Top movie lists don’t have to be in numbers of “10”, and they don’t have to give homage to the same films over and over.
After perusing “Cinema’s Strongest Female Characters”, one wonders why female strength is still focused in the stereotypes of the early 20thcentury. Although Bette Davis plays a very strong role in the first movie on the list, “All About Eve,” the character is still ultimately concerned with her appearance and how to maintain her status as diva actress at all costs. At bottom, this film illuminates a woman succumbing to society’s notions of her, not expressing the multi-facets of inner and outer strength.
Among the first five movie covers on the list, three are shown with women in the embrace of men, and one shows only a man. Many of the movies on this lengthy list seem picked more in regard to relationship-based strength, award nominations, and media acclaim, and less in consideration of the actual strength of the female character.
The following list counters such notions by recognizing the ways in which women have evolved through film, and how female strength includes intellectual, emotional, and physical aspects. These characters are central to the story all by themselves, with independent voice and will.
#1 – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009, trilogy): Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander.
Pervert destroyer and technological guru in a teeny-tiny tough-as-nails independent package of eccentric awesomeness. Lisbeth Salander embodies a universal sort of strength that is transcendent of gender and social norms. (Read an excellent review of Lisbeth Salander here: http://theallegiant.com/lisbeth-salander-the-most-important-character-ever-written/)
#2 – The Color Purple: Whoopi Goldberg as Celie Johnson (1985):
Celie is cinematic proof that female power is an evolving process. She is unquestionably strong and compassionate from the beginning of the story, but once she finds her voice, Celie is one of the most beautiful examples of self-actualization ever written or portrayed.
#3 – Kill Bill, Vol. 1 & 2 (2003, 4): Uma Thurman as “The Bride”/Beatrix Kiddo.
Kitana wielding assassin who achieves ultimate revenge and saves her child, with an unforgettable scene where she awakens from a coma and commands herself with the highest order of internal will to: “move your big toe.”
#4 – Alien(s) (1979, 1986, 1992): Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley.
In this epic, Ripley is the alien-battling, authority-asserting, uber-intelligent, goddess of sci-fi. She even kicks butt in a penal colony full of violent men, while expressing a sort of wild shaved-head femininity.
#5 – Silence of the Lambs (1991): Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling.
Young FBI agent willfully engages an incarcerated psychopathic cannibal and stops a sadistic serial killer with stoic grace and professional nerves of steel. (For an excellent review of this film, read here)
#6 – Elizabeth (1998): Cate Blanchett as Queen Elizabeth.
Female strength didn’t begin yesterday. Quote: “I am not your Elizabeth. I am no man’s Elizabeth. And if you think to rule, you are mistaken.”
#7 – Girlfight (2000): Michelle Rodriguez as Diana Guzman.
In spite of its rather cheeky title, this film features gritty fight scenes and an intensely realistic young woman with immense internal and external power. Quote: “I love you. I really do.” … And then Diana punches Adrian in the face.
#8 – House of Flying Daggers (2004): Ziyi Zhang as Jen Yu.
Impetuous and tradition-defying, sometimes even immature and vain, Jen Yu becomes a master fighter and a woman filled with inner peace. “I am the Invincible Sword Goddess, armed with the Green Destiny that knows no equal!”
#9 – Resident Evil (5 films: 2002-2012): Milla Jovovich as Alice.
The greatest action heroine of all-time. Her strength lies not only in her incredible martial arts and shooting skills, but in her intelligence and ability to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds over and over again.
#10 – Columbiana (2011): Zoe Saldana as Cataleya.
A young woman grows up to be a stone-cold assassin after witnessing her parents’ murder as a child in Bogota. A great movie that will keep your heart pounding until the last moment.
#11 – Aeon Flux (2005): Charlize Theron as Aeon Flux:
Sci-fi justice-fighting political huntress risks all to uncover the truth and save the day. Charlize Theron looks breath taking in this film and incredible 180 from her film Monster.
#12 – The Matrix Revolutions (2003): Jada Pinkett Smith as Niobe.
Captain and uber-skilled pilot of the Zion hovercraft Logos. She may not be the main character, but Niobe portrays a combination of strength and independence in the film that is unmatched.
Note that characters with mostly realistic lives and environments were placed higher on the list than those of more supernatural quality and circumstances. Note also that many other films were considered for this list.
“Million Dollar Baby” was rejected because the female character becomes quadriplegic and dies. “Queen of the Damned” was abandoned because Akasha (played by Aaliyah) is deceived by Lestat and drained of blood. “Natural Born Killers” was rejected because even though Juliette Lewis is amazing as Mallory Knox, she is a relationship-based character and a serial killer (not so positive). And finally, “Gone with the Wind” was deleted after a great deal of thought—and a little pain. Vivien Leigh as Scarlet O’Hara is a testament of strength for the time-period, but alas, she whines over Ashley way too much and doesn’t do anything to challenge racism.
Recognizing female movie characters from the early 20th century for their strength is one thing, but asserting that female strength (and the perception of it) stopped there is simply absurd.