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17 must-watch movies and TV shows with women in STEM

Movies and TV shows with women in STEM
(Image credit: AMC; 20th Century Fox; 20th Television)

Women in STEM often find that they’re few and far between in their workplaces — and on screen, in movies and television. Representation of women in science, technology, engineering and math fields has improved in the last few years, as more movies and TV shows put female characters front and center, but it could get better. 

A recent Census Bureau report noted that women make up almost half of the U.S. workforce but only only 27 percent of STEM workers. Hollywood could help that number grow. A study by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media found that girls are more likely to pursue STEM careers when they see portrayals of women as biochemists, software developers, engineers or statisticians. It’s called the “Scully Effect.”

To mark Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting 15 movies and TV shows that depict accomplished, smart women in STEM.

The X-Files

Dana Scully in The X-Files

(Image credit: 20th Century Television)

Stream on Hulu
As noted in the institute’s study, “The Scully Effect'' is real. It’s named after The X-Files’ Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), a medical doctor who teams up with Fox Mulder to investigate paranormal phenomena. Scully is depicted as whip-smart, skeptical and a balancing check on her male partner’s more erratic instincts. A generation of girls watched her week after week on the popular Fox drama, so it’s no mystery why two-thirds of real women working in STEM cite her as a role model.

Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

Stream on Disney Plus
Women of color in STEM are even more underrepresented, which makes 2016's Hidden Figures an important film. And beyond that, it’s a highly entertaining and thrilling one that’s based on the true story of Black mathematicians working at NASA in the 1960s. Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) calculated flight paths for Project Mercury, Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) supervised the programming department and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) was NASA’s first Black female engineer. These women were computers before computers were put into wide use.

Halt and Catch Fire

Halt and Catch Fire

(Image credit: Tina Rowden/AMC)

Stream on Netflix
Two women power this under-the-radar series portraying the personal computing revolution and development of the World Wide Web in the 1980s and ‘90s. Cameron Howe (Mackenzie Davis) is a programming prodigy and video game designer, while Donna Clark (Kerry Bishé) is a crackerjack computer engineer and ace businesswoman. This dynamic duo forms a pioneering startup combining online games, shopping and a social network. And though Cameron and Donna encounter sexist attitudes along the way, they refuse to let anything get in the way of their innovating dreams.

Contact

Contact with Jodie Foster

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

Rent/buy on Amazon or Apple
When Contact came out in 1997, few movies had a female scientist as the main protagonist. Astronomer Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) discovers a radio signal sent by intelligent alien life transmitting schematics for a machine. As a woman, Arroway works doubly hard to prove herself but actually loses out on the chance to use the machine — until a tragic turn of events allows her the chance to attempt first contact. The success of the movie, and Foster’s much-praised performance, paved the way for later female leading roles in Gravity and Interstellar. 

Black Panther

Shuri in Black Panther

(Image credit: Marvel)

Stream on Disney Plus
Black Panther wouldn’t be the superhero he is without the suit — and the suit comes courtesy of his tech genius sister, Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright). The sassy spitfire is also responsible for other innovations, like Captain America’s new shield and Bucky Barnes’ robotic arm. If she’d had a bit more time, she might’ve even done the seemingly impossible and detached Vision from the Mind Stone. Bow down to the big brain behind the brawn. 

The Imitation Game and Bletchley Circle

The Imitation Game starring Keira Knightley

(Image credit: TWC)

Stream The Imitation Game on Tubi or Pluto TV
Stream Bletchley Circle on Amazon Prime Video
These two titles both feature British codebreakers who decrypted German messages at Bletchley Park during World War II. The Imitation Game focuses on Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) but also shines a spotlight on cryptanalyst Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), who played a key role in the breaking of the Enigma machine. Bletchley Circle takes place after the war, following four female codebreakers who use their skills to investigate a series of murders.

For All Mankind

Margo in For All Mankind

(Image credit: Apple TV Plus)

Stream on Apple TV Plus
The alternate universe space drama certainly veers away from real history after the Soviets beat Americans to the moon. For one, NASA recruits a whole roster of female astronauts, while the intelligent, crafty engineer Margo Madison (Wrenn Schmidt) works her way up to Flight Director and, in season 2, director of Johnson Space Center. In the world of For All Mankind, the future of space is female.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo starring Rooney Mara

(Image credit: Sony)

Stream on Netflix
The brilliant hacker Lisbeth Salander is the driving engine of Stieg Larsson’s bestselling novels. In the 2011 film, Lisbeth (Rooney Mara) uses her skills to aid journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) to investigate the 40-year-old disappearance of a teen girl. The film slowly peels back the layers of the eccentric and antisocial genius as she unearths the truth. For more of Lisbeth Salander, you can also watch its sequel starring Claire Foy, The Girl in the Spider Web.

Ghostbusters (2016)

Ghostbusters 2016

(Image credit: Sony)

Rent/buy on Amazon or Apple
The gender-swapped reboot of Ghostbusters got a lot of flak. And while not all of the criticism was sexist and misogynistic, a lot of it was. Sure, the all-female Ghostbusters movie is a departure from the original films — and it’s also funny and thrilling. Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig play physicists, while Kate McKinnon is an eccentric engineer who team up to catch and study ghosts and wind up battling an army of them.

Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist

Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist

(Image credit: NBC)

Stream on Hulu
Current-day Silicon Valley turns musical in this dramedy starring Jane Levy as Zoey Clarke, a programmer and engineering manager at a tech firm that makes smart devices and apps. An incident in an MRI machine suddenly gives her the ability to hear other people’s innermost thoughts as popular songs. A recent storyline found Zoey listening as Black co-worker Simon (John Clarence Stewart) belted out his feelings about the company’s lack of racial diversity, a very real problem in the tech industry.

Orphan Black

Orphan Black starring Tatiana Maslany

(Image credit: BBC America)

Stream on Amazon Prime Video
A human cloning experiment propels much of the action in Orphan Black. Tatiana Maslany plays several clones, who discover one another’s existence and band together to understand their origins. Leading the charge, scientifically, is Cosima, a biologist, and her girlfriend and fellow scientist, Delphine (Evelyne Brochu). Along with Cosima’s “sisters” (or sestras), they uncover a much more insidious operation than any of them ever expected.

Black Mirror: USS Callister

Black Mirror USS Callister

(Image credit: Netflix)

Stream on Netflix
The toxic masculinity that can be found in the tech world is examined and found extremely wanting in USS Callister, one of the best episodes of Black Mirror. A new programmer, Nanette (Cristin Milioti), starts her job at gaming company Callister Inc. Unbeknownst to her, CTO Robert Daly (Jesse Plemons) replicates Nanette’s consciousness to use in his own simulation, where he subjugates and terrorizes her. Daly’s comeuppance eventually comes at the hands of both the digital and real versions of Nanette, who outwits, outplays and outlasts her sketchy boss. 

Arrow and The Flash

Arrow and The Flash: Felicity and Caitlin

(Image credit: The CW)

Stream Arrow on Netflix
Stream The Flash on Netflix
We’d like to see more female superheroes get top billing in movies and TV shows, but in the meantime, we can root for the badass women on Arrow and The Flash. On the former, Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) is a supremely capable IT expert and hacker who makes Arrow’s vigilante missions possible. On the latter, Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) is a bioengineer whose expertise comes in very handy in dealing with meta-humans.

The Big Bang Theory

Mayim Bialik in The Big Bang Theory

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Television)

Stream on HBO Max
The first few seasons of this uber-popular sitcom are filled with sexist jokes, and the entire premise revolves around high-IQ male scientists and their less intelligent (though more commonsensical) female neighbor. But later seasons of Big Bang Theory bring in the character of Amy, a neurobiologist as brilliant as protagonist Sheldon Cooper. Even better, she’s played by Mayim Bialik, an actress with a Ph.D in neuroscience. 

Star Trek: Voyager

Star Trek: Voyager

(Image credit: Paramount)

Stream on Paramount Plus
The Star Trek franchise has featured female scientists and engineers from the start, but in Voyager, they also got to be the bosses. Not only does the ship have a woman as a captain in Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew), it also ends up with a female chief engineer in B’Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson). They oversee the crew as they grapple with being stranded in the Delta Quadrant, far from any of their hopes.