SEVEN INCREDIBLE FEMALE CHARACTERS FROM THE HISTORY OF CINEMA
With Captain Marvel proving a storming success, smashing box office records and delighting audiences worldwide, we got to thinking… We started discussing our favourite female characters from film, and boy was there a lot to discuss.
While there are certainly more than seven incredible women from the history of cinema (Meryl Streep’s probably played more than seven viable candidates on her own!) We had to put some sort of limitation on it, and we simply couldn’t cut any of the seven on this list.
We’ll be putting forward our case for why they deserve a place on the list, as well as looking at what we think are their defining moments as icons of cinema. So get ready to scream girl power from the rooftops as we look at seven of film’s greatest female characters:
ELLEN RIPLEY - ALIENS
Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley proved herself a survivor when she outsmarted a deadly alien lifeform, known as a Xenomorph, that had wiped out every member aboard her cargo vessel, in Ridley Scott’s sci-fi/horror classic Alien, back in 1979. But it was seven years later that she would crown her place as not just one of the greatest female characters to ever grace the silver screen, but also one of its most iconic action heroes, in James Cameron’s chest-bursting sequel Aliens.
After barely escaping her first encounter with the Xenomorph, and subsequently drifting through space for 56 years locked in cryosleep, Ripley is rescued and taken aboard a space facility orbiting Earth. Here she discovers that the planet LV-426, from which the alien came aboard her ship the Nostromo, has been colonised, and that all communication with said colony has now been lost. The company responsible for the colonisation, Weyland-Yutani, plan on sending a crack team of marines to LV-426 to investigate, and they want Ripley to tag along as an advisor. Despite suffering continual nightmares after her ordeal, Ripley agrees, hoping to face her fears and ensure that the deadly aliens are wiped from existence.
Defining moment: Having found that the only survivor in the barren colony is a young girl named Newt, Ripley quickly takes on the role of surrogate mother, even more pertinent following the discovery of her own daughter’s death whilst she was adrift in space. As the marine numbers dwindle, Ripley and Newt try to make their way to a rescue ship. However, the Alien Queen has other plans, taking Newt and forcing Ripley to come to her aid (armed with a pulse rifle and flamethrower taped together. One of the many reasons for her iconic status). Thinking they have managed to escape, they make their way back to the Marine’s ship, only to realise that the Queen has hidden away on board the rescue ship. With no-where to hide, Ripley is forced to face the giant Queen one-on-one. This she does by boarding a robotic, heavy-duty loader suit, creating one of cinema’s most epic final confrontations.
REE DOLLY - WINTER'S BONE
In Debra Resnik’s bleakly fascinating tale of survival at all costs, 17-year-old Ree Dolly must pick up the pieces after her low-life, criminal dad’s sudden disappearance leaves her having to care for her family, including her younger brother and sister, and a mum who has suffered a mental breakdown and ceased any form of communication. Ree sets out to track down her dad in order to fend off the bail bondsman who want to take the family home as payment for his crimes.
This is the performance that earned a young Jennifer Lawrence her first Oscar nomination (beaten by Natalie Portman) and set her on the way to stardom, cemented in her similar yet slightly toned-down role as Katniss Evergreen in the Hunger Games series. Her star power shines through here, instantly forcing you to forget that she is such a young girl, way out of her depth, as she trawls through the male dominated criminal community nestled deep in the hostile Ozark Mountains.
Defining moment: Despite being warned to stay away and forget about her father’s disappearance by members of her community and even her own family, Ree is unrelenting in her search; not because of her desperation to find the man, but because of her need to keep her family safe. This culminates in her tracking down the feared Tump Milton, ring leader of a rival drug-gang. She refuses to back down until she has an answer, even if that means putting her own life at risk.
MARY POPPINS - MARY POPPINS
Speaking of iconic characters synonymous with the actresses that play them, none come with quite as much charm as the delightfully prim Mary Poppins. Floating in one blustery morning, the (quite literally) super-nanny arrives to bring order back to a family who are beginning to lose their way. The patriarch, George Banks, is more concerned with the welfare of the bank he runs than the happiness of his two children, Jane and Michael, whilst their mother Winnifred dedicates most of her time to the Suffragette movement, despite falling into place every time her husband demands it. The neglected children hand-write a desperate plea for help. Enter Miss Poppins.
What amazes most about star Julie Andrews, is that the role of Mary Poppins was her cinematic debut. The second her feet gently touch the ground she completely owns the film, managing to be both incredibly assertive and yet sweetly ethereal all at the same time. Dick Van Dyke as Bert does his best to chew up every scene he is in, but you still cannot take your eyes away from her.
Defining moment: George Banks demands answers from Mary as to why his house has been overrun by all singing, all dancing, cheeky, Cockney, chimney-sweeps. For a fleeting second, outrage and anger flash across her face, before composing herself and simply telling the man who is not accustomed to a woman answering him back, that she “never explains anything”, before calmly walking away and leaving Mr. Banks bewildered and, quite rightly, put in his place. Once George has seen the errors of his ways and rekindles a relationship with his children, she disappears just as magically as she arrived.
SELINA KYLE - BATMAN RETURNS
Starting out as the meek and mild PA to shady businessman Max Shreck, Selina Kyle’s fate takes a turn for the worse when, amidst confronting him about his business dealings, her boss throws her through an office window and sends her plummeting to her death. Nibbled back to life by a gang of stray cats (best not think too hard about that one) Selina is reborn and becomes Catwoman.
Running on pure sexual energy, Michelle Pfieffer completely steals the film away from Michael Keaton’s Batman, consuming every scene she is in. Treading the fine line between hero and villain, Selina cartwheels her way through the film, leaving behind a trail of chaos in her pursuit to exact revenge on her former employer.
Defining moment: Having just discovered her new alter-ego, Catwoman heads straight for a department store, uncoincidentally named Shreck, where she tests out her newfound skills with a whip on some unsuspecting mannequins, before two armed guards are swiftly sent packing with their tails between their legs. After releasing a pipe from the gas tank and filling a microwave with aerosol cans, Catwoman backflips her way across the road, stopping in front of a bewildered looking Batman and Penguin. A perfectly timed ‘meow’ is followed by a huge explosion that blows the building to smithereens. An icon is born.
HILDY JOHNSON - HIS GIRL FRIDAY
Howard Hawke’s hilariously frenetic tabloid comedy His Girl Friday contains an absolute powerhouse performance from Rosalind Russell, as star news reporter Hilda Johnson. The film centres around Hilda’s desperate attempts to get away from her employers, The Morning Post, and more importantly the Post’s editor Walter Burns (Cary Grant on enigmatic form), who also happens to be her overbearing ex-husband. Intent on keeping her around, Walter does everything in the book to delay her departure to Albany, where she plans to marry her insurance salesman fiancé the very next day.
Russell, simply put, is phenomenal in the role. The dialogue is thrown out at a thousand miles an hour, with Hilda matching her charismatic but conniving ex-husband word for word. The only time she ever wavers is, tellingly, when she is around her fiery mother-in-law. She claims to yearn for a simple life, the ‘life of a wife’ but really, deep down, the thrill of being at the centre of the action is too much of a lure for her.
Defining moment: Flipping the role of damsel in distress, Hilda has to time and again come to the aid of her straight-laced, rabbit – in – the – headlight’s fiancé Bruce Baldwin, doing her best to keep him from harms way as he becomes embroiled in Walter’s schemes. Eventually realising that the best thing to do is let him leave, Hilda decides to remain and continue with the life that she secretly covets, even giving in to Walter’s proposal to remarry.
COFFY - COFFY
This 1973 cult classic is widely regarded as the film that launched titular star Pam Grier’s illustrious status as a cult queen. It did something rarely seen before, putting a female character at the front and centre of a genre long regarded as treating women in a largely derogatory manner.
Here, Grier’s Coffy is a nurse on a one-woman mission of vengeance to exact bloody retribution on the lowlife drug pushers she holds responsible for hospitalising her 11 – year – old sister. Infiltrating a prostitution ring in order to gain access to her targets, Coffy leaves a trail of destruction in her wake.
Defining moment: The film’s opening sequence sees Coffy as nothing more than an object of desire, laid out seductively in the car of a drug – dealer she has yet to meet. Heading back to his apartment she convinces him that nothing would please her more than for them to consummate their newfound relationship. As he scurries to get undressed, Coffy pulls out a sawn-off shotgun and swiftly removes his head from his body. This is just the beginning.
THE WOMEN OF THE MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE
OK, so this last one is a bit of a cheat as it encompasses several different characters, but there was no way the new Cap in town would be happy if we left out her sisters in the war against n’er – do – wells!
Starting with the introduction of Pepper Potts in Iron Man, the MCU has given us some of the greatest female characters to ever be captured on film. Not all of them with super powers either. As well as Potts who goes on to become CEO of Stark Industries, the MCU has introduced us to Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow, SHIELD co-founder Peggy Carter, unstable yet immensely powerful teen Wanda Maximoff, galaxy guardians Gamora, Nebula and Mantis, as well as latest inductees Wasp, Shuri, Nakia, Okoye and Valkyrie. We’re as out of breath as you are!
Defining moment: With so many to choose from, this was a hard one, but it has to be the moment towards the end of Avengers: Infinity War. Alien tyrant Thanos has swiftly lain waste to the majority of the Avengers. All that is left between him and the remaining Infinity Stone embedded in Vision’s head (click here if you have no clue what we’re talking about) is Wanda Maximoff, also known as the Scarlet Witch. Not only does she use her powers to destroy Vision’s stone, who also happens to be the love her life, thus killing him, she also does this whilst holding back Thanos himself with just one hand. Even though it ultimately failed to prevent Thanos from wiping out half of all existence, it was the biggest show of power so far. That is until a certain Miss Danvers arrives to help right the Mad Titan’s wrongs.
As we said, there are many more incredible moments and performances from the past 100 years or so of film making. Now tell us, what are some of your favourites?