Science fiction, as a genre, can demand a lot from the actors involved. They’re tasked with reciting the kind of scientific mumbo jumbo that all sci-fi scripts contain and are forced to find ways to make it compelling.
Great sci-fi actors know how to leverage their on-screen personas to create compelling characters, even if those characters live in a world that is not exactly like our own. These seven actors proved that sci-fi is a genre that can be conquered by the right presence.
Sigourney Weaver’s performance in the Alien movie franchise cements her near the top of any list of great sci-fi movie actors. One of the few performers to ever be Oscar-nominated for their work in a sci-fi movie, she plays Ripley as a steely heroine who is nonetheless severely traumatized by everything she’s been through.
An icon to end all icons, she’s adept at the action, but maybe even more crucially, she plays Ripley as someone who is easy to understand. She’s been trapped in hell, and Weaver’s face shows us how that feels.
Few actors have been in more sci-fi projects over the course of their careers than Reeves. Of course, there’s The Matrix, the marquee franchise that proved he was committed to the genre.
On top of that, he’s also done work in movies like Johnny Mnemonic, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and even something like Constantine, which is sort of sci-fi-adjacent. Reeves maintains his steely, reserved onscreen persona throughout each of these parts, and he proves to be an ideal cipher for viewers who want to imagine what it might be like to live through the situations he finds himself in.
Harrison Ford has more charisma than almost any other actor in the history of cinema. Between roles in the Star Wars and Blade Runner franchises, the actor has more than established his bona fides as a sci-fi legend, and part of what makes him so great is that all of his characters seem to be almost totally indifferent to the wondrous worlds they inhabit.
Han Solo was the character every young viewer wanted to be, and Ford created an entire archetype with his performance in Star Wars. Frankly, the rest of his sci-fi work was just icing on the cake.
Few actors can sell nonsense like Patrick Stewart, and writers have been using that to full effect for decades. As the star of Star Trek: The Next Generation and as Charles Xavier in the X-Men franchise, Stewart has had plenty of opportunities to spout nonsense in his Shakespearean baritone.
To his credit, though, Stewart seems to take all of his work seriously, and he’s delivered some truly excellent performances across these sci-fi properties. He may have formal theater training, but Stewart brings his full commitment to every project he takes on.
A relative newbie, Rebecca Ferguson has already charted a path through genre work that earned her a spot on this list. Between her starring roles in Dune, Reminiscence, the excellent Apple TV+ show Silo, and the underrated movie Life, Ferguson has proven that she’s an actress who is unafraid of the scope and scale of great genre work.
Ferguson has been particularly great in the world of Dune, where she plays Lady Jessica, a sort of co-protagonist to Timothée Chalamet’s Paul Atreides. Few actresses seem to care more about the world of sci-fi than Ferguson, and she has delivered fierce performances across her broad body of work.
In addition to his work in the world of The Terminator, Schwarzenegger has shown a commitment to science fiction throughout his career. He teamed up with Paul Verhoeven for Total Recall and also starred in the first Predator movie.
Those are just the highlights from Schwarzenegger’s long relationship with sci-fi, but the high point is undoubtedly the Terminator franchise, which helped launch his career and allowed him to ease his way into delivering full-bodied performances. Schwarzenegger has always had a fascinating screen presence, and science fiction usually makes it better.
Few actors work more consistently than Jeff Goldblum, but throughout his long career, the actor has proven that he fits perfectly into the world of science fiction.
From his earliest days starring in a remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers all the way through to his work on Jurassic Park and even Thor: Ragnarok, there is something just slightly unusual about Goldblum that makes him an ideal fit for work in science fiction. He can work in any genre, but there’s a reason Wes Anderson wanted him to play the alien in Asteroid City.
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