When we think strong female leads, the Wonder Women of the world naturally come to mind first, generally kicking ass across the big screen and launching a new breed of tough girl attitude.
But over the years, Hollywood has also given us a lot of other strong female lead characters, who despite their lack of form-fitting superhero costumes, have also inspired girls and women around the world to be stronger, more independent and – most importantly – more true to themselves.
Some of the strongest female characters in movies are pint-sized: think the feisty Merida in Disney’s Brave, Mulan, Moana, young Mija in Okja – who despite her fear and small size goes on to challenge ‘The System’ to defend what’s important to her – and of course, Emma Watson as Hermione Granger proving that guts and brains and a little magic can triumph over evil in all the Harry Potter movies.
SA’s own Charlize Theron has done some serious ass-whoopin’ on screen lately, and even performed many of her own stunts in the new action movie Atomic Blonde, giving a whole new twist to the term ‘fight like a girl’. This is not her first strong role though, she infused her own brand of power into Mad Max: Fury Road in 2015, played a rebel assassin in the science fiction action film Æon Flux and a miner fighting sexual harassment in the drama North Country (both in 2005), and gave an Academy Award-winning performance in Monster (2003), among many others.
And who could forget the powerful Uma Thurman seeking revenge in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill? In a moment, all mothers can identify with, Beatrix Kiddo and Vernita Green abruptly pause a ‘to-the-death’ battle and hide their blades behind their backs when Green’s little girl arrives home from school. The Alien movies also feature seriously strong female leads locked in mortal combat with aliens – from Sigourney Weaver in Alien 1-4, to Noomi Rapace in Prometheus, and Katherine Waterston in Covenant.
In others, we get to watch the evolution of the female character from unlikely hero to champion of the world. Sarah Connor, played by Linda Hamilton, goes from small-town waitress to a force to be reckoned with in Terminator and Terminator 2; and Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdrean goes from young girl to revolutionary in Hunger Games.
And then there are strong women who do practically no literal ass-kicking on screen, but are still powerful and inspiring characters you’ll want to watch over and over again. Based on a true story, the legendary Erin Brockovich starring Julia Roberts proves that sheer courage and determination can take down Goliaths. In the uber- classic Thelma and Louise starring Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, two women break out of their dead-end lives and end their story on their own terms, with their revenge on a pervy trucker – a scene you’ll cheer at time and again. In other classics, The Color Purple starring Whoopi Goldberg as Celie Harris, shows female strength in the face of racism, abuse and personal loss, while Boys On The Side, Little Miss Sunshine and Under The Tuscan Sun speak to women whose lives haven’t gone exactly as planned, promising that being strong, true to yourself and getting out of your comfort zone can be truly empowering.