Top 10 Dominant Women in Hollywood Film

Powerful roles for women, brilliantly performed by the actresses entrusted to bring these characters to life. This is the top 10 dominant women in Hollywood Film…

Great female roles are hard to come by. Just ask any Hollywood actress. It’s especially difficult for more mature actresses who see their male counterparts age gracefully and still manage to get tasty roles in quality films. But when a good part does come along, it’s important to grab the opportunity and make the most of it. Powerful female characters in Hollywood films have made for some of the most interesting characters in recent times. Top 10 Films presents the Top 10 Dominant Women in Hollywood Film – a collection of ten actresses and performances categorised by the powerful presence of a female character in the story. Here are ten films and characters where the woman has power over the men. If she is victimised she overcomes this to become the dominator. If she is the antagonist she is either unbeaten or only overcome after a great fight and the guile of the protagonist. In these films the male is often subservient to the female – she is the teacher, the controller, the all-seeing eye. Who are your favourite dominant female characters?

10. Melanie Griffith as Audrey Hankel in Something Wild

melanie griffith, something wild

Melanie Griffith’s Audrey Hankel takes Jeff Daniels’ insecure businessman on a cross-country adventure of self-discovery with suitable amounts of sex, crime and violence.

9. Ruth Gordon as Maude in Harold and Maude

ruth gordon, harold and maude,

Suicidal young man Harold finds a reason to live and love life in Ruth Gordon’s wonderfully eccentric Maude. Maude, like Melanie Griffith in Something Wild, embodies the positive side of the dominant female character.

8. Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Alien/Aliens/Alien 3/Alien: Resurrection

ripley, alien, sigourney weaver

Sigourney Weaver’s character in Ridley Scott’s Alien has become an icon of powerful female characters in Hollywood film.

7. Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

louise fletcher, nurse ratched, one flew over the cuckoo's nest

Jack Nicholson thinks he can pull the wool over the eyes of Nurse Ratched but the wily nurse won’t be beaten. She ends up with the last ‘laugh’.

6. Anne Bankcroft as Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate

anne bankcroft, graduate,

Sex education classes were never as good or as instructive as a night with Anne Bankcroft as Mrs. Robinson. Dustin Hoffman plays the college graduate every man wants to be.

5. Sissy Spacek as Carrie White in Carrie

sissy spacek, carrie white,

Carrie White does have something many other women don’t – the power of telekinesis. It’s a great help when you’re plotting your revenge against the school bullies.

4. The Corpse as Norman Bates’ Mother in Psycho

psycho, the corpse, norman bates' mother,

In film there isn’t a more dominant woman than Norman Bates’ mother. She gets him into all kinds of trouble and the fact is she’s dead!

3. The Computer as Mother in Alien

mother, alien, computer,

She might not have boobs and blonde hair but the computer in Alien is no less a dominant female. The brain of the spaceship has a female voice and goes by the name Mother to gender its character. And by all means she’s a scary, dominant bitch!

2. Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes in Misery

kathy bates, misery

In one of the best female performances of all time, Kathy Bates’ Annie Wilkes is a frightening depiction of fan obsession and psychosis. Bates is terrific as she nurses a novelist back to health after his car crashes near her remote home. But, before he can fully recuperate she breaks both his legs in a horrific scene filmed in all its gory glory by director Rob Reiner, and forces him to write a new book where her favourite character doesn’t die.

1. Sharon Stone as Catherine Tramell in Basic Instinct

sharon stone, basic instinct

Ooh la la. For a teenage boy women in Hollywood films don’t come more dominant (or attractive) than Sharon Stone’s Catherine Tramell. Like some warped dream she’ll give you the greatest sexual experience of your life, then kill you. Not only will she shag your brains out, she’ll remove your brains with an ice pick. Sharon Stone is perfectly cast as the seductive murderess – beautiful, intellectual, strong-willed and suitably dangerous.

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Avatar
    Encore Entertainment Reply

    Eleanor of Aquitaine in The Lion in Winter – especially quotable and downright brilliant.

    Countess De Merteiul in Dangerous Liaisons – absolutely fearless

    Ummm, does Mary Poppins count 🙂

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    rtm Reply

    Ripley and Tramell definitely deserve to be on this list. I was just talking to my husband the other day that James Cameron is a feminism ally as a lot of his movies feature strong, dominant women, including the female alien Neytiri in Avatar.

  3. Avatar
    Richard Reply

    Great list. I did something similar a while back and now you’ve made me wish I’d included the computer from Alien. Genius! 😀

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    Vanessa Reply

    Love the corpse!

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    Dan Reply

    @Encore: Mary Poppins did cross my mind actually. Good choices Encore!

    @rtm: Yeah, James Cameron does write strong female characters – even Sarah Connor in Terminator is a tough nut. Actually…Sarah Connor…should have thought about her for this list!

    @Richard: I remember reading your list Richard. I put mine on ice for a while until now.

    @Vanessa: Norman Bates’ mother certainly is a dominant presence! 🙂

  6. Avatar
    Aiden R. Reply

    Nurse Ratched, man, what a bitch. Great list, Dan. Just the urging I needed to finally see Something Wild.

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    M. Hufstader Reply

    Great list! It makes me happy to know someone’s looking out for the kickass women in Hollywood, even if one of those women happens to be a corpse. And now I’m just going to linger on that image of Sharon Stone for a bit.

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    Fitz Reply

    Oh I hated Ratched so much. Definitely a dominant presence though.

  9. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Aiden: I put a guarantee on Something Wild. It’s one of my all time favourite movies. 🙂

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    Castor Reply

    Heather is going to kill you for not putting Ripley all the way at the top! Retweeted my friend 🙂

  11. Avatar
    Daniel Reply

    Nice list ! I’m gonna add “Mrs. Voorhees” (played by Betsy Palmer) in 1980’s “Friday the 13th” to the mix.

  12. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    Oh, Mrs Voorhees! Good one! There’s been a few nasty, controlling mother’s in horror films.

  13. Avatar
    Fitz Reply

    I was a little surprised Sharon Stone is at the top of the list.

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    Rika Reply

    I remember Kathleen Turner in Body Heat. Talk about control through sexuality!

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    Erik Reply

    Honestly, the *very* first woman I thought of when I saw this headline was Michelle Rodriguez.

    Damn, I want to marry someone like her.

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    mark Reply

    Warning: this in-no-particular-order list has bit of a leaning towards femme fatales …

    (1) Linda Fiorentino in The Last Seductress – I once knew a feminist who absolutely hated this film because Linda turned out to be such a nasty bitch (a betrayal of the sisterhood, I guess). One of the biggest disappointments in Hollywood last decade was the fact she wasn’t in Men in Black II, despite the ending of the first installment.

    (2) I agree with Rika above – Kathleen Turner in Body Heat.

    (3) Jennifer Lopez in U-Turn.

    (4) Faye Dunnaway – for either Chinatown, Network or (don’t laff) Mommie Dearest.

    (5) Susan Sarandon in Thelma and Louise.

    (6) Nicole Kidman in Dogville (being von Trier, I’m not sure if it is Hollywood or not, but she’s pretty damn good in it).

    (7) Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard.

    (8) Tura Satana in Run Faster Pussycat, Kill Kill (talk about yer dominant female roles).

    (9) Gena Rowlands in Gloria.

    (10) In respect to the winner of the above list, Sharon Stone in Casino … in a male dominated movie involving the palsy walsy trio of De Niro, Pesci and Scorcese, Ms Stone completely holds her own in a bitter portrayal of self destruction that is as laced with self pity as it is with poignancy.

  17. Avatar
    Dan Reply

    @Mark: Great choice with Linda Fiorentino – where has she been? I also think Kathleen Turner is a great choice – in fact, I suspect she’ll be appearing very shortly in a similar list for her performance in Serial Mom. Gloria Swanson might be another worthy of “that” list too.

    And in regards to Stone in Casino – I totally agree. Certainly one of her finest performances made more startlingly brilliant by the strength of the male-dominated cast.

  18. Avatar
    Dan Grant Reply

    Catherine Tremell would be my choice as well. She will screw with your mind, give you an orgasm, make you fear for your life, make you take up smoking after you’ve quit, do coke in a bathroom, make out with another chick, give you another orgasm and then she might put an ice pick through your heart. Oh yea, she’s a millionaire 100X’s over and she’s smart and manipulative.

    That’s a good case for number one for sure.

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    burke lang Reply

    Good list. As a fan of dominant women, i am in agreement. Undoubtedly, there are many other possibilities.

  20. Avatar
    jjames36 Reply

    My favorite dominant female character? Hmmm. I find it hard to think of anyone more interesting than Annie Wilkes.

  21. Avatar
    jackdeth72 Reply

    Hi, Dan:

    Mark stole my thunder with Linda Fiorentino’s Wendy Krpy in ‘The Last Seduction’.

    I’ll take a different tack with Billie Whitelaw as the hard as nails, tough as a button mother of the twin Kray brothers in ‘The Krays’.

    Beryl Reid in either or both ‘The Killing of Sister George’ and as Connie Sachs in the original BBC mini series, ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’.

    Also Faye Dunaway’s Joan Crawford in ‘Mommy, Dearest’.

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