Cinema's ultimate otherworldly fatales

Charting the most iconic science fiction women and fembots in film

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The idea of fembots and sultry aliens has attracted and terrified men in equal measure. Easier to control – or, more often, super-human in strength and allure - they've made for some of sci-fi's most iconic fantasy figures. Here are some of the most memorable, to mark sci-fi Under the Skin being out this week, and The Machine on March 21.

LAURA IN UNDER THE SKIN (2013)

Scarlett Johansson is a foxy alien who drives a van round the Scottish Highlands luring men to their deaths in this hauntingly strange yet rawly naturalistic take on the sci-fi genre from Jonathan Glazer, who also made the top-notch Nicole Kidman weirdness that is Birth. Explanatory plot details are thin, but there's an oozing black alternate realm and a whole lot of other what-the-fuck-ness to keep her stalker shtick intriguing.

AVA IN THE MACHINE (2013)

In this slick little Brit sci-fi from director Caradog James the fledgling compassion of fembot Ava (Caity Lotz) makes her a risk to her ruthless creators, who are endeavouring to train her as a merciless super-soldier. Scientist Vincent - who brought the machine to life in the image of his over-curious lab assistant - is soon morally torn.

SAMANTHA IN HER (2013)

Samantha is an advanced operating system with no body but ScarJo's husky voice – which might be enough for office-worker Theodore, who’s going through a messy divorce and starts falling for her. The feeling seems mutual, but Samantha’s capacity to rapidly evolve presents as many problems as it solves in Spike Jonze’s recent mind-bender, set in an LA of the near future.

HARI IN SOLARIS (1973)

A space station is orbiting an oceanic planet that's prompting strange visions or encounters for the crew. Psychologist Kris is haunted by visitations from his dead wife Hari (Natalia Bondarchuk), who committed suicide some years before. She keeps returning, no matter how he tries getting rid of her, in this meditation on loss, guilt and what makes us human from Russian maestro Andrei Tarkovsky.

RACHAEL IN BLADE RUNNER (1982)

Whatever happened to Sean Young? Pre-tabloid mess and obscurity, Ridley Scott’s neo-noir, set in LA in 2019 (yep, that seemed the far future when this was made) provided her iconic 80s role: Rachael, a genetically engineered “replicant”. Fitted with false memories – and a sheeny pompadoured femme fatale hairdo – she believes she’s human. Ex-cop Deckard is enlisted to “retire” her.

PRIS IN BLADE RUNNER (1982)

Yep, Blade Runner again, because that other famed replicant Pris deserves her own entry. Played by Daryl Hannah, her punk looks were inspired by a new wave calendar. Her performance-style death at the hands of Deckard is almost as spectacular as that of fellow replicant Zhora, who in one of the film’s most visually iconic scenes had plunged slow-motion through a series of plate glass windows in the futuristic city.

MARIA IN METROPOLIS(1927)

In this visionary German Expressionist sci-fi epic workers toil in a dystopia over machines to maintain the rich. The son of the ruthless ruling industrialist falls for Maria, who prophesies a hopeful future. Chaos ensues after an inventor fashions a robot double of her to ruin her rep – but all does not go according to the over-class’s tyrannical scheming.

TRAIN FEMBOT IN 2046 (2004)

Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai’s visually lush and romantically fatalistic sequel to In the Mood for Love includes snippets from the dystopian erotic sci-fi series heart-broken writer Chow (Tony Leung) is working on, in which love-lorn souls on a high-speed rail network try to reach 2046 - a place where nothing ever changes. A Japanese passenger falls in love with one of the railway's android assistants (Faye Wong) - but his longing is unreciprocated.

RENEE/ALICE IN LOST HIGHWAY (1997) 

It's not exactly a sci-fi… but there's enough physics-defying, world-bending weirdness and morphing identity in this glorious genre mash-up to make me throw it in here (and you can never have enough David Lynch, right?) Patricia Arquette plays Renee, the brunette wife of a terrorised saxophonist, and also her blond doppelganger (or are they the same person?), smouldering gangster's moll Alice, in this neo-noir nightmare-scape, that's brain-meltingly structured like a Moebius strip.

THE WIVES IN THE STEPFORD WIVES (1975)

The wives of Connecticut suburb Stepford are sexually submissive, great-looking and obsessed with housework. They alarm newcomer Joanna with their blandness – especially when she discovers they are robots, built to replace the socially liberated forerunners that the husbands had found such a threat, in this cult dystopian horror from director Bryan Forbes.

The Machine is in cinemas/VoD 21 March and DVD/Blu-ray 31 March.

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