10 of the Best Female Lead Characters of All Time

Audrey Soto
7 min readJun 5, 2017

In the light of Wonder Woman ‘s considerable success and undeniable progressive effect on the current industry of superhero franchises, everyone’s attention is now turned to actress Gal Gadot and director Patty Jenkins, who — apart from killing it at the box office and among critics — have triggered a shift in Hollywood’s perception of women in roles previously mostly reserved for men (in front as well as behind the camera).

But while the latest DC Comics movie is getting a lot of coverage, let’s not forget that many ladies have been the ‘Wonder Women’ of the screens well before all this buzz! That’s why we thought the time was pretty appropriate to have a look back at some of the most exceptional and inspiring female leads ever created, whether it was for TV, or the big screen.

Leslie Knope


Always looking for the bright side of everything and determined to make the world — or at least her hometown, Pawnee — a better place, Parks and Recreation ‘s Leslie Knope is without doubts one of the most refreshing characters in the history of comedy TV series. Brilliantly portrayed by Amy Poehler — to whom the role pretty much belongs — Knope is an extremely ambitious, hard-working and optimistic person, firmly committed to the belief that government should provide a service for its people.

No matter how disastrous or desperate the situation, Leslie Knope (whose named should be ‘Leslie Hope’) never ceases to work towards a solution that will benefit citizens, even if it means having to undermine herself. An almost real-life superhero, we tell you!

Her best quote: “We have to remember what’s important in life: friends, waffles, and work. Or waffles, friends, work. But work has to come third.”

A little extra: Read the letter she wrote to America after the 2016 election.

Katniss Everdeen


It takes a great actress to play a great character. In the instance of The Hunger Games trilogy adaptation, acclaimed film star Jennifer Lawrence was instantly drawn to play Katniss Everdeen, a strong young woman who, in the midst of a post-apocalyptic America where the least advantaged get to work to death and are forced to send their children to murder each other under a totalitarian dictatorship, will become a galvanizing symbol of hope for the rebellion against an oppressive nation. Phew… How heroic is that!

Not only a well-written character that audiences routed for in the course of 4 chapters, Everdeen has also empowered young people around the world to believe that no matter who they are, or where they come from, they can change the world by fighting for what’s right.

Her best quote: “If we burn. You burn with us!”

A little extra: Read Jennifer Lawrence’s essay questioning the gender pay gap in Hollywood, called Why Do I Make Less Than My Male Co-Stars?

Beatrix Kiddo (aka Black Mamba)


Kill Bill’s revengeress bride, Beatrix Kiddo (Uma Thurman) definitely rules our list of the most kick-ass women ever seen onscreen! Created by Quentin Tarantino in 2003, the character (named one of ‘The 100 Greatest Characters of the Last 20 Years’ by Entertainment Weekly) exudes strength and determination after coming back from the lowest point in her life. While Tarantino said he didn’t want to “make her sympathetic,” he gave birth to one of the most well-crafted, complex and empowering female lead characters in cinema.

Her best quote: “It’s mercy, compassion and forgiveness I lack. Not rationality.”

Maya from Zero Dark Thirty


Portrayed by Jessica Chastain, who recently expressed her surprise as to how women were presented in movies from the latest Cannes Film Festival, Maya is a fictional CIA intelligence analyst based on the real-life heroine who hunted down Osama bin Laden.

At the center of Kathryn Bigelow’s movie following the events that led to the death of al-Qaeda’s founder and number one enemy of the United States, Maya is a strong-willed, rigorous and smart agent who isn’t afraid to challenge the status quo in order to reach her goals. A clear reminiscence of another stubborn beloved fictional heroine working for the CIA: Homeland ‘s Carrie Mathison.

Her best quote: “I’m going to smoke everyone involved in this op and then I’m going to kill Osama bin Laden.”

A little extra: Read the essay Jessica Chastain wrote for The Hollywood Reporter about why cinema needs more female leaders.



Biggest surprise from Netflix’s original series, Stranger Things, Eleven has truly become the star of the show. Portrayed by 13-years-old prodigy Millie Bobby Brown, the character has, if not reinvented, opened a door to more impactful roles for young girls to play in works of fiction. Although we don’t know much about her (yet?), Eleven has helped to create a shift in Hollywood’s conception of the ‘little girl’ image (look at Logan and the upcoming Transformers: The Last Knight for proof).

Her best quote: “Friends don’t lie.”

Clarice Starling

20th Century Fox

Jodie Foster’s deep performance as FBI agent Clarice Sterling in The Silence of the Lambs earned her the Oscar for Best Actress in 1992 — and for good reason! Even Jonathan Demme, the director of the adaptation of Thomas Harris’ 1988 novel, admitted during an interview that he did not expect her character to have so much dimension: “Jodie led the charge on bringing the film’s theme — one young woman fighting her way through a male-dominated ecosystem to save the life of another young woman — into vivid cinematic focus.”

Her best quote: “They don’t have a name for what he is.”

Claire Underwood


Ultimately the only character who stands a chance against Kevin Spacey’s terrifying Frank Underwood, Robin Wright’s first lady Claire often makes us feel like she’s the one who really is running the White House. Although she is most of the time ruthless, manipulative and extremely ambitious just like her husband, she often shows glimpses of humanity, which, instead of undermining her character, makes her surprisingly even more fascinating. “I can’t see her as evil and cunning. To me, she’s utilitarian and efficient,” said Wright about her during an interview for the magazine Vanity Fair.

Her best quote: “I should have never made you President.”

Olivia Pope


Scandal’s Olivia Pope, played by Kerry Washington, possesses all the traits of a strong, bright and successful woman. Although she probably abuses wine a little too much and has “the messiest personal life of any character in prime time TV,” she still manages to deal with it like a boss, which makes her the anti-hero audiences love.

A lot of people actually wished she was real after the last presidential election.

Her best quote: “I am not the girl the guy gets at the end of the movie. I am not a fantasy. If you want me, earn me.”


Walt Disney Studios

Brilliant, headstrong and brave, Star Wars’s main character, Rey (Daisy Ridley), has a personality that is closer to Leia’s than Luke’s. A fighter who refuses to be told what to do, she is already being proclaimed by some a “new feminist icon.” Only the new lead of one of the most popular film franchises in history, she is definitely paving the way for more female heroes in the front row!

Her best quote: “Stop taking my hand!”

Elle Woods


Talk about breaking stereotypes! The strength of Legally Blonde was that it wan’t afraid to introduce its main character as she was: An ultra-feminine, Barbie-like young lady who can achieve great things. As unexpected as it seems, Reese Witherspoon’s Woods has become a source of inspiration for women who are pushed to feel like there is only one way to look ‘smart’.

A little extra: The character has such an influence that even Donald Trump is said to have plagiarized her graduation speech!

Her best quote: “What, like it’s hard?”

Originally published at https://spotlightonline.co on June 5, 2017.



Audrey Soto

Writer. Traveler. Dog lover. I write about movies and other things.