even though it makes those around her think she’s insane. Driven to obsession, violent and calculating, she is, at her heart, trying to protect both her son and the world. She’s also a total freaking badass, and the fiercest female character scifi has ever seen!