Top 10 Girl Power Films

Actresses at the top of their game. The following ten films feature more girl power than the Spice Girls could ever manage.

The Spice Girls might have coined the phrase but the ladies in the following ten films exhibit far more Girl Power than Sporty, Scary, Baby, Ginger and Posh. From recent films such as Hard Candy, Erin Brockovich and Million Dollar Baby to classics like Carrie and Aliens, this top 10 features great female characters performed by the very best actresses at the top of their games.

As a companion piece to our Top 10 Dominant Women in Hollywood Film, this top ten contains some of the finest and most memorable female characters to ever grace the cinema screen. Top 10 Girl Power Films is a list of films where the protagonist is a woman who demonstrates the strength of the human spirit when the odds are stacked against her. In these films, they are the heroes.

10. Hard Candy (Slade, 2005)

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Ellen Page shows off her acting talent as a young girl who gains revenge over the man responsible for the disappearance of her friend.

9. I Spit On Your Grave (Zarchi, 1978)

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Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton) is a New York short story writer who goes to the country to write her first novel. A gang of men, allured by this sexually attractive young woman who has suddenly appeared in their sleepy town, plan and carry out a brutal and prolonged assault. Jennifer survives the attack and slowly recuperates. She then plans and carries out a systematic revenge attack on each of the men who assaulted her with devastating consequences.

8. Million Dollar Baby (Eastwood, 2004)

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Clint Eastwood’s boxing trainer Frankie Dunn doesn’t train girls. But when Hilary Swank’s Maggie won’t take no for an answer he finds more courage, determination and skill in this girl than any of his male students. Hilary Swank delivers a powerhouse performance.

7. Run Lola Run (Tykwer, 1998)

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Poor Franka Potente has to help her boyfriend out of a pickle not once, not twice but three times. Tom Tykwer’s stylish film tells the story of how Lola attempts to raise cash to save her boyfriend from a crime boss in three different ways. Using flashback and flash-forward, the film shows how various events impact on the eventual outcome not just for Lola but for the people she interacts with as well.

6. Silence of the Lambs (Demme, 1991)

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A career best for actress Jodie Foster sees her play FBI trainee Clarice Starling who faces off against Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lector (the marvellous Anthony Hopkins) when she is tasked to help track down serial murderer Buffalo Bill.

5. Carrie (De Palma, 1976)

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Brian De Palma’s masterpiece Carrie sees Sissy Spacek brilliantly portray the reserved but determined Carrie White. Carrie is a horror film that is suitably frightening but appeals to a large audience thanks to its story of a young girl who is trapped by the school children that bully her and the mother who represses her. When she discovers telekinetic powers (the ability to make objects move without touching them) she is at first interested if a little scared of their potential. But when her mother pushes her too far, and the bullies cause her one humiliation too many, Carrie is forced to use her special powers to devastating and destructive effect.

4. Erin Brockovich (Soderbergh, 2000)

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Julia Roberts delivers one of her finest performances as unemployed single mother of three Erin Brockovich in this true story from director Steven Soderbergh. Getting a job as a clerk in a law firm, Erin comes across files pertaining to a pro bono case involving medical records in real estate files. Investigating she finds that contaminated water supplies are the cause of serious health problems in town’s around Pacific Gas and Electric sites. Although she has help from lawyer Edward Masry (Albert Finney), it is her own determination and will power to make right what she knows is wrong that enables her to take the case to court and ultimately win.

3. Thelma and Louise (Scott, 1991)

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Thelma (Geena Davis) and Louise (Susan Sarandon) are two assuming women who finds themselves on the run after killing a rapist. Ridley Scott’s film was nominated for six Academy Awards and has remained a critical and commercial success since its release in 1991. Davis and Sarandon deliver fine performances prior to the memorably iconic ending.

2. Working Girl (Nichols, 1988)

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Melanie Griffith’s fine performance brings Mike Nichols very-1980s feminine revival story to life. She plays Tess McGill, a New York administrator living in a wholly materialistic, male-centric world. Treated as an underling by her bosses and her boyfriend, the sexy but deceptively intelligent Tess ditches them both to swap her secretarial role for an executive position.

When she gets a new job working for financial executive Katherine Parker (Sigourney Weaver), she is immediately encouraged by a fellow woman achieving career success and inviting Tess to share her business ideas. But when Katherine breaks her leg while on holiday and asks Tess to house-sit, she finds out Katherine is secretly passing her ideas off as her own. So while her boss is away Tess senses her opportunity to make her mark and sets about achieving the success she always dreamed about.

1. Aliens (Cameron, 1986)

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Most will agree that the character of Ripley so brilliantly portrayed in the Alien films is a clear winner here. You could pick any one of the first three Alien movies for first-rate performances from Weaver and brilliant characterisation of a woman who sees all fall around her while she continues to battle and survive a seemingly unstoppable and monstrous creature. Interestingly, in each of the films following the plight of Ripley, she is outnumbered by men yet prevails as one of only few survivors. In Alien, she is the only one to make it out alive; in Aliens she sees a whole team of marines (most men) get destroyed with only one remaining alive; and in Alien 3 she is surrounded by a horde of convicted prisoners (all men) who find themselves alien fodder with Ripley’s guile and courage being their only chance of survival.

Your turn – what are your favourite girl power films and characters?

Written and compiled by Daniel Stephens.

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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. Jake Moore @RiverCityOtter Reply

    #1 #Aliens is spot on! But in my mind #10 #HardCandy needs a higher seeding . @EllenPage personifies Girl Power badassness!

  2. Andina Reply

    Love the list! I like Run, Lola, Run. Working girl and Hard candy seem pretty great. I haven’t watch Alien, but I think I’m going to pass.

  3. Claire Reply

    Great list, Dan! Off the top of my head, I would have gone for Ripley as well. In line with Carrie and Jennifer Hills, ‘d suggest The Bride from Kill Bill. O-Ren, Elle Driver and Gogo are all pretty fierce, too!

  4. Jaccstev Reply

    Aliens rules!! Weaver is one of the badassest chicks ever in movie history.

  5. CitizenScreen Reply

    Love these lists even though I hate lists! Keep ’em coming!

    Nice list – no way I would have included Erin Brockovich, Million Dollar Baby (a disappointing Eastwood to me), or Working Girl. The latter a movie I am still very fond of, despite the fact it is awfully dated. I certainly would not put any, except Ripley (which you do), ahead of Thelma and Louise – a film that broke the mold for its depiction of women in many ways.

    So, I was ready to list a bunch that came to mind for strong women characters, but then reread your intro about the human spirit part. Had to rethink this entire thing before I listed the strong, memorable female roles depicted in film. Your numbers 9 and 10 I haven’t seen.

    Considering only those with strength of human spirit, I still came up with three I’d HAVE TO include IF I had a list (but I wouldn’t because I hate them). Also happen to be three powerhouse performances…

    -Norma Rae in Norma Rae
    -Karen Silkwood in Silkwood
    -Aurora Greenway in Terms of Endearment (and for reasons well beyond this character’s AWESOME first name)

    Highly enjoyable! thanks.

    Aurora

  6. Candice Frederick Reply

    i love this list. Aliens!!

  7. Rodney Reply

    The fact that there are very few choices when putting together a list like this would seem to be an indictment on Hollywood’s predeliction for male-oriented roles over strong, feminist-oriented ones. Such a sorry state of affairs, really. I am surprised, however Dan, that you didn’t manage to include at least one Meryl Streep flick in here (perhaps Devil Wears Prada, for example?) considering she’s one of the greatest female performers on film in history.

    Still, I can’t fault your choices for their inclusion – I have yet to see either #9 or #10 on this list, but the rest are all quite good choices to fit.

  8. Castor Reply

    Nothing like Ripley from Alien to top this list. I’m surprised Amelie didn’t appear anywhere on your list though 🙂

  9. Fitz Reply

    Hard Candy is such an interesting film. You know that Patrick Wilson is a paedophile, but Page is also very, very crazy.

    No Bride from Kill Bill?

  10. Tyler Reply

    Great list. I can’t really think of anything else to add, you really summed it all up. Damn, ALIENS is badass. I reckon Sarah Conner in TERMINATOR was also pretty awesome!

  11. DEZMOND Reply

    I’ve never actually liked girl power films, at least not the ones from this list, since they usually have some bad actresses (Swank, Roberts) or promote some kind of violence. But I did adore WORKING GIRL as a kid, it was actually one of the films I remember best from the 80’s!

  12. Dan Reply

    @Jake: Ellen Page is a top actress. Saw Hard Candy out of the blue one day. Glad I did.

    @Andina: Thanks Andina. Aliens is a favourite of mine. I’d highly recommend it.

    @Claire: Good one Claire. In fact, I think Kill Bill would have been a great one for this list. Let us say it came in 11th! 🙂

    @Jaccstev: Although Weaver gave us some great performances in all the Alien films, I think her best was Aliens (the mother-daughter relationship between her and Newt gives the film another dimension).

    @Aurora: Thanks for the comment Aurora. I’m glad you’re a fan of Working Girl. It remains one of my favourites despite it being dated. I think it still has a very worthwhile message and one that I cling on too despite not living in the eighties or being a woman – the whole idea about following your dream, being determined, working hard for what you want is timeless really. The styles are very eighties, as are the sexual politics, but that’s great for a bit of nostalgia.

    @Candice: Aliens is one of the best! 🙂

    @Rodney: Good choice. You’re spot on about Meryl Streep but funnily enough the last film I watched of hers wouldn’t work with this list – Kramer versus Kramer.

    @Castor: Amelie – good choice Castor.

    @Fitz: Another vote for The Bride. I’m going to go with the party line – she came in 11th! 😉

    @Tyler: Sarah Connor! Great choice. There have been some terrific Girl Power nominations and Sarah Connor is up there with Ripley in my opinion. I feel an alternate list is in order (Top 10 “You Messing With Me” Girls!)

    @Dezzy: I think Working Girl is still an excellent film despite some of it feeling dated.

  13. Louise Reply

    Love Working Girl Would never have thought of it when putting together a Girl Power List but it’s so obvious when you consider it.

    I think some of the classic Hollywood films have surprising Girl Power for their time. Katherine Hepburn in Adam’s Rib is fantastic.

  14. Raghav Reply

    Great list. I think it’s so cool you have added Hard Candy which has such a mentally strong character. Love that movie. Good stuff.

  15. Dan Reply

    @Louise: Good call Louise – perhaps Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard (or has she lost her power); same goes for Elizabeth Taylor in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe. Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark would be a good one as her strength is very different from the women above but her courage is no less evident.

    @Raghav: Hard Candy was one where I thought – get a new film that not a lot of people know about in there. Perhaps, therefore, more people will see the film, which is very deserving as Hard Candy is excellent.

  16. max Reply

    I’ve seen most of ‘Hard Candy’ and love the message it sends. The only others on the list I’ve seen is ‘Million dollar baby’, ‘Silence of the Lambs’, and ‘Aliens’. Is Working Girl really that good? I remember seeing a scene from it in SceneIt! and I was interested from that point on. I guess Thelma and Louise would be the next you would recommend right? Informative post as always!

  17. Chris Reply

    How about Kathy Bates? She’s nearly always typecast as a woman with attitude. The car park scene in Fried green tomatoes is a classic moment worth checking on youtube, and in Titanic she was “unsinkable” molly brown .

  18. ruth Reply

    Oooh Working Girl definitely, LOVE that one. This is on the fluff side but Tomb Raider can be considered a girl power flick, no?

  19. Mette Reply

    Oh sh**, I’ve only seen ONE of these films (Silence of the Lambs), even though I would dare calling myself a feminist, at least a little, and most certainly a film enthusiast… shame on me!

  20. Jessica Reply

    Love this list! Million Dollar Baby is one of my favourite films 😀

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