To celebrate International Women's Day, we've compiled a list of 21 definitive movie heroines in cinema. Scroll down to discover our choices.
The movies: The Alien franchise
Played by: Sigourney Weaver
In the early stages of Alien's development, the character of Ripley was assumed to be a man, although in the script the gender was kept non-specific. The later decision to define the character as a woman was a revolutionary move that paved the way for equal representations in sci-fi and action cinema.
Sigourney Weaver's resourceful, vulnerable yet strong-willed heroine emerged from the first movie as the final survivor of the Nostromo when many viewers at the time had perhaps tipped characters played by the likes of Tom Skerritt and Yaphet Kotto to make it out alive.
Weaver's genre-defining heroine became the face of the Alien franchise over the ensuing three movies, and her legacy was continued via Katherine Waterston's resourceful character Daniels in 2017's Alien: Covenant.
2. Sarah Connor
The movies The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Terminator: Dark Fate
Played by Linda Hamilton
The character of Sarah has been treated to a multitude of different portrayals, most recently by Game of Thrones' Emilia Clarke in Terminator: Genisys. But frankly, you don't mess with the original.
Sarah Hamilton's portrayal of Connor, mother of the human race's eventual saviour, is nothing less than iconic, moving from terrified and persecuted in James Cameron's original 1984 classic to fiercely driven and powerful in the 1991 sequel.
The character's complex mixture of parental warmth and action movie bravado is a tricky balance to pull off but in Hamilton's hands, it looks effortless. And despite the misfiring nature of 2019's Terminator: Dark Fate, critics were unanimous in their praise of the forceful and authoritative Hamilton, back in her signature role, and kicking ass with it.
The movie Batman Returns
Played by Michelle Pfeiffer
Tim Burton's deliriously dark follow-up to his 1989 blockbuster unleashes an assortment of villains on us, none more memorable than Pfeiffer's (a replacement for Annette Bening) vengeful office worker who is resurrected as the classic whip-cracking vigilante.
The star's genuinely unhinged and unpredictable take on the comic book character is still seen by many as the definitive one: a blend of feline agility and off-kilter humour that steals the limelight from Michael Keaton's Batman and Danny DeVito's twisted The Penguin.
Anne Hathaway may have portrayed the character in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises, but Pfeiffer's interpretation remains the definitive one. Even so, we've got Zoe Kravitz starring as the character opposite Robert Pattinson's Dark Knight in The Batman, so we can't wait to see how that goes down.
4. Yu Shu Lien
The movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Played by Michelle Yeoh
One of Asian cinema's most prominent and distinguished stars, Michelle Yeoh (recently seen in hit rom-com Crazy Rich Asians) has proven time and again that action and martial arts cinema need not be a boys' own playground.
Following her role as the kick-ass Wai Lin in Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies, she then brought grace and intelligence to Ang Lee's multi-Oscar-winning smash, a high-flying period epic whose focus is centered more on its women characters than the guys. The rooftop chase sequence still takes our breath away.
5. Lara Croft
The movies Tomb Raider & Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life
Played by: Angelina Jolie, Alicia Vikander
The search for a movie star who could do justice to the iconic PlayStation character was an intensive one. Then in the throes of her burgeoning A-list career, Jolie brought the looks, wit, and desire to do her own stunts, fully embodying the live-action Lara with fun and panache.
If the movies themselves didn't quite come up to the mark, Jolie's clear enthusiasm for the trendsetting, go-getting character was clear. Last year, The Danish Girl Oscar-winner Alicia Vikander stepped into Lara's boots for the action-packed re-imagining of the Tomb Raider franchise.
5. The Bride/Beatrix Kiddo
The movies Kill Bill parts 1 & 2
Played by Uma Thurman
Sweeping aside the male competition with a deadly swipe of her samurai sword, Thurman's utterly ruthless and determined anti-hero doesn't let anything stand in her way. Quentin Tarantino's rip-roaring rampage of revenge' centers around Thurman's captivating central character, one who combines a lust for bloody vengeance with an eventual desire to be reunited with her young daughter.
In fact, the most brutal showdown in the series pits Beatrix against her rival, Elle Driver (Darryl Hannah), a punchy reminder of the story's femme-centric approach.
The movie Logan
Played by Dafne Keen
Hugh Jackman bows out as the clawed Wolverine in this critically acclaimed anti-superhero Western. However, the honours really belong to charismatic young newcomer Dafne Keen (soon to be seen in the BBC's His Dark Materials), who tears onto the screen as the feral Laura. Largely silent but possessed of ferocious abilities that remind Logan of his younger self, she's a key factor in our understanding of his character and is surely poised to lead her own spin-off movie. Please, guys, make it so.
7. Mason Weaver
The movie Kong: Skull Island
Played by Brie Larson
Pitching herself as an "anti-war photographer", Brie's photojournalist character is exactly what we need to revitalise the ongoing King Kong franchise. Not the imperilled heroine as played by the likes of Fay Wray, Jessica Lange or Naomi Watts but rather a pragmatic documentarian and lover of nature, Weaver is someone who fights with her camera, rather than weapons or bombs.
In the hands of Captain Marvel super-star Brie Larson, she's also someone we really believe in. Whether she'll turn up in future 'MonsterVerse' movies such as Godzilla vs Kong (released in 2020) remains to be seen.
8. The Major
The movie Ghost in the Shell
Played by Scarlett Johansson
Not quite machine but not all human, futuristic law enforcer The Major is the enigmatic centerpiece of the groundbreaking Ghost in the Shell manga franchise. This sleek, big-budget reworking of the classic 1995 movie sees Johansson add to her action movie repertoire that already includes the Marvel blockbusters and 2014 hit Lucy.
9. Hit Girl
The movies Kick-Ass parts 1 & 2
Played by Chloe Moretz
Aaron Taylor-Johnson may be the nominal star as the DIY superhero of the title, but on release, all of the headlines went crazy over Moretz's unforgettable, scene-stealing portrayal. A pint-sized heroine whose potty mouth is as deadly as her fighting skills, Hit Girl was unlike anything we'd seen in a comic book movie before, posing a significant threat for the film's baddies whilst providing us with any number of classic action scenes along the way. It was a role that helped propel Moretz to A-list stardom.
The movie Star War: The Force Awakens, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Played by Daisy Ridley
The Star Wars saga has invariably centred around male heroes from Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in the original trilogy to Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) in the prequels. Refreshingly, director J.J. Abrams opted for a different tack in his celebrated rejuvenation of the series, presenting us with one of the franchise's most compelling and enjoyable characters in the form of Ridley's Rey.
As the character learned to embrace the Force and enter the eventual showdown with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Rey immediately sped into our hearts as one of the saga's best creations, one who laid the groundwork for Felicity Jones' tenacious Jyn Erso in 2016's Rogue One.
11. Wonder Woman
The movie The clue's in the name
Played by Gal Gadot
Following 2016's Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, it wasn't Ben Affleck or Henry Cavill on our minds. Frankly, we wanted to see more of Gadot's enigmatic Diana Prince, better known as her shield-wielding alter-ego.
Thankfully in 2017 we get our wish as Monster director Patty Jenkins and Gadot combined forces to bring us Wonder Woman's rip-roaring origin story, in which sidekick Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) was very much relegated to the sidelines. Gadot recently reprised the role in full-throttle sequel Wonder Woman 1984.
12. Katniss Everdeen
The movies The Hunger Games series
Played by Jennifer Lawrence
The dystopian nightmare of the Hunger Games franchise (based on Suzanne Collins' bestselling novels) pits persecuted individuals from selected 'districts' against one another in a televised fight to the death. It takes an especially memorable character to rise above the evil machinations of the Capitol and its leader President Snow (Donald Sutherland), but arrow-firing Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is that person.
Across four gritty and engrossing movies, Lawrence delivers a finely tuned and gripping performance as a woman forced into circumstances beyond her control. Katniss begins the films as a young, terrified woman and ends them as a symbol, and it's Lawrence's keen sense of inner strength that makes us believe it.
13. Elastigirl/Helen Parr
The movies The Incredibles 1 & 2
Played by Holly Hunter
Not all superheroes are men. Not all superheroes wear capes. Heck, not all superheroes are flesh and blood characters. Just look at Disney-Pixar's triumphant Incredibles movies as proof of that.
The superhero family that fights together stays together in these witty and frenetic animated extravaganzas. Singlehandedly uniting the Incredible brood (and their disparate powers) is mother Helen aka Elastigirl – as her name suggests, she's blessed with amazing, limb-stretching abilities. Having been introduced in the first movie, Helen takes centre stage in 2018's Incredibles 2, becoming the face of a brand new superhero PR campaign, while husband Bob/Mr Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) is left at home looking after the kids.
The movies Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War
Played by Lupita Nyong'o
Marvel's Black Panther has made history in a number of ways. Not only is it the first comic book blockbuster to centre on an African superhero (drawn from Stan Lee's revolutionary source), it also won a clutch of historic Oscars at the 91st Academy Awards. Its production and costume designers became the first African-American women to win such awards, and it also became the first superhero movie to win for Best Original Score.
Of course, the film wouldn't resonate if its ensemble cast let us down, and fortunately, the movie is stocked with excellent actors. The vibrant landscape of Wakanda may be populated with its fair share of male rulers, villains and mentors, but Lupita Nyong'o stands out with her portrayal of resourceful Wakandan spy Nakia. (Dani Gurira's fierce warrior Okoye also stands out.)
The movies The Underworld series
Played by Kate Beckinsale
British actress Kate Beckinsale has led six action-packed Underworld movies, and surely deserves more recognition for the achievement. In fact, Beckinsale's character Selene has more adventures under her belt than the more celebrated Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, carving out a particular niche in the Gothic action/fantasy genre.
Beckinsale cuts an imposing figure amid the vampire and werewolf-ridden world of the Underworld series, clad in black and rarely breaking a sweat. The stories have also become more personal as they've gone on, the most recent, 2016's Underworld: Blood Wars, pitting Selene against lycans and vampires alike in one final battle.
The movie The Fifth Element
Played by Milla Jovovich
Luc Besson's surreal sugar-rush of a sci-fi movie, The Fifth Element is a campy and bonkers excursion into the 23rd century. None of the actors are taking it remotely seriously, least of all lead actor Bruce Willis, but he's not the character that sticks in the mind.
The movie's most enduringly popular image is that of actress Milla Jovovich as Leeloo – with her shock of orange hair, strange language and childlike body language, she makes a strong impression amid Besson's crowded and crazy story. Leeloo, known as a Supreme Being, is central to the storyline but without Jovovich's quirky performance, it's unlikely we'd remember her.
The movies The Resident Evil series
Played by Milla Jovovich
It's time for Milla Jovovich round two – only this time, she's not part of a wider ensemble but leading her own franchise. The Resident Evil movie series began in 2002 and has now spanned six films, bringing a grungy, action-packed edge to Capcom's zombie horror video game sensation.
The one consistent element across all the movies is Jovovich as Alice, who provides the audience with a recognisably human centre amid all the undead madness.
The movies The Matrix trilogy and The Matrix 4
Played by Carrie-Anne Moss
Trinity's entrance in the opening scenes of 1999's The Matrix set a new benchmark for female action heroes. As played by Canadian actress Carrie-Anne Moss, Trinity cut a striking figure in her black get-up – coupled with the movie's revolutionary 'bullet time' camera effects, and it's little wonder she became synonymous with the futuristic world of the Matrix series.
Throughout the remaining two movies, which arguably got bigger but less interesting, Trinity remains a strong presence. Of particular note is the insanely exciting freeway chase from 2003's The Matrix Reloaded – the character's stoicism while riding a bike against a flow of incoming traffic is impressive. Moss is set to reprise her role opposite Keanu Reeves' Neo in The Matrix 4, due for release in December 2021.
19. Lisbeth Salander
The movies The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, The Girl in the Spider's Web
Played by Noomi Rapace, Rooney Mara, Claire Foy
It's always fascinating when three different performers offer distinct interpretations of one character. Author Stieg Larsson's ferocious computer-hacking creation Lisbeth Salander has suffered at the hands of men but transforms her abusive experiences into a violent and powerful crusade, fighting for the rights of persecuted women.
In the original Swedish takes on Larsson's mythology, Noomi Rapace gave an impressively visceral performance. In David Fincher's 2011 remake Rooney Mara transmitted a more ghostly and ethereal, although no less striking, presence, and was Oscar-nominated in the process. Finally, Britain's Claire Foy gave us the most action-oriented and resourceful take on Lisbeth so far in last year's The Girl in the Spider's Web.
20. Hermione Granger
The movies The Harry Potter series
Played by Emma Watson
There are a lot of characters jostling for attention in J.K. Rowling's wondrous Harry Potter world. Of the younger cast members, Emma Watson's focused and assured presence as Hermione Granger stands out from the pack, beginning the series as a bookish presence and gradually forging closer, more complex relationships with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Ron (Rupert Grint).
As if fans needed reminding, Hermione is one of the cornerstones of the Harry Potter universe. Watson's sense of conviction, which becomes increasingly apparent across the movies, transforms what could have been a one-dimensional sidekick character into someone with her own sense of identity. It's a role that spurred her on to even greater success in the likes of Disney's Beauty and the Beast.
21. Captain Marvel
The movies Captain Marvel, Avengers: Endgame
Played by Brie Larson
The most powerful figure in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date is a woman, and she first appeared on our screens in 2019. The eponymous Captain Marvel in fact starts life as Kree warrior Vers, who is plagued by memories of an apparent past life as a human fighter pilot. Room Oscar-winner Brie Larson does a strong job of conveying Vers' awakening, as she steadily grows into the Captain Marvel legend and becomes Earth's saviour.
She also makes for a great buddy duo with Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury, who because of the film's mid-nineties setting, has been de-aged via CGI. At the end of the ensuing Avengers: Endgame, the sheer might of Captain Marvel's powers helped turn the tide of the battle against the ruthless Thanos (Josh Brolin). All eyes are now on the inevitable Captain Marvel sequel, whose release date is yet to be announced.
Celebrate International Women's Day by tweeting us your favourite movie heroines @Cineworld.