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25 women who changed the genre over the last 25 years

Contributed by
Sep 3, 2017

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! 

The history of science fiction, fantasy and horror is filled with remarkable women in all manner of role. Narrowing down to 25 who really changed the genre over the last 25 years wasn't easy, but here's our list!

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Sana Amanat

The face of Marvel Comics has been slowly changing over the last few years, due in no small part to the efforts of Sana Amanat. As an editor and the director of content and character development she has overseen the relaunch of the Captain Marvel title with writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, and the launch of the incredibly popular new Ms. Marvel series. That Ms. Marvel series took a bold new approach to the character, recasting her as a teenage Muslim-American, and utilized a creative team that included actual Muslim-American writer G. Willow Wilson.

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Hiromu Arakawa

Manga and anime are huge industries, especially in Japan, and even more so if you manage to write something that makes it big in both Japan and the U.S. market. Hiromu Arakawa is one of those creators, and her biggest work, Fullmetal Alchemist, has become one of the most widely beloved series in the genre. The series, which explores heavy themes like war, death, family, and discrimination, was adapted into two different anime series and an animated feature film.

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Maryann Brandon

When watching a movie you don’t always notice things like the editing, despite the fact that it is a vital part of what makes some of your favorite films so good. Maryann Brandon is one of those editors. A frequent collaborator of both J.J. Abrams and fellow editor Mary Jo Markey, Brandon has worked on everything from Super 8 to Star Trek to Star Wars and even projects like How to Train Your Dragon, Gulliver’s Travels, and Passengers.

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Octavia Butler

Octavia’s love for fantasy and science fiction came at a young age when, despite being slightly dyslexic, she immersed herself in stories by writers like John Brunner, Zenna Henderson, and Theodore Sturgeon. She started writing at age 10 and developed the basis for her Patternists novels by age 12.

She won her first Hugo & Nebula awards in 1984, and became the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Fellowship in 1995. Butler was critically praised for her realistic and provocative writing and her view of humanity and its many flaws, specifically its tendency toward hierarchical thinking and how it could ultimately lead to the destruction of the human race.

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Suzanne Collins

Following the end of the Harry Potter novel series, the world wondered whether there would be a book series that could possibly fill the void. Enter Suzanne Collins, whose Hunger Games trilogy of books (and quartet of movies), captured the hearts, minds, and political opinions of millions. They challenged the way audiences thought about their governments, revolution, and the media, and helped launch Jennifer Lawrence to superstardom.

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Kelly Sue DeConnick

If you’re looking for one of the most influential female comic creators of the last few years, you need not look much further than Kelly Sue DeConnick. Her work on the relaunched Captain Marvel in 2012 brought new life and new fans to the character of Carol Danvers, and her creator-owned book Bitch Planet has been lauded for its radical take on some of the big issues facing women in the world today, inspiring a generation of female fans to be Non-Compliant.

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Jane Espenson

If you’re a fan of sci-fi/fantasy TV, you’ve probably come into contact with Jane Espenson’s work. She got her biggest break on Buffy the Vampire Slayer before moving on to work on shows like Battlestar Galactica, Dollhouse, Torchwood, and Once Upon a Time and co-created Warehouse 13. She’s also worked on a number of comic book projects and has received awards for her writing as well as a devoted fan following.

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Gale Anne Hurd

There are few producers with a more expansive filmography in science fiction film and television than Gale Anne Hurd, who is widely considered one of the hardest-working women in Hollywood. She got her start in the early 1980s, producing some of the biggest and most influential sci-fi films in history, including Terminator, Alien, and Tremors. She continued that career path for decades, adding projects like Armageddon, The Incredible Hulk, and Punisher: War Zone to the list before shifting her focus to television in 2010. She currently serves as producer on The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead, and the aftershow, Talking Dead.

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Patty Jenkins

Director Patty Jenkins made a splash in 2003 when her directorial debut, Monster, landed Charlize Theron an Oscar nomination. She spent the next 14 years working in television before she landed the coveted slot of director of the 2017 DC comics blockbuster Wonder Woman, making her the first female director of a major superhero franchise film. That film was so successful that it quickly became the highest-grossing film by a female director. She looks to repeat that success in 2019 with the sequel.

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Nina Jacobson

As one of the only women ever to head a major Hollywood studio, Nina Jacobson was the woman with the keys to the Magic Kingdom as the head of the Buena Vista Motion Pictures Group, part of the Disney family of companies. During her eight years at the House of Mouse, Jacobson helped develop some of your favorite movies, including M. Night Shyamalan’s earliest films, Pearl Harbor, The Chronicles of Narnia, and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, among others. She was fired from Disney while still in the delivery room after the birth of her third child in 2006 and has since gone on to produce one of the biggest film franchises in recent memory: The Hunger Games.

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Jenette Kahn

Jenette Kahn was only 28 years old when she landed the job as publisher of DC Comics, and just five years later she had already worked her way up to president. Under her guidance, the big two publisher launched two separate imprints, including Vertigo and Milestone Media, launched the popular Static Shock animated series, and oversaw one of the biggest and most controversial stories at the company: The Death and Return of Superman. She also worked to diversify the company away from a largely white male staff. By the time she left in 2002, DC Comics had a staff that was nearly half female.

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Kathleen Kennedy

If you’re looking for one of the most successful Hollywood producers of the last 20 years, then you need look no further than Kathleen Kennedy. She cut her teeth working with Steven Spielberg on some of his biggest hit films, including E.T. the Extraterrestrial, Poltergeist, and the Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park movies, before taking over Lucasfilm in 2012 and becoming the new shepherd of the Star Wars franchise. She launched the brand new Star Wars trilogy of films, as well as the ongoing expanded anthology films, and is easily one of the most powerful women in the industry.

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Jennifer Kent

You might not recognize her name right away, but if you’re a horror fan you probably know Jennifer Kent’s most famous work. The Babadook, her feature film directorial debut, premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, and the film became a sensation among horror fans. The Babadook put a creepy face on real issues women deal with every day, including grief. In addition to her recent success, Kent has been vocal about the lack of female directors in the horror genre.

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Michelle MacLaren

Before Patty Jenkins accepted the job of director on Wonder Woman, the seat was originally filled by Michelle MacLaren. MacLaren, one of the unfortunately small number of women who have found success directing on television, has helmed episodes of some of the biggest shows on the small screen, from The X-Files to Breaking Bad to Westworld. Her work on Breaking Bad also earned her two Emmy awards.

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Mary Jo Markey

Another successful editor whose career has found her working on a number of Abrams projects, chances are Mary Jo Markey is behind some of your favorite sci-fi movies of the last several years. She first started working with Abrams on his show Felicity and edited episodes of such Abrams standards as Alias and Lost before switching to his films, including Star Trek and Super 8. Most recently, she was the editor behind Star Wars: The Force Awakens with her frequent collaborator, Maryann Brandon.

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Ve Neill

A groundbreaking makeup artist, Ve Neill has created some of the most iconic looks in cinema. Most recently, she crafted the spectacular looks of the citizens of the Capital of Panem in the Hunger Games series of movies, but she is probably best known for her work on such classics as Hook, Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, and the Pirates of the Caribbean films. Over her 40-year career, she has been nominated for eight Academy Awards, winning three.

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Diane Nelson

As the current president of DC Entertainment, Diane Nelson is the woman behind the curtain of the ongoing series of films known as the DC Extended Universe, as well as the woman in the seat of power for one of the biggest comics publishers in the land. She took over the post in 2009, appointed the current creative team running things at DC Comics, helped launch the DCEU and the expansive DCTV universe, and launched and oversees the ongoing We Can Be Heroes Initiative, which provides food to the Horn of Africa.

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Marti Noxon

After landing her very first job writing and producing on Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the ‘90s, Marti Noxon has seen her Hollywood career take off to huge heights. During her time on Buffy, Noxon wrote a few of the series' most poignant episodes before taking over as executive producer during the show’s final two seasons. She’s gone on to continue writing and producing hugely popular television series, and has gotten her feet wet in the world of cinema as well, writing I Am Number Four and Fright Night, among other projects.

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Amy Pascal

Pascal may have become a bit of a household name after the infamous Sony hack in 2014, but she had been instrumental to the production of a number of major films long before then. While at Columbia Pictures, she oversaw the development of critically acclaimed films like Groundhog Day, but it was her 18 years at Sony that landed her on this list. She oversaw the production and development of the the James Bond films, including Skyfall, the first Bond film to gross over $1 billion worldwide, and the Spider-Man franchise, and was instrumental in the Marvel/Sony deal that brought Spidey back to the MCU.

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Anne Rice

Long before Stephenie Meyer had teen girls everywhere searching for their happily ever after with the sparkly vampire of their dreams, Anne Rice was the queen of bloodsucking romantic fiction. Her novels, specifically those in the Vampire Chronicles series, created a legion of loyal fans and spawned wildly successful films, starting with Interview With the Vampire in 1994. Her books have been particularly embraced by members of the LGBT community, and influenced the entire genre of vampire fiction for decades.

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J. K. Rowling

There are few cultural phenomena that can claim the kind of impact Harry Potter had on the world for more than a decade, but when J.K. Rowling wrote that first book she was a single mother, completely broke and hoping to sell the book to get back on her feet. Little did she know she would launch a franchise that continues to pump out content to this day, 20 years later. And that she would become one of the most powerful voices in literature.

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Gail Simone

Before she ever wrote a single comic book script, Gail Simone was already making her mark on the industry. In 1999, she launched the website Women in Refrigerators, which took the industry to task for its treatment of women. In the following years she would get her first job writing Deadpool for Marvel before moving on to pen an incredible run on DC’s Birds of Prey starting in 2003. That work has led to dozens of titles, countless issues, and an ever-growing fan base for her work on big names and small indie books alike.

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Emma Thomas

Director Christopher Nolan gets all the glory as the man behind some of the biggest films of the last 20 years, but it’s Emma Thomas who keeps all the Nolan movie trains running on time. She has produced nearly every film Nolan has made since 1997, including your favorites, Memento, Inception, Interstellar, and yes, The Dark Knight Trilogy. Without her, none of those films exist, and the shape of modern cinema changes entirely.

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Lilly and Lana Wachowski

Some of the most ambitious film projects of the last 20 years were undertaken by the same team of directors, siblings Lilly and Lana Wachowski. The sisters got their start on the neo-noir thriller Bound but would rocket to fame in 1999 with the release of The Matrix. Two more Matrix films would follow before they turned their attention to other projects, like V for Vendetta, Cloud Atlas, and Jupiter Ascending, and made their TV debut with Netflix’s Sense8. In 2012, Lana became the first Hollywood director who was openly transgender. Her sister would follow in 2016, and the two have been vocal supporters of the transgender community.

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Connie Willis

No science fiction writer has been honored with more accolades than Connie Willis, who has wracked up a whopping 11 Hugo awards and 7 Nebula awards over the course of her illustrious career. Willis got her start in 1970 when she had her first short story published at 25 years old. From there, she published a string of massive hits, including some of her biggest works, like Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog.

Those were OUR choices. What are yours? Let us know in the comments your picks for the women who've changed the genre in the last 25 years!

Be sure to check out all of the other lists here!

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