Science Fiction Film & Television

Square-jawed strength

Gender and resilience in the female astronaut film

Science Fiction Film & Television (2019), 12, (1), 53–72.


This article studies a specific and relatively under-examined manifestation of the ‘strong female protagonist’ trope in sf - that of the female astronaut. From the late 1990s to the present this figure has proliferated in films like Event Horizon (1997), Mission to Mars (2000), Red Planet (2000), Supernova (2000), Sunshine (2007), Gravity (2013), Europa Report (2013), Interstellar (2014), Life (2017) and The Cloverfield Paradox (2018). Yet there are some striking consistencies of visual depiction that are sustained across the period, particularly in the close-ups that capture the female astronaut at work, and which also seek to express her strength and resilience. Drawing together detailed analysis of specific films and writing on gender in sf and on the face in cinema, I will explore why such a consistent visual treatment recurs in these space-set sf films, and the extent to which these fictional women remain marked by historically gendered ideas about strength, competence, bodily integrity and access to space technologies.

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Author details

Purse, Lisa