Top 10 Spec Fic Actresses For Whom I’m Most Grateful

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’ve compiled a list of the speculative fiction actresses for whom I’m most grateful, which means I’m pulling from some of my favorite speculative fiction movies, tv shows, and video games for the most talented actresses. So I guess you could say this is also a list of my favorite things, making it double the fun. Really, this is just a spec fic lovefest, so strap on your goggles and let’s dive right in!


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Art by Yehudi Mercado; used with permission

The Women of the Stars, Both Trek and Wars — special shout-outs to Carrie Fisher and Nichelle Nichols

First, let us acknowledge our grandmamas of the genre. I will admit to being more of a Trek girl than a Wars one, but credit where credit is due. While there were female characters on the big and small screen before Lieutenant Nyota Uhura and Princess Leia, none of them made the same sort of impact. Fisher brought a fierceness to Leia that transcended the script, and Nichols broke both gender and racial barriers, portraying Uhura with strength, humor, and grace. Though neither franchise became as diverse as they could until recently, these foremothers paved the way for many powerful performances to come.


Sigourney Weaver — Ellen Ripley, Alien franchise; Gwen DeMarco, Galaxy Quest

All hail the grand and glorious queen! If Fisher and Nichols helped create the mold, then Weaver broke it wide open playing Ripley — the baddest of interstellar bitches. My dad decided to let me watch Alien and Aliens when I was ten or eleven, and even though they scared the bejesus out of me, I fell in love with Ripley.

The Alien movies became a bit uneven after the first two, but Weaver’s star continued to shine, and eventually, she showed her comedy chops as well, appearing in my number one feel-good movie: Galaxy Quest. Whenever things look bleak, I turn on Galaxy Quest, which is a love letter to Star Trek and the geeks who adore it. Gwen’s role on the ship, to repeat the computer, slays me every time.


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Milla Jovovich — Leeloominaï Lekatariba Lamina-Tchaï Ekbat de Sabat (aka Leeloo), The Fifth Element; Alice, Resident Evil film series

Confession time: If Milla Jovovich is in a spec fic film, I will watch that film, probably more than once. I own all of the Resident Evil movies. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve watched The Fifth Element. And Ultraviolet? Of course.

Jovovich has mastered the art of making a character seem vulnerable and badass at the same time. Take, for example, the fight scene from The Fifth Element. You know which fight scene. The fight scene, the one that’s intercut with shots of Diva Plavalaguna singing. Leeloo kicks all the ass, then still makes it believable when the tables are turned and she gets overmatched. She’s also sexy, a solid comedienne, and a beautiful fighter. (She does most of her own stunts!)


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Kate Mulgrew — Captain Kathryn Janeway, Star Trek: Voyager; Jane Lattimer, Warehouse 13; Flemeth, Dragon Age series

You might be wondering why Mulgrew gets her own entry. It’s because she ranged far beyond the Star Trek Universe, appearing in more than one spec fic franchise.

Okay, now I know there are plenty of haters out there for Voyager, and I’ll admit, I didn’t love the first couple of seasons. But if you power through the first couple of seasons, to the episodes where Mulgrew is no longer sporting the Marilla Cuthbert bun, it’s well worth the effort. Not only does Janeway become an amazing captain, but I also would argue that Janeway and Seven of Nine’s relationship is one of the most interesting and complex female friendships on TV.

Beyond Trek, Mulgrew went on to play Jane Lattimer in Warehouse 13, which I still love despite its awful finale. (POSSIBLY CONTROVERSIAL SPOILER: Myka belonged with H.G., right? Right?!) She also brought her smoky, wry voice to the trickster goddess Flemeth in the Dragon Age games.


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Lucy Lawless — Xena, Xena: Warrior Princess; D’Anna Biers, Battlestar Galactica

Actress, warrior, singer, activist — is there anything this tall drink of Australian Awesomeness can’t do? Not to my knowledge. Xena first appeared on Hercules: The Legendary Journeys with Kevin Sorbo, but the character proved to be so popular that she was developed through a few more episodes and finally given her own series. (Which, fun fact, actually ran a little over twenty episodes longer than Hercules.) Including the infamous musical episodes, wherein Lawless’s amazing singing voice was featured.

Lawless has since become a staple in the television landscape, sometimes roaming away from the spec fic genre, but always returning to her fantasy and sci-fi roots.


Jennifer Hale — Commander Shepard, Mass Effect 1, 2, & 3; Cremissius Aclassi, Dragon Age: Inquisition

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — in my opinion, FemShep is the one true Shepard. In fact, I would argue that, by the third game, the writers were crafting Shepard’s dialogue with Hale in mind. Despite only managing Paragon playthroughs, I’ve watched a fair amount of gameplay and cut scenes, and Hale brought a depth and pathos to Shepard (even Renegade Shepard) that Mark Meer, the voice actor for BoyShep, never quite matched.

What’s my evidence? Well, if you go back and give a listen to both actors’ readings in the first two games, I think you’ll find the cadence of Shepard’s dialogue tailored more toward Hale’s delivery. Also, Hale was chosen to for Shepard’s farewell address in this Mass Effect: Andromeda teaser.

And if that wasn’t enough, she also played Krem, the lovable, transgender NPC in Dragon Age: Inquisition, along with about a zillion other characters in a myriad of video games and cartoon series.


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Sonequa Martin-Green — Sasha Williams, The Walking Dead; Lieutenant Commander Michael Burnham, Star Trek: Discovery

Without sharing any spoilers, season seven of The Walking Dead broke my heart for a lot of reasons. But we’re here to celebrate, not to mourn, so let us raise our glasses to Sonequa Martin-Green.

(Not to get too far off-topic, but what is with the title Star Trek: Discovery? For years, Trekkies have shortened the titles of the movies and series when discussing them — TOS, TNG, DS9, etc. Did we really need an STD?!)

Anyway, back to Martin-Green. Sasha could have easily become a maudlin character, simply mired down in loss, and yes, the character did have her fair share of depressed moments, but Martin-Green gave Sasha a core of steel, a trait she also brought to her character in Star Trek, bringing a complexity to mournfulness that few can match.


The Women of Battlestar Galactica — Kara “Starbuck” Thrace (Katee Sackhoff), Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell), Helena Cain (Michelle Forbes), Anastacia “Dee” Dualla (Kandyse McClure), Sharon “Boomer” Valerii (Grace Park), etc.

Strong female characters were the norm on the most recent iteration of Battlestar Galactica, appearing on the reg and repeatedly passing the Bechdel Test. However, as happens so often with spec fic shows and movies, all of these actresses went without awards or nominations during their tenure on the show, which, especially in the cases of Sackhoff and McDonnell, was a travesty. Sackhoff supplanted Dirk Bentley’s portrayal in the 1978 series, becoming the definitive Starbuck, and McDonnell killed it every season, giving her all to Roslin’s arc, which went from terrified designated survivor to clever politician to stateswoman.

Forbes gets an additional shout-out for playing Ensign Ro Laren on Star Trek: The Next Generation, a small but notable role, much like Helena Cain.


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Tricia Helfer — Six, Battlestar Galactica; EDI, Mass Effect 2 & 3; Bonnie Belski, Warehouse 13

This model-turned-actress is often noted of for her sex appeal, but she has more than earned her own entry as well, for appearing on many a spec fic series — she also made appearances on Warehouse 13, The Librarians, etc. — and for bringing life to one of my other favorite video game characters, EDI. In Mass Effect 2, EDI starts out as a shackled artificial intelligence — she’s kept from growing too powerful by locks written into her programming. But then stuff happens, as it so often does, and she’s set free to become an autonomous being. Helfer makes what would already be an interesting journey unforgettable with her earnest queries and deadpan joke delivery, proving this beauty has brains too.


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Tatiana Maslany — Sarah Manning, Elizabeth Childs, Alison Hendrix, Cosima Niehaus, Helena, Rachel Duncan, etc., Orphan Black

As with the women of BSG, it would have been a travesty if Maslany had never been recognized for her exceptional work on Orphan Black. If you haven’t seen it, Maslany plays several roles on the show — characters that often appear on-screen at the same time — and she does so with such aplomb it’s almost impossible to remember that they’re all being played by the same actress. Seriously. Watch this clip and keep in mind that all three characters are Maslany. It’s enough to break a person’s brain!

Thankfully, Maslany’s mad skillz have been acknowledged far and wide. In addition to her huge fanbase, she’s taken home several awards, including an Emmy.


All right, people. I could go on and on and on — there are a ton of wonderful spec fic actresses out there, more and more all the time as the great roles are created — but this list had to end somewhere, so who did I miss? Let’s keep this lovefest raging in the comments!

15 Comments

  • Tammy November 15, 2017 at 8:42 am

    Time for a Battlestar Galactica rewatch! Awesome post

    Reply
    • Erin Bales November 15, 2017 at 2:02 pm

      Thanks! I rewatched it recently and it really stands up! (Well, except for the end, but that wasn’t so hot to start with.)

      Reply
      • Shara White November 15, 2017 at 7:27 pm

        Oh lord, the end….. *headdesk*

        Reply
  • J.L. Gribble November 15, 2017 at 9:35 am

    Myka definitely belonged with H.G.!

    Reply
    • Erin Bales November 15, 2017 at 2:03 pm

      THANK YOU! I hated the way, after several seasons of establishing Pete and Myka as friends, they just smooshed them together at the end. Especially since Myka belonged with someone else!

      Reply
  • Weasel of Doom November 15, 2017 at 10:39 am

    Zoe Washburne (Gina Torrres) from Firefly.

    Reply
    • Shara White November 15, 2017 at 11:01 am

      Oooh, she was also in Alias and Hannibal! Love her!

      Reply
    • Erin Bales November 15, 2017 at 2:07 pm

      Yes! She was also in Angel and Xena and Westworld. She totally belongs on this list! I’m really hoping her Suits spin-off goes. I watched Suits for about three seasons just for her. 🙂

      Reply
      • Shara White November 15, 2017 at 7:25 pm

        I do NOT remember her in Westworld. Huh….

        Reply
  • Shara White November 15, 2017 at 12:33 pm

    So I’m loving this list: Battlestar Galactica, and of course, Orphan Black, and obviously, FREAKING STAR WARS.

    I’d like to add Jennifer Garner (Alias): for starters, Alias was a spy show that turned mythology into some weird SF/fantasy shit, and I wish Garner would come back to television. She did a fantastic job with Sydney Bristow and made me believe every emotion that character went through. She’s also been in a few movies (Daredevil and Elektra, but let’s not punish her for bad scripts.

    Rachel Nichols was in the final season of Alias, and has since moved on to forge her own career, notably in Continuum, which is an awesome four-season show that should be Netflixed immediately. She’s amazing in it, and she gets to kick some serious ass. She’s also got geek cred in some movie roles (Green Girl named Gaila in Star Trek, Scarlet in GI Joe, and she played the female lead in Conan the Barbarian).

    Also adding Anna Torv from Fringe, who did a stellar job, especially in Season three when she REALLY got to play around with her character. She may have started out wooden when the series began, but there were reasons for that, and her character came a LONG way.

    Reply
    • Erin Bales November 15, 2017 at 2:10 pm

      Yes, yes, and yes! I adored (the first three seasons) of Alias, and I wish Garner would come back to TV too. I tried but couldn’t really get into Continuum or Fringe, but I like Rachel Nichols a lot, and Anna Torv was by far the best part of Fringe. I’m loving her on Mindhunter right now!

      Reply
      • Shara White November 15, 2017 at 7:26 pm

        How far along did you get into Fringe? Season three was its best, but the first part of the first season had some growing pains.

        Reply
  • Lane Robins November 15, 2017 at 10:28 pm

    There was a brilliant fanmade video some years back that I mourned heartily when it got taken down. It was over 100 sf/f tv heroines cut to the song of One Girl Revolution. I must have watched it a hundred times because it was just so satisfying to see all these amazing female characters. I wish I could remember who made it.

    My favorites are Dana Scully, even when I didn’t love the rest of the X-Files, I loved her exasperation and determination. Alice and Leeloo, of course. Aeryn Sun. Because Claudia Black is amazing. and and and, if I really start i won’t know where to stop.

    Reply
    • Shara White November 16, 2017 at 11:30 am

      I wondered if anyone would mention Gillian Anderson’s Scully! She was also amazing in Hannibal and I hear she’s in American Gods.

      Reply
  • Shara White November 16, 2017 at 9:01 pm

    Oh, how could I forget the fabulous Haley Atwell, aka Peggy Carter from the Marvel Cinematic Universe? SHE IS AWESOME AND AGENT CARTER NEEDS TO COME BACK NOW.

    Also there are some kick-ass women on Agents of SHIELD: Ming-Na Wen, Chloe Bennet, and Elizabeth Henstridge!

    Reply

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