Spoilers ahead for several movies so beware!
Ellen Ripley from the Alien movies (by Sigourney Weaver)
Ellen Ripley is probably one of my favourite characters of all times and is one of the first true kickass heroines. It’s perhaps unfortunate that the reason for this is Ripley was originally written as a man. But I think we can all agree no other actor, male or female, could beat Sigourney Weaver’s portrayal of Ellen Ripley. She opened the door for this kind of action hero; straight forward, courageous and decision-making. Despite the situation she finds herself in, there is never a moment where she is not pushing forward the action through her own decisions, which was rare for contemporary female characters (not to mention more recent ones!). If you’re looking for strong female heroines and haven’t seen Alien, you’re missing out on a powerful archetype.
Elle Woods from Legally Blonde (played by Reese Witherspoon)
I will stand by this choice because I think Elle Wood is brilliant. If you don’t know, the story revolves around Elle, the sorority girl who attempts to win back her ex-boyfriend by getting a law degree and following him to Harvard. She is a tour de force who shows that a woman can be intelligent and powerful but doesn’t have to fit a mold. Too often, there’s a set idea of what a feminist icon should look like and Elle blows up those conceptions. She earns everything on her own merits, realizes she doesn’t need other people to gain self-respect and becomes empowered by her ambition.
Jyn from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (played by Felicity Jones)
I had a moment of debate with myself whether or not I should include Jyn or Rey and in the end, I went with Jyn. Rey still has several movies ahead of her and has a lot of growing to do. But we see Jyn’s growth peak and end in one movie. I know there’s a bit of debate over this character and movie, but for me, she’s a beautifully drawn character. She starts as a scared little girl, then a young woman determined to run away from everything. But through the revolution and the resolution of her personal demons, we see her grow until she becomes a powerful leader among the rebels.
Elastigirl from The Incredibles (played by Holly Hunter)
I know this may be an interesting choice, but hear me out. For me, Helen Parr (née Truax) is the deuteragonist of amazing Pixar movie The Incredibles. One of the key selling points of this movie is showing the real family life behind superheroes, so Helen Parr combines the powerful roles of superhero, mother, and wife. She’s far more relatable than many other superheroes and makes her a very real and complex character. Helen is slated to the be the main character of Incredibles 2 and I can’t wait!
Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s (played by Audrey Hepburn)
Holly Golightly is a recurring character on any best movie heroines list. She’s has been described as the patron saint of self-reinvention, an avatar of the liberated woman of the Sixties and Seventies. She begins the movie as the beautiful but shallow classic party girl. Typical of the era, she doesn’t work and lives off the money of generous men. Bouncing from man to man, avoiding any responsibility. But as the story progresses, you being to see the depth to her character. She’s paradoxically both innocent and worldly-wise. Her tragic past and heart of gold has made her an eternally memorable character.
Shosanna Dreyfus from Inglorious Bastards (played by Mélanie Laurent)
Shosanna Dreyfus is a Jew living in occupied France. After witnessing the horrifying death of her family, she lays low, plotting her eventual revenge. I love this character for so many reasons; her sophistication, poise, and intelligence. She manages to lay low, hiding her motives right until the very end making her one of the most sympathetic characters Tarantino has written.
Sarah Connor from The Terminator movies (played by Linda Hamilton)
Initially, Sarah is your classic victim of fate. She’s is given an important destiny – she’s the mother of a man who will one day save the human race from the rise of evil killer robots. The first movie shows her moving from the everyday world into one of danger in which she becomes trained to survive. The second movie, however, Sarah takes on a kick-ass protector and mentor role to her son and becomes a powerful force to be reckoned with. She becomes more of an Ellen Ripley type and I believe that’s where she really shines. But she is also deeply flawed and vulnerable which makes her amazingly relatable.
Elizabeth Turner nee Swann from The Pirates of the Carribean movies (played by Keira Knightley)
Again, Elizabeth Turner née Swann is a heroine who, in her first movie, is a victim of fate and only drives the plot by needing to be rescued by the main character, the hero. But by the third movie, she finally starts ticking the boxes. She has her own goals and ambitions, drives her own fate, even becoming the pirate captain of a Chinese vessel which she earns eventually through the respect of the crew. She retains her vulnerability while becoming a force to be reckoned with and surpasses the usual female goals of the seventeenth-century woman she portrays. It’s a transformation and one I enjoy watching.
Wonder Woman (played by Gal Gadot)
I’ll be honest straight away and admit that I adored this movie. I walked out wanting to beat up the world or lift up a tank. It must be how men feel after they see action movies. And, yes, I’m not blind and I saw the few flaws in plot and characterization. But I don’t care. Wonder Woman’s character is a dynamic, powerful and oddly innocence. She’s powerful and unflinching in her goals. Her character growth comes through her developing understanding of the world and its flaws.
Clarice Starling from The Silence of the Lambs (played by Jodie Foster)
Clarice Starling is one of the most renowned protagonists in movie history. She was ranked the sixth on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Heroes and Villains making her the highest-ranking heroine on that list. By breaking the contemporary mould of what female protagonists could do, Clarice is shown to be capable, determined in the face of patriarchal attitudes and an driver of her own destiny. Her classic story, rookie FBI agent to hero isn’t mired by the usual romance plot lines which can cause a female character to get swamped by weakening tropes, i.e. a choice between her man and her career has only one answer. See almost every other movie. Not that a strong female character can’t fall in love, but by writing Clarice almost as you would write a man’s part proved how pointless the stereotype are and how they hold back our characters.