There’s something to be said for a movie that recognizes women aren’t always damsels in distress or ruthless power-hungry divas. While women are still severely underrepresented in movies, there’s a fair share of female characters that have become cultural icons. These bold women are taking charge and beating the odds, and usually save some lives along the way. In honor of March as Women’s History Month, here are some films that feature strong female leads that are known for a lot more than playing the sidekick or love interest.
Erin Brockovich (2000)
Julia Roberts won an Academy Award for her portrayal of an unemployed single mother and legal assistant, who brings down a California power supply company for polluting the city’s water. The film’s namesake is a fiery, no-nonsense force who won’t take no for an answer, and ends up saving a community in the process.
The Intern (2015)
While the film’s basic premise centers on a 70-year-old widower (played by Robert de Niro) becoming an intern at an Internet startup, it’s the secondary plot that really shines. Anne Hathaway plays Jules Ostin, the startup’s boss and founder, trying to juggle the responsibilities of family and running her own company. When her investors ask her to find someone else to fill her role as CEO, she has to consider what she wants for her company and herself. This movie tackles a mix of relevant issues, including motherhood, marriage and work, through its strong characters and insightful dialogue.
Jennifer Lawrence snagged a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Joy Mangano, real life inventor of the Miracle Mop. In the film, Joy is a divorced single mother of two who keeps life intact for her divorced parents, ex-husband and grandmother. Creative yet burnt out by life, she one day invents a self-wringing mop, becoming a sensation when she begins to market her product on QVC. However, legal issues and bad financial advice soon threaten to ruin everything she’s made. Throughout the film, Joy continually pushes back against her crummy circumstances and at the end, gets her due.
Big Eyes (2014)
Big Eyes captures the true story of Margaret Keane, who spent years hiding in the shadow of her controlling husband, who rose to international fame by passing off her paintings as his own in the late ’50s and ’60s. Throughout much of the film, Margaret (played by Amy Adams) is too meek to break free of the lie that her husband has entangled them in and watches from the sidelines as her husband becomes a megastar. But she soon finds her identity and escapes her husband’s grasp, making a name for herself and her paintings in the art world.
The Hunger Games Trilogy (2012-2015)
Katniss Everdeen starts off as an unlikely protagonist. She’s churlish and quick tempered, and rebels against the title of hero. But that’s the role she finds herself in throughout The Hunger Games trilogy and she rises to the occasion. Not only is she a warrior (complete with a bow and arrow), she’s smart and cunning, continually willing to put herself in danger to save the ones she loves.
The Blind Side (2009)
Sandra Bullock portrays Leigh Anne Tuohy, the Texas matriarch whose family takes in Michael Oher, a homeless teen who later goes on to play in the NFL. The film has numerous merits, but Leigh Anne’s no-nonsense, gracious character is pretty rare in movies. She’s tough, doing whatever it takes to protect her loved ones, but is also always willing to go above and beyond to extend a helping hand to those who need it.
Pride and Prejudice (2005)
While her mother is trying to find husbands for her and all her sisters, Elizabeth Bennett just wants to read books, go to dances and take walks. Unlike those around her, Elizabeth stands out by being spirited and independent with a sharp tongue. Usually female characters fall to mush once a handsome, wealthy man looks their way but Elizabeth remains a strong character throughout. For a character that’s set in class conscious England near the close of the 18th century, Elizabeth proves herself ahead of her time in how a woman should think and behave. Her ability to think for herself and not find her identity in her marital status are great takeaways for anyone today.