If Tom Cruise’s cinematic calling card is an action tale set in a dystopian future and Paul Rudd’s is a raunchy comedy that explores the family dynamic, Zoe Saldana‘s is a rollicking adventure in outer space. Think about it: when’s the last time you saw the stunning star on-screen sans alien-style body paint or futuristic garb?
To be sure, Saldana hasn’t always been associated with space-traveling sagas. Her big break, as hot-tempered ballerina Eva in Center Stage, was about as far from the outer galaxies as you can get. Ditto on Crossroads, the Britney Spears vehicle about three BFFs on a road trip (admit it: you saw it), and Saldana’s turns in Drumline and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. But after landing consecutive leading roles in both James Cameron’s record-breaking Avatar and J.J. Abrams’ wildly hyped Star Trek reboot in 2009, something stuck; Saldana later returned for Star Trek Into Darkness in 2013, and a third movie is on the way. Meanwhile, she’s confirmed for three (yes, three) more Avatar films, the first of which is set to hit theaters in 2016. And then, of course, there’s her turn as the green-skinned superhuman Gamora in Guardian of the Galaxy, which opens nationwide today. (A Guardians sequel has already been confirmed as well.)
The actress recently admitted to David Letterman that her recent stretch of sci-fi roles is somewhat of a happy accident. "Trust me, it’s not something I’ve been planning," she said. "Every science fiction movie I wrap, I’m like, ‘This is the last one. It’s done. I’m moving on.’ And then a great filmmaker calls me and is like, ‘You want to be a badass in space?’ Hm, alright."
For my part, I think "strong-willed space heroine" is a good look on Saldana. It’s a sad fact that action movies, while entertaining, have a bad habit of objectifying women, often relegating them to sexy arm candy or damsels in distress. For proof, look no further than Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise, the Spiderman saga or even classics like the James Bond series. Luckily, the sci-fi and even YA genres are helping turn things around; the Hunger Games and Divergent series are both marked by bold female protagonists, and recent films Lucy and Edge of Tomorrow also feature strong women in leading parts. But it’s Saldana’s sci-fi/adventure roles, at least for me, that really reveal how Hollywood is changing its tune. Her characters regularly beat the bad guys, overcome countless obstacles and eventually save the day—all while raking in some pretty major box-office bucks in the process.
So while some may argue Saldana is now officially typecast, I say there are worse things to be famous for than setting a stellar example for women around the world (and, I suppose, beyond our own world). Click through the gallery above for a look at Zoe Saldana’s star-making outer-space screen roles.