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SYFY WIRE Sigourney Weaver

14 Essential Sci-Fi movies you should watch for Women's History Month

Whether it's in space or in a future dystopia, women kick ass wherever they are. 

By Vanessa Armstrong
Sigourney Weaver Aliens Header GETTY

Sci-fi films are full of amazing female characters. Some movies and their stars are worth watching repeatedly, especially during Women’s History Month. 

Here are 14 sci-fi films that are well worth putting in your viewing queue, no matter what time of year it is. 

1. Alien (1979)

Sigourney Weaver, Yaphet Kotto, Tom Sherritt, John Hurt, Ian Holm in Alien

Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley in the Alien movies is one of the most iconic sci-fi characters ever. We met her for the first time in Ridley Scott’s terrifying classic, Alien, where Ripley is part of the crew of a commercial starship that has a run-in with an acid-bleeding creature that is iconic in its own right.

2. Aliens (1986)

Sigourney Weaver Aliens GETTY

James Cameron's 1986 blockbuster sequel, Aliens, upped the stakes of the original and the female-driven action with the addition of Newt and the Alien Queen, as the movie took on themes of found family and what it means to be a parent (even if you are mom to a horde of facehuggers that are ready to hatch).

3. Annihilation (2018)

Natalie Portman with bear in Annihilation

Alex Garland’s loose adaptation of the eponymous book by Jeff Vandermeer focuses on a group of scientists, led by Natalie Portman, that travel into a strange place called Area X. This off-limits area, a place that somehow refracts all DNA inside it to produce new (and often mystifying) forms of life, was causes when something extraterrestrial crashed at a lighthouse in Florida. Everything from the flora and fauna inside Area X beings to mutate, like cancer cells, as Portman's character, Lena, struggles to find the truth behind what really happened to the man (Oscar Issac) who claims to be her husband. He recently came back from Area X changed, and she wants to know why.

The movie offers as many questions as it does answers. It also officers the rare sight of a studio-produced sci-fi film headlined by an all-female cast. 

4. Gravity (2013)

Gravity (2013) PRESS

Gravity is a very stressful, grounded sci-fi movie that follows the point of view of Bullock’s character, Ryan Stone, who finds herself hurtling through space after disaster strikes her space shuttle during a routine spacewalk. Bullock’s struggle to survive, helped by George Clooney’s character, veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski, is a harrowing one. The impressive and immersive visual effects milk the tension to white-knuckle levels, as Bullock's earnest and vulnerable performance tugs on your heartstrings while keeping you at the edge of your seat.

5. Contact (1997)

Contact (1997) YT

Robert Zemeckis' 1997 adaptation of Carl Sagan’s classic novel of the same name explores what first contact with extraterrestrial life would really look like. The story focuses on Foster’s character, Dr. Ellie Arroway, a scientist who spent her life searching for extraterrestrial intelligence and ultimately finds it when she and her team decode a transmission that "definitely ain't local." In the mathematical-fueled message, Ellie finds complex instructions to build the massive tech necessary to send a human being to make contact with an alien species for the first time. Foster shines in the role of Ellie, as she confronts everything from government red-tape to myopic tests of faith on her way to being the first woman to have a close encounter like this.

6. The Hunger Games (2012)

Hunger Games Katniss Everdeen

The three Hunger Games films, based on the popular Young Adult books by Suzanne Collins, focus on the exploits of Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen, a young woman who volunteers to participate in The Hunger Games in order to save her sister. The so-called games are a televised fight to the death, where each of Panem's 13 districts provides a tribute each year. The dystopian Olympics that follows is a spectacle, and Katniss’ struggle to not only survive, but overthrow the entire system, makes for a highly engrossing movie experience. 

7. Arrival (2016)

Arrival (2016) YT

Like Contact, Denis Villenueve’s Oscar-winning adaptation of a short story by Ted Chiang revolves around humanity’s first contact with an alien species. However, unlike Contact, this species communicates with a language that transcends our comprehension of linear time, which provides a riveting and emotional experience for lead linguistics analyst Louise Banks (Amy Adams). The more Banks learns about the aliens' haunting language, the more she, too, experiences non-linear time. In doing so, Banks' personal life entwines with the global ramifications of her discovery, resulting in a heart-wrenching exploration of what makes us human, one that will stick with you long after the end credits roll.

8. Bumblebee (2018)

Bumblebee (2018) YT

Bumblebee is welcomed change of pace from Michael Bay's testosterone-fueled  Transformers movies. It’s a smaller, more intimate blockbuster centered on a teenager in 1987, Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), and her first car, which just so happens to be the titular Autobot. The two form a strong bond as she fixes him up following a battle that sent him fleeing from Cybertron, as John Cena's not-so-nice government agent (and a few unruly Decepticons) hunt our heroes down.  

9. Tank Girl (1995)

Tank Girl (1995) YT

Tank Girl, based on a cult-fav graphic novel, came out at a time when comic book movies weren’t as prevalent as they are today. It stars Lori Petty as the aforementioned Tank Girl, a woman who was one of the few survivors (and who drives a tank) in a dystopian world where a mega-corporation controls the water supply. 

10. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) YT

After 11 years, the Terminator comes back in Terminator 2, but this time he’s here to protect Sarah Connor’s son instead of kill his mother, played once again by the great Linda Hamilton.

James Cameron's sequel makes Sarah a complete badass, but her emotional scars from barely defeating the first Terminator put significant distance between her humanity and her relentless pursuit of the creator of the very machines that forged this hardened version of Sarah. For a portion of the movie, Connor becomes a Terminator herself, and with the help of her estranged son (Edward Furlong) and his T-800 pal (Arnuld), she slowly regains her humanity just in time to save the future. 

11. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) YT

In Mad Max: Fury Road, Theron’s Imperator Furiosa is a war captain who rebels against her overlord, Immortan Joe, on a mission to free Joe's five concubines from sexual slavery. She ultimately teams up with Tom Hardy’s Mad Max to do so, and the unlikely pair race across a desert wasteland with Joe and his rusty fleet of vehicles in dogged pursuit. Furious eventually defeats Joe and takes over his Citadel, where the film implies that this fearless warrior will now resign here as both a respected leader and humanity's last, best chance for hope.

We can't wait for the character to get her own prequel movie, albeit with Anya Taylor-Joy playing the part. 

12. A Wrinkle in Time (2018) 

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Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time adaptation includes Storm Reid in the role of Meg, a precocious teen who finds herself on an unbelievable journey through space and time to find her missing father. While the movie received mixed reviews upon its initial release, Reid’s performance is the highlight of the film.

13. Ex Machina (2015)

Ex Machina (2015)

Alex Garland’s feature directorial debut, Ex Machina, stars Alicia Vikander as a humanoid android named Ava, who was created by Nathan Batemen (Oscar Isaac), a narcissistic tech CEO. She soon becomes close with an untested programmer named Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), who wins Wonka-style contest that earns him the opportunity to visit Bateman's secluded estate to see if Ava passes the Turning test. His arrival challenges our understanding of what it means to be human, as Ava's rising sentience comes with violent (but necessary) consequences. 

14. 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) YT

10 Cloverfield Lane is headlined Mary Elizabeth Winstead in the role of Michelle, who survives a terrible car crash only to wake up inside John Goodman's underground bunker. His not-all-there character tells her that the world is actively going to hell due to an alien invasion, and things just get worst from there. Winstead invests her character with a verisimilitude that makes every panicked breath she takes or small victory she earns feel like one of our own. She is the main reason why we are still invested in the movie when its final moments take a sharp turn into ultra sci-fi, Twilight Zone territory.