Today is International Woman’s Day, so today I shall be celebrating some of best female characters to have ever graced the big screen. In this list I’m going to be focusing on characters who are the leads in their films rather than supporting characters (so I’ve decided that Leia Organa is not eligible from the world of Star Wars as I see the original trilogy as Luke and Vader’s story). So let’s get into this list, and celebrate some wonderful women who are inspirations to people everywhere. Oh and spoilers for a couple of these films.
10) Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson (Lady Bird) – Lady Bird May be the newest film on this list by some margin, but it is already one of my favourite representations of the struggles of navigating your teenage years. Lady Bird isn’t a perfect person, she frequently clashes with her mother, under performs in school, and goes through a number of the tribulations you’d expect for a teenage girl. Saoirse Ronan’s performance and Greta Gerwig’s writing keeps Lady Bird as a brilliant, lovable, incredibly real, and most importantly relatable character. You can tell she is always trying to be better, and to strike out and be her own self. A wonderful, more modern, character in a wonderful film.
9) Chihiro/Sen (Spirited Away) – Chihiro starts Spirited Away as a timid young girl, but her growth through the film to a brave, compassionate, young girl who has to stand up to protect her friends and family. Thrown into the strange world of the spirits she finds herself floundering and doing as she is told early one, but you can see her growth throughout the film; inviting No-Face in, helping the spirit of the polluted river, calming No-Face down when he becomes gluttonous, and finally standing up to Yubaba to save Haku and her family. She’s our eyes into this utterly magical world, and her journey is beautiful. Despite only being 10 years old, Chihiro grows into a brilliant well rounded woman.
8) Ellen Ripley (Alien) – It takes a while in Alien to realise that Ripley is the main character, she’s not the captain and other members of the crew get just as much focus early on. But by the end of Alien it becomes apparent that she is the greatest “final girl” ever. A resourceful and intelligent character who is thrown into a horrible situation, it is Ripley who is able to survive their encounter with the Xenomorph. The sequels build her up into a badass warrior, Aliens does a great job of showing the trauma she suffered from the events of Alien, and the line “get away from her you bitch” is iconic. However for me it’s in Alien that Ripley is truly inspirational. It is always more impactful to see an ordinary, relatable, figure overcome huge odds (that’s why we all love John McClane in Die Hard) and that’s what Ripley represents in Alien.
7) Beatrix Kiddo/The Bride (Kill Bill) – What can you say about Uma Thurman’s The Bride? Here’s a character who undergoes a horrible betrayal and fate, and proceeds to slaughter everyone involved. She’s truly the definition of a badass character, capable of taking on the Crazy 88 single handedly, and punching her way of of a coffin. An expert martial artist, skilled with numerous weapons, and a deadly killer The Bride is more than a match for everyone she encounters. She takes part in a number of awesome and varied action sequences, the best of which has to be her showdown with the Crazy 88 proving that she’s an action queen.
6) Marge Gunderson (Fargo) – You don’t get to many protagonists, particularly not in a crime film, that are heavily pregnant middle aged woman, but that’s Marge Gunderson the lead from the Coen Brothers’ brilliant dark comedy Fargo. Rightly winning Frances McDormand her first Oscar (the second being the other day for Three Billboards) Marge has become one of the Coen’s most famous characters. Her friendly and charming nature hide the steely resolve she has underneath, and her intelligence is plain to see, managing to solve a grizzly murder and kidnapping when none of her colleague seem remotely capable of solving the case. Marge is not only a brilliant character, but the kind that doesn’t get to be in the forefront of films enough.
5) Dr Ellie Sattler (Jurassic Park) – This might be pushing it a little in terms of who the lead in Jurassic Park is, but given that I find her to be every bit as integral to the plot as Alan Grant, Ian Malcolm, or John Hammond I’m going to let it slide. The paleobotanist of the group she is undoubtedly intelligent, and her kind and compassionate nature comes through when she volunteers to stay behind and care for the wounded Triceratops. She volunteers to help restart the park’s power with Muldoon. She’s a brilliant and intelligent figure, and Laura Dern shows that these nerdy figures can also be incredibly cool.
4) Moana (Moana) – In many ways Moana is a very similar to two of my other favourite Disney Princesses, Ariel and Mulan. Much like Ariel she doesn’t feel as though she fits in with her world, in Moana’s case that is stuck on this island. Like Mulan she is willing to make great personal sacrifices in order to save her family and her land. She is resourceful, intelligent, and kind woman, who learns through the film what her place is within her people, and manages to pick herself up when she fails. Auli’i Cravalho does a superb work as the voice artist, particularly with the songs, with ‘I Am Moana’ being one of my favourite Disney songs ever. She also show her great heart and caring side when she realises that Te Kā is actually Te Fiti. She’s an inspirational figure, and for me the greatest female lead of Disney film ever.
3) Clarice Starling (Silence of the Lambs) – Clarice Starling is a young FBI trainee who is thrown into the hunt for a psychotic serial killer, Buffalo Bill, and that involves interviewing the cannibalistic killer Hannibal Lecter. Jodie Foster manages to hold her own against one of the all time great acting performances from Anthony Hopkins. Despite being a relative novice to the world, still being a trainee, Clarice proves herself to be highly intelligent, incredibly strong willed, and able to bandy wits with one of the sharpest minds in fiction and even gain his respect. Jodie Foster’s performance is amazing, and Clarice is brilliant character in a film full of them.
2) Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Wonder Woman) – Wonder Woman has been going strong for over 75 years, so it is slightly ridiculous that it took us until 2016 to have her appear on the big screen in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. And then 2017’s Wonder Woman came along and Patty Jenkins delivered a shining role model for people, and one of the greatest superhero films ever made. Diana is a character driven to do the right thing, unlike the rest of the Amazons she won’t stand by and allow people to suffer, and come the end of the film she realises that despite humanity’s faults they and the love they’re capable of are worth fighting for. Gal Gadot is magnificent in the film, and she plays the innocence and wonder of Diana incredibly, but also brings all the heart necessary to bring this goddess to life.
1) Imperator Furiosa (Mad Max: Fury Road) – I know Max’s name may be in the title of the movie, but Mad Max: Fury Road is about Furiosa, and Max is just a supporting character in her life. It is Furiosa who executed the plan to rescue Immortan Joe’s wives, and it is Furiosa who leads them back to her tribe, and in the return to the citadel. Charlize Theron was nearly unrecognisable in the role. It was the kind of role no one really expected from Theron, but she created one of the greatest female characters ever. Her relationship with Max develops from complete distrust to a huge amount of respect between the two, a friendship that ranks amongst my favourite from action film history. Furiosa is a character that deserves to be seen as brilliant icon for women, and is the kind of action hero anyone can look up to.