Good characters in films and TV are hard to come by, so let’s take a look at some at some of the best ones. This time, we will be looking at the best strong female characters in films and television, in no particular order. Instead of ranking the characters, we will be examining what makes each character great.
So, first up is the classic female icon Ellen Ripley.
Ripley should need no introduction at this point, as she has rightly been a staple sci-fi icon for many years. At the beginning of the classic film Alien, Ripley is just a warrant officer, and one of many crew members aboard the Nostromo. But events catapult her into a leading role, which was pretty unusual at the time. For example, let’s take a look at some of the other action films that came out that year: The Warriors, Mad Max, Moonraker. That little list is by no means comprehensive, but all you need to do is take a look at action films released in that period to see that the majority of lead roles were played by men.
So, Ripley has rightly been lauded as one of the greatest female characters of all time, and applauded for challenging gender roles. Ripley is determined, strong, and most importantly: has a complex range of emotions. She isn’t just some lean, mean, killing machine – she is an ordinary woman forced to fight for her life against a force she is very outmatched against.
Sigourney Weaver herself had this to say about Ripley, when she spoke to themarysue.com: “I’m sort of stunned that it is an influential character but I’m delighted, and I can kind of understand it because I actually based the character on a woman who inspires me very much who’s an environmentalist who’s very… she’s very much a person who doesn’t get bogged down in things that could go wrong. I’m glad that I picked the right person.”
“I think she is a terrific character and I have to give credit to the four men and the many men and women behind these movies who wrote them and acted in them that these four films — I was very fortunate to be working with people who could tell a story that could still resonate many years later that had enough universal themes in it, that was still relevant to people.”
Moving on from a classic staple, to a newcomer to the field: Furiosa, who in my view, stole the show in Mad Max: Fury Road.
Furiosa has become some what of a hero among feminists, and of course the film itself has been lauded as a feminist film by some sources. While that may not have been director George Miller had in mind, there is no denying that overall the female characters in that film are portrayed excellently.
Let’s leave Furiosa for a second and look at the sex slaves that she is attempting to rescue. In a standard action film, those characters would simply be there as objects to be protected, saved or sacrificed to drive the hero. Instead, each of them has their own unique personality (even if the film’s action focus doesn’t give them a chance to flourish properly) and most importantly: each of them helps out along the way instead of just getting in the way.
Back to Furiosa though, what has earned her a spot on this list? While she, too, didn’t get fully characterised – what we did see was a strong, skilled woman who is not to be messed with. Yet, she still retains her humanity, and like Ripley, is not just a killing machine with no depth. The very fact that she is risking everything to get the women free from Immortan Joe shows compassion, daring and heart. Furiosa’s appearance is also a challenge: the fact that she is not very feminine at all is a challenge to societal norms and the antiquated ideas about femininity and gender.
We’ve had a newcomer, now it’s time for another familiar face: Xena.
Xena, of course, needs no introduction. She has been has cult status among the lesbian and feminist community for years, and many see Xena and Gabrielle as a couple and embrace both of them as lesbian icons. For long time fans of the show, you will know that Xena begins her character arc evil, and begins a long arc towards redemption. Naturally, her character experiences a long and complex character arc over the years, but never loses the strength, skill and battle prowess that makes her a “warrior princess”. What makes her character so interesting, is that her path to redemption is extremely long, and is not just an instantaneous flick of the switch. The trials and tests she goes through, and the many twists and turns she and Gabrielle go through, is why Xena and her show rightly have a place on this list.
This next one is a familar face, but probably not one quite as familiar as Xena. For anyone who watches sci-fi though, you will not be surprised by her presence: Starbuck, or more rightly – Kara Thrace.
As you probably now, the Battlestar Galatica reboot made a rather controversial move: they recast Starbuck as a woman. In the original series, Starbuck was a man, and is also described as a womaniser. Recasting that character into a headstrong, rebellious woman was definitely a brave move for the creators, but I think it paid off beautifully. Starbuck is not just a generic “rebel” character, she has much more depth than that. Kara has a lot of depth, not just because of her secret torment (which I won’t spoil here), but because of her skill and bravado. She is seen on the ship as one of the best pilots, and it’s hard to say if she is the best, but she is definitely toe-to-toe with the other lead pilot, Lee Adama. All that plus her “don’t give a ****” attitude, her way of challenging people, and her touching relationship with Commander Adama makes her one of Battlestar’s most memorable characters.
Our final entry on this list is one of Joss Whedon’s best, and no list of strong female characters would be complete without her: Buffy Summers.
Joss Whedon is well known for creating excellent female characters, and Buffy is probably one of his front runners. He deliberately created her to subvert the typical female character in a horror film stereotype, who are usually just there to scream and run away from the killer/bad guy and have little to no depth. There are exceptions to this rule, of course, but at the time Buffy was a refreshing change of pace. While she is definitely not all powerful, Buffy is headstrong and independent. There is quite a lot of internal struggle for her to fully accept her identity as the Slayer, granting her reality and depth. The show itself should be granted another nod for Willow, who became involved in one of the first lesbian relationships on US television, and in herself is a fantastic female character.
So that’s it! I hope you enjoyed this run down, do let us know what you think on our Facebook and Twitter pages, and if you have any ideas for future topics to discuss, please do let us know.