The 10 Most Badass Female Characters

By: Jim Halden
Buffy the Vampire Slayer cast
Of course Buffy makes this list! Hulton Archives/Getty Images

Much has been made of the role of women in cinema. There’s been controversy surrounding gender inequality both on and around the silver screen, with megastar Jennifer Lawrence penning an essay asking why she was paid less than her male co-stars, despite the fact that she’s, well, much more famous than they are. It’s a question worth asking, and it got us thinking quite a bit about how the fairer sex fits into Hollywood life, especially in regards to their representation on-screen.

It goes without saying that women in Hollywood should be paid just as much as their male counterparts, but what we really want to see is more women given strong, empowering roles that accurately represent what contemporary women are going through and what they’re capable of. That’s why we’ve taken some time to pull together 10 of the biggest badasses in the history of cinema (and a little bit of television; sorry, we couldn’t help it), all of whom happen to be women. We feel the need to communicate that we were extremely disappointed in the overall quantity (although not the quality, as these characters and the actresses who play them are all exceptional) of strong women made available for selection; it’s our sincere hope that whoever is running things in Los Angeles wakes up and starts giving women the opportunities and the roles they deserve.


10. Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace)

It was a damn close race for the number 10 spot on this list, as there’s a myriad of incredible female characters we could have slotted in here to kick off this list. We went with Lisbeth Salander, as played by Noomi Rapace in "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" and its relevant sequels, for being an absolute badass who takes vengeance into her own hands when the time is appropriate. Salander, who was also portrayed by Rooney Mara in the American remake of the original Swedish film, is a smart and tenacious individual with a plurality of skills which trend towards success in the contemporary world, part of the reason why we chose her over some other women who could’ve made their way on here (Lara Croft, for example). We like that Salander is a hacker whose cinematic experience has a real world counterpart, and a counterpart that’s been traditionally defined as a male space. She’s the perfect individual to launch this list.


9. Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell)

We like to think that variety is the spice of life, and that’s why we’ve made every effort in constructing this list to choose badass, capable women who are multi-dimensional and refuse to abide by the archetypes set for female characters in Hollywood. Some do it with brawn, some with beauty and some with brains; hell, some do it with all three. We chose to put Veronica Mars (yes, we know she’s from a television show, but she also got a feature film in 2014 so bleh) on this list because, while she isn’t out there physically kicking ass and taking names, she’s whip smart and an ingenious thinker who inhabits a role (private detective) traditionally occupied by a male figure. For those of you who haven’t seen the show, it’s about as good as long-form television can get, and its willingness to subject its title character to the rigors of noir film usually reserved for a hard-boiled male P.I. only make us love it more.


8. Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar)

We understand that this one’s definitely cheating, but we figured since technically there was a "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" movie (even though the titular character was played by Kristy Swanson rather than Sarah Michelle Gellar, as in the television series), we’d sneak this kickass vampire slayer on here and tell our readers to deal with it. Buffy Summers, as played by Sarah Michelle Gellar on Joss Whedon’s "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (which ran from 1997 to 2003), most definitely fits our “badass female protagonist” archetype, despite the fact that she was relegated to the small screen. Buffy, who is chosen by fate as a “Slayer” and given the unfortunate opportunity to vanquish vampires, demons, werewolves and other forces of evil, kicks enough ass in her six seasons of television to more than equate her with the other awesome women on this list; moreover, Sarah Michelle Gellar’s powerful portrayal of a strong, independent and intelligent female protagonist deserves (and received) significant acclaim, and also earned writer-director Joss Whedon a reputation as a man capable of writing significant roles for women (we’ll see more of his characters on this list before it’s through).


7. Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson)

Surprise! We’re coming right back at you with another of Joss Whedon’s strong females, except this time it’s not on the small screen; rather, Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff has been seen in three of the biggest films of all time, "The Avengers," "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" and "The Avengers: Age of Ultron." Technically making her debut in Jon Favreau’s "Iron Man 2" way back in 2010, Natasha Romanoff is one capable female. A former Russian operative who now works with The Avengers to fight evil, control Hulk and save the world, Romanoff’s arc has never been fully explored (she’s yet to receive a film of her own, a travesty in its own right), she’s far and away one of the most intriguing characters in a genre typically dominated by men. And if Whedon’s "Avengers" films have taught us anything, it’s that the Black Widow is more than capable of throwing down with the baddest of the bad.


6. Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron)

This past summer marked the release of George Miller’s long-gestating sequel "Mad Max: Fury Road," which saw Tom Hardy taking over the role of the titular road warrior to lead a new fight against tyranny in the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Miller’s films. However, upon viewing the film, it became very clear that Mad Max wasn’t doing any leading whatsoever, and that Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa was actually the protagonist of the film. This was a welcome surprise, given the fact that she’s a total badass who could probably crush Tom Hardy’s head with her mechanical arm and still keep her devastating big rig chugging along straight. Theron, who has played strong female roles numerous times in the past, knocked it out of the park in "Mad Max: Fury Road," and her performance was so powerful and moving that it begged audiences to ask why women in Hollywood weren’t being given more chances to carry blockbuster action films.


5. River Tam (Summer Glau)

Ugh, stop it, Joss Whedon. Aren’t there any other filmmakers out there writing parts for women that see them kicking ass and taking names? Apparently not! But that’s alright, since Whedon has given us more than enough awesome women to populate this list, not the least of which comes in the form of River Tam, the would-be assassin and savior of "Serenity," the 2005 feature film which followed his acclaimed television series "Firefly." River (as played by Summer Glau) takes her time developing into a badass warrior, as she deals with the regular trials and tribulations of developing telepathic and precognitive abilities (you know how it goes with these things), but when she gets there, oh man…no power in the ‘verse can stop her, ya dig?


4. Hermione Granger (Emma Watson)

We don’t care what anyone says, Hermione Granger (as played by Emma Watson in all eight films) is the true hero of the Harry Potter universe. Yeah, take that, Daniel Radcliffe! Hermione, who saves the day more times than any of us here at Goliath care to count, makes this list due to the fact that she, not unlike Emma Watson who plays her, is an inspiration to young women everywhere; she’s highly intelligent, she’s infinitely capable and she makes damn sure that she’s prepared for most anything life can throw at her. Sure, glasses and a lightning scar will get you all the publicity, but when it comes time to throw down with some Death Dealers or Dementors, we know who we want on our side. For her part, Watson has done a fine job stirring up the status quo in Hollywood and is an active campaigner for gender equality and women’s rights, topics that more celebrities ought to dedicate their time drawing attention to.


3. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver)

Sigourney Weaver has played many strong female character in her time as an actress, but none are quite as iconic as Ellen Ripley, the central protagonist from Ridley Scott’s "Alien" series. Most often referred to as Ripley, the character has shown time and time again that she’s capable of defending herself against the most terrifying organism in the galaxy (the titular Alien, or xenomorph, from the films), whether it’s with a rifle, a dock-loading robot, or simply with her bare hands. With one of cinema’s most iconic lines under her belt (“Get away from her, you b–tch”) and a key role in one of the most important and influential science fiction films of all time, Ellen Ripley has us wondering why we aren’t seeing more women as the protagonists of sci-fi tent poles.


2. The Bride (Uma Thurman)

To his credit, Quentin Tarantino has done a solid job of developing strong female characters in some of his films. While most of them trend towards overwhelming amounts of masculinity and testosterone, they occasionally surprise by featuring a female character who can more than hold her own. Perhaps the strongest iteration of this can be seen in "Kill Bill" and "Kill Bill: Vol. 2," two female-centric films that harken to the kung fu movies of old and place females (both protagonist and antagonist) into roles traditionally reserved for males. The Bride (whose real name is revealed as Beatrix Kiddo), as played by the always awesome Uma Thurman, represents as strong a female as cinema has ever seen; left for dead, buried alive, and gravely wounded, none of it makes much of a difference to her, as she continues her quest for revenge through an indomitable spirit and a truly devastating set of kung fu skills.


1. Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton)

All it takes is one look at Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor to know she’s the baddest woman to ever grace the silver screen. Come on, just look at her. With the tank top, and the upper arm definition, and the aviators…we here at Goliath firmly believe she could lay a serious beating on a robotic Arnold Schwarzenegger and send him back to the future crying for his hard drive of a mommy. Hamilton, who played Sarah Connor in both "The Terminator" and "Terminator 2: Judgement Day," is unmistakably awesome in the role and, in many ways, set the tone for many of the strong female roles that would come after her; she made people believe it was possible for a woman to save the day, and look infinitely cool while doing it. We still get chills watching "Terminator 2," and its status as one of the greatest action films of all time is in no way compromised by the fact that its protagonist is a female. Are you listening, Hollywood executives? We said in no way compromised. Let that be a lesson that James Cameron knows more than you do, and he always will.