Annihilation: The sci-fi movie women have been waiting for

Sci-fi horror Annihilation has been praised for its stunning, ethereal look, but it is a relatively tame image that stands out: Its all-female cast marching into danger together.

While female-led comedies, such as Mean Girls, Bridesmaids and Pitch Perfect, are a dime a dozen, an ensemble made entirely of capable, brave and smart women in an action movie is unprecedented.

In Annihilation, which premieres on Netflix on Monday, a group of female scientists is recruited for a mission into Area X, a sinister portion of the US coastline surrounding a top- secret alien crash site.

Natalie Portman plays a biologist and former soldier who joins the expedition to find out what happened to her husband (Oscar Isaac), a special forces operative mortally wounded while investigating the phenomenon.

"It is just unheard of - you never get the opportunity to work with incredible roles for five women," Oscar-winner Portman told reporters at the world premiere in Los Angeles.

"I mean it is rare to find one, and to find five together and to get the opportunity to work alongside my sisters and spend that time together, and watch one another and learn from one another... is just remarkable."

From British writer-director Alex Garland, Annihilation is based on the Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer.

Garland's camera follows the women as they discover a beautiful but deadly world of mutated landscapes and creatures - dubbed "The Shimmer" - that threatens their sanity.

Joining Portman are Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson and Tuva Novotny.

She said one of the aspects of filming she most valued was downtime spent with her co-stars.

"Between takes, we would all sit in the tent and have fun just talking and telling funny stories. That, to me, will always be the movie - the five of us in a tent together, just messing around."

Isaac, who worked with Garland on the 2015 sci-fi thriller Ex Machina, has seen his stock rise through the new Star Wars trilogy. But he finds himself lying unconscious in a hospital bed for much of Annihilation.

"Usually, you see a group of guys going in somewhere and you have one female character. This time, the roles are reversed and I get to be the damsel in distress, and that is fun," he said.

Thompson pointed out that the three top-grossing films in North America last year - Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Beauty And The Beast and Wonder Woman - were all anchored by female protagonists.

"I feel tremendously proud, and in the course of it, I've gotten to know these four incredible actors who happen to be women, artists, mothers and directors," she said.

"They are just phenomenal people, I am so proud to get to call them friends now." - AFP