Top 10 Best Female Film Heroines… Ever

Indiana Jones. What a lovely boy! A proper film hero, he rises eternal like a phoenix above the eighties that birthed him. Too cool to die, Indy keeps his eye on the prize and never gets overly bogged down in kissytime. What love interest could compete with the thrill of a snake-infested tomb?

We’ve scoured the Best For Film archives for the top 10 best FEMALE film heroines that Indy would gladly tip his fedora to.

How to make it onto our list of top female film heroines

You can’t die.
You can’t be obssessed with kissing.
You have to be the one in control.
You have to be awesome.
You have to be fun to see on the screen.

10. Sarah in Labyrinth

Who doesn’t love moody teenager Sarah in Labyrinth? Sarah accidentally wishes away her half-brother, is forced to rescue him, is sullen with almost every muppet she meets – then blossoms into what Bella in Twilight would be like if Bella stopped sulking and self-obssessing long enough to do something. Anything.

9. Marge the Police Chief (Frances McDormand) in Fargo

Heavily pregnant Marge can solve a case, boost her man’s sense of worth, collar psycho killers and make a stand for human decency, all while freezing her nuts off in temperatures so low the locals no doubt refer to zero degrees Kelvin not Centigrade.

8. Mattie Ross in True Grit

What’s this? A second Coen Brothers film in our top 10? The Coen Brothers are lovely big hairy bespectacled feminists, proving you can have a strong female lead and still do well at the huge box office. True Grit is very much Mattie’s story. She is the dictionary definition of the word ‘gumption’ and, being underage, she doesn’t even need to resort to getting out her bumpers to get her way.

7. Juno in Juno

Juno (Ellen Page) is an independent young teenager who tackles her unwanted pregnancy with outstanding chutzpah. She just rolls through clowns on the left of her, jokers on the right and makes life-changing decisions all over the place. Bravest girl in the world. According to wiki, many film critics placed it in their top 10 film lists for 2007, so well done to them. This film is not all about Juno’s womb. It’s all about who’s in control of her womb – and that’s Juno. Never mind geeky Michael Cera, this film is all about how awesome it is to be a girl who’s awesome. Sorry for coming over all riot grrl, but… awesome! Here’s a Juno quote to make your day.

Paulie Bleeker: Come on, let me carry your bag.
Juno MacGuff: Oh, what’s another ten pounds?

6. Evelyn Salt in Salt

Angelina Jolie is a US agent who turns fugitive when a defector accuses her of being a russki spy. This action hero role is intriguing mainly because it was originally scripted for a male lead – so Jolie is basically playing Jason Bourne with fuller lips. No vaseline-lensed kissytime here. It’s also listed because Jolie’s enjoyment of the role is infectious. And the contorted plot is, to be honest, no more daft than Crystal Skull.

5. Adele Blanc-Sec in The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adèle Blanc-Sec

What would Indiana Jones would have been like if he’d been a bit more French, significantly more female, and pursued by an inconveniently re-animated pterodactyl? Adèle Blanc Sec is an intrepid pre-WWI explorer, daring journalist, internationally acclaimed storyteller and serial magnificent hat wearer. She swears at camels, breaks into tombs and has no time for idiots. Girl-crush!

4. Hit Girl in Kick-Ass

Hit Girl has already made it onto our top 10 list of kick-ass little girls. Chloe Moretz has been likened to a young Natalie Portman, who gave a star turn as Mathilde in Leon. We hope Chloe keeps it like that and does not, like Portman, fall prey to the Curse of the Best Actress Oscar.

Hit-Girl does exactly what she says in her name. She can take a bullet. She’s the instigator of one of the coolest fight scenes seen in a western blockbuster. She’s not number one on the list because creator Mark Millar is a fickle (though canny) soul and there’s a chance she might be killed off in subsequent sequels, just for shiggles. We can’t have our female equivalent to Indy getting killed off.

3. Sarah Connor in Terminator

Terminator had such a strong, powerful female co-lead that it (a) made movie history and (b) screwed Linda Hamilton’s career. No-one will ever forget Sarah Connor’s ripped physique – the one which was publicly heralded as a new dawn in female leads, but which actually subsequently stopped her from getting female leads in films on account of not many rom-coms and courtroom dramas looking for a woman with formidable guns. Terminator was all about Sarah’s transformation from a vulnerable little thing who can’t balance her cheque book to a clear-headed, resolute woman who can order a beaten, wounded man to “get on your feet, soldier”.

2. Lieutenant Ellen Ripley in Alien

That’s right. Not number one. Female leads who eventually heroically perish don’t get to be the female equivalent of Indiana Jones. And yet… we had to break our own rules to include her. Ripley was, after all, the best. In 2003, Ripley was selected by the American Film Institute as the eighth greatest hero in American cinema history. One of the first female action heroes, Ripley challenged gender roles as she changed the face of cinema in general and sci-fi in particular. This is not hyperbole. Sigourney Weaver’s best role to date.

1. Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Ah. Yes. Lisbeth undergoes rape. It’s harrowing. But no-one in their right mind would think to call Salander a victim of her horrific experience. Vulnerable yet powerfully in control of herself, Salander breaks all social conventions to achieve the impossible, and seems both realistic and fantastic to the point of wish-fulfillment in doing so. Lisbeth Salander could hack her way into any secret government files to locate the dusty tomb with the priceless artifacts. And she wouldn’t be worried about snakes when she got there. Sorry, Indy… Lisbeth Salander is our female film heroine numero uno. It’s time to pass on your fedora.

6 Female film heroines who didn’t make the Top 10 film list:

Booby prize! Here are the strong female leads who, perhaps controversially, didn’t make it. We don’t hate women, or wombs, or romance, or tragic figures – but this top 10 is dedicated to the female counterparts to Indy. Without further delay…

1. Louise (Susan Sarandon) from Thelma and Louise is excluded because of the film’s indirect message: If you’re a tough feminist heroine you have to be a rape survivor who dies.

2. Jen Yu (Ziyi Zhang) in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is excluded because of the film’s indirect message: If you put your wild love of personal freedom and ninjing before filial duty you have to die.

3. Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss) in The Matrix is… wonderful. An icon. She’s kicky, she’s flippy, she hogs the screentime and also got the best sunglasses. Women want to be her, men want to do her. The more feminine men also want to be her. The problem? Plotwise, her main role in The Matrix is to love Neo in order to smooth over the whole prophecy thing. It’s all Neo, Neo, Neo. Not Trinity, Trinity, Trinity.

4. The Bride (Uma Thurman) in Kill Bill is no good, either. Though she’s a kick-ass strong woman, her entire motivation is maternal. Though superficially it’s all about the revenge and the jumpsuit, plotwise it’s really all about her womb. She’s even called ‘The Bride’, for pete’s sake.

5. Any female action characters played by Kate Beckinsale are, for the sake of argument, out. They’re more boring than beef jerky sans jerk. Leaping eye candy? Yes. Eternally beloved heroic figures? No.

6. Alice Abernathy in all the Resident Evil films also won’t be making a show this time round. Like Indy, Alice never dies (well, not exactly) and she always saves the day, and she doesn’t get bogged down in lovey-kissy-weepy-melty. Which is great, really. If this had been a top 11, Milla Jovovich’s role would have been in there. Consider her exclusion our fickle whim…

Oddly, the most heroic female film roles feature real women (Mulan, Erin Brokovitch, Amelia Earhart). We’ve ignored these. We want female fictional heroes big enough to crack Indy’s whip and give him a run through a snakepit for his money. Even Meryl Streep complains about a film industry that gives leading roles to either men or leaping pneumatic boobs, and which reserves any decent roles for female characters to “Well done, here you go, have a best Supporting Actress”. Hopefully our list shows that the gutsy film heroine who’s not at the mercy of her gender is here to stay.

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