A Survey of Sci-Fi Sex Symbols


Sci-Fi cult classic Barbarella , starring Jane Fonda as a sexy space agent, arrives on Blu-ray tomorrow. The psychedelic kitsch-fest was adapted from Jean-Claude Forest’s comic series of the same name and is adored for its comical, stylish, and erotic production. While Fonda’s ditzy, deadpan performance is charming, the actress is most remembered for her multiple skintight costume changes and a zero gravity striptease seen in the movie’s opening. The 1968 film helped establish Fonda’s sex symbol status. We took a look at the genre’s other memorable faces and figures — some human, others not so much — past the break.

Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) in Return of the Jedi

George Lucas created a space adventure the whole family could enjoy when he directed Star Wars, but Return of the Jedi’s enslaved Princess Leia in a metal bikini wasn’t really meant for young eyes. However, the iconic image of Carrie Fisher’s character was burned into the minds of impressionable audiences — something the actress has never felt happy or comfortable with. Fisher described the attention she got as “freakish” and “gross,” but noted she never really grasped the scope of her popularity at the time — and she’s thankful for that. Although the costume has been hypersexualized in contemporary geek culture, true fans of the Princess declare her intelligence, independent spirit, and capability during combat amongst her sexiest assets.

Stella Star (Caroline Munro) and Simon (David Hasselhoff) in Starcrash

Distributed under Roger Corman’s low budget banner New World Pictures, Luigi Cozzi’s 1978 Italian sci-fi frenzy definitely falls into the “so awful it’s good” category. Aided by leggy Hammer Films’ vixen Caroline Munro and then soap star David Hasselhoff, the duo’s good looks and revealing outfits (yes, Hoff’s too) helped distract from Starcrash’s derivative style and storyline (including Star Wars and Barbarella). Munro’s leather space bikini even overshadows a score from James Bond maestro John Barry.

Space Girl (Mathilda May) in Lifeforce

Most people remember Tobe Hooper’s dark sci-fi film Lifeforce for one reason: French actress Mathilda May spends most of the movie naked. She stars as a space vampire who consumes the life force of her victims — a role that reportedly took its toll on May due to her “overwhelmingly feminine presence.” Natasha Henstridge carried on the sci-fi exploitation torch in the 1990’s favorite, Species.

Zed (Sean Connery) in Zardoz

The hilariously eccentric Zardoz is perhaps the only film where Charlotte Rampling had to compete for the spotlight — and it wasn’t easy next to Sean Connery in knee-high leather boots and a flimsy, red diaper body harness with nothing else but a ponytail and a mustache to keep him warm. Connery was on leave from the James Bond series, already nearing the end of his career as 007, when he lent his signature machismo to John Boorman’s bizarre, post-apocalyptic movie. The film’s plethora of chest hair and a strange, floating head preaching about male genitalia was seen as a statement about masculinity and feminism by some, but for others it was all about Connery cheesecake and utter weirdness.

Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) in The Fifth Element

Actress-model Milla Jovovich’s skimpy outfit in Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element was one of the film’s sexier costume designs, but the star’s equally vulnerable and ass-kicking portrayal of an extraterrestrial being with a pure heart contributed to her sex appeal.

Chris Kelvin (George Clooney) in Solaris

Inspired by Andrei Tarkovsky’s brilliant 1972 film of the same name, Steven Soderbergh’s 2002 version of Solaris found Hollywood star George Clooney as a psychiatrist trying to cope with his surreal experiences and memories while aboard a space station. The film’s media campaign depicted the movie as a trippy love story, with a handsome, tortured man at its center.

Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in the Alien series

“She’s not a sidekick, arm candy, or a damsel to be rescued… She isn’t a fantasy version of a woman… The character is strong enough to survive multiple screenwriters… She was lucky enough to be played by Sigourney Weaver,” said Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America president John Scalzi of Ellen Ripley. While the Nostromo warrant officer is one of cinema’s most intelligently drawn female characters, defying the sexualized clichés of genre movies, she did amass an adoring fan club. Ripley’s appeal isn’t in her scantily clad scenes on a ship, but in her strength, attitude, and atypical actions in which she refuses to be passive or a victim. Also see: Linda Hamilton’s similarly drawn — and very buff — character in the Terminator series.

Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Neo (Keanu Reeves) in The Matrix

The Wachowskis’ fetishistic fashion sense in their mind-bending, futuristic saga boasted slick, sexy costumes that caught everyone’s eye. However, the series subtext dealing with everything from intimacy in the real and online worlds to rebellion and gender identity made heroic, passionate couple Neo and Trinity more than just your average sex symbols in PVC catsuits.

Borg Queen (Alice Krige) in Star Trek: First Contact

Considered Star Trek’s sexiest villain by many, the Borg Queen is a twist on cinema’s femme fatale — a transgressive version of the aggressively sexual feminine trope. Although alien in form, the Borg Queen is provocatively dressed and depicted as a wicked seductress who uses her sexuality to subjugate men.

Loana (Raquel Welch) in One Million Years B.C.

The head honchos at Hammer Films started out promoting sci-fi cavewoman epic One Million Years B.C. focusing on the monster-savvy special effects of Ray Harryhausen, but poster artist Tom Chantrell wanted to market a curvaceous aspect of the film. He designed a poster highlighting Raquel Welch in her fur bikini, and the image made her a screen icon.