It’s International Women’s Day, a time to celebrate all the women who have done incredible things throughout the world. The real world presents us with role models like Malala, Elizabeth Warren, and Beyoncé. All around the globe, women are scientists, mothers, soldiers, and leaders. On that global scale, movies and television help us create a connection that just about every culture (maybe not North Korea) enjoys. For a long time in film history, women were relegated to secondary roles like “The wife,” “the secretary,” or “the maid.” Fortunately, with plenty of persistence, a feminist movement, and evolving cultural awareness, females in films and television are gaining the respect they deserve.
The women on our list are not only characters who kick serious arse equal to any male, but are played by some fantastically fierce actresses.
Part Princess, part arse-kicker. Without Princess, Leia R2 doesn’t get the plans, and the rebel alliance crumbles before A New Hope ever gets started. Leia’s damsel in distress trope is turned on its head immediately when Han and Luke show up to rescue the Princess. Before the rescue, we’d seen Leia stand up to Grand Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader, but during the rescue the Princess turns warrior, taking a blaster, and lighting up the hallways of the Death Star. In Empire, a more stoic Leia leads the Rebel forces in a war with seemingly no end.
The queen of cinematic female badassery, Ripley kicked alien arse through four of the Alien movies. Played with a solemn grace by Sigourney Weaver, she’s playing a role that in any other movie would be a guy. In Aliens, Ripley grows, taking on a maternal role with little Newt which amplifies her desire and determination for survival. By Alien 4 she’s having sex with a hybrid alien-human or something. That doesn’t matter. What does matter here is that Ripley is a strong, empowered, independent woman who could not be stopped … until she killed herself.
In the original Terminator, Conner was a simple, hard-working waitress just trying to make it through the world. As the film progresses and an evil android from the future tries to kill her, she touches up. By the end of Terminator, Sarah is a survivor, though she fell in love with Reese, dreams of an idyllic marriage were a fantasy as a storm brewed in the future. In Terminator 2, Conner is a full-blown soldier, a role almost always played by a penis-enabled avatar, which Linda Hamilton fully commands throughout the film.
In 1986, Chris Columbus made his directorial debut with Adventures in Babysitting. The film centered around Chris Parker, played by Elizabeth Shue, who was your typical young girl. Chris was earning some money as a babysitter while trying to figure out why her boyfriend canceled their anniversary dinner. By the end of the film, Parker is no longer a girl but a woman. Parker becomes fearless as she tries to get the kids she’s watching back home and ultimately dumps her loser beau.
Thelma and Louise
The ultimate cinematic female tag team. Thelma and Louise is a classic film if there ever was one. Ridley Scott’s film earned six Academy Award nominations. Thelma and Louise is the story of two women coming into their own and shedding the old ways of thinking. The film mixes so many typically male-dominated genres like comedy, action, and a road movie, but flips it all on its head. Gina Davis and Susan Sarandon embody their roles and create a piece of cinema that’ll be remembered for a long time.
Buffy Anne Summers first appeared in a campy film played by Kristy Swanson. However, the real Buffy is Sarah Michelle Gellar, and few other shows on television chronicle the growth of a girl to a woman like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Whedon loves strong female characters, and on Buffy, there are several. Buffy grows into her power, but not just the fighting parts, but the leadership that comes with it. By the end of Buffy’s seven seasons, the vampire slayer is standing tall, strong, and with a future of possibilities ahead of her.
Harry Potter was a powerful wizard, and Ron wasn’t bad either, but neither could hang with Hermione in sheer knowledge. Emma Watson carried Hermione from headstrong, socially distant girl to brainiac savior of Hogwarts with deep integrity. Hermione wasn’t exactly the most popular girl, that is until she grew into herself. By the end of the film series, Hermione is comfortable in her skin and fearlessly turns her knowledge into power. It’s that power that all women possess making Hermione such an important role model for young women.
In Kill Bill, the sixth film in Tarantino’s meticulous reinvention of 70s cinema, The Bride takes center stage. Played by Uma Thurman, The Bride’s chronology takes her from smart, young girl, to a ruthless assassin, to a woman looking for peace, to a lady looking for revenge. Bill snatched the peace that The Bride wanted, and she was going to make his heart explode just like tried to blow her head to pieces.
Khaleesi Daenerys Targaryen
Badass women who take charge are all over Game of Thrones. But none do it with the ferocious grace of Daenerys. At first, Daenerys is a helpless girl sold into baby-making slavery by her brother to the leader of a vicious group of barbarians. But, Daenerys quickly learned her inner power, a fire burning inside, which drew her to the truth that she is the Mother of Dragons. From Season one until now, Daenerys’ rise mirrors that of John Snow, and it’s so much fun to watch Emily Clarke harness Daenerys’ ferocity while also learning the stoic patience required to be a leader.
Before I say anything else, remember this, don’t mess with Olivia Pope. Kerry Washington plays Olivia Pope in the wildly successful ABC drama Scandal. As Pope, Washington portrays a conflicted, complicated, and take-charge woman. Pope’s sacrifice for country, friends, and family, and desire to do what’s right forms a layered character that’s earned Washington many award nominations.
Honorable Mention: Laura X-23
It’s safe to say, after a nearly 90 million dollar opening weekend that Logan is a hit. The “last film” (I’ll believe it when I see it) of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine features gritty, violent action and an epic, post-apocalyptic story. In the film, Logan protects a little girl named Laura who is a mutant. Laura slices and dices her way through the movie alongside Logan, going on to become the breakout star of the flick. The future of female badassery on film looks bright, like sunlight glinting off of razor-sharp claws.