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From 'Star Trek' to 'Scream Queens': Remembering Kirstie Alley's sci-fi & horror roles

The actress applied her talents to several major genre efforts, including some all-out classics.

By Matthew Jackson
Kirstie Alley as Lieutenant Saavik in the movie "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" (1982)

Kirstie Alley, the actress best known for her roles in classics like Cheers (revisit the entire series on Peacock) and the Look Who's Talking films, passed away this week at the age of 71 after a short struggle with a recent cancer diagnosis. She leaves behind a surprisingly diverse and still-entertaining body of work spanning more than four decades, with significant contributions across television and film. 

Alley was best known as a comedic actress whose talents were applied to sitcoms and all-out comedy films, but she also appeared in several major genre projects on the big and small screen throughout her career, from interesting efforts to full-blown classics. So, as we look back on her life and work, let's take a moment to remember her greatest contributions to genre storytelling.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Alley's film debut came in the first Star Trek movie sequel, which meant she kicked off her movie career in one of the greatest sequels of all time, and one of the greatest sci-fi films of the 1980s. As the Vulcan Saavik, Alley spent much of the film teamed with no less of a genre hero than Leonard Nimoy, serving as Spock's trainee for much of the film and, thus, becoming embroiled in more than a few disagreements with Captain Kirk. Alley's screen presence alongside Nimoy and William Shatner is extraordinary, and her work as a kind of even more severe version of Spock in the film creates a very interesting dynamic that helped make Wrath of Khan such a blast.

Runaway (1984)

Everyone knows Wrath of Khan, but not everyone remembers the interesting post-Blade Runner experiment that is Michael Crichton's Runaway. Written and directed by Crichton and starring Tom Selleck as a cop tasked with taking down "runaway" robots in a future where they're everywhere, it features Alley in a supporting role as the former lover of a mad scientist responsible for creating the first murderous robot. The film doesn't have the same staying power as other similar sci-fi efforts surrounding it in the 1980s, but it is still an interesting piece of genre history from the era, and Alley just might give the best performance among the cast.

Look Who's Talking (1989)

Though it never verges into outright fantasy, a look back at Alley's career wouldn't be complete without Look Who's Talking, the surprise comedy hit that imagines what the world would be like if we could hear the inner monologue of the babies around us. Written and directed by the great Amy Heckerling, the film is interesting because it asks the audience to indulge in this fantasy that there's a baby hanging around who talks like Bruce Willis, but it doesn't ask the human characters to follow that same line of thinking. It's a fantasy film to us, but not to Alley and John Travolta, who have to work through a more straightforward domestic romantic comedy while Willis is having his fun as the voice of baby Mikey. It's an odd line to walk, but Alley walked it well. No wonder those sequels came along.

Village of the Damned (1995)

A remake of a 1960 film about killer children taking over a small town, Village of the Damned is not remembered as one of director John Carpenter's best horror efforts. Compared to the films around it (it was preceded by In the Mouth of Madness), it just doesn't hold up as well. But that doesn't mean there aren't bright spots in this story of a strange brood of children exercising their hivemind of psychic energy to pick off adults in their community. Mark Hamill is great as the local minister, it's great to see Christopher Reeve working in all-out horror, and Alley is very good in a smaller role as a government scientist caught up in the town's secrets. She's not the film's lead, but she does get one of its most memorable horror moments.

Scream Queens (2016)

Though her career output had slowed somewhat in recent years, Alley still made some major contributions to genre in her final decade of screen work thanks to a starring role in Season 2 of Scream Queens. Moving the action from a university to a hospital, Scream Queens Season 2 allowed the series to play with even more fun horror tropes and twist them in entertaining, darkly comic new ways. Alley turned out to be an integral part of that story as one of the hospital's nurses, and reminded us all that she still had a gift for blending comedy, drama and even terror.