Children's & Middle Grade · Fantasy · Sci-Fi · TV & Movies

Where to Find Strong Female Characters in Movies

This week, I’m posting lists of my favorite stories that have female protagonists or POVs. Today I’m featuring movies. Leave your recommendations in the comments, especially if they’re nothing like these, and check back Friday for open discussion on strong female characters!

Albert Nobbs – This is an odd example because the title character, played by Glenn Close, is undeniably a man. I don’t wish to misgender him, so I’m breaking my POV requirement in the very first example, I just think the movie as a whole is an affecting look into how women on the fringes might have lived in 18th-century Ireland. It’s worth a watch especially if you’re interested in gender as performance.

Disney Princesses
Not all of them.

Disney – Frozen and Brave, by all means! But also Sleeping Beauty, and The Princess and the Frog, and The Little Mermaid, and every one of the other princess movies, because not all girls are alike. Watch all of them and talk about how every princess is different. And don’t forget Tinker Bell!

Gravity – The relative strength of the female character in this movie is debated. It does contain one of the tropes I hate, “My name is ____ because my father wanted a boy,” but I enjoyed the movie for its artistic value and for the real sensation of spacewalking it gave me. The fact that it’s an entire movie held down by one character, who is female, is also noteworthy.

The Hogfather – I’m pretty sure I’d marry Susan if she’d let me. This three-hour movie thing is based on a book by the same name by Terry Pratchett about Discworld’s version of Christmas, and Susan is the no-nonsense granddaughter of the Grim Reaper, currently working as a governess for two young children.

Susan from Hogfather
Susan (Michelle Dockery)

The Hunger Games – Another duh, but its fame is well-deserved.

The Last Unicorn – The last unicorn in the world goes searching for her lost siblings. In my opinion, this movie says everything that needs to be said about unicorn stories, and anything else is but an echo.

Pacific Rim – Mako Mori has given her name to the Mako Mori Test for a reason!

Paradise Recovered – The story of a young woman in a cultish fundamentalist religion, and her journey out of it to a more healthy religious experience. I really liked this movie because it dealt with the issue from her point of view, as a member of the group being introduced to a new way of thinking. It didn’t offer a simple answer at the end, so it didn’t come off preachy.

The Terminator – People tend to think about Arnold Schwarzenegger and forget the movie’s about Sarah Connor…

Sarah Connor
She’s mad because y’all keep forgetting about her…

Wit – Emma Thompson stars in a movie based on a play of the same name (written by a lesbian playwright) about a professor of John Donne’s poetry dying of cancer. She sees Donne’s poems about life and death in a visceral new way. I sobbed all the way through reading the play for personal reasons, then borrowed the movie from my literature professor and sobbed all the way through that too, but I don’t think it was just me.

Tomorrow: Book recommendations!

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23 thoughts on “Where to Find Strong Female Characters in Movies

  1. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has two awesome female characters!

    Also, I watch a lot of Jane Austen adaptations; Pride and Prejudice has a whole family of female characters. It’s hard to get more badass than Elizabeth Bennet telling off Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

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    1. Oooh, Jane Austen… I’mma go add some of her books to the book list. 😀 I tend to think of her movies in the aggregate rather than the specific, but really any Pride & Prejudice adaptation is gonna be great.

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  2. Legally Blonde is one of my favorite movies with a strong female character. Elle realizes that finding a man isn’t the most important thing and ends up in a relationship with someone who respects her intelligence and work ethic. The “bitchy” female antagonist trope is present, but the women end up realizing it they misjudged each other and bond over the misogyny in the law world that they hate so much. It’s also just hilarious and fun and written by women, so I can’t complain.

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        1. It sounds like something you’d like, based on your description of Legally Blonde! It deals with some stereotypes about beauty queens and more tomboyish/”butch” women, but I felt like the takeaway was that all these people really are people — individuals, not just stereotypes. Also it’s hilarious.

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  3. Oh, how I adored Gravity. I found her to be strong and compelling, but I can write up my own thoughts some other day.

    I was going to add Ripley from Alien and Aliens as well. (She’s fantastic in both movies, and is the lead in both as well.)

    In the movie Dredd, the partner of Dredd plays a significant role in the plot and is a strong character on her own. She is apprenticed to Dredd, but despite all odds, survives the assignment, does her job well, and makes her own decision about her future at the end. She may not be the main character (as that is Dredd himself), but the movie can’t function at all without her.

    A lot of Hayoa Miyazaki movies have strong female characters such as Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and I know there’s others I’m forgetting.

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      1. Personally, I love Nausicaa: Valley of the Wind the best (it’s an older movie by his though). I have two plushes of Teto, the cute little fox-cat-creature that often sits on Nausicaa’s shoulders.

        The Secret Life of Arietta is another movie by him with a great strong female character.

        Interesting really how the majority of Hayao Miyazaki movies had strong female characters.

        Mulan is a Disney movie (but she’s not a Princess so I don’t consider her part of your list of Disney Princesses), and is probably my favorite Disney movie ever.

        Fargo (the movie not that TV series spin-off). The main character is the pregnant Sheriff, and she’s pretty dang amazing. I loved that character to death.

        So there we go, thought of a few more!

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          1. Cool! Here’s a few more:

            Juno was a good one. I don’t know exactly how you’re classifying who is a “strong female lead” but I found Juno’s character to be strong considering the choice she made and her determination to see it through.

            Maleficent is new but also two female leads. I personally adored the movie. In a similar vein since it’s also fantasy and fairy tale-like, is Alice in Wonderland (the new one from a few years ago). Now I’m not overly fond of the movie, but the actress, Mia, is just so endearing and inspiring in the role.

            Harold and Maude. Old movie but adorably cute. I just love Maude to death, and yes, Harold is technically the main character, but Maude is the heart of the movie.

            Black Swan. Triggering movie, but very good. I still don’t know how I feel about this movie to be honest. It’s kinda the same feeling I have with the Girl with the Dragon Tattoos. Very triggering movies, but some people find those characters to be liberating for them.

            Chocolat. I can’t believe I’m even writing this. I don’t watch romance, but the mother and her daughter are just such great characters. It was hard not to like this.

            Anastasia (I don’t believe Disney made that movie. I think it was Fox?). I love how her character rises to each challenge, and in the end, she’s the one that saves the dude’s butt. Now that is something I want to see more of. Seriously.

            I also really liked Mona Lisa Smile, which is about a woman in 1950s teaching an all female class to question traditional social roles.

            The Hours is a fantastic movie that follows three different women in three different time periods, all who tackle similar issues — most related to depression. It’s nice to see a movie tackle mental illness in such a thorough and respectful way.

            Hahaha, okay, I’m probably done now. See what happens when you challenge readers to come up with more? I’m like a never-ending fountain. But anyway, I am again, unsure of how you’re classifying your strong female characters, or what you mean by “unlike these” in your introductory statement. I find that some roles have similarities, but a lot of these are such disparate genres that the similarities aren’t as prevalent as the differences. I probably should just make my own list on my own blog, shouldn’t I? Ha.

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          2. 😀 Cool, lots of stuff I haven’t seen. Was bored with Juno although Ellen Page was great… Black Swan was good but I never want to see it again, and similar feelings about Dragon Tattoo… Especially since the last Dragon Tattoo book was really weird, but that would never be a rewatch movie for me anyway.

            “Strong female character” is intentionally vague here. On Friday I’ll talk about my definition a little more and open the floor for discussion, but I think it aligns closely with “realistic female character” for my purposes. “Unlike these” was just in reference to these being some of my favorites and me wanting to branch out/not claiming to have seen all the cool stuff ever. Basically, “everyone should feel welcome to recommend stuff whether it seems to fit in with my list or not.” 🙂

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  4. While it’s similar to The Terminator, I have to put my vote in for Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in Aliens (the second film). Ripley is strong, vulnerable, caring, frightened, determined, nurturing–the whole shebang.

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