Strong representations of women in science fiction films are few and far between. Aliens’s Ellen Ripley and Terminator 2’s Sarah Connor are quintessential versions of strong and powerful women in the science fiction/action genres, so we thought you'd like to find a few more. While we have many great examples in the last few years, including Ex Machina, Mad Max: Fury Road, 10 Cloverfield Lane, and even the Ghostbusters remake, the list of science fiction films with female leads that are available for streaming on Netflix is a strong but small group. Check out these recommendations to continue your journey with some badass women in genre cinema.
Serenity [Joss Whedon, 2005]
Serenity features a ragtag team of space cowboys from strong female protagonist supporter Joss Whedon. Serenity serves as closure for Whedon’s Firefly [which is also available to stream on Netflix] serving as a “final episode" of the quickly cancelled but beloved show. Summer Glau’s River Tam is a gifted teenage genius who is escaping medical experiments with the help of her brother when she comes across the crew of the Firefly-Class spaceship. She’s joined by Jewel Staite as Kaylee Frye, the ship's passionate mechanic, Gina Torres as 2nd in Command Zoe Washburne, Morena Baccarin as Inara Serra, a companion futuristic sex-worker whose trained in the psychology, social, and emotional support. Other non-female Whedon favorites Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk are featured, but we can't fault the film for that.
Contact [Robert Zemeckis, 1997]
Jodie Foster plays Ellie Arroway, a scientist that discovers what she believes is alien communication via radio signals that after some searching and deciphering, include 3D plans to build a machine for transport of a single-occupant. She is chosen to man the craft, though the rest of the film calls into question if her journey occurred at all. The grilling by a team of mostly men is reminiscent of Ellen Ripley’s interrogation by the skeptical team calling into question everything she experienced during the events that took place in Alien. While Contact is flawed, its philosophical approach to the oft asked question of the existence of extraterrestrials in
this adaptation of the Carl Sagan novel is worth the ride.
Upstream Color [Shane Carruth, 2013]
Amy Seimetz’s Kris is an unconventional strong female lead. Her quiet and subtle strength keeps her moving despite being kidnapped, drugged, and robbed, with no recollection of the events that occurred but lost time, and an eerie feeling that something isn’t right. Like the other women on this list, she fights back against her oppressor, and helps the other victims of his abuse. With minimal dialogue and complicated sound design, Upstream Color is worth the watch for the dynamic visuals alone. The muted intensity of Kris adds another layer to this intricate exploration of identity.
Barbarella: Queen of the Galaxy [Roger Vadim, 1968]
Barbarella is sexist and and trashy at its worst, but surprisingly progressive and empowering at its best. Jane Fonda plays the title role---sent across the galaxy by the President of Earth to retrieve a scientist who has developed a lethal weapon that might fall into the wrong hands. Through her adventures, Barbarella emerges as sexually-liberated and empowered, and always emerges as the victor over her enemies. Jane Fonda herself even brought attention to the strength of her character when she stated: “Most of the pictures where I was dressed to the teeth and played a cute little ingenue were more exploitative than the ones with nudity because they portrayed women as silly, as mindless, as motivated purely by sex in relation to men.”
Advantageous [Jennifer Phang, 2015]
Aging, unemployment, and parenting are complex themes brought up in Jennifer Phang’s Advantageous---not your typical sci-fi film. Jacqueline Kim plays Gwen, a single-mother that is let go from her job working as the star salesperson of drastic cosmetic surgery procedures. Gwen is desperate to provide quality education for her daughter, and is willing to do anything it takes to secure her future. Advantageous imagines women’s roles in the future. Sacrifice amidst adversity recalls Ellen Ripley’s risks to protect young Newt---at all costs. Advantageous is a feminist portrayal of strength and motherhood the delves deeper on the longstanding themes presented in Aliens.