5 women scientists in movies

Marking the opening of the 68th Cannes Film Festival, we picked five of the most powerful women scientists in movies. The world’s premier film festival is a reminder that the big screen has always had the power to change mind-sets - and that is exactly why the character of the woman scientist is a perfect tool to break down stereotypes. And, who knows, maybe their fictional research could inspire scientists and result in real discoveries in the future?

1) Robby Keough (Rene Russo), Outbreak (1995)

The Motaba virus, causing deadly fevers, resurfaces after it was eradicated twenty-eight years earlier. It starts spreading through the USA when an infected monkey is imported from Africa. Robby Keough, a scientist working for the Center of Disease Control, will not only have to find a cure, she also must stop the army from bombing an infected city in California, the White House’s only plan to end the epidemic.

2) Hypathie (Rachel Weisz), Agora (2009)

Hypathie of Alexandria is a 4th century Greek philosopher who devotes herself to science. Despite religious objections, she investigates the heliocentric model of the solar system or controversial notions like the moon or stars. As an independent woman, she never gives up her determination to develop knowledge. As actress Rachel Weisz mused on her character’s challenges: 

Really, nothing has changed. In certain cultures, women are still second-class citizens, and they’re denied education.

3) Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), Prometheus (2012)

Talented archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw specializes in human mythology. In 2093, working for the USCSS Prometheus expedition, she means to discover the native home of the Engineers, an alien life-form. Strong and determined, she is also a spiritual woman, an idealist, believing in her theories even when her ideas about the origins of mankind are questioned. Knowledge means more to her than life itself. Prometheus was directed by Ridley Scott, who’s been putting women scientists in the spotlight – or more accurately in darkest outer space – for decades: he’s also the man behind the Alien saga, started in 1979, and its super strong engineer heroine Ellen Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver).

4) Dr Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway), Interstellar (2014)

Earth is devastated. Food shortages and climate change are threatening humanity with short-term extinction. Biotechnologist Dr Amelia Brand enrols as a member of the Endurance crew, a scientific team going on a space exploration, in a new universe beyond our solar system, in search of a planet that could sustain life. Dr Amelia Brand represents a scientist who is ready to give up her life for science and humanity. Anne Hathaway explained in an interview that her « interest in physics and science came up a couple of times » while she was shooting Dark Knight Rises also by director Christopher Nolan, which apparently stuck in his mind when it came to casting her part.

5 / Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), The Amazing Spiderman (2012) & The Amazing Spiderman 2 (2014)

Gwen Stacy is Peter Parker/Spiderman’s former classmate who becomes her (doomed) love interest. She works as a senior research officer at Oscorp Industries, a company specialized in cross-gender genetics whose motto is “Altering the future, from the cell to the superstructure.” Far from being a damsel in distress, as Emma Stone declared in Metro:

 Gwen is following her destiny, whether it’s Peter’s destiny or not, and hoping he can figure out how to work into that. She’s a role model for modern women: She’s making her way in the world and not waiting around for a guy.

All these heroines represent scientific excellence, audacity, courage and altruism. But don’t you think that there should be more scientific leading roles held by women in general? Share your thoughts and your favourite character on social media with @4womeninscience! 

For Women in Science

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