It’s rare for movies or TV shows to feature women in STEM, but if you saw Hidden Figures and are craving more, we’ve got you covered.
Warning! This article contains spoilers for several films and TV shows!
For years, Hollywood executives have been saying that audiences won’t pay to see movies starring women, despite ample evidence to the contrary (Hunger Games, Mad Max: Fury Road or the new Star Wars films, for example). Presumably, that goes double for films about women of color, and/or women scientists, mathematicians, engineers or computer geeks.
And yet, Hidden Figures — the film about three black women mathematicians at NASA in the early 1960s — has raked in more than $60 million at the box office, and outranked Rogue One for at least two weeks in January. It’s rare for movies or TV shows to feature one or more women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), but if you saw Hidden Figures and are craving more female characters in these fields, we’ve got you covered. This is by no means a complete list. Add your favorites in the comments!
1. Star Trek
Star Trek really pushed the boundaries when Nichelle Nichols was cast as Lt. Uhura for the first Star Trek series, which debuted in 1966. Uhura mainly handled communications, including linguistics, but she also tackled cryptography, putting her firmly in the early tech world. In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) was a skilled and highly adept medical officer.
2. Ghostbusters (2016)
The 2016 remake of Ghostbusters features four amazing, unique female comedians, three of them in scientific roles: Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig as physicists Abby Yates and Erin Gilbert, and Kate McKinnon as experimental engineer Jillian Holtzmann. Not only are they brilliant, but they have fun with their science — particularly Holtzmann, who’s constantly developing new gadgets that punch, shred or capture ghosts.
Sure, Bones stars David Boreanaz and his impressive jawline, but the real star — for whom the show is named — is Dr. Temperance Brennan (Emily Deschanel), AKA Bones, the director of the forensic anthropology lab at the Jeffersonian. Just by examining a skeleton in detail, she uses her scientific and medical knowledge to determine how someone died. She also has several smart geeky women backing her up, including digital artist/computer geek Angela Montenegro (Michaela Conlin), forensic director Camille Saroyan (Tamara Taylor) and a slew of savvy female interns.
Contact stars Jodie Foster as Dr. Eleanor Arroway, a SETI scientist who picks up a signal she suspects is a message from extraterrestrials and then is chosen to go meet them. Foster is convincing in the role, giving it both the seriousness and the accessibility needed to make the film such a success (it brought in more than $100 million). It helped, too, that megastar director Robert Zemeckis made the film, adapted from the novel by Carl Sagan. Sagan and his wife, Ann Druyan, helped outline the film. (Side note: STEM queen Druyan specializes in communicating science; she also co-wrote Sagan’s original Cosmos series, along with the 2014 reboot hosted by Neil DeGrasse Tyson.)
5. Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and Angel
BTVS is remarkable for many reasons, but for the purposes of this list I want to talk about her BFF Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) who, especially in the early years of the show, was the Buffy gang’s go-to computer geek, hacker and online researcher. Her ability to crack government computer systems helped Buffy vanquish all sorts of baddies. In Angel, the spin-off series starring David Boreanaz (yes, him again!) as the brooding vampire, we were treated to another awesome geek lady: Winifred “Fred” Burkle (Amy Acker), whose knowledge of physics and math were a major asset to Angel’s demon-fighting mission. Late in the series, she takes over the science division of a powerful Los Angeles law firm, where she gets to run her own lab.
6. Orphan Black
This sci-fi thriller has been wowing audiences and winning awards since it debuted in 2013, largely for the acting work of star Tatiana Maslany, who plays several major characters (spoiler alert: they’re clones). One of those clones, Cosima, is a biotech expert who helps the others discover more about their origins. (Unfortunately, her braids/dreads are appropriative.) Cosima’s research (and sometimes romantic) partner, Delphine (Évelyne Brochu), also has rich experience in medicine and science. Watching them work together to uncover the truth of the clones is one of the highlights of the show.
Toshiko “Tosh” Sato (Naoko Mori) is one of the most beloved characters in this Dr. Who spinoff series about a small team of alien hunters. So much so that there are at least a dozen videos tributing her character on YouTube. Sato is the Torchwood Institute’s technical expert and resident computer genius, helping the others in their mission.
8. Jurassic Park
Laura Dern co-stars in the first of this dinosaur series as the snarky, impatient paleontologist Ellie Sattler. She’s good at her work, but on top of that she’s given about the same amount of agency as the adult men in the film — even though she’s cast as one of their girlfriends. At one point, when Jurassic Park owner John Hammond suggests that she shouldn’t help out when the dinosaurs run amok because of her gender, she tells him, “we can discuss sexism in survival situations when I get back.”
This sci-fi drama, created by the Wachowski sisters, tells the story of eight characters called sensates whose minds and destinies are interconnected, even though they live in different parts of the globe. One of those eight is a character named Nomi Marks (Jamie Clayton), a transgender hacktivist living in San Francisco. She’s a highly skilled computer researcher and cyber-criminal, able to place false information, hide info and find data that others don’t want found.
10. Real Genius
Granted, this film was mostly a vehicle for Val Kilmer’s young frat-nerd hotness, but the character of Jordan (Michelle Meyrink) stands out. She’s the only woman in the film whose intelligence is the most important thing about her; she first appears sledding down a temporarily iced-over dorm hallway, cursing the faulty calculations that caused her sled to topple over. Her role may be a small one, but she’s endearingly herself — talkative, energetic, un-self-conscious and super smart.
11. Person of Interest
A little like Orphan Black, this crime drama fosters some intense sparks between its main STEM ladies, doctor Sameen Shaw (Sarah Shahi) and hacker/assassin Samantha “Root” Groves (Amy Acker — again!). Both are, of course, hyper-competent, although Shaw troublingly has some kind of personality disorder that means she doesn’t really care about people’s feelings. [Side note: why are so many of these female STEM characters lesbian or bisexual? And why do so many of them die?]
Although this horror series focuses on two demon-hunting brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester, they’re joined for three seasons by Charlie Bradbury (Felicia Day, another actress we originally met in Joss Whedon’s shows). Charlie is a computer expert — and also giant fan of comic books and role-playing games. Day plays Charlie with her usual combination of sweetness, awkwardness and brilliant snark. And, like many of her peers in this list, she’s queer and she gets killed off the show. What’s up with that, writers?