07/05/2012 10:38 am ET

Hooray For The Awesome Wave Of Lady Scientists In Action Movies

It's hard to decide when the James Bond franchise hit bottom (before being resuscitated by Daniel Craig in the 2006 remake of Casino Royale). But a good contender would be 1999, when Denise Richards sashayed on screen as Christmas Jones in The World Is Not Enough, which had the chutzpah to present her as the universe's least plausible nuclear physicist (and to argue that short-shorts and a tank top were the perfect gear for dismantling warheads in the Former Soviet Republic). It was a particularly dumb, sexist moment for the franchise—more than her profession, Richards' character really existed for Bond to make the Carrie Bradshaw-level pun "I thought Christmas only comes once a year"—and a particularly egregious use of a trope even more vexing than the Sexy Librarian: the Dumb Hot Scientist who sparks chemical reactions in the hero rather than in the lab.

But while heroines like The Hunger Games' Katniss and Brave's Merida have revitalized Diana the Huntress as a viable action movie role model, 2012's also been a terrific year for fictional girls in STEM fields, and for pushback against the image of the gal who wears a lab coat just to showcase her push-up bra. From Dejah Thoris, the Martian scientist and warrior princess who was the best thing about flop John Carter, to Prometheus' questing Elizabeth Shaw, to Gwen Stacy, Peter Parker's girlfriend in The Amazing Spider-Man (out today), the movies are suddenly full of female scientists who can unlock the mysteries of the universe in the lab and defend themselves on the street.

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