Like many of the great film characters in cinema, the need and act for survival are crucial – and that is prominent in the next ten female characters on our list. Whether it be in the emptiness of space, or on the ground of the streets, women (and girls) do what they need to keep going. Some take a beating, both physically or mentally or both, but just about keep their wits about them and get their feet back on the surface. Their determination shines through any notion of be aided or abetted by the male contingent, or an unwillingness to reveal who they are underneath. This next ten is also book-ended by great casting through actresses becoming pregnant – don’t say I don’t make this interesting.
Selina Kyle / Catwoman – – – Batman Returns (1992)
Once a force to be reckoned with, Michelle Pfeiffer has sunk her teeth into some juicy roles. One of her most memorable was to join Tim Burton as he returned to his own revival of the Batman franchise as none other than Catwoman – and the somewhat bipolar secretary Selina Kyle. A small debt is owed to Annette Bening, who was originally set for the part but fell pregnant. Pfeiffer was just meant to be.
When Selina is pushed through a window by her corrupt boss, a bunch of cats seemingly gather around her – and the rest is comic book history. Latex-suited-up, she may lose a couple of squabbles with enemies or allies alike, and become unmasked at the story’s close, but Catwoman remains the phenomenon with the biggest, shiniest balls. And a catty attitude to boot.
The Christmas setting only adds to Catwoman’s allure it seems. Even with the bold, brash characters of Max Shreck (Christopher Walken), Penguin (Danny DeVito), and also Batman / Bruce Wayne (a thankfully recurring Michael Keaton), it has always felt like Catwoman’s movie. Batman returns, sure, but the delicious Catwoman reigns supreme – the final shot of her illustrious silhouette only exemplifies this. – – – Robin Write
Diana Prince / Wonder Woman – – – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
The concept of Batman and Superman spitting their dummies out to turn on each-other is a ridiculous one. But still Zack Snyder managed to attract a marvel of a cast including Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne – but hardly a grand use of character between them.
Step up Gal Gadot as Diana Prince, who although has to spend two and a half hours witnessing the mayhem – and by that I do include Bruce Wayne’s sleaze – finally brings some much-needed venom and glory to this mess as Wonder Woman. Blowing Batman’s monstrous voice and Superman’s distracting emotional side out of the water, Wonder Woman arrives to kick some serious ass and show these small boys how it is done.
It is a wonder, indeed, that one dynamic character can mark such a super-cool and influential motion picture appearance while our beloved Batman and Superman struggle to muster a breath of redemption between them. – – – Robin Write
Katniss Everdeen – – – The Hunger Games (2012)
Katniss Everdeen is the toughest person in a world full of tough people. She lives in a world where a citizen uprising led to a totalitarian government, and now a yearly game is held where children are forced into battle with each other in which the winner is the last one alive. For Katniss it’s a no-win situation, because she’s good natured at heart, and doesn’t want to kill anyone, but has to in order to survive.
Before the games start, there is first a reaping, which is the selection process when one boy and one girl are picked as the representatives of their district. Katniss is not selected, but her younger sister Primrose is. In order to save her sister, Katniss volunteers in her place. What makes Katniss Everdeen a kick-ass character is that she’s not only smart and knows how to survive in the games, but also the fact that she’s willing to sacrifice herself to allow for her sister to live. It’s a very brave and noble gesture, and it ends up being the first tough decision of many more to come afterwards. – – – Al Robinson
Anna Schmidt – – – The Third Man (1949)
While working as an actress in Vienna, Anna fell head over heels in love with a guy that turned out to be not that great, pretty awful actually. His best mate, Holly Martins, develops romantic feelings for her while trying to unravel the shady circumstances surrounding said mate’s death. But Anna’s loyalty to her beloved, even upon discovery of his wrongdoing, never wavers.
Not to condone falsifying official documents for illegal entry to a country (spoiler) but that shows a lot of courage from a vulnerable woman living in a nation rendered indigent in its post-war fragility. She is a woman of stoic loyalty, rejecting Martins advances with aplomb, and that final scene is one of the finest examples of metaphorically flipping the bird there’s ever been in cinema. – – – Rhiannon Topham
Ryan Stone – – – Gravity (2013)
You’re in space, your shuttle is broken. The rest of the crew is already dead, your commanding partner’s corpse is floating forever into weightless oblivion, and you’re alone, so freaking alone and scared, the only sound thing to do is just break down and cry while waiting for the inevitable oxygen depletion.
Yet, with no reasonable way of surviving, Dr. Ryan Stone still manages to drive it home in the most stunning rebirth parable that has ever come to life on film. Being such a unique story about a woman’s journey to personal deliverance, feel free to gush over not only Bullock’s astrodoc, but this beautiful movie itself.
Talking about kick-ass ladies, this film has a womb in which the heroine grows, it forms a safeguarding placenta around her, lovingly nourishing and healing the pain away until Stone is well and truly ready to let go of her emotional shackles and emerge crying and wobbly-legged into wet existence, with the first gasp of a newborn blinking against the first light. In a rare case of silver screen transcendence, the character isn’t the only ferocious female subject worth mentioning; Gravity itself is. – – – The Greek
Ellen Peterson / “The Gamin” – – – Modern Times (1936)
Perhaps there is nothing like the defiance of out-witting the law to stand, head held high and eat the banana you have just stolen. Ellen, the poor, penniless young woman in Charlie Chaplin’s immense Modern Times does not endorse crime or wrong-doing, but rather shaking a fist at society’s shackles and live life with a smile and spirited determination.
Paulette Goddard and Chaplin had a great on-screen chemistry here, providing the audience with one of the first wonderful meet cutes in fictional history. Even dressed in her rags and splashed with dirt, Ellen (or The Gamin’) brings with her a warm glow of optimism wherever she goes.
Like Chaplin, she is mischief and spontaneous, her spirited aura of adventure goes a long way in teaching the Little Tramp a thing or two – a perfect alliance forms quickly. Ellen, in all her down-to-Earth wisdom, survival instinct, and willing to make the world a better place, could certainly teach us a thing or two on how to live today, not just 1936. – – – Robin Write
Rebecca Morgan – – – Sounder (1972)
Martin Ritt’s adaptation was probably the first realistic rendering of life as a black sharecropper family in the oppressive South during the Great Depression. Tyson’s steely performance makes Rebecca Morgan the heart and soul of the family when her husband and father to her son is hauled away on a minor crime charge and she has to take control of their survival. This was the role that made the world take notice of Cicely Tyson as the acting powerhouse that she is – and remains to be – today.
When Nathan is spotted in the distance, hobbling up the road home after his release from the chain gang, it’s Tyson’s full speed, arms wide sprint to his arms that steals the emotion of a scene that includes both a child AND a dog (Sounder). Tyson was only the second African-American woman to be nominated for Best Actress by Oscar, an honor she had to share with Diana Ross, but her performance in Sounder towers above all others that year. – – – Steve Schweighofer
Sarah Connor – – – Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
If there was a Mount Rushmore of badass movie females, Linda Hamilton’s face would be every single president! You know who she is, Sarah Connor! First introduced to us as a timid character in the original Terminator and she evolved into a militaristic, cunning, and altruistic mom interested solely in the protection of her son and the fate of the future planet.
Over a decade preparing herself for Judgment Day becoming a master tactician and extensive knowledge of firearms and explosives. All this knowledge proved even too much for her as the machines took over the world, but instilled the Messiah like figure of Sarah Connor for future fighters. Linda Hamilton opened the door for more women to step into the action role and is renowned for her impact on the industry. – – – Mike Austin
Jane Craig – – – Broadcast News (1987)
It’s still mind-boggling to think that James L. Brooks wrote the role of Jane Craig in Broadcast News for Debra Winger (who became pregnant before production), because Holly Hunter embodies Craig so believably, it’s as though no one else could be her. Craig is real-world kicking ass: afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted, one story at time. She’s so kick-ass, she makes it obvious why they would choose a 26-year-old as managing producer even in the midst of Draconian cutbacks.
And like Rick in Casablanca, she puts ethics over love. Movies about workplace romances tend to be insipidly sappy; movies about professional ethics tend to be pedantically preachy. Broadcast News very improbably, very watchably threads the needle, and if you’re wondering why more movies don’t follow, it’s because they don’t have a Jane Craig. To paraphrase Joan Cusack’s character, except for socially, Jane’s our role model. – – – Daniel Smith-Rowsey
Rosetta – – – Rosetta (1999)
On paper, a teenage girl from a trailer park, with barely a pot to piss in, and a drunken mother, might not seem to be the most exhilarating of movie experiences. This is the Dardenne brothers though, a remarkable film-making duo who bring the realism of social struggles to cinema with consummate perception and depth.
What also makes Rosetta a gem is Cannes Best Actress winner Émilie Dequenne as the title heroine. Rosetta, down-trodden, but extremely determined – ruthlessly so – has both survival and escape on her mind. Struggling to hold down a job so she can earn a living and look after her useless mother, Rosetta fights (quite literally) her way through her tough day-to-day routine, running (quite literally) from dilemma to new job to wherever she can find salvation or personal fulfillment.
Finding work at a waffle stand, a co-worker, Riquet (Fabrizio Rongione), never quite makes friend material – in fact Rosetta hesitates to save him when he falls into water, and later rats him out to the boss when she discovers he is conning him. Cruel, but a dog eats a dog if it has to. Rosetta is hard as nails, gutsy as hell, she can tend to period pains with a hairdryer, and carry heavy gas canisters all by herself. But she is human, a young girl, close to breaking, but mentally stronger than most – when she falls to the ground at the film’s close and sobs, frustrated by it all, she’ll get back up and on her feet again, we just know it. – – – Robin Write