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Women In Film: 70 Memorable Female Characters

Whether they were good, bad, or embarrassing, these characters are highlights of how film has depicted women.

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1. Snow White - Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

While certainly sweet and romantic, Snow White is a rather one-dimensional character compared to later Disney princesses. She sings, she cleans, and the prince has to save her. Not much for us to aspire to, IMHO.

2. Dorothy Gale - The Wizard of Oz (1939)

It is amazing that this classic 1939 film featured a female lead, and has remained so popular. While Dorothy is a sugary sweet, Americana ideal of the girl-next-door, she is the star, and while she has help, she is in control of her quest.

3. Scarlett O'Hara - Gone with the Wind (1939)

Scarlett is no sweet little princess, but she isn't a complete villainous vixen either. More complex than many of the female characters at the time, Scarlett isn't always likable, but at least she's real.

4. Sugar Kane Kowalczyk - Some Like It Hot (1959)

Sugar is eye candy for sure, and Billy Wilder never hesitates to highlight her bombastic sexuality, but Marilyn adds more to Sugar than many other actresses could have. She may be a bit of a caricature, but Sugar displays a little more spirit and complexity with Marilyn in her shoes.

5. Holly Golighty - Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)

While a lot of people are still upset about the ending, Breakfast at Tiffany's is no regular rom-com. Holly may be an escort, but she is a pretty complex one. It is a tad disappointing that she is white-washed a bit due to code regulations, but Holly is still a unique heroine.

6. Maria - The Sound of Music (1965)

Maria is challenging. It is commendable that she aims for a life that she truly wants when she leaves the convent and gets a position as a nanny. But it's hard to ignore that her romance with Captain von Trapp seems to push her into the background after highlighting her fierce spirit and independence.

7. Lara - Doctor Zhivago (1965)

Lara is one complex film heroine. Sometimes victim, sometimes active agent, Lara teeters between suffering at the hands of the men around her, and trying to utilize them for her own benefit. But she never comes off as an evil manipulator. Instead, she manages to portray Lara as sympathetic and contextually real.

8. Diana Christensen - Network (1976)

What's it like for women trying to make it in the corporate world? Diana is a prime example of what some women encounter and how some women decide to respond. Harsh but realistic, Diana is a great representation of what all people need to be wary of when they gain power.

9. Princess Leia - Star Wars (1977)

Leia is no damsel in distress. Kudos to George Lucas for writing a feisty and politically active princess who can hold her own against men, particularly autocrats, instead of hiding behind men. But good for her for getting a great one!

10. Sandy - Grease (1978)

Oy vey. Not only was Sandy was a caricature of the good '50s girl-next-door (which is kind of the point), but she only gets the man when she changes to a super slut for him. Not a good message to girls.

11. Matty Walker - Body Heat (1981)

Much like the vixens of '40s film noir, Matty Walker is a gorgeous black widow. She seduces, she manipulates, and she makes men her slaves. While a lot of women lament the portrayal of a woman using her sexuality as a weapon, it's still a weapon, and Matty is a fighter.

12. Samantha Baker - Sixteen Candles (1984)

You have to commend John Hughes for his portrayals of teenagers, especially girls. Realistic and down-to-earth, Samantha is a mirror image for a lot of us. Yeah, she's in love with the most popular boy in school, but she doesn't change for him. This is an honest portrayal of many teenage girls in high school.

14. Ellen Ripley - Aliens (1986)

Hooray for Ellen Ripley! It is rare for film to portray a woman as strong and tough as her, but also as maternal and desirable. Ripley is the hero in this action flick but she's also a mom who fights for those she loves and is capable of still attracting men just the way she is, although that's not her goal. One of the best heroines.

15. Watts - Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)

While most movies have the hero end up with the hot girl-next-door, John Hughes had his hero end up with the tomboy best friend. Watts is no popular pin-up who cares about make-up or getting to the prom, and she refuses to change. Good for her, and good for Hughes.

16. Alex Forrest - Fatal Attraction (1987)

Alex is troublesome. Yes, these type of people exist and it's scary just as much as it's sad. But sometimes it seems this villain is just a male-concocted example of the crazy bitch. Close, but no cigar.

17. Loretta Castorini - Moonstruck (1987)

This is one hell of a rom-com. Unlike the garbage we've gotten in the past twenty years, Loretta is a real human being who gets the man before the makeover. She's normal, working class, lives with her parents, and is no Katherine Heigl phoney. Why can't our romance heroines be more like her?

18. Annie Savoy - Bull Durham (1988)

Annie is an independent and free-spirited woman with no apologies. But you do wonder if Annie is over-sexualized with just enough intellectual fervor to make you think she's her own woman. But is she?

19. Sorscha - Willow (1988)

You gotta love a princess who breaks all the cliches. George Lucas strikes gold again with this multi-dimensional heroine who goes from an angry warrior only interested in pleasing her mother, to a woman with her own mind, who decides her mom is bad news and love is worth getting a little vulnerable. And she still holds her own with a sword.

20. Ariel - The Little Mermaid (1989)

Ariel is an example of the transition Disney princesses were undergoing. She's no Snow White or Cinderella, but she isn't Mulan or Pocahontas. You gotta love Ariel's curiosity and bravery even if she's only interested in a man. But then it is the major hottie Eric.

21. Vivian Ward - Pretty Woman (1990)

Ugh... There's a reason Romy and Michele made fun of this farce. First, Vivian became a prostitute because it looked fun and she didn't want to work fast-food. Then, she and her friends make light of the sex worker life but then seem desperate to get out. And then, all Vivian needs is to be rescued by a corporate raider who has to buy women for sex? For the love of God...

22. Annie Wilkes - Misery (1990)

Annie is no Matty Walker. One of the scariest villains to ever grace the screen, Annie is frighteningly psychotic. But she's also interesting enough to captivate our attention and make us ask questions.

23. Clarice Starling - The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Clarice is a great film heroine. Strong, brave, resourceful, and motivated, Clarice proves that women can excel in fields like the FBI and police work. But she's also real. She's a hero but she also deals with the same stresses we all do, and that's exceptional.

24. Sarah Connor - Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Sarah Connor undergoes a crazy evolution from the previous film, the first Terminator. But the evolution is most interesting, since both films fill out her character. She's a strong woman capable of focus and love, but she's also prone to obsession and doubting herself. You have to appreciate a franchise that paints such an intricate portrayal of one woman.

25. Belle - Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Belle is a prime example of the direction Disney started going with their princesses. Yes, she falls in love with the Beast and he is a little angry at first, but she is no hopeless victim. Taking her dad's place is a brave move and standing up to the Beast's temper is also impressive, so give her some credit.

26. Catherine Trammel - Basic Instinct (1992)

Hmm... It's hard to admire a woman who treats all people like exposable garbage, but Catherine often gets a pass because she's hot. The problem is, Catherine is never really fleshed out with enough dimension for us to understand why she's a killer. She's merely a highly-sexualized femme fatale.

27. Tina Turner - What's Love Got to Do With It (1993)

Biopics are probably the best bet for portraying real people, but this one is exceptionally complex because of Angela Bassett's performance. Yes, women can overcome violence and find their own voice.

28. Ada McGrath - The Piano (1993)

It's not a surprise that a film directed and written by a woman would portray women more realistically. But it's astonishing just how complex Ada is, especially considering she doesn't speak for most of the film. An intimate and emotionally deep picture of a woman and the struggle she encounters.

29. Bridget Gregory - The Last Seduction (1994)

Bridget is definitely a femme fatale. But instead of the super slick and erotically-charged Basic Instinct, this brings the film vixen more down to earth in bars and towns any of us could walk. Better than Catherine Trammel.

30. Muriel Heslop - Muriel's Wedding (1994)

You have to give props to Toni Collette for taking on a role from which most women would run. Muriel is no sexy or sophisticated rom-com heroine who gets everything she wants; she's a little pathetic and a tad annoying, but she's real. And she grows past her insecurities.

31. Mathilda - Leon: The Professional (1994)

For a young woman, Mathilda is no stock character. Endowed with intelligence, sensitivity, and maturity beyond her years, Mathilda is a great portrayal of a young girl in pain and who realizes the hard facts of life.

32. Jo March - Little Women (1994)

Jo is probably such a complex and unique female character because of the hint of autobiography in Alcott's book. And while some resent the fact that Jo ended up with the professor, he was a fitting match for her intelligence and depth.

33. Pocahontas - Pocahontas (1995)

Huzzah! For all the people who have said that Frozen is the first female led Disney film where the girls save the day, they're forgetting Pocahontas. Mature, determined, intelligent, and compassionate, Pocahontas struggles between her love for John Smith and her love for her family. If only her fate had been in the same in real life...

34. Cher Horowitz - Clueless (1995)

Is Cher an empty-headed and shallow ditz who merely represents materialism and privilege? Or is Cher a slightly more complex young woman trying to better herself by helping others? Heckerling and Silverstone actually make these questions hard to answer by portraying the stereotype of the former with sympathy and humor in a way most films don't.

35. Suzanne Stone Moretto - To Die For (1995)

Suzanne is definitely a femme fatale, but the film's handling of her highlights how the media culture encourages narcissism and selfishness. Women are just susceptible to this danger as men are.

36. Sister Helen Prejean - Dead Man Walking (1995)

You don't have to carry a weapon to be a hero, and Sister Helen Prejean proves just that in this powerful and moving depiction of what love and compassion can create. Understanding, humble, and endowed with deep faith, Sister Helen is one of cinema's best and most complex heroines.

37. Marge Gunderson - Fargo (1996)

You would never expect the police hero of a crime thriller to be a pregnant Midwestern middle-aged woman, but the Coen Brothers did just that with Marge. Hooray for a female heroine who doesn't need to be a sexy babe with all the right moves.

38. Samantha Caine/Charly Baltimore - The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)

Geena Davis does a credible job as a female assassin who remembers her identity after some serious amnesia. It's cool to see female heroines in action flicks even if the film is a little over-the-top.

39. Julianne Potter - My Best Friend's Wedding (1997)

It's hard to sympathize with Julianne Potter. Fickle, narcissistic, jealous, and immature, you have to lament a romantic comedy that tries to make a hero out of a plain bitchy woman and celebrates infidelity and possessiveness.

40. Rose DeWitt Bukater - Titanic (1997)

Rose sometimes causes debates among viewers because of her actions. Yes, she does seem at first like a poor little rich girl, but Winslet's performance fleshes out Roses' personality and gives her some depth as she falls for Jack and fights for her life. None of us are without fault, and Rose proves that.

41. Mulan - Mulan (1998)

Mulan is the best Disney heroine. Period. Nothing better than teaching young kids that sacrifice is the greatest gift, and even women can fight for their families. And save China.

42. Queen Elizabeth I - Elizabeth (1998)

Much like the real woman, Cate Blanchett's Elizabeth is a force. It was rare for a female monarch to rule alone, but Elizabeth I did just that, and created a world power. But she was still a human being and this film illustrates that beautifully.

43. Kathryn Merteuil - Cruel Intentions (1999)

Kathryn is deliciously evil, even if she is also a somewhat comical character. Over-sexed and necessarily evil, she seems more like a male fantasy sometimes than a real person.

44. Erin Brockovich - Erin Brockovich (2000)

Fiercely independent, sometimes at her own expense, Erin is a unique woman. Based on a real person, she's very much a role model for the every day woman, but she's also flawed: proud, stubborn, even a little resistant to real love. But aren't we all?

45. Bridget Jones's Diary (2001) - Bridget Jones

Bridget Jones has been such an endearing character because of how we can relate to her. She's not a size zero barbie doll with the perfect job and the perfect apartment. She struggles with her weight, sleeps with the wrong guy, and makes a fool of herself. But then a woman wrote her character...

46. Satine - Moulin Rouge! (2001)

Satine is such a moving and impressive female character because of her realistic nature to her circumstances. Unlike Vivian Ward, Satine both hates and loves the world that is her cage. Although a high-priced courtesan, Satine's life is not as glamorous as it appears and her pain is excruciatingly apparent as she strives to hide her love for Christian. A very complex and layered female role.

47. Elle Woods - Legally Blonde (2001)

Much like Cher in Clueless, Elle is somewhat of a stereotype, even if that is the joke. Yet she still rises above her stereotype and proves herself to be a very capable and intelligent lawyer. That's better than most films.

48. Jess Bhamra - Bend It Like Beckham (2002)

What a great film and what a great female character. Not only is Jess a young woman trying to play football, but she also has to contend with her family's strict and traditional culture that dictates women stay in the kitchen. Yet despite these circumstances, Jess handles her struggles realistically and honorably.

49. Aileen Wuornos - Monster (2003)

Peeling back the layers of one of America's female serial killers, Monster does an incredible job of painting a real and unbiased view of Aileen Wuornos, even when it depicts her violence and horror. But there's more to her than that, and it's an achievement for the portrayal of women in film.

50. Regina George - Mean Girls (2004)

Regina George is a high school villain, a mean girl who fits all the stereotypes. But Rachel McAdams and Tina Fey add a little more to Regina than many high school films, and their treatment of her is a little more nuanced that past female villains.

51. Hayley Stark - Hard Candy (2005)

Hard Candy puts a twist on the Little Red Riding Hood story when a would-be abuse victim turns the tables on the pedophile and tortures him. It could be a simple revenge or feminist fantasy, but Hayley is not simply a hero. She may be just as twisted as her victim.

52. Jane Smith - Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005)

Jane Smith is a badass, much like Angeline Jolie, but she's also sexy as hell, a fact that somewhat rubs women the wrong way. Do female action heroes also have to be sexy? Certainly not, but at least Angelina always add more to her characters besides just sex appeal.

53. Elizabeth Bennett - Pride & Prejudice (2005)

Honestly, Elizabeth Bennett may be the best female character in all of literature and film. A woman who refuses to give in to society's standards and waits for real love, even when that means waiting for her guy to actually mature? My heroine.

54. Miranda Priestly - The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

A complicated and intriguing villain, mainly because of Meryl Streep's talent, Miranda is more than just a villainous boss bitch and even gains some respect from the audience for her fearlessness.

55. Marie Antoinette - Marie Antoinette (2006)

Sofia Coppola gets major points for taking one of history's most reviled women and exploring why she might have gotten such a reputation. There's a reason people become the way they are, and Coppola does a great job of showing how Marie could have really been, and how she might have deserved some sympathy.

56. Queen Gorgo - 300 (2006)

In a movie full of men, Gorgo stands out as a strong and sacrificing woman. Though it's upsetting to see rape as a kind of only resort for a woman, you have to remember the historical context and give Gorgo credit for her resilience.

57. Juno MacGuff - Juno (2007)

One of the best female characters on film ever. This is no shallow, boy-crazy teenager who only wants a date for the prom and a boyfriend. Juno is a smart, witty, and unique young woman who shows true character and handles life with incredible maturity.

58. Giselle - Enchanted (2007)

Playing on the Disney princess stereotype that Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty made famous, Giselle is a humorous spin on those characters that remains sympathetic and charitable. Giselle is no feminist icon but it's a cute film with good heart, and Giselle is fun, even if she is no Mulan.

59. Bella Swan - Twilight (2008)

Possibly one of the worst female characters ever. Let's encourage young women to like overly possessive and controlling men who stalk and manipulate, and then remind them that it's okay to pine for said men when they play mind games, and try to get themselves killed. Fail.

60. Summer - (500) Days of Summer

Many revile Summer because of how she dumps the adorable JGL, but we forget how Summer the hero idolizes her. She's a very flawed person with issues and intricacies, but he refuses to see this until after she's dumped him and she's fallen off of his pedestal. But this movie doesn't pin that on Summer as much it pins it on him for being unrealistic in his views on love. That's pretty impressive, showing to the audience that men can be just as unrealistic in their views of women and love.

61. Leigh Anne Tuohy - The Blind Side

Sandra Bullock gives a good performance as this tough and resilient woman who defies her stereotype and her community by taking in a young man from a bad home. It's a sports film but she's the star, and kudos to a film about a mom for once.

62. Cindy - Blue Valentine (2010)

Cindy is one of the most realistic and understandable female characters ever on film. As a young woman struggling with a disintegrating marriage and a hopelessly romantic spouse, Cindy is tired, fed up, conflicted, and angry at herself and her husband. An exceptional performance from Michelle Williams and an exceptional portrayal of marriage.

63. Nic - The Kids Are All Right (2010)

This film was not only lauded for its portrayal of a lesbian couple and their children, but also of family in general. As the alcohol-dependent and busy doctor, Nic is a real example of a woman struggling to balance her job, her spouse, and her children. It's not pretty but it's real.

64. Nina Sayers - Black Swan (2010)

Black Swan is a better portrayal of mental illness than women, especially since the film's treatment of a lesbian dream comes across as more of a move for male viewers than anything else. But Natalie Portman does infuse passion into her performance and it's interesting to see how men can still pit women against each other.

65. Olive Pendergast - Easy A (2010)

Olive is a breath of fresh air in the pantheon of film teenagers, much like her John Hughes-inspired fore bearers. Witty, independent, and refreshingly smart, Olive displays the conundrum that is being a "slut," when she gets attention but loses her dignity, and still gets reviled. A great story of why women shouldn't feel pressured to be sexually active just for the sake of others, and why staying true to yourself is a virtue.

66. Annie Walker - Bridesmaids (2011)

Finally! After scores of romantic comedies where the only thing missing from Kate Hudson's or Katherine Heigl's life was a man, Kristen Wiig shows what it's like to be a real human being. She's lost her business, her roommates suck, she's selling retail, and her best friend is spending time with a bitch. The least of her problems is the jerk with whom she's been sleeping. And she's only ready for a good guy after she's gotten herself figured out.

67. Minny Walker - The Help (2011)

This film is a plethora of great female characters, but Minny stands out for her dimension and depth. Unwilling to take crap in her work life, Minny still struggles against an abusive marriage. Bright, resistant, and ultimately braver and kinder than she thinks, Minny is a role model for all women.

68. Mavis Gary - Young Adult (2011)

The grown up version of the popular girl every one hated, Mavis is a despicable human being. But she's a fully fleshed out human being who represents what's wrong with so many people in our society.

69. Lisbeth Salander - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

One of the best female characters of literature and film, Lisbeth is an exceptional heroine. Antisocial, fiercely intelligent, and hungry for justice (almost to a fault), she lets no one stand in her way. But she's not just a hacker superhero. She's also broken, angry, and often unable to show her love for others, and that's what makes her so incredible.

70. Katniss Everdeen - The Hunger Games (2012)

Almost the antithesis of Bella Swan, Katniss is a heroine that not only leads an action franchise, but also inspires a rebellion. Rarely sexualized and quite stoic, Katniss doesn't fit the mold of most other teenage heroines, but that's what sets her apart.

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