Science-fiction films are finally recognising women as major parts of their worldsВіщун / Wikimedia Commons (cropped) /

Science fiction has always been the epitome of a “boy” genre: alien spaceships, monsters made in labs, robots ruling the Earth. At no point in a young girl’s life is she – at least in my experience – directed towards watching Interstellar.

“Most of my female friends watched Dune Two and most of them loved it”

To some extent, this makes sense. Science fiction is perceived as a masculine genre, with films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Alien dominating the public eye. These films almost always have male leads, with female characters demoted to love interests or side characters to be killed off or swooned over. They usually involve violence and intense action – devices largely directed towards male audiences. Even science-fiction films with female leads, such as Ghost in the Shell, cater predominantly and inarguably to the male gaze. While there is nothing wrong with this type of film, their dominance within the genre hardly encourages female audiences to engage with science fiction.

It was the recent popularity of Dune: Part Two that got me thinking about this. While the film does have a male lead, violence, action, etcetera, the major female characters are depicted as powerful and complex and are developed throughout the story. Chani and Irulan might be love interests but they are also intelligent, strategic, passionate and – perhaps most importantly – integral to the plot. Furthermore, the abusive treatment of women is reserved for the antagonistic House Harkonnen, while women fight alongside men in the ranks of the heroic sand people.

Dune: Part Two contains powerful and complex female charactersYouTube (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Hence, the film seemed to be popular among both male and female audiences. Most of my female friends watched Dune Two and most of them loved it. They enjoyed the creativity that a backdrop of space, technology and the future enabled (certainly the hallmarks of science fiction). When I spoke to them about the film, not one of them mentioned sensing an absence of female characters – indeed, because there wasn’t one.

Another recent example: All of Us Strangers. Despite starring two male actors, the queer science-fiction fantasy film garnered plenty of female fans. No doubt this was partially due to the presence of Andrew Scott and Paul Mescal, two extremely popular British actors. But, equally, I believe the tropes of science fiction added an intrigue to the film that compounded its popularity upon release.

“No genre is in itself targeted at a specific gendered audience”

I would like to argue that science fiction and female audiences are not only compatible, but that this compatibility will only grow as more films decentralise the male perspective and attempt more well-rounded narratives that include developed female characters. If science-fiction cinema continues to acknowledge, propagate and centre female voices, it’s only common sense that it will carry on attracting receptive female audiences.

There are already popular subsections of genres traditionally associated with femininity that are influenced by science fiction. There is no shortage of science-fiction rom-coms, for example – About Time, The Time Traveller’s Wife and The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to name a few. (Although perhaps it is notable that, in each of these films, it is the male character who has some control over time and space and the female love interest who is subject to them. Nevertheless, these films were commercially successful and are still watched and adored years after their release.)


Mountain View

Dune: Part Two is a true epic for the ages

I’m not saying that women can’t enjoy “boy” science-fiction movies. I’m actually saying there’s no such thing as “boy” science-fiction films. Star Wars, Star Trek and so on boast large female audiences and have always had important female characters: Princess Lea and Nyota Uhura to name the most obvious two. No genre is in itself targeted at a specific gendered audience. Directorial choices, casting and plot are usually the culprit when it comes to why certain groups prefer to watch something and other groups would rather avoid it.

Science fiction is changing and it’s changing as we speak. While it has a long way to go and is perhaps still the most obvious “boy” genre of film, it is becoming increasingly intersectional and fraying away from centring the straight white male voice.