There’s no denying that movies play a large role in shaping our culture. They spread ideals and address social taboos; they comment on issues and, depending on the movie, use a light touch or a heavy hand.
In our society, it is the characters in those films that deliver our societal norms. Some are great, some are evil, and others are empowering. Numerous iconic fictional badass women have shaped our pop culture — and the way we think of women in general. The female movie characters who are simply admirable because they stand up for what they believe in, despite being surrounded by people who try to tear them down. Whether it’s for being a woman, for being from a different social class, or for another reason. They prove that they have the courage to make their own decisions for themselves.
To be an empowering woman in a film is to swim upstream. In a vast sea of “strong female leads” who in reality are merely thinly-disguised eye candy, there are but a precious few genuinely empowered females who gun it past the gender discrimination and just plain sexism to acquire strength on their own terms.
These women know and live by, their own rules. Sure, a few of them are fictional, but they make us feel that maybe we, too, can be brave and break out of the box society puts us into. Find out more about these 10 strong women from the movies that are legends in their own right!
Hermione Granger is one of the most popular characters to come out of the Harry Potter series, but for all the right reasons. She is bold, brave, and smart — but her defining characteristics were her resourcefulness and loyalty. Hermione never flaunted her grades or her intellect as a way to bully others, but instead used it as a tool for serving others. This softer side to such a strong and capable character is what makes her such a fantastic role model.
For many, Hermione is the perfect heroine. She’s not defined by her looks or relationships (non-blood-related family members don’t count). Instead, she is defined by her achievements and character traits. Add that to her sharp wit and she’s the best role model for girls and women of all ages.
Princess Leia is one of sci-fi’s most important female icons. She’s the leader of the Rebel Alliance, a hero who was never afraid to take charge when things got tricky. It’s no easy task playing an iconic character with decades’ worth of backstory and looming expectations hanging over your head. But Carrie Fisher nails it, from her first appearance on screen through her final scene in Return of the Jedi.
Princess Leia is the only character to appear in all seven Star Wars films. The early films, A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, focused on her twin brother, Luke Skywalker. From then on, she takes center stage. While her story becomes reflective of other rebellious revolutionaries like France’s Marquis de Lafayette or America’s Nathan Hale, she always provides a strong, vocal presence.
Set in rural Georgia, “The Color Purple” is the story of Celie, a young African-American girl, whose letters to God reveal the many hardships she must overcome. She eventually falls in love with Mister, her husband’s friend, who introduces Celie to a world beyond what she has previously known.
Celie’s journey is an epic of spirit and hope; though there are very few glimmers at first, this strong woman earns a place in the world that will be forever hers.
You can’t talk about female heroes without mentioning Ellen Ripley, the strong anti-heroine lead of the Aliens series. The franchise follows the badassery of Lt. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) as she and a group of space marines attempt to quarantine a colony infested by vicious Xenomorphs (alien creatures) — which have grown from being a single facehugger on planet LV-426 into 75-foot tall killing machines in just under two weeks.
Ripley is one of the most iconic heroines in cinematic history, inspiring the likes of Katniss Everdeen and Sarah Connor. She’s a tough-as-nails fighter who is willing to do what needs to be done, with little regard for her own well-being.
It’s no wonder Ripley is considered a feminist icon, and Weaver a pioneer of strong female characters. Ripley inspires us to push our own boundaries and expand our horizons. As the heroine of the Alien franchise, she represents the power that women have within them, and the strength we gain when we find the courage to be ourselves.
The combination of Reese Witherspoon and the legal world is pure gold. Elle Woods stood up for her passions in a way that many couldn’t even imagine at the time. Legally Blonde shows young women that it’s okay to not fit into a box. It’s okay to have goals that are outside the scope of what is considered “normal.”
Legally Blonde is the classic underdog story. She wins over her peers by being well-intentioned, without being perfect. Even when it’s clear that all her law school classmates are more qualified, there’s something about her authenticity that keeps us rooting for her. We see ourselves in Elle because she’s so comfortable in her own skin.
Being the sister of Black Panther and heir to the throne of Wakanda isn’t easy. A princess in the world of Wakanda is traditionally supposed to marry a man who becomes king after her and produce an heir for the kingdom. Shuri is cut from a different cloth than what a traditional princess would be like though. She’s quite smart, with a vast knowledge of physics, chemistry, and robotics, but she also cares about fashion.
Letitia Wright brought the MCU’s Shuri to life as if she, like the King of Wakanda, were destined to become a world conqueror. An actress in the right role can elevate an entire film, and it’s clear Wright is doing just that and more to empower millions of women across the world.
Yu Shu Lien
Action/martial arts films, particularly those of Hong Kong and China, are not generally known for their utilization of female characters. Step in Yu Shu Lien, in one of the greatest films of the noughties. Proving you can make sacrifices both for yourself and others, Yu Shu Lein brings new breathe into fiction with game-changing action sequences mixed with a beautiful love story you can’t keep your eyes off.
The Film “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” is without a doubt one of the highest-grossing foreign-language films in cinema history. It took four Oscars in 2001 (Best Original Score, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, and Best Foreign Language Film) and has grossed over half a billion dollars worldwide. We think the main reason for this success, is that Michelle Yeoh owns every single minute on that screen. Giving everyone the perfect female warrior, who is both strong and emotional.
Furiosa was one of the best action heroines in the recent history of cinema. She’s not a bonafide heroine, though, because she doesn’t save the world or improve our lot in life.
Julia Roberts won a best-actress Oscar for her portrayal of an empowering real-life woman who changed the lives of thousands. Erin Brockovich is repeatedly underestimated because of the way she dresses and the brash way she carries herself. But as a single mom who becomes an unlikely environmental advocate, she’s a fighter. What she lacks in traditional book smarts, she makes up for with heart.
Erin Brockovich was a larger-than-life character. The real Erin Brockovich is even more impressive. She will make you believe that everyone has a fighting chance.
We would never ask you to choose a favorite between the trio of Taraji P. Henson as Katherine G. Johnson, Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan, and Janelle Monáe as Mary Jackson. The Oscar-nominated drama tells the story of a real-life team of female African-American mathematicians crucial to NASA’s early space program. And these mathematicians were as smart, charismatic, and talented as any of Hollywood’s fictional leading ladies.
There’s a tendency in our culture to pit women against each other — catfights and frenemies are the stuff of many movie narratives, especially modern rom-com. But 2016’s Hidden Figures serves up a reminder that sisterhood is powerful. In fact, it can even be lifesaving.
How did we do? Did we miss anyone off this list? Who are your favourites? Let us know on social media.