Remember at school, when all the geeks and nerds were made fun of? Well, it turns out that those of us who like a bit of fantasy in our fiction aren’t losers after all. Comic books, fantasy films and sci-fi TV series have hit the zeitgeist, introducing a whole new audience to a weird, but wonderful world.
And one of the best things about the genre is its celebration of strong women. Want to see a feisty heroine who kicks ass, takes no prisoners and looks good doing it? Look no further, people. From action heroines to femmes fatales and brainy broads, these ladies bring a whole new meaning to the word cool.
Here’s Stylist's selection of our all-time favourite leading ladies of science fiction and fantasy.
Words: Cat Collins. Images: Rex Features
Alien 1-4: Ellen Ripley
Played by: Sigourney Weaver
"Get away from her, you bitch!"
Often hailed as one of the greatest movie characters of all time, Alien's leading lady is the quintessential scifi heroine - a likeable warrior with plenty of attitude, and a believable soft side hidden underneath a tough exterior. But, while she looks pretty badass toting a huge machine gun, what makes Ripley so exceptional is her courage.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Buffy Summers
Played by: Sarah Michelle Gellar
"I'm the thing that monsters have nightmares about."
In Buffy Summers, creator Joss Whedon wanted to give the world a character that turned the tables on "the little blonde girl who goes into a dark alley and gets killed in every horror movie". More than a simple hero, Buffy had layers - a dark side, a journey to go through, relationships to negotiate, and, of course, demons to slay - which is what made her so compelling. She also had a wonderful way with a one-liner.
The X Files: Dana Scully
Played by: Gillian Anderson
"Save your own ass sir. You’ll save your head along with it."
Not so much an action hero as a super-smart sceptical doctor-slash-sleuth, Dana Scully frequently ran rings around her paranormally curious partner Fox Mulder - and saved his skin a few times too, turning the age old 'damsel in distress' convention on its head. One of the most prominent examples of a truly equal TV partnership, many post-90s female law enforcement characters owe a debt to this sci-fi icon.
Firefly: Zoe Washburne
Played by: Gina Torres
"Do you know what the definition of a hero is? Someone who gets other people killed. You can look it up later."
A stubborn soldier with a smart mouth, Zoe is a lover and a fighter. In a world where heroines are all-too-often young, scantily clad and emotionally unstable, it's refreshing to see a kick-ass woman who talks straight and shoots from the hip... literally. Even if she is a little morally ambiguous.
Battlestar Galactica: Kara 'Starbuck' Thrace
Played by: Katee Sackhoff
"Semper frakkin fi!"
In a show full of complex, well-written and well-rounded female characters Starbuck stands out. Foulmouthed, hard-drinking and, quite simply, scrappy, she is possibly one of the most believable female soldiers ever seen on the small screen. Of course, she has her flaws - but don't we all?
Torchwood: Gwen Cooper
Played by: Eve Myles
"This is what happens here. We all end up alone. Not me. No way."
Unafraid to speak her mind, calm under pressure, and handy with a weapon to boot, police officer-turned alien investigator Gwen Cooper is the heart of Torchwood. Fiercely loyal and with a fiery temper, Gwen dominates many of the men around her - and what's more, they don't seem to mind in the slightest.
Star Wars: Princess Leia
Played by: Carrie Fisher
"Some day you're gonna be wrong, I just hope I'm there to see it."
Forget the tiaras, all princesses should know how to aim a blaster, command a battalion of soldiers and lead a rebellion. Refreshingly cool-headed and charmingly cheeky, Leia's the kind of royal one would want on hand in a crisis. Enslaved by a disgusting monster? He's dead. Boyfriend frozen in carbonite? Rescued. Death Star needs destroying? It's done. And all without whinging once about a broken nail.
The Terminator: Sarah Connor
Played by: Linda Hamilton
"You think you're so creative. You don't know what it's like to really create something; to create a life; to feel it growing inside you."
An ordinary waitress who finds herself in an extraordinary situation, Sarah Connor goes from kitten to lioness when she realises her destiny as mother and protector of her son - mankind's saviour, John Connor. A tribute to mothers everywhere, Connor changes from a timid little girl to a vicious warrior woman trained in weaponry and the art of war. And who wouldn't do the same for their child?
Star Trek: Nyota Uhura
Played by: Zoe Saldana
"I'm impressed. For a moment there, I thought you were just a dumb hick who only has sex with farm animals."
Most recently brought to life on the big screen by Zoe Saldana, Captain Kirk's intuitive and incredibly intelligent chief communications officer was originally played by Nichelle Nichols. Uhura holds the distinction of being one of the first prominent female black characters on the small screen, as well as involved in one of the first interracial smooches on telly.
The Hunger Games: Katniss Everdeen
Played by: Jennifer Lawrence
"Thank you for your consideration."
We all know Jennifer Lawrence can do no wrong. But in accepting the role of Katniss Everdeen, the actress did something very, very right indeed. Brave beyond her years, after stubbornly surviving to victory in a brutal Big Brother-style game show, she becomes the poster girl for a revolution against a totalitarian regime. Not bad for a teenager armed with only her wits and a bow and arrow.
The Lord Of The Rings: Eowyn
Played by: Miranda Otto
"I am no man!"
If there was ever a character that proved a woman's place is nowhere near the home, it's Eowyn. Despite being denied permission to ride to battle, she dons a disguise and battles Sauron's dark army, ultimately killing the Witch king of Angmar, Lord of Nazgul - a creature it is said that no man can kill. But, of course, Eowyn is no man.
Harry Potter: Hermione Granger
Played by: Emma Watson
"Excuse me, I have to go vomit."
The most cogent character in the Harry Potter universe grew from an annoying know-it-all to a courageous, clever, cool-headed and kind-hearted witch. Her considerable smarts and talent with a wand aside, it's Hermione's fierce friendship that makes us love her most.
Stargate SG-1: Samantha Carter
Played by: Amanda Tapping
"You know, you really will like me when you get to know me."
A military commander with a Ph.D in astrophysics, Sam Carter is well versed in quantum mechanics, a Gulf War veteran and Earth's leading expert on the Stargate - alien technology that opens a door to other worlds. She also rides motorbikes. We want to be Sam Carter when we grow up.
Fringe: Olivia Dunham
Played by: Anna Torv
"I'll get straight to the point: I am emotional. I do bring it into my work. It's what motivates me."
An FBI agent whose simple world is turned upside down when she is introduced to the world of fringe science, Olivia is determined and driven. A seriously cool customer - hostage crises, terror campaigns, suicide bombers, chemical attacks and alternate universes are all in a day's work for this chick.
Doctor Who: Clara Oswald
Played by: Jenna-Louise Coleman
"Is there a word for total screaming genius that sounds modest and a tiny bit sexy?"
Smart, sexy and quite a bit sassy, Clara Oswald was just the latest in a long line of Doctor Who companions to be both interesting and inspirational. Saucy and sparky, but at the same time vulnerable and a little bit mysterious, she's impossible not to fall in love with.
Game Of Thrones: Daenerys Targaryen
Played by: Emilia Clarke
"No one will take my dragons."
The last known survivor of an ancient dynasty, Daenerys is a woman on a mission - to return to her homeland and reclaim her throne from those who stole it. In her youth, a meek, timid girl, Dany has grown from victimised child to a confident, courageous woman. She might have a strong moral compass, but woe betide those who risk her wrath. She has dragons.
Avengers Assemble: Natasha 'Black Widow' Romanoff
Played by: Scarlett Johansson
"I've got red in my ledger; I'd like to wipe it out."
A former Soviet super-assassin, Agent Romanoff is beautiful but deadly - the ultimate femme fatale. Reluctant superhero Black Widow is determined to redeem herself for her shady past as a K.G.B spy and uses her world class skills in martial arts and weaponry to help secret government agency S.H.I.E.L.D fight the good fight. She's also an accomplished ballerina, which must come in handy.
The Matrix: Trinity
Played by: Carrie-Anne Moss
"Touch me and that hand will never touch anything again."
A computer programmer and hacker who has escaped from the Matrix, the leather-clad Trinity is a hardass with a heart. Willing to fight for what she believes in, she'll go to any lengths to protect those she loves - including Neo (Keanu Reeves) - and ultimately sacrifices herself to save the world. Now that's commitment to a cause.
The Dark Knight Rises: Selina 'Catwoman' Kyle
Played by: Anne Hathaway
"I take what I need from those who have more than enough. I don't stand on the shoulders of those with less."
A master thief and mistress of disguise, Catwoman is cunning, devious and cynical. But despite her criminal activities, Kyle has a deep (if a little twisted) sense of Robin Hood-style honour, targeting only Gotham's wealthiest in her schemes. Ultimately though, tired of being the villain, a fresh, redemptive start is what she's looking for.
Man Of Steel: Lois Lane
Played by: Amy Adams
"What's the S stand for?"
Given that she’s a journalist – hell, she’s the journalist – it’s no surprise we’d have an affinity for the Pulizer Prize-winning investigator. And while we’ve yet to see Amy Adams’ interpretation of the character, we have no doubt whatsoever that Miss Lane will be as strong-willed, determined and opinionated as ever.
"I have always identified with Lois. She is suited to my personality," the actress has said. "I wanted her to be a woman other women could relate to. And not be sort of a pest. Lois can be kind of omnipresent, turning up at very inconvenient times - which she does! - but you understand her reasons."