Weekend Roundtable: Favorite Movie Heroines

I happen to know a 14-year-old girl who is very excited to see this week’s theatrical release of ‘Divergent’. Whether Shailene Woodley’s character in that film turns out to be as empowering a female role model as Jennifer Lawrence’s in ‘The Hunger Games’ remains to be seen. (Reviews aren’t encouraging.) In the meantime, this week’s Roundtable celebrates some of cinema’s strongest leading ladies. Who are your favorite movie heroines?

Shannon Nutt

There are a lot of good candidates for this topic, but I have to go with Jodie Foster’s portrayal of Clarice Starling in ‘The Silence of the Lambs‘. (I need to specify the movie because I think both Julianne Moore and Ridley Scott screwed the character up in ‘Hannibal’). Here’s a heroine who is both strong and vulnerable at the same time. She’s brave enough to both go face-to-face with Hannibal Lecter and journey down into Buffalo Bill’s basement lair, yet still frightened out of her wits in the process. She’s the top of her class as an FBI trainee, but also haunted by events that happened during her childhood. She’s completely qualified for her job, yet looked down upon by many of her male counterparts and associates. As a result, she’s one of the most believable law enforcement characters ever seen on the big screen.

Daniel Hirshleifer

Easily my favorite female role model in film is Lt. Ellen Ripley from the ‘Alien‘ franchise. She’s strong and tough, but also has a softer side and maternal instincts. She’s a survivor, facing xenomorphs time and again, even if she’s afraid. She does this with no special powers – nothing but the will and drive to not let these monsters take her down. The real world could use a few Ellen Ripleys.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

One of the things I love so much about Hayao Miyazaki’s ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service‘ is that the film doesn’t have any sort of villain or arch-nemesis. Instead, it’s the endlessly charming story of a 13-year-old girl who’s just starting to walk down the road to womanhood. Not that I’m telling you anything you don’t already know, but fledgling witches are supposed to live on their own for a year. With her chatty familiar by her side, Kiki leaves her sleepy little village in the rear view mirror and sets up shop in a sprawling port city. Even setting aside the magical end of things, so much of what unfolds here is very easily relatable. Young Kiki has to struggle with her insecurities, her inexperience in the face of all these unfamiliar challenges, and the headaches of being completely self-sufficient. This is a story about confidence, self-reliance and community. ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’ remains my very favorite Studio Ghibli film, and for what it’s worth, it’s also the first one I grabbed off the shelf to introduce Ghibli to my kid sister.

Luke Hickman

Ever since I saw the movie, I’ve considered Saoirse Ronan’s character in ‘Hanna‘ one of the very strongest on-screen heroines. Through the course of the film, we see how much of a physical badass she is. She snaps the neck of a ‘Downton Abbey’ character (if only I could do the same), rides on the bottom of Humvee through the rocky desert, shoots a couple living things close enough to the heart stop them in their tracks just so they can look her in the face as she blows theirs off. It’s amazing! She’s the teenage female version of Jason Bourne. On top of the physical stuff, I especially have to admire her for not being like most teenage girls – loud, obnoxious and overly dramatic. Instead, she’s a teenager on a mission who manages her baggage by killing things.

M. Enois Duarte

If we’re not restricted to action movie heroines, I’m going with ‘Matilda‘ on this one. A spirited, curious and highly intelligent little girl who’s also independent and hard-working, Matilda is a great role model for girls everywhere. What makes her a great character for all kids to emulate is that she inspires a desire for knowledge and shows the value of imagination.

Brian Hoss

After carefully consulting the special person in my life, we agreed that the hip YouTube series ‘The Lizzie Bennet Diaries‘ is the perfect choice for this. The series is based on Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’. The title character is not only very amusing as she does impersonations of her family members and the people around her, but she also threads the needle when it comes to the challenges facing her young life. Initially convinced that she knows better than her sisters, parents, friends, etc., her misreads and assumptions make for quite a series of realizations. The web series is well acted and full of pretty but endearing people, and the quick-editing keeps the narrative popping with humor. I highly recommend giving it a shot, and it’s better when shared.

Josh Zyber

At the risk of turning this into a Jodie Foster love-fest, I’d like to single out her character in Robert Zemeckis’ adaptation of Carl Sagan’s ‘Contact‘. Dr. Ellie Arroway is a research scientist for the SETI program who monitors radio signals from deep space in the hope of discovering hidden patterns that might indicate extraterrestrial life. Even though her work is dismissed by the scientific community and a bureaucracy that refuses to fund her, Arroway perseveres in her determination to prove its importance. The film is a tribute to the passion and dedication of intelligent people driven in their pursuit of knowledge. That’s a rare enough quality for any Hollywood movie, much less a big-budget summer blockbuster, and I can’t imagine anyone else embodying the role as well as Foster does.

Tell us about your favorite movie heroines in the Comments below.


  1. EM

    The first words I thought of were “Get away from her, you bitch”…but since Daniel’s got it covered, I’ll go with Princess Leia. She’s pretty, she’s petite…and she’s surprisingly tough, together, and take-charge. Yet her heart can melt…for a scoundrel, for a brother, or for a walking teddy bear.

  2. Chris B

    Natalie Portman’s Matilda in The Proffesional. She’s smart , resourceful, ambitious, cunning, curious and dangerous. Oh, and she also happens to be a 12-year-old orphan obsessed with revenge. One of the most interesting and enigmatic heroines of all time…

  3. So many heroines, so little time. Those are some great picks, but since they’ve been spoken for I’d have to say Beatrix Kiddo. Vol. 1 shows her kickass side and I love how Vol. 2 we get to know her and see her sensitive side(but still a badass). Since Ms. 45 is coming out this Tuesday, and I’m very excited, I also have to mention Thana, although she could be more of an anti heroine. She carries that movie with only one word, pretty awesome.

  4. Elizabeth

    I’m not sure what’s so empowering about Katniss from the Hunger Games. She does what she must to survive. She uses Peeta to survive, which is something the movies leave fuzzy but is clear in the books. The main character from Divergent isn’t much better. After having read the Hunger Games and the first Divergent book, I was left wondering if there had been some sort of content to write a novel with the least likable main character. Which is something that the Harry Potter books got right, giving you a bunch of characters you actually like.

    I’d like to offer up Lindsay from The Abyss for great heroines. The woman drowns herself. How much more bad a** can you get? Of course, James Cameron’s films have always featured strong women. Sarah Conner from Terminator, Vasquez from Aliens, Jaimie Lee Curtis’s character in True Lies, Rose in Titanic and Trudi from Avatar.

  5. William Henley

    Oh my gosh, how has no one said it! Leah in Star Wars. Seriously, she kicks butt. I mean, even though in the first movie when they go to save her, she quickly takes charge of the operation. She is probably the strongest female character of any movie I have ever seen.

    I got to agree with Alien and Matilda. Great calls on both of those.

    I do want to go with a couple of unconventinal movies. Julie Andrews in both The Sound of Music and in Mary Poppins. In The Sound of Music, she pulls herself together, faces her fears, stands up to the Captain, continues to show kindness to several kids who have zero respect for her, and pushes her personal feelings of love aside twice to do what she believes is right. In Mary Poppins, she quickly comes and shows she is in control, despite Mr. Banks best efforts, quickly gains the respect of two unrulely children, and teaches the children that there is a time for play and a time to be serious.

    And, probably the most memorable movie herorine of all time, Scarlett O’Hare from Gone With The Wind. I am not sure if I would say her character is one to look up to, but she is determined not to let anyone ever screw her or dictate her life again, and she takes control of the situation, and manipulates everyone around her to do what she believes is best so that everyone survives.

  6. Bill

    And how about Uma Thurman in Kill Bill? That’s a woman who competes in what is usually a man’s world and bests them at their own game. Of course as a role model, as Lucy would say, w—ell ….. ……

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