The Top 25 Movies Highlighting Remarkably Strong Women

The Top 25 Movies Highlighting Remarkably Strong Women

Written By:

Alison Rollins

Christina Kim

Amanda Whitbeck

Lynn Whitbeck

Rachel Whitbeck

No matter what society has told us throughout our lives, women are powerful, brave, and remarkably strong. It’s true in real life, and it’s so important to see these women in our media, too. This summer, we want to shine a light on some of our favorite movies led by inspiring woman characters.

We picked 25 films that highlight the strength, intelligence, and perseverance of women from all walks of life. The movies span the decades and genres, while the characters represent a wide range in terms of their race, country of origin, gender, sexuality, and ability. Whether fighting sexual harassment at work or an invading army of warriors, these are ladies who have shown just what women can achieve.

Alien (1979 – 1997) – Ripley (Sigourney Weaver)

Ripley is an inspirational character in all of the Alien movies. In the first movie of the franchise, I immediately connected with character. She’s resourceful and determined in a terrifying situation. Ripley bonds with a young girl, a lone survivor they find on the colony they are investigating. Her strength of character shines when she takes charge to rescue the child when facing seemingly insurmountable odds. She takes action knowing the risk to herself. Strong women are brave, and Ripley is bravery personified. – Lynn

Black Panther (2018) – Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), Shuri (Letitia Wright), Okoye (Danai Gurira), Ramonda (Angela Bassett)

Even though they aren’t the main characters, all of the women in this movie are badasses. My favorite is Shuri, who is basically the smartest person in the world and has invented all the technology using vibranium. But all of the women in the movie are powerful women who use their power for the greater good. – Alison

Cinderella (1950) – Cinderella (Ilene Woods)

Like Eli in To the Bone, Cinderella is not necessarily the first woman to come to mind when you think of strong female characters. She should be. Like many, I went through a phase of thinking Cinderella was a weak woman who wallowed in a miserable situation until a man saved her. However, like many others, I’ve come to realize that Cinderella was strong as hell and waited for no one. Despite facing years of emotional abuse and slavery by her own family, Cinderella never became spiteful or cruel herself. She worked hard to make her own dress to take what she had never had – a night off. When that was destroyed, her own wishes became physically embodied in the Fairy Godmother, who gave her that much-needed break. So she happened to land a prince? That doesn’t make her any less strong. – Rachel

The Danish Girl (2015) – Lili Elbe (Eddie Redmayne) and Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander)

Although I take issue with a cisgender man playing a trans woman, Eddie Redmayne gave a powerful performance in depicting Lili as she slowly accepts herself as a woman and lives accordingly – in the 1920s and ‘30s, no less! Her wife, Gerda, is accepting of Lili’s transition and seeks to help Lili however she can whilst warding off questions into what happened to her ‘husband’ and protecting her from mental asylums. The Danish Girl shows how difficult transitioning can be in a transphobic society, but it also shows how happy women can be when they get to be themselves. – Rachel

So well said, Rachel. The Danish Girl is such a powerful, moving film, and one of my favorites in the last few years. It’s sad how transphobic our society has been, and movies like this are truly enlightening on a whole community of people who deserve our respect and love. Lili is so strong, and Gerda is such a wonderful ally. – Amanda

Erin Brockovich (2000) – Erin Brockovich (Julia Roberts)

In a word, Erin Brockovich has gumption, and loads of it. She’s gritty and flawed, while caring and genuine. It’s her ability to connect with people, listen, probe, and build relationships that sets her apart. It enables her to steadfastly unearth the truth and achieve justice. – Lynn

Falling for Grace (2006) – Grace Tang (Fay Ann Lee)

This delightful romantic comedy is written, directed, and produced by – and even stars – Fay Ann Lee. It’s a story of finding your authentic self. Grace Tang appears to have it all: good education, high level position, cool apartment in NYC, and loving, supportive friends and family. Yet through a believable situation of mistaken identity, she grows and gains a deeper understanding of who she is. – Lynn

Hidden Figures (2016) – Katherine Goble Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), and Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer)

Hidden Figures was huge when it came out, and for good reason. I think all of us at Petite2Queen chose this as one of our top picks for a movie highlighting strong, inspiring woman characters. Even better, these were real women who proved how intelligent, hard-working, and capable women – and, more speficially, black women – truly are. It’s an empowering and intersectional feminist film, and I love how Katherine, Mary, and Dorothy each pushed forward with what black women can achieve when they’re allowed to live to their full potential. Hidden Figures is one of my favorite new movies of the last few years. – Amanda

I’ve watched Hidden Figures at least five times since it came out. I love seeing the three women use their own strengths to fight their own battles and, in so doing, lift up all black women. Dorothy Vaughan, especially, fights for her whole team. I love it! – Rachel

I love this movie! It smashes the myth that women are not good with math and science. It is a story of strength: Women performing at the highest levels, pursuing opportunities, and achieving their dreams through their hard work and diligence with grace. – Lynn

Holiday (1938) – Linda Seton (Katharine Hepburn)

Holiday is a true classic with Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. Each of the four movies they did together are fantastic. Holiday stands out because of the main character, Linda Seton. Linda refuses to conform to her family’s perception of her role in society. She has incredible strength of character to stand up against people she truly cares about and loves. She is daring, taking a leap of faith to shed her conformity shackles and build a new life. – Lynn

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) – Esmerelda (Demi Moore)

This is one of those movies I didn’t particularly love as a child, but, after I rewatched it a few years go, I realized how amazing it truly is. Esmerelda is a a Romani dancer in 15th century Paris whose community faces oppression at the hands of the powerful. She consistently speaks out and fights for justice for all marginalized people, and she rebuffs Frollo in his misogynistic sexual harassment. Esmerelda is definitely someone to look up to, especially in today’s political and social climate. Justice for all! – Rachel

I agree – Esmerelda is very inspiring and strong throughout the movie, always standing up to oppression and defending what’s right. Though she’s not the first “Disney princess” most people think of, she’s one of my favorites. I’d also give a shout-out to Pocahontas, who portrays similar strength in fostering peace between two opposing, even hateful, sides. – Amanda

The Hunger Games (2012 – 2015) – Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence)

When Katniss volunteers as tribute, it shows great bravery and also unconditional love for her sister. Katniss also becomes a symbol of strength and unity amongst the districts. She is a strong leader throughout the entire series. – Alison

Hush (2016) – Maddie Young (Kate Siegel)

This thriller/slasher film depicts a deaf and mute author fighting for her life against a serial killer. With all odds stacked against her, Maddie is smart and resourceful, consistently defying the murderer’s expectations of an easy kill. Not only does she overcome whatever ‘disability’ she has against him, Maddie uses the skills and devices she’s picked up due to her loss of hearing to her advantage. Hush demonstrates that disabled women are not helpless or powerless and are, in fact, ready to take on whatever is sent their way. – Rachel

Hush is an incredible movie, and I believe the only on this list that’s a horror film and the only to portray a disabled main character. Maddie may be deaf, but she’s still fully capable of single-handedly taking on a serial killer. It’s a great movie that shows how strong disabled woman are. – Amanda

The Last Jedi (2017) – Rey (Daisy Ridley)

Being a huge Star Wars fan, I even watched the three prequel movies (only once), and I was excited to see the latest installments. Rey was incredible, everything a General Leia fan could hope for. When The Last Jedi opened, my daughter and I saw it in the early hours of the first day. What stands out to me about Rey is that she stays true to her values. She is willing to have a conversation and explore her paradigm. She challenges herself to question and grow. Through it all, Rey knows what is most important and remains true to herself. – Lynn

Legally Blonde (2001) – Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon)

My mom loves this movie and has watched it with my sister and me again and again since it came out. What I love about Legally Blonde is how Elle Woods proves that women are more than just their looks. Sure, she’s beautiful, girly, loves the color pink, and is into fashion, but she’s also intelligent, hard-working, clever, resourceful, and genuinely kind. She’s strong and she proves herself to everyone who doubts her – from her lame ex-boyfriend to her college professors. Women can be successful and smart as well as feminine and cheerful; they’re not mutually exclusive! This is a modern classic everyone – men and women alike – should watch. – Amanda

What I also love is that Elle is able to foster an alliance and even friendship with the woman she was initially pitted against for Warren’s love. Forget petty rivalries! Elle Woods is above that. – Rachel

Lilo & Stitch (2002) – Nani (Tia Carrere)

Nani is an amazing woman. After losing their parents, she works hard to keep her sister, Lilo, in her custody. While she works hard to find a job after Lilo and Stitch (mostly Stitch) cause her to lose her waitressing job, Nani still makes time for Lilo, reminding her that “family means no one gets left behind or forgotten.” – Rachel

Miss Congeniality (2000) – Gracie Hart (Sandra Bullock)

Another movie I’ve seen with my mom and sister again and again, Miss Congeniality sends a powerful message about how incredible and talented women are, even when they fit into other clichés of flighty women. Women can be strong and smart whether they work at the FBI or enter the Miss America contest. Gracie Hart starts off with some internalized misogynistic views, but she soon learns how wrong that thinking is. All women, regardless of their looks or professions, are strong. – Amanda

While Gracie is introduced as a gruff, insensitive woman, it’s her kindness that gets her the furthest in her criminal investigation. Moreover, she teaches the women that seuxal harassment is never okay and how to defend themselves. Go, Gracie! – Rachel

Miss Sloane (2016) – Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain)

I love that this movie shows a woman who is very successful in her career – and one that tends to be pretty male-dominated. The titular Elizabeth Sloane is a lobbyist who takes on the gun industry. That’s no easy task, but through incredible intelligence, resourcefulness, and determination, she eventually pulls off an amazing success. I also love the shocking ending! – Amanda

Mulan (1998) – Mulan (Ming-Na Wen)

Mulan was such an important movie for me as a kid. It was the first time I’d seen a Disney girl take matters into her own hands and bravely enter a battle – disguised as a man and with only a cricket and an incompetent dragon god to help her! It takes a little time, but Mulan actually ends up being a better warrior than all the other men! One of the best things about Mulan is that the standard, masculine army are unable to defeat the Huns using traditional war tactics; rather, Mulan’s incorporation of her more “feminine” skills are what lead to her defeating the enemy. Maybe it’s in part because they underestimated this young woman; but nonetheless, it shows that femininity and women are powerful and strong. A similarly awesome Disney character is Brave’s Merida. – Amanda

Mulan is one of my favorite Disney characters, up there with Merida. She’s willing to risk her life to protect her father. Even against the expectations of most of her dead ancestors, Mulan manages to keep her dad safe and save China! Not bad! – Rachel

Norma Rae (1979) – Norma Rae Webster (Sally Field)

I will never forget the image of Norma Rae jumping up and holding the union sign over her head. It was powerful and real. This film has always stayed with me as a story of indomitable will and overcoming incredible challenges. It speaks to me about how each of us can change the world with determination, passion, and grit. – Lynn

North Country (2005) – Josey Aimes (Charlize Theron)

Based on a book, which in turn is based on a true story, North Country depicts a pivotal time in the United States’ recognition of sexual harassment in the workplace. Facing opposition from nearly everyone – including her own father – single mom Josey Aimes begins working at the local iron mine where her dad works. It pays six times what her job as a hairdresser pays – representative of the pay disparity between so-called men’s and women’s careers. However, with nearly all of her co-workers being men who think she doesn’t belong there, she faces tremendous sexual harassment. She has to fight long and hard to get policies put into place that protect her and other workers from such harassment. It’s an incredible and inspiring movie that’s especially relevant in light of the #MeToo movement. – Amanda

Ocean’s 8 (2018) Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), Nine Ball (Rihanna), Lou (Cate Blanchett), Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway), Rose (Helena Bonham Carter), Tammy (Sarah Paulson), Constance (Awkwafina), Amita (Mindy Kaling)

This movie is so funny. Each of the main characters is a boss at what they do, and Debbie Ocean is the mastermind behind the heist of the century. All of the Oceans movies have starred male characters, and it’s nice to see all women doing things we typically see men doing in movies. – Alison

The Princess and the Frog (2009) – Tiana (Anika Noni Rose)

I’ve only seen The Princess and the Frog once, but I was struck by how hardworking Tiana is. Fighting against sexism and racism in 1920s New Orleans, she works long hours and budgets to fulfill her father’s (and her own) dream of opening a restaurant. Pragmatic and grounded, she’s unlike any other fairytale princess I’ve seen. – Rachel

Rabbit Proof Fence (2002) – Molly (Everlyn Sampi), Daisy (Tianna Sansbury), and Gracie (Laura Monaghan)

I chose this film because the main characters are extremely brave and persevere against the odds. They are three young, mixed-race aboriginal girls who walk 1,500 miles to return to their hometown after running away from the re-education camp they were sent to to be forcibly integrated into white society. These girls display great strength and determination. And this was loosely based on a true story! – Alison

Star Wars (1977 – 2017) – Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher)

The scene where Princess Leia grabs the blaster from Han in the detention cells is one of my all time favorites. She seizes control to save herself and her “rescuers.” Ten years after the release of Star Wars, we still had women cowering and whimpering as in The Princess Bride. Leia was and is a role model: smart, capable, determined, and fearless. – Lynn

To the Bone (2017) – Ellen/Eli (Lilly Collins)

Ellen, who later goes by Eli, might not strike many as a strong woman. For most of the movie, she’s refusing to adequately address her struggle with anorexia nervosa. However, the fact that Eli continues to survive while her own mind is putting her in mortal danger is, to me, a sign of great strength. Nothing is more difficult to win than a battle with your own brain, but she eventually finds the strength to give it a good fight. – Rachel

A Wrinkle in Time (2018) – Meg (Storm Reid)

Meg Murry is no damsel in distress; in fact, it’s the other way around. She is trying to save her father from an evil alien called It. Also, Meg learns to be confident in herself the way she is rather than conforming to what she thinks society wants her to be. -Alison

 

What do you think of these women? Were you as inspired while watching these films as we were? Let us know what you liked about them – and be sure to tell us what movies you’d add to the list! We’d love to hear from you and grow our list of empowering movies.

 

Petite2Queen provides virtual mentoring to young women in life, at work, and in sales. Follow us for more practical advice you can put to use to improve your life and career.

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