1. Princess Leia
If there is one thing Princess Leia proves time and time again in the Star Wars series, it’s that she is not to be underestimated. From her refusal to back down in the face of space-fascism and Darth Vader’s threats to her no-nonsense approach to bounty hunters and their unrelenting charm, she is constantly poised and insistent, displaying behaviour fit for any princess. And military general. And senator. And PhD doctor.
These facts don’t disappear when we’re met with those widely replayed shots of her, imprisoned and forced to wear a gold bikini, or as the girl who says "I love you" and receives a supportive but ice-cool "I know" in return. Even under the clouding effect of the male gaze, she remains a princess, a military general, and a senator, and she still has a PhD.
Princess Leia is independent, the subtext between her and Han says. She is compassionate, her behaviour toward Luke says. It’s her authority that defines her as a princess who suffers no fools; an extension of not simply her royal lineage, but her uncompromising, strong personality. This shows in the fire that is never missing in her voice: It’s the sound of a princess who fights to be heard.
2. Princess Mononoke
San, the "Princess Mononoke", or the Princess of the Wolf-Gods, is a human who hates humanity. A 15-year-old who lives in the forest with the beasts, she wields a dagger in the face of anyone that trespasses into her territory. Aided by the wolves who raised her, and often shown with the blood of the Great Forest Spirit around her mouth, there is an admirable ferocity to everything that she does. She is ruthlessly compassionate, incredibly defensive, and extraordinarily sure of her way of life. In short, she is both terrifying and incredible. But, she is also given the space to make mistakes.
In a film that plays with what it means to be human and our capacity for destruction, we witness San’s understanding of the world grow from non-nuanced black and white binaries to the exact opposite. In one encounter with the human Prince Ashitaka, her dagger is at his throat as she prepares to kill him. But his response, a woozy, disarming "you’re beautiful", isn’t simply a stunning subversion of the romantic dynamic between two protagonists. It’s also the beginning of her journey into recognising the humanity she shares with Ashitaka.
But San’s confusion doesn’t diminish the certainty with which she defends the forest, or the importance she places in protecting and preserving her way of life. It strengthens it. As the battle continues, she accepts the uncertainty of what she doesn’t know while fighting for what she thinks is right.
3. Princess Bonnibel Bubblegum
Long-haired and dressed in pink, PB is the kind, compassionate ruler you would expect for a place called Candy Kingdom. Adventure Time’s Princess Bubblegum is probably closest to the stereotypical image of a princess on this list. But she is also more than an implication of gooey sweetness.
Viewers of Adventure Time get to see Princess Bubblegum concocting experiments, fighting intruders, bioengineering pumpkins. Her role on the show subtly illustrates that sweetness, quick-wittedness, and intelligence are not mutually exclusive. Credited as an inventor on top of diplomat and royal, she holds the official, unquestioned title of "returned pricientist" (princess scientist). For a TV show aimed at children, having a princess who is depicted as equally familiar in both a white lab-coat and glasses and a pink dress and crown is immeasurably important.
4. Pippi Longstocking
Everyone’s favourite red-haired Swedish strong-girl is also, surprisingly, a princess. Daughter of a South Seas seafarer, Princess Pippilotta Comestibles Windowshade Curlymint Ephraimsdaughter Longstocking demonstrates the kindness and compassion that have become staples of expected royal behaviour. Except she exhibits them without any formal training or frills.
There are no books being placed on to her head. No montage-style displays of elocution lessons. Pippi is self-reliant and, honestly, more than just a little bit strange. But that’s the point. Whether it’s placing rude policemen in trees, or refusing to condone the phrase "suffering from freckles" because she loves hers, Pippi’s quick-wittedness exposes a confidence that the grownups can’t take away. For instance, after challenging strongman Adolf to a wrestling match at the circus, Pippi shrugs off the criticism that she’d be unable to beat him because "he’s the world’s strongest man" by letting everyone know that she is the world’s strongest girl. It’s no surprise that she ends up winning the wrestling match.
Messy and brave, she is the picture of unconventional strength, both metaphorically and literally. But what Pippi lacks in social graces, she makes up for in heart. Her can-do, no-nonsense approach wins her the support and admiration of everyone in the village. She is a "people’s princess".
5. Starfire of Tamaran
Alien princess Starfire of Tamaran, a DC Comics creation, is best known for being a fifth of the Teen Titans. Sensitive and naive, she conveys the difficulty of being foreign to a place whilst also being sure of who you are and where you come from. "There will always be people who say mean words," she says after being called a racial slur. "And sometimes their minds cannot be changed. But there are many people that do not judge people based on how they look, or where they came from. Those are the people who matter most."
She's often downplayed as the quirkier of the Teen Titans, speaking in strange syntax and cottoning on to jokes last, but readings of her as weak fail to account for her loyalty, kindness, and protective streak. She is a princess who firmly believes in doing the right thing, who is playful and trusting, and who conveys an outlook of the world that is conditioned by a strong moral compass. But Starfire’s ultimate strength is in her natural habit of incorporating her struggles and bad days into a a positivity that is almost aspirational. She accepts her own vulnerability without shame.
Ororo Munroe, daughter of a tribal queen from Kenya who was raised in Harlem and Cairo, is another superhero whose royal lineage is often forgotten. She is one of Marvel’s most important superheroes. Much more than her mutant ability to control the weather, her strengths lie in strong leadership, empathy, and a sense of good judgment that often eclipses the rest of the X-Men team.
Whether it’s protecting the children at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters from nightly raids, or electrocuting the bad guys as soon as they come her way, Storm possesses a strong certainty of character. She isn’t without passion. When Nightcrawler asks her how someone so beautiful can be so angry, she is quick to defend her anger as her survival tactic. It’s her refusal to tolerate injustice that guides her actions, and which sets the precedent for others to follow in her footsteps.
A thief, a fighter, and eventually a teacher too, Storm is one of the most capable figures in the X-Men team: so much so that it’s shocking she hasn’t had her own feature film yet. So much so that it is equally surprising that, in Professor X’s absence, it’s Cyclops – and not Storm – who is delegated leader of the team.
7. Princess Mia Thermopolis
Mia discovers that she is a princess at the age of 16, and the warmth of her ordinariness is thrilling. Like most teenage girls, she is smart, funny and much more capable than she realises. We follow the growth of her character as she steps into what it means to be a princess and cheer as her confidence slowly grows.
The heir of Genovia learns how to carry herself in more ways than ones that are linked to her posture, and the end result, though partially linked to her physical transformation, is satisfying because it also indicates, finally, a contentment with herself. "Me? A princess?" she scoffs, rejecting the fantasy of who she is almost immediately. But a character who is unapologetically herself, and who is seen refusing to be a part of the in-crowd, appeals. Princess Mia doesn’t give up her teenage habits. But she proves the exceptional nature of them, and remains a princess who is unapologetically herself.