These Female Film Characters Prove That Being Tough Isn’t Just About Physical Strength

For decades, filmmakers portrayed women as stereotypes. In many cases, women were essentially props used to help a man find his purpose. But when more women started getting involved in the off-camera decision making, many unique and three-dimensional female characters came to life.

While there’s still a lot of work to be done, there has been a great deal of progress along the way. More than ever before, there are tons of female characters proving that toughness isn’t just about physical strength. The characters you’re about to see each use their intelligence, perseverance, and respect to demonstrate why women should have equal space in society.

The Bride Is the Definition of a Powerful Woman

Miramax
Miramax

After Uma Thurman starred in Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2, her character was referred to as “the deadliest woman in the world.” The Bride spends the entirety of both films seeking revenge on the people who contributed to her almost getting murdered on her wedding day, leaving her in a coma for four years.

She is the definition of a powerful woman. After several men try and take advantage of her, she decides that she shouldn’t just stay quiet about it. The Bride uses hand-to-hand combat, quick thinking skills, endurance, and other notable abilities to tackle her problems head on.

Hermione Always Has Your Back

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

Even though the Harry Potter series centered around the title character, many fans looked to his best friend Hermione Granger for inspiration. Emma Watson played the intellectual and confident confidant to Harry Potter. She was always there to help him with the many battles that were put forth due to him being the chosen one.

One of the reasons Hermione was able to resonate with so many females all over the world was because she was written by fellow female writer, J.K. Rowling. Women know first hand how they act in real life, so they can write believable and deeply emotional female characters.

Katniss Leads the Way

Lionsgate
Lionsgate

Another female character written by a woman, Katniss Everdeen is one of the most memorable film characters regardless of her gender. Throughout the film series, she used both mental and physical skills to survive multiple games and led her district into rebellion.

Jennifer Lawrence plays Katniss authentically because she incorporates the key traits from the novels into her portrayal. She selflessly protects her family by volunteering as tribute in place of her sister, which is essentially a death wish. Her character is known for actively pursuing justice when something in life isn’t morally right.

Princess Leia Is a Galaxy Hero

Lucasfilm
Lucasfilm

The late Carrie Fisher was most remembered for playing female protagonist Princess Leia Organa in the Star Wars franchise. With science fiction mostly dominated by male characters, Princess Leia let audiences know the true strength of women. After she breaks out of the prison aboard the Death Star, she doesn’t waste time before leading the way toward the Rebellion against the Empire.

Many Star Wars fans love Fisher as Princess Leia due to her fearlessness and dedication to end the tyranny brought on by the Empire. Out of all the characters in the Star Wars universe, Princess Leia is one one of the galaxy’s greatest heroes.

Mulan Does More Than Defeat the Huns

Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures

Female Disney characters aren’t just waiting for their princes anymore. This is especially true in Disney’s Mulan. After her aging father was drafted into the Chinese military, Mulan secretly takes his place by disguising herself as a man. As she trains to defeat the Huns, her fighting skills, endurance, and tenacity shine through.

Mulan is tough in her own right because she refused to let China’s preset orders stop her from defending her family and home country. The Disney film was actually based on the true story of the legendary Chinese warrior, Hua Mulan.

Maggie Fitzgerald Puts Gender Stereotypes to Rest

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

The Rocky franchise may be some of the most popular films about boxing, but Million Dollar Baby puts the focus on a woman in the ring. Hilary Swank took home the Oscar for her performance as Maggie Fitzgerald, a determined boxer that trains to become a professional with the help of her mentor (Clint Eastwood).

Swank’s character proves that being a boxer or tough in general is not defined by a certain gender. She works toward her goal of becoming the best boxer of all time and doesn’t give up when others doubt her abilities.

Wonder Woman Breaks Records

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

When thinking of inspirational female film characters, it’s difficult to forget a literal superhero. In the 2017 version, Gal Gadot played the newly adapted Wonder Woman. As Diana, the Amazonian warrior, she must leave her home to fight in a war to discover her true powers and destiny.

This remarkable film broke box office records as the highest-grossing superhero origin movie of all time. It also was famously directed by female filmmaker, Patty Jenkins, who made sure to present Wonder Woman in a way that empowered her and other girls around the world.

Elizabeth Bennet Knows How to Speak Her Mind

Focus Features
Focus Features

There have been various versions of Jane Austen’s classic novel, Pride & Prejudice, captured for both film and TV. The story centers around Elizabeth Bennet and her persistence to defy social norms. After she meets and falls in love with someone outside her social status, she questions why she shouldn’t marry for love during a time when people were marrying for more practical reasons.

Though the timeline of the piece is between the late 1700s to the early 1800s, the plot remains fresh. Elizabeth’s wit, charm, and ability to speak her mind are unique to see in an era where women were still very much oppressed.

Ellen Ripley Doesn’t Care What You Think of Her

Twentieth Century-Fox Productions
Twentieth Century-Fox Productions

Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) was the only survivor of an alien attack on a spaceship and has to figure out how to stop the new alien life cycle from further destruction. She’s not out to please anyone and is ready to get down to business no matter the cost.

Her character is rude, dirty, aggressive, and one of the few female leads to go without make up on film. With Ripley in command of the spaceship, her humanity and bravery are what keep the audience at ease in such a tense situation.

Katherine G. Johnson’s Inspiring Life Story

Fox 2000 Pictures
Fox 2000 Pictures

Based on a true story, Hidden Figures depicts Katherine G. Johnson and her team of female African American mathematicians while they worked at NASA during the early years of the U.S. space program. The photo above is a simple glance of how racism and sexism occurred not just in the workplace, but in everyday life.

The women in the film had to work extremely hard to just get the others at NASA to notice their intelligence and worth for a crucial and historical space program. Katherine was able to excel in an unwelcoming environment, while advocating for others like her in a poised and civil manner.

Elle Woods Is More Than How She Looks

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

Women of the past were sometimes deemed unintelligent due to how they looked or acted, but Elle Woods was created to end those outdated stereotypes. In Legally Blonde, a perky and outspoken sorority queen decides to go to law school to follow the man who dumped her. While there, she makes the connection that she’s capable of a lot more than she previously thought.

When the audience meets Elle, she is clearly obsessed with her style and the gossip at her college. She is then transported to a new environment where she can finally shed that “dumb blonde” mindset. This leads her to discover that the world is better with the law and how it helps others.

Miranda Priestly Only Expects the Best

Fox 2000 Pictures
Fox 2000 Pictures

When Andy (Anne Hathaway) lands a prestigious job at a high fashion magazine in The Devil Wears Prada, she must do all she can to impress the demanding editor-in-chief (Meryl Streep). At first glance Miranda Priestly is challenging, uptight, and villainous. She’s risen to the top of the cutthroat fashion industry and only expects the best out of everyone who works for her.

As viewers get to know Miranda and see her at her most vulnerable, they realize that her previous characteristics don’t make her evil. This allows those in her workplace to set high expectations and take themselves seriously.

How Clarice Starling Outsmarts Hannibal Lecter

Orion Pictures
Orion Pictures

Viewers may remember the vicious serial killers Hannibal Lecter and Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs, but the real focus of the film is the FBI agent caught in the middle of it. Clarice Starling must bravely interview methodical villain, Hannibal Lecter, on her own as a young trainee.

Throughout the film Clarice is dragged through a psychological mind game with Hannibal Lecter as she tries to solve the case on Buffalo Bill. Her determination, keen sense of self, and quick wit are what allow her to gain Lecter’s confidence into giving her the information she needs.

Elastigirl Can Save the World All by Herself

Walt Disney Pictures/ Pixar Animation Studios
Walt Disney Pictures/ Pixar Animation Studios

As the matriarch of a family of superheroes, Elastigirl can fight off danger all while keeping her family safe and out of harms way. In the sequel to The Incredibles (Incredibles 2) her abilities are more present when she’s asked to save the world without the help of her husband.

When the gender roles are switched leaving Mr. Incredible in charge of the children and household chores, audiences can tell how much Elastigirl contributes to keeping the family in order. Also, she fights crime like nobody else. Some of her shining moments include saving people on a runaway train and stopping the evil Screenslaver from wreaking havoc with mind control.

C Dottie Hinson Defined a Generation

Columbia Pictures Corporation
Columbia Pictures Corporation

During World War II many jobs were left for women since men were off fighting in the war. This began the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League which inspired the 1992 film A League of Their Own. C Dottie Hinson stands out due to her incredible baseball abilities. She gets chosen along with her sister to play for the league and ends up leading the team to becoming one of the best in the nation.

Hinson broke gender barriers and earned nationwide respect for women in the sports industry. Her knowledge of the game and the fact that she’ll help everyone around her to achieve their goals makes her quite inspirational.

Olive Hoover Learns What It Means to Be Beautiful

Fox Searchlight Pictures
Fox Searchlight Pictures

Women of all ages can make a difference in the world. When a young girl decides to enter into a beauty pageant in Little Miss Sunshine, she has to decide for herself what it actually means to be beautiful.

There are key instances in the film where the world tells Olive that she’s not conventionally pretty, like when she’s frowned upon for ordering ice cream or not dressing like the other pageant girls. It’s key to depict realistic young females in media dealing with body issues because they start to notice how they’re being perceived at around Olive’s age in the film.

Why Kate Isn’t Like Other Girls

Columbia Pictures Corporation
Columbia Pictures Corporation

One of Heath Ledger’s most popular roles had him transform from a peasant to a respected knight in A Knight’s Tale. Along the way he and his group of friends come across Kate (Laura Fraser), a gifted blacksmith and one of the best armor makers around. She stands out due to the fact that she is the only woman in the entire movie that doesn’t fit into the preconceived notions of what women were like during the Middle Ages.

Kate faces many challenges when getting the rest of the town to see her capabilities. Her science and engineering skills when making the armor can remind audiences that there are many talented women in that industry who go unnoticed.

Maria Von Trapp Has Confidence

Robert Wise Productions
Robert Wise Productions

Julie Andrews’ iconic performance as Maria Von Trapp in The Sound of Music is still one of the most loved female characters today. When she leaves her Austrian convent to become the governess for a family of seven children, she shows them the kindness, understanding, and the fun that they were missing from their lives.

Maria travels to the Von Trapp’s singing a song called “I Have Confidence” which sets a precedent for how she will take on life’s challenges. After Maria gets to know the family, everyone, including Captain Von Trapp, realizes that all they needed was to let love into their home during such troubled times.

Matilda Is a Role Model For Young Girls Everywhere

TriStar Pictures
TriStar Pictures

There’s a time in everyone’s life where they don’t feel like they belong. Matilda is born into a family that could care less about her well-being. She’s highly intelligent and soon realizes that she has special powers, which she ends up using against the people who have wronged her.

From a very young age, Matilda realizes that she doesn’t need to conform to her family’s unhealthy lifestyle. This allows her to gain a sense of independence that most people don’t really grasp until they are adults. Her bond with schoolteacher Miss Honey also demonstrates why young girls need positive role models to help them with life’s biggest struggles.

Sara Crewe Knows All Girls Are Princesses

Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

After Sara Crewe is placed into an all girls boarding school, she must come to terms with her new life. Before she arrives the other girls are used to conformity and mind-numbing activities, but Sara is able to use her imagination and kind heart to make up stories to help them find hope and warmth in their lives.

After her father is missing in action while fighting in a war, Sara is put to work at the boarding school as a servant. Even as the heartless headmistress does everything she can to make Sara feel less than, she remains strong and determined with her motto that all girls are princesses.