The annals of sci-fi and horror are littered with notable older women. Often, this isn’t for any particularly noble reason – this is Hollywood, after all – it’s simply because a female actor has become so identified with a franchise that she has grown up with it, and it makes commercial sense to keep her tied to it. The makers of the Alien movies didn’t keep bringing Sigourney Weaver back to empower older women: they did it because they knew fans wanted to see Ripley kick xenomorph ass.
But in today’s world there is another reason why these roles are popular. It’s the same reason we love to see Bruce Willis take up the vest he’s way, way too old for; we live in a world where technology is developing at a pace we can’t track, and everyone over 25 knows the fear of being replaced by someone younger and cheaper, so seeing these old school survivors raging against change and still coming out on top (or at least going out fighting) speaks to something primal in all of us: they are fighting for us, in a way we so often can’t. So in honour of that, here are my favourite ‘older’ women in genre films and shows. Did I include yours?
Ripley, the Alien series: one of the most iconic roles in science fiction and absolutely pivotal for women in the genre. Ripley’s development over the series marks one of the most interesting arcs in fiction, but for most fans it will always be Aliens for which she is most remembered: who can hear that ‘Get away from her, you bitch!’ without cheering? (Props also to Weaver for adding class to the otherwise tedious Avatar).
Laurie, the Halloween franchise: Jamie Lee Curtis’ plucky babysitteer returns as a savvy survivor fighting off Michael Myers in the 20th anniversary of this horror franchise, Laurie’s maturing reflects Curtis’ development from pretty young thing to actor of considerable class. Like Weaver – with whom she has of course worked with in recent comedy You Again – she makes pretty much anything more interesting just by showing up.
Captain Janeway, Star Trek Voyager: Kate Mulgrew’s classy and unflappable starship captain was definitely more Picard than Kirk, but if you’re going to be stranded light years from Earth, she’s the woman you would trust to bring you home.
Laura Roslin, Battlestar Galactica: of the many compelling characters in this ground breaking show, Mary McDonnell’s schoolteacher turned president was one of the most interesting, as she bravely navigated the shifting moral sands of a world in flux. Her blossoming relationship with Edward James Olmos was also a joy – as well as being a masterclass in acting, it was quietly remarkable in acknowledging that hey, older people fall in love and have sex.
M, The Bond films: I’m totally counting these as genre (invisible car, anyone?), and Judi Dench’s steely performance as M saw her survive the transition from Brosnan’s smooth superspy to the gritty Craig reboot without missing a step. (Also noteworthy in a similar vein is fellow Oscar winner Linda Hunt, whose turn as Hetty, a mini-ninja with a very questionable past, is one of the most fun things about NCIS: LA).
Diana, V: Jane Badler’s fan pleasing return as the most famous rodent swallower since Freddy Starr was the best thing about this lacklustre update.
Sidney Prescott and Gale Weathers, Scream 4: [Spoilers] Ok, I’m cheating a little here – Neve Campbell is still only in her thirties, but this is the prime example of my opening point, so I’m squeezing it in. The whole of this movie is set up as an introduction to the ‘next generation’ Scream, kids whose lives are lived online and for whom murder is another form of entertainment. Except it pulls that rug from under you in the last moments, when Sidney sees off her successor with a defibrillator to the head, a ‘check you’re really dead’ bullet and the stern advice: ‘You forgot the first rule of all sequels… don’t fuck with the original”.
So – who’d I miss?
I’ll be back in a fortnight with more Fangirl Unleashed, but you can pop over to my blog Body of a Geek Goddess any time, and remember if you like urban fantasy you can check out my new novel Dark Dates here (UK) or here (US).