10 best movies with a female protagonist

(News4usonline) – Over the last 15 years, there has been an influx of films that have based their narratives around a female protagonist. The narrow and stale structure of movies that followed a male lead has dwindled as more stories in a variety of genres have been exclusive to women.

Now, with a large plethora of films to choose from, I have made a shortlist of some of my favorites movies that have a leading heroine from the past 40 years. I would not necessarily claim these are cinematic masterpieces (though a few come close), but these are a selected handful of movies that I have enjoyed with a strong female presence.

This is a compendium of silver screen gems that I consider to be entertaining as well as empowering that are in no particular order.

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Clueless (1995)

Before “Mean Girls” and “Eighth Grade,” there was “Clueless.” The coming-of-age comedy is a loose adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Emma” that was directed by Amy Heckerling and has become a retrospective love letter to the style of the 1990s. The movie centers around Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone), a self-absorbed, but a well-intentioned 17-year-old girl who battles through the tough terrain of the affluent suburbs of Beverly Hills. The sharp-witted humor encapsulates the movie’s tone that showcases the struggles of high school hierarchy along with the torment of teenage heartache. The film also features performances from 90s stars Stacey Dash, Breckin Meyer, Donald Fasion, Brittany Murphy and Paul Rudd. This witty satire of high school life should not be taken at face value but seen as an ode to life as a 90s teen that is full of slightly cynical warmth and charm.

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Alien/Aliens (1979/1986)

Though this is technically two movies, “Alien” and “Aliens” are quintennial science fiction movies that have a female lead. Sigourney Weaver plays warrant officer Ellen Ripley who is a part of a crew on a commercial spaceship named the Nostromo. After being awakened from stasis by the spaceship’s computer due to a duress signal, the Nostromo is boarded by a deadly alien known as a Xenomorph that murders most of the humans on board as Ripley fights for survival in this horror thriller. “Aliens” is the sequel that plays as an action film rather than horror that is full of more Xenomorphs and heavy artillery with Weaver reprising her role as Ripley. Each film is different in tone, but each provides a powerful and meaningful heroine who has been idolized as one of the first and most notable female action stars.

Kill Bill Volume 1 and 2 (2003/2004)

Another series of films, Quentin Tarantino’s martial arts epic “Kill Bill” Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 are a brutal and devastating action story about The Bride, a woman who seeks revenge from a man named Bill who attempted to assassinate her on her wedding night while pregnant with a daughter. The violent and gruesome film pays homage to the grindhouse genre that was initially given an NC-17 rating before Tarantino changed one particularly bloody sequence from color film into black and white to earn an R rating. Uma Thurman plays The Bride who is a powerful swordsman with a katana that is not shy about slicing limbs or poking eyes out. The series also has a full cast of strong antagonists played by women including Vivica A. Fox, Daryl Hannah and Lucy Liu. Thurman is the antithesis of mundane, but one of the coolest and deadliest women to be depicted on film in the mid-2000s.

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Midsommar (2019)

“Midsommar” is listed as a folk horror film that takes place in Hälsingland, Sweden and is directed by Ari Aster, the modern master of psychological horror. However, the film, though depicting horrific scenes, is more unsettling in theme as the narrative focuses on the struggles of mental health. Florence Pugh plays Dani who has become emotionally traumatized after the death of her sister and parents. Pugh is extraordinary in her role by conveying the difficult and sensitive subject of extreme depression that eventually goes unchecked as she lacks support from her boyfriend. When arriving in Hälsingland, the beautiful and vivid landscape adds to the awkward ambiance that shrouds the cult-like town that will ultimately become Dani’s source towards recovery, in this modern-day fairy tale.

Fargo (1996)

Frances McDormand has made a career of playing profound leading roles in films including “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” and “Nomadland,” but it was in “Fargo” as pregnant Minnesota police chief Marge Gunderson that earned her first Academy Award for best actress. The dark comedy directed by the Choen Brothers is about the investigation of a homicide perpetrated by a desperate car salesman who hires two criminals to kidnap his wife in order to extort money from his wealthy father-in-law. The film is an amazing ensemble piece with great character actors William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare, however, it is McDormand’s determined and peppy demeanor that shines through the coldly depressing town of Fargo.

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Bridesmaids (2011)

During the mid-2000s there was a comedy trend that was popularized by Judd Apatow who would gather an ensemble cast of comedic male actors in his films that were semi-improvised and became the standard for modern comedies at the time. In 2011, Kristen Wig and Annie Mumolo wrote the script for “Bridesmaids” that used Apatow’s Methodology, but used an all-female cast instead. The film, which also starred Wig, was nominated for Best Original Screenplay and was as boisterously crude and hilarious as its male counterpart. The rest of the ensemble cast includes Maya Rudolph, Rose Bryne, Melissa McCarthy and Elle Kemper who have become some of the most established female comedic actors of the past 15 years. What makes “Bridesmaids” a great film is that while it has some depravity, the story has a tremendous amount of heart and is relatable to any individual who has or had a best friend.

A League of Their Own (1992)

Taking place in 1943, “A League of Their Own,” is about the real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League organization. Directed by Penny Marshall, the film stars Genna Davis, Lori Petty, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, and Tom Hanks. The movie is about the formation of a women’s baseball league after WWII threatens to shut down Major League Baseball. It is a simple, but sentimental movie as Marshall paints a beautiful picture of the 1940s that helped pave a path for more women involvement throughout all aspects of the workforce. A film that is enjoyable to watch with the whole family, the lighthearted comedy has a wonderful cast and one of the most memorable sports lines in cinematic history.

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The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Although only in the film for a total of 13 minutes, Anthony Hopkins won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of cannibal Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Regardless of Hopkins’ incredible performance the film, “The Silence of the Lambs,” won five Academy Awards in total including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress Jodi Foster. Foster, who plays young FBI trainee Clarice Starling is one of the key reasons for the success of the film. Foster’s naivety plays well with the sadistic cannibalistic doctor. Clarice is seen as fragile or weak, but her resolve to catch the serial killer Buffalo Bill strengthens her character as she acquires help from Hannibal at a rough mental institution. Foster proves that intelligence is as powerful as brawn in one of the best thrillers of the 1990s if not ever.

Ghost World (2001)

Before it was hip to be snarky as part of a subculture for trendy individuals known as ‘hipsters,” Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson introduced a new generation to the uncool outsider in the dark comedy film “Ghost World.” Based on a comic book by Daniel Clowe, the onscreen adaptation is directed by Tyler Zwigoff and is about two teenage girls in an unnamed city in America who begin to drift away after they graduate from high school. The artistic Enid played by Birch is lost in a society that she feels does not accept her who finds comfort in an older loser named Seymour played by Steve Buscemi. Enid is unconventional and expresses herself through art, music and fashion as she has arguments about specific styles of Punk rock and buying old Bollywood movies on VHS. “Ghost World” is a slow burn about finding acceptance within ourselves that is beautifully portrayed by Birch that has become relevant today as it was over 20 years ago.

Mad Max: Fury Road

Do not let the title fool you, “Max Max: Fury Road” is a movie with major female protagonists. Taking place in a post-apocalyptic future where water and fuel are scarce, Charlize Theron plays Imperator Furiosa who is the driving force and dramatic lead of the film. The theme of feminism is one of the main narratives of the movie as Furiosa demonstrates the heroic characteristics of a lead protagonist. Women play a major role in the film as The Five Wives and the Vuvalini are the central characters that help Max and Furiosa throughout their journey. Directed by George Miller in 2015, the film was nominated for 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director and is considered one of the greatest action films of all time. The elegantly depicted dystopia is a reminder that anyone can be a hero, regardless of gender.

Featured Image:

Vivica A. Fox speaking at the 2017 Arizona Ultimate Women’s Expo at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons/Wikimedia Commons