The 25 best female characters of the past 25 years

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September 2017 is SYFY's 25th anniversary, so we’re using it as an excuse to look back and celebrate the last 25 years of ALL science fiction, fantasy and horror, a time that has seen the genres we love conquer the world of pop culture. For us, that means lists! ALL THE LISTS! We’ll be doing two “25 greatest” lists per day all throughout September, looking back at the moments, people, and characters that shaped the last quarter century. So keep checking back.

Please note: Our lists are not ranked; all items have equal standing in our brains.

What items in our lists were your favorites? Did we miss something? We welcome respectful debate and discussion, so please let us know in the comments!

Sci-fi and Fantasy television and film has no shortage of classic characters, but many times those numbers are lacking when it comes to the female set. Thankfully, that has started to change. From fierce warriors to stalwart politicians to reluctant heroes turned revolutionaries, the past 25 years of genre TV and movies have given us dozens of characters for young girls (and boys) to look up to. Here are some of our favorites.

01

Alice (Resident Evil)

In a world where the evil T-virus is ravaging humanity and an even eviler corporation is behind it all, Alice manages to turn the things they did to her back on them. As with all stories, hers started simply enough and quickly blew way out of proportion. She was experimented on, forced through dangerous situations, hunted, and cloned, but eventually she was able to take the fight to them… several times.

02

America Chavez (Marvel Comics)

This past year we finally got to see America Chavez break out into her own series at Marvel Comics, and it was a long time coming. After first appearing in the series Vengeance in 2011, America Chavez quickly won the hearts of comic fans for her brash attitude and her awesome superpowers. She later became the leader of the Ultimates, taking over for Captain Marvel. Young, very tall (six feet!), Latinx, and queer, America Chavez has become a hero to many who find themselves left out of a lot of comic book superhero stories. Oh, and did we mention she can punch through dimensions?

03

Lara Croft (Tomb Raider)

Lara Croft has been a mainstay of American video games for more than 20 years. Her story has changed in that time, with recent games delving further into her origins, offering players a glimpse into how a young woman becomes the legendary Tomb Raider. But no matter what version of Lara you’re talking about, a few things remain the same. First, she’s incredibly smart. She knows her history, goes on archeological digs, and she solves puzzles like a BOSS. She’s also resourceful, able to build her own tools and weapons. Plus, she’s crazy brave and a surprisingly excellent fighter. She’s like four different superheroes rolled into one.

04

Jyn Erso (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story)

Jyn Erso, again, was a new kind of hero for female Star Wars fans. Rather than the eager young Rebel that was Princess Leia or the determined young fighter that was Rey, Jyn was reluctant, conscripted to the Rebellion. Despite her reluctance, Jyn was empathetic, proving that your perspectives can change when you meet people with whom you form a bond. While she might not have started out as a Rebel, Jyn’s growing love of the people with whom she worked strengthened her resolve, making her someone all little girls could look up to and proudly proclaim, “I rebel.”

05

Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games)

How do you solve a problem like the Capital? You find someone like Katniss Everdeen. Appearing in both The Hunger Games series of books and movies, Katniss started out a strong young woman who volunteered to risk her own life to save her sister’s. But when she outwitted the Capital and President Snow, she became a symbol that inspired a revolution.

06

Furiosa (Mad Max: Fury Road)

In a post-apocalyptic wasteland where water is the greatest commodity and women are treated as nothing more than breeders, it takes a very special kind of woman to overthrow the current regime and usher in a new world order. Imperator Furiosa wasn’t that person, until she was. Originally, Furiosa was just trying to rescue a small group of women, the wives of Immortan Joe, from their lives of sexual servitude. Breaking them out of the palace and smuggling them away from the city, she only wanted to bring them to a safe haven. But when she discovers that safety outside the city is only a myth, she, the wives, and a group of seriously badass ladies have to turn back and face the very man they’ve spent the entire movie fleeing.

07

Hermione Granger (Harry Potter)

Where would Harry Potter and Ron Weasley have been without Hermione Granger? The answer is, they would probably be dead several times over. Hermione was brilliant. She was book smart, yes, but she was also resourceful and wise beyond her years. And brave, of course, but then she WAS a Gryffindor. The Wizarding World owes a lot to a young Muggle-born witch, and the young girls who encounter her even now owe her a debt of gratitude for the way she has inspired then to become the “smartest witch of her age.”

08

Jillian Holtzmann (Ghostbusters)

When you’re busting ghosts you need a team and that team definitely needs to include a kick-ass science expert. Jillian Holtzmann is that expert. She’ll get you all the best toys (and they’re 100% lickable). Plus, she has great hair, keeps you on your toes with her adorable flirty persona, and doesn’t judge. You believe there’s a terrifying ghost werewolf haunting the bathroom in your office? She’s right there with you, as long as she gets to invent some awesome weapons.

09

Captain Janeway

In the Star Trek universe, Captain Kathryn Janeway was a trailblazer in more ways that one. Not only was she the first female starship captain to lead her own series, but she wound up having to take charge in an unprecedented situation when her ship got stranded in the largely-unexplored Delta Quadrant. Although the journey home appeared long and treacherous, Janeway was able to quickly assume command - not just over her own Starfleet crew but the group of Maquis rebels who had ended up on Voyager as well. She was tough when she needed to be, but cared deeply about the people under her authority as captain. There are many other reasons to love Janeway: her affinity for science and experimentation, her unending love for hot black coffee and her quick-witted, sometimes dry sense of humor - but what makes her one of the most memorable captains in Star Trek history is the road she paved for sci-fi heroines behind her as well as the generations of young fans who grew up inspired by her brilliance, compassion, tenacity and bravery.

10

Jessica Jones (Marvel Comics)

Super strength, traumatic past, excellent detective skills, a nihilistic attitude and excellent taste in leather jackets. Jessica Jones is the complete package. She debuted in 2001 in a 28-issue comic called Alias, but she quickly became one of Marvel’s most popular standalone characters, appearing in a number of other series. She debuted as a former superhero, having suffered a severe trauma in her past, who chose to work instead as a private investigator. Eventually, she met and married Luke Cage and the two had a daughter. Jones is also the focus of the Netflix series Jessica Jones, which focused on Jones facing down that same traumatic past. The series was lauded for its handling of PTSD and for the relationship between Jones and her best friend/foster sister, Trish Walker.

11

Maj. Motoko Kusanagi (Ghost in the Shell)

Being a female military commander was a big enough deal in the mid-'90s, but Major Motoko Kusanagi wasn’t just female, she was also a cyborg. In the 1995 film Ghost in the Shell, Kusanagi has to navigate the world as someone who is only partly human, dealing with all the complexity of human emotions when you’re not entirely connected with them. Despite all this, and the existential questions the film approaches, Kusanagi is dedicated to the people in her unit, determined to be a strong leader and commander.

12

Turanga Leela (Futurama)

When you’re parodying science fiction television the way Futurama did, you’ve gotta have Leela, an amalgam of pretty much every kind of sci-fi badass that ever was. She kicked ass, took names, shot guns, but still had time for a social life. Naturally, she was also the only one who knew what the hell was going on most of the time and served as the captain of the Planet Express and HBIC. Frankly, we’re still a little surprised she went for Fry.

13

Leeloo (The Fifth Element)

There are so many things to love about Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element, but at the heart of this classic sci-fi film is Leeloo. Leeloo is an innocent character who offers the audience an opportunity to see the world (even an unfamiliar world of the future) through the eyes of someone who is essentially a child. She saw things without preconception and without bias and was always hungry to learn more about this new world in which she found herself and the people who inhabited it. We were able to filter the events of the film through her and get a better perspective on the best parts of humanity and the worst.

14

Lexa (The 100)

There is probably no other character in the last few years who has caused as much uproar as The 100’s Lexa. Lexa was a strong character on her own, a teenage leader of the Grounders, a fierce military commander, a skilled fighter, and a subtle revolutionary. She challenged the beliefs of her people and attempted to foster a culture based not only on violence and death, but on reason and teamwork, even if it threatened her own life. She also gave LGBT viewers a strong, gay role model, and her death in the show’s third season sent fans into a frenzy, sparking an online movement whose effects are still felt more than a year later.

15

Ms. Marvel (Marvel Comics)

When Carol Danvers took on the role of Captain Marvel, someone was needed to fill Ms. Marvel’s cosmic boots. That person ended up being Kamala Khan. Kamala had a handful of stark differences that separated her from her predecessor. For one, she was a teenager, dealing with all the drama and confusion that comes along with it. For another, she was a Muslim-American girl of Middle Eastern descent living in modern America. Ms. Marvel brought a whole new perspective to the Marvel Universe and has become one of the publisher’s most popular books.

16

Michonne (The Walking Dead)

Do you have a zombie apocalypse survival plan? If you don’t, you should get one. If you do, and it doesn’t include Michonne, then you should rewrite it, 'cause you are gonna die. Michonne is the very definition of a zombie killing badass. This katana-wielding hero is brilliant, resourceful and powerful as hell. Of course, we prefer her character on the TV series of The Walking Dead over her iteration in the comic, as it shows her overcoming the trauma of her past as she builds relationships with the core cast of characters rather than slowly losing her mind due to constant torment.

17

Harley Quinn (DC Comics)

Sometimes you’re just so awesome that you go a little mad. Okay, that’s not actually what happened to Harley Quinn, but we can pretend, right? In reality, Harley has actually become a beautiful depiction of overcoming trauma in an abusive relationship and finding yourself in something a little more healing. After finally breaking up with the Joker (and beating the crap out of him in the process), Harley is now in a much healthier relationship with Poison Ivy and we’re all better for it. Additionally, Harley is a genius, a certified psychotherapist, and has one of the biggest hearts in the DC Universe. She can’t help that that heart is packaged in one of the publisher’s biggest baddest characters.

18

Rey (Star Wars: The Force Awakens)

For a character audiences knew so little about going in, Rey ended up being essentially the main character of the new trilogy of Star Wars films. For good reason, too, as she showed viewers a new kind of Force-sensitive hero. Rey was resourceful, a scavenger who made her way on Jakku despite being orphaned at a young age. She was also headstrong and outgoing, offering young girls a hero who knows her abilities and refuses to underestimate herself, despite the challenges thrown in her way ... even when that challenge is a lightsaber battling with Kylo Ren.

19

Dana Scully (The X-Files)

Dana Scully, one half of the FBI’s X-Files team, has already gone down as one of the greatest female heroes on television. As a skeptic and the audience’s entry point into the series, Scully made an indelible mark on the TV viewing audience. She was an FBI agent, a scientist, a religious person, and Mulder’s stalwart companion. She inspired a generation of women, and even led to something called “The Scully Effect” wherein women flocked to STEM fields due to the character’s influence.

20

Starbuck (Battlestar Galactica)

Tough, passionate, abrasive, and one of the most interesting characters from the 2004 reboot of Battlestar Galactica, Kara 'Starbuck' Thrace quickly became a fan favorite. She was always one to buck authority, often putting her at odds with her superiors, and a risk taker, usually to a degree generally considered insane. Despite what might be considered flaws, however, she was still a deeply good person at heart. Many of those flaws were also some of her greatest assets, as she could think outside the box and find success even in dire situations.

21

Arya Stark (Game of Thrones)

Who says a child can’t be a badass? If anyone has, I’m sure Arya has murdered them or something. The youngest daughter of the North in Westeros, Arya, like all of the Stark children, has been through a LOT over the show’s seven seasons, but she has come through her trials with a determination to learn new skills and become an incredible fighter ... and one of the last people in Westeros you want to cross.

22

Buffy Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Joss Whedon has said that he created Buffy Summers was an attempt to subvert the trope of the blonde cheerleader in the horror movies, creating one that was a superhero instead of a victim. In addition to her physical strength as a Slayer, Buffy also proved to have immense emotional strength and an admirable strength of character. She sacrificed her love, her life, at times her sanity, and saved the world. A lot.

23

Trinity (The Matrix)

The leather-and-sunglasses-clad goddess that was Trinity was thankfully bestowed upon us in the 1999 game-changing sci-fi movie, The Matrix. She was an insanely good fighter and an important ally to Neo as he journeyed toward becoming The One. She was also the only one who could convince him of his true destiny, literally bringing him back from the dead with her words. A true believer in the words of The Oracle, Trinity became someone Neo could put his own faith in, offering him a companion who could help him become the hero they so desperately needed.

24

Zoe Washburne (Firefly)

Firefly is a big deal among its fans for a number of reasons, but no one is arguing that the only adult on the whole damn show was Zoe. Second in command to Captain Malcolm Reynolds, married to the ship’s pilot, Wash, Zoe was one of the most important parts of the Serenity’s crew. She was also its fierce protector and a constant source of wisdom and strength.

25

Xena (Xena: Warrior Princess)

For many people, Xena is the ultimate female warrior. A mainstay in the world of '90s genre TV (and '90s TV in general), Xena was, as the title suggests, a warrior princess. Fierce, strong (physically, mentally, emotionally), and an excellent dresser, Xena was a hero to countless women at a time when strong female characters were few and far between on television. She was powerful and self-assured but still open to personal attachments, which is no more evident than in her relationship with Gabrielle.

These were OUR choices from the last 25 years. What are yours? Let us know in the comments which female characters you’d put on your list!

And be sure to check out our complete “25 Greatest” lists here.

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