Over the decades, we’ve seen mainstream cinema’s tendency to portray men as strong and overriding – and in contrast, women as weak and yielding. While some movies have the courtesy to make the divide appear subtle, others are pretty much straightforward about it (*cough* Twilight *cough*).
But, every once in a while, we do get female characters that refuse to fall under the archetype and play by their own rules. These women are in, no way, perfect. Yes, some of them are intelligent, physically tough, and assertive, but others can also be neurotic, temperamental, and dirty-mouthed. In other words, complexly human. And that’s why we like them.
Here are some of the best strong female leads to ever grace mainstream cinema:
Annie Hall (Annie Hall, 1977)
Annie Hall tells the whirlwind love story of Alvy and Annie Hall. Some say the film is anti-feminist in that it undermines Annie’s intellect and significance in the film, as it simultaneously portrays Alvy as excessively important and superior.
But, Annie is able to stand up for herself in the face of Alvy’s criticism and rise above his pretentious display of intellectual superiority. At the end of the film, she makes a show of her independence by refusing to return to New York and get back together with him. Now, that’s assertion if you‘ve ever seen one.
Merida (Brave, 2012)
Merida is still one of the most memorable Disney-Pixar princesses, and not just because of her flaming orange hair. Princess Merida of 10th century Scotland is courageous, rebellious, and sidesteps her political marriage by defying her mother’s orders. At the end of the film, she learns her lesson in a way that doesn’t demean her strength as a woman. Instead, it shapes her maturity as a person.
Kat Stratford (10 Things I Hate About You, 1999)
Rom-coms from the 90s aren’t really the place for strong female leads, but Kat Stratford is definitely an exception. Kat is outspoken and self-assured, and she doesn’t settle for getting talked down by men. The most notable thing about her is her impact on the audience. She uses words like “misogyny” and “patriarchy”, which surely would have been eye-opening for girls at that time.
Her eventual falling in love with a boy managed to avoid reducing her to the typical, moon-eyed teenager. In contrast, it revealed sincerity, vulnerability, and layers to her character.
The Bride (Kill Bill, 2003)
Kill Bill is probably Tarantino’s most notable recent work. For all its gratuitous violence and gore, we have some odd fascination for the woman in the yellow tracksuit taking down everyone in her path. The Bride, played by Uma Thurman, vows to seek revenge against the assassins who “killed” her and her unborn child. And hell hath no fury like a mother scorned. The Bride is, in the strictest sense, a badass. And kill Bill, she did.
Scarlett O’Hara (Gone With The Wind, 1939)
A classic and rightfully so. If you still haven’t seen the movie or read the book, you’re missing out on some cinematic/literary gem. Scarlett O’Hara, spoiled and strong-willed, is used to the lavish lifestyle, until the Civil War breaks out and turns her world upside down. The narrative tells of her constant struggle to hold her life and family together, propelled by her perseverance and grit. She’s known for teaching many of life’s lessons, the most memorable of which is the line, “Tomorrow is another day”.
Different characters from different genres, but all share a certain quality of strength, determination, and independence. They’re just a part of a long list – who’s your favorite cinematic heroine?