I wanted to compile this list in response to an article I read in Women and Hollywood, regarding the troubles director Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men) had, placing Sandra Bullock in the lead role of his new movie GRAVITY. When successful films that featured a female lead the list is pretty long, but why is Hollywood still reluctant to place females in lead roles in science fiction films?
My first thought is maybe it was because it was Sandra Bullock. I’ll admit, when I think of space epic, her name isn’t at the front of my mind, but that’s usually when the real magic kicks in. My first pick for a project like this might’ve been Jessica Chastain or even Marion Cotillard, but never once would I think that a female couldn’t be a lead in a film like this. There’s just too many talented female actors out there. The problem, I think for me, would’ve been which one and could we get her.
I wish Hollywood would use their hearts when thinking about issues like these, but the suits are…and always will be, about the numbers. We as artist have the luxury of thinking outside the box..even if it fails, but production companies don’t like to chances, they need to know that “It’s worked before” and that’s all and if they’d take a second they’d realize that it has…hence the reason for this list.
So without further ado, I present to you my list of successful films with amazing female leads. It’s not huge, but these were the heavy hitter’s that came to mind when I wrote this. Feel free to add more.
I couldn’t start this list without metioning the queen of science fiction female leads. Sigourney Weaver’s performance as Ripley is the benchmark, that any female wishing to break into the sci-fi film business, should aspire to. Her role shattered Hollywood myths regarding marketability of females in films like this. Many will say that Aliens was a horror film and not science fiction and that she fit in there like a square peg, given the number of females being objectified by blood thirsty beasts at the time. But Ripley was much more than that. She never once was presented as being helpless, sure there was the whole skeevies ending, but if your like me, you weren’t thinking about any of that during the scene. Instead you were thinking how the fuck is she gonna get out of this messed up situation and the moment she presses the button and jettisons that Alien into space, there was no denying her role as a true intelligent hero and as if you didn’t get the message in Alien, James Cameron comes out with the sequel “Aliens” in 1986 and shifts her girl power into high gear.
There’s a reason I say Terminator 2 and not The Terminator. In The Terminator, she really was playing the role as the quintessential damsel in distress. They even gave her a bodyguard, the future soldier Kyle Reese, played by Michael Biehn. It wasn’t until the sequel, we really see Sarah come into her own, as the post traumatic, ass kicking, mother, coping with the impending robot apocalypse. She went so far down the rabbit hole to prepare for this role, it’s a shame she didn’t get recognized by the Academy. As you will see, there is a certain director that has been at the epicenter of science fiction female leads cause my next choice is yet another one of his films.
3. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Lindsey Brigman in The Abyss (1989)
James Cameron’s Abyss was the first of it’s kind. He managed to blend eighties Cold War paranoia, oil drilling and extra terrestrials into one movie and in keeping with Jame’s undying need to make it bigger, he placed it all underwater. Here’s a real example of what I consider good casting and a perfect model to follow when considering a female lead in GRAVITY. The character Lindsey Brigman, was a no nonsense engineer that could’ve easily gone to actresses at the time who’d already proven themselves on the screen. Actors like Geena Davis, Glen Close and Susan Sarandon, could’ve done this role and delivered a decent Lindsey, but there was something about Mary (wow..I’m a genius). She brought all the spirit of quirky explorers like Jane Goodall and added a bit of wonder reminiscent of Richard Dreyfuss’s role in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The result was Hollywood magic. She became an inspiration not only because of sense of wonder, but her level of daring courage. I mean anyone who agrees to drown themselves, so that she could be revived later and it work… is AWESOME!! She’s a progressive thinker and way before her time.
4. Gillian Anderson as Agent Dana Scully in The X Files Movie
I never followed the X Files tv series on Fox, when it huge, but there was no escaping the hype it created. It had all the elements that appealed to me, but I never had the time or something. That being said when the first X Files movie hit back in 1998, there was no denying Gillian Anderson’s presence as the hard nose Jiminy Cricket, to her partner Moulder’s, Peter Pan. The part that cemented her in my mind as one bad ass female character, is when she’s stung by the bio-engineered bee, she slowly slips away describing to Moulder what she’s experiencing, so he might relay the symptoms to whom ever they can trust at the time. In the face of death, she goes with a fist. She just seemed so unbelievably strong at that moment, I’m sure there were others throughout her time on the show, but this was just one of those images that was burned indelibly in my mind.
5. Natalie Portman as Evy in V for Vendetta
Every role Natalie touches becomes her’s. She’s grown so much as an actor and through it all, remains vigilante in choosing roles that feature her as a strong female. Case in point, her role in The Wachowski’s V for Vendetta, a film that touches on so many points, that I think it should be shown in every sociology and psychology class in the world. She starts out as a somewhat, naive young subordinate, but then grows, with V’s help, into someone whose truly and completely free of social restraints. The metamorphesis is amazing to watch and her final transformation, as is the climax of the film, is something to behold.
6. Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity in The Matrix
Why…you might ask? Cause I’ll smack anyone who doesn’t agree that “If Trinity didn’t exist, that filmed would’ve sucked” and “Trinity was the primary reason for the films success”. This movie had every woman, wanting to be her and every guy wanting to marry her. From the moment we see Trinity, there’s no doubt regarding her strength/ride or die, attitude. I can’t think of another actor who would’ve beeen better suited to pull off hard as nails and unbelievably nurturing, at the same time. Not only that, but Carrie wasn’t a spring chicken when they cast her in the role, she was 32, not old by our standards, but definitely old by Hollywood’s. Nowaday’s they would’ve casts some young and supple upstart for the role, and probably would’ve casts kids for the part of Neo and Morpheous too. Trinity was a smart and mature woman, something we see too little of in films of late and the decision to casts everyone in their thirties to forties added a level of credibility to it all (talented thirties and forties mind you). It was unfortunate her character became more of an accessory as the trilogy came to it’s unceremonious end.
So there is my short list of powerhouse female roles! In my research of this topic I found a tremendous amount of strong female roles in sci-fi on television, so perhaps I’ll do another write up on that topic. Sorry, if I left anyone out.
Have a great weekend!!