There are so many ways to define a strong female character in cinema. Maybe she’s an action hero, or a scientist, or the intelligent woman who saves the day? We wanted to track down what movies did the strong female trope right – and here are some of the most popular answers.
Some of these women are no surprise at all, but there are definitely a few suggestions on this list that are off the beaten track. Either way, each of these powerful women showed us that you can have a dynamic female lead without needing to rely on clichés.
1. Fargo – Marge Gunderson
We’re talking about the 1996 movie here, not the more recent TV series (although the latter also has plenty of well-written strong female characters too). What makes Marge such a strong character is that she’s a certified badass (a police chief) but manages that without having to give up her personal aspirations that would be seen as traditionally feminine (she’s pregnant).
It’s easy enough (and arguably lazy) for writers to make strong female characters by giving them masculine traits – but not with Marge. She’s not strong because she’s like a man; she’s strong as a woman.
“Not sexy, not crazy. Just methodical, competent, and right,” someone said of Marge.
2. The Silence of the Lambs – Clarice Starling
Unlike Marge, Clarice embodies a woman who is strong because of her education and intelligence, not her action movie skills. While Clarice does have some pretty brave and heroic moments in the film, what truly makes her strong is how she uses her “softer” traits (empathy, problem-solving skills) to connect with Hannibal and solve the crime.
We also shouldn’t forget that she was the only one brave enough to be around him too!
“Too many movies have to show a “strong” woman based on what the perception of what a strong man is – physically strong, shooting people, winning fist fights[..],” one commenter explained while suggesting Clarice.
3. The Terminator – Sarah Connor
When you think of The Terminator, you think of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance in the film. But fans know that the real hero is Sarah Connor – after all, she’s technically the protagonist. I mean, what says “strong female” more than fighting off a killer robot from the future?
“I love that Arnold has said that she’s the star of the movie, not him,” a fan pointed out to highlight how important Linda Hamilton’s character is to the series.
4. Alien – Ellen Ripley
You can’t help but praise Sigourney Weaver’s performance in Alien, which still holds up as one of the greatest of all time. But we can also praise the writers, directors, costume designers, and everyone else who decided to make Alien a real horror-action movie with a strong female character. It’s never cheap, she’s never dumb, and Ripley is certainly no damsel in distress.
Someone dropped this joke review, which pretty much sums the main character up: “Alien is a movie where nobody listens to the smart woman, and then they all die except for the smart woman and her cat. Four stars.”
5. Jurassic Park – Dr. Ellie Sattler
Both Ellie and the younger female lead, Lex, were strong female characters that didn’t rely on tropes or stereotypes.
But one fan shared why having a strong female character doesn’t just make for a good film but an inspirational one. “Seeing a strong woman in science at such a young age had a profound impact on me, and I truly think it’s one of the reasons I am a scientist today,” she said.
6. Steel Magnolias – Almost Everyone
Take your pick of strong female characters in this movie; that’s the entire plot! I love Steel Magnolias (like so many of its fans) because of the complexity of the characters as they work through real-life challenges.
7. The X-Files – Dr. Dana Scully
It’s more of a TV show, but there were a couple of X-Files movies, so we’ll give this one a pass. Especially because Scully was so well-written and intelligent that she influenced a generation of girls to enter STEM fields. It’s called the Scully Effect, and it’s a very real thing.
8. Lilo & Stitch – Nani
Nani’s only 19 but steps up as Lilo’s caregiver after their parents die, a task that isn’t so simple given how hard Lilo is to parent. What we see is her really trying to care for her sister, even at the beginning of the film when she’s struggling to make it work. In short, Nani has given up her life to raise her sister – and that makes her a strong person and, by extension, a strong woman.
9. The Addams Family – Morticia Addams
I loved this movie growing up, and I’m happy whenever folks give it the attention it deserves. I can still remember every beat of the scene where Morticia is breaking their wedding dishes because she’s so angry with her husband. But that’s what makes Morticia’s character so great; she’s not just some passive housewife. She has her own wants, needs, and aspirations.
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite Morticia quotes from the movie, “I’m just like any modern woman trying to have it all. Loving husband, a family. It’s just I wish I had more time to seek out the dark forces and join their hellish crusade.”
10. Edge of Tomorrow – Rita Vrataski
Actually, it’s Sergeant Rita Vrataski, and she’s a certified hero in this movie. Starring alongside Tom Cruise, she’s the one who trains him to fight. If that’s not enough, she continues to break down stereotypes by rescuing Cruise’s character at one point in the film.
11. The Long Kiss Goodnight – Samantha Caine
What you need to know about The Long Kiss Goodnight is that Samantha Caine is a single mother, but she starts having these strange flashbacks. Turns out she’s a government assassin who’s lost her memory. Her strength lies not just in how capable she is as a fighter but also in how she navigates this awakening while caring for her daughter.
12. My Cousin Vinny – Mona Lisa Vito
Too often, we see comedy movies relying on cheap tropes to carry the jokes, but not in My Cousin Vinny. While Mona is technically a supporting character to Vinny, she steals the show and even saves the day in the end. It’s hard to give this performance the justice it deserves in a short description; just know that Marisa Tomei, who played Mona, won an academy award.
13. The Mummy – Evelyn O’Connell
The Mummy is one of my favorite movies, and Evelyn O’Connell is one of my favorite movie heroes of all time. She’s got it all: great looks, tenacity, intelligence, and literally my dream job (super cool librarian). While I personally identify more with her brother, I can totally see why The Mummy is a top choice among movies that did the strong female trope right.
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