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Alita: Battle Angel and 5 of cinema's greatest female cyborgs


Part human. Part machine. Totally awesome. Whether they reside in outlying galaxies, far-off dystopian futures or not-too-distant ones, a plethora of memorable cyborgs have arrived on the big screen over the years.

Far from simply being wires and clockwork, these hybrids have real substance – some are good, some are evil and some are a blend of both. On that note, we're anticipating next year's release of Alita: Battle Angel, a cyberpunk action film directed by Sin City's Robert Rodriguez and adapted from Yukito Kishiro's popular Japanese manga by Avatar's James Cameron.

The movie focuses on the eponymous robot Alita (Rosa Salazar) who, after being rescued from a scrapheap, must come to terms with her past while being hunted by those seeking to use her as a deadly weapon. 

In the spirit of Alita: Battle Angel's kick-ass heroine, here of cinema's greatest female cyborgs.

1. Maria/The Maschinenmensch – Metropolis (1927)

Before the term 'cyborg' had even been coined, there was Maria. The focal point of director Fritz Lang's groundbreaking silent futuristic sci-fi, Maria (Brigitte Helm) is a young but ambitious girl with dreams of one day uniting the titular city's working and ruling classes.

Captured by Metropolis's ruler Joh Fredersen and a creepy inventor named Rotwang, Maria's body is used to help create the 'Maschinenmensch' (literally translated as 'machine-person'): a powerful cyborg built in the image of a deceased loved one with the intention of inciting a violent uprising.

It's the conflicting concoction of peaceful innocence and fierce aggression that makes Maria so compelling. And in a film heavily laden with politics and complex social issues, it's a testament to Helm's performance and Walter Schulze-Mittendorff's character design that Maria remains Metropolis's most iconic creation.

2. Pris – Blade Runner (1982)

Director Ridley Scott's seminal adaptation of Philip K. Dick's sci-fi novel is set in a futuristic Los Angeles, where sentient androids known as replicants are hunted down and killed by specialist 'blade runner' agents.

Sure, Blade Runner character Rachael (Sean Young) often grabs the headlines, most recently with her CGI recreation in sequel Blade Runner 2049, but it is Darryl Hannah's Pris – a member of Roy Batty's (Rutger Hauer) fugitive replicant crew – who is arguably the more intriguing character in Blade Runner. Introduced as a "basic pleasure model", Pris' role in Ridley Scott's science-fiction behemoth far exceeds such shallow categorisation.

Effortlessly obtaining the trust of genetic designer J. F. Sebastian, her brilliant intellect and superhuman endurance (you try grabbing a boiling egg with your bare hand) make her Batty's most important follower, and a fierce adversary for Harrison Ford's Deckard and blade runners everywhere.

3. Major Mira Killian/Motoko Kusanagi – Ghost in the Shell (1995, 2004 & 2017)

Adapted from another popular Japanese manga, Ghost in the Shell was first brought to the screen in anime form in 1995. Its protagonist, Motoko Kusanagi, is a public service agent who exists in a future defined by the advancement of technology.

After her body is damaged beyond repair, Kusanagi is augmented with cybernetic improvements to her intelligence, vision and strength, and fitted with an artificial 'shell' that can integrate with her brain. This makes her the perfect soldier in a government counter-terrorism operation.

It's this combination of the artificial and the organic that makes Kusanagi such a captivating creation. Her character is formed of compelling emotional layers as her journey becomes as much about the search for existential meaning as it does about bringing down a whole bunch of bad guys.

Kusanagi returned in a 2004 animated sequel, before appearing under the name Major Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson) in director Rupert Sanders' controversial 2017 Hollywood live-action adaptation.

4. Imperator Furiosa – Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

There is much to love about George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road. The ear-deafening crunch of metal on metal, the whacky character names (Rictus Erectus, The People Eater, The Organic Mechanic), Tom Hardy eating a lizard, and anything and everything blowing up every five seconds.

But perhaps the most endearing feature of Fury Road is Charlize Theron's hard-as-nails Imperator Furiosa. A war captain under the tyrannical Immortan Joe, whom she eventually betrays in order to free his enslaved wives, Furiosa is a force to be reckoned with.

Complete with shaved head, a ruthless sense of focus and mechanical arm, she strikes a formidable figure, and is very much the driving force behind the film's most memorable moments.

5. Nebula – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 & 2 (2014 & 2017)/Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

The adopted daughter of notorious galactic tyrant Thanos (Josh Brolin), Nebula (Karen Gillan) is one of the universe's most feared assassins.

A complex cyborg with more than a few family issues, not to mention a severe case of sibling rivalry, Nebula regularly blurs the lines between hero and villain. In the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie, she assists evil Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) in his quest to obtain an orb containing the Power Stone in the first Guardians film.

However, by the end of the sequel, she has put her differences aside and teamed up with sister Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and the rest of the Guardians to help bring down Ego the Living Planet (Kurt Russell), before heading out on her own with the promise of killing Thanos once and for all.

Ultimately she (reluctantly) teams up with the rest of the Avengers in Avengers: Infinity War – but only after being horribly tortured by Thanos's minions, who systematically strip away Nebula's mechanical elements to try and make her talk.

Although unsuccessful in her endeavours in Infinity War, she ultimately survives Thanos's universe-shattering finger snap, so we can all look forward to some more wholesome Nebula action when Avengers 4 rolls into town next year.

Alita: Battle Angel is released on 6th February 2019, so tweet us your favourite female cyborgs @Cineworld.

George Nash is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.