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Girl Powerful: 15 Films with Super-Heroic Female Characters

Published on: March 08, 2017

Get inspired with these powerful films

According to a 2014 study by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, although women purchase more than 50 percent of all movie tickets only 13 percent of movies feature a cast where at least half of the characters are female. And male protagonists outnumber female protagonists five to one.

Superhero movies are among the biggest offenders: Not only do male protagonists vastly outnumber females (think of The Avengers), but also gender-stereotyped portrayals dominate.

Fortunately, positive female role models on the big screen do exist. Here are 15 female characters who — though they aren't officially "superheroes" — have heroic qualities. They save the day or overcome adversity in ordinary and extraordinary ways. We’ve ordered these films by age recommendation, from youngest to oldest.

Mulan: Mulan (1998)

Rated G, recommended for ages 5 and up

Mulan is easily the most heroic of the Disney Princesses. She commits herself to saving her father, her family's honor and ultimately all of China. All she's missing is a song as popular as "Let It Go."

Kiki's Delivery Service : Kiki (1989)

Rated G, recommended for ages 5 and up

You need to find your place in the world. Sometimes that place involves honoring your commitments and being nice to people, sometimes it involves saving a friend from falling to his death from a crashed Zeppelin.

Mary Poppins: Mary Poppins (1964)

Rated G, recommended for ages 6 and up

Mary Poppins is a superhero. We all know about her magical powers but she also has a wicked conceit that gives her a human edge, and that makes her "practically perfect in every way."

The Wizard of Oz: Dorothy Gale (1939)

Rated PG, recommended for ages 6 and up

All Dorothy wants is to go home. At times she's too scared and tired to know that she's doing the right thing, whether it's helping her friends find their brains/heart/courage or wielding a bucket of water. In other words, she's the definition of a hero.

Harry Potter movies: Hermione Granger (2001)

Rated PG, recommended for ages 7 and up

Sure everyone focuses on Harry – he's the "chosen one" after all – but the people in the Harry Potter movies who matter (Dumbledore, McGonagall, Lupin, et al) respect Hermione for her intelligence and good judgment. Harry can't succeed without her.

ElastigirlThe Incredibles : Elastigirl and Violet (2004)

Rated PG, recommended for ages 7 and up

The best superhero stories use the characters' powers metaphorically and The Incredibles is an excellent example. Elastigirl is a strong (and very flexible) mother who takes care of the family, while the shy Violet learns that with self-confidence her abilities make her a formidable hero.

Wadjda: Wadjda (2012)

Rated PG, recommended for ages 9 and up

Do you want to wear high-tops with purple laces? Do you want to ride a bike? Wadjda is the story of a girl in Saudi Arabia who aims to live life her way despite her culture's expectations for how women should behave.

Spirited Away: Chihiro Ogino (2001)

Rated PG, recommended for ages 9 and up

After her parents are turned into pigs Chihiro must venture into the spirit world and risk losing her identity to rescue them. The film is creepy but ultimately imaginative and rewarding.

A League of Their Own: all the players (1992)

Rated PG, recommended for ages 10 and up

This engaging, feel-good baseball movie about a women's team during World War II focuses on a varied group of women underdogs struggling to gain respect in a world that only thinks of them as girls. That this is a story based on true events surrounding the formation of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League serves to make it that much more bittersweet.

Whale Rider: Paikea Apirana (2002)

Rated PG-13, recommended for ages 11 and up

Paikea is the latest in the line of Maori leaders descended from the legendary Whale Rider. The problem is, she's a girl and her traditional father can't accept that she could be the next leader. Pai needs to break through the prejudice and prove that she is worthy of the title.

Pride & Prejudice: Elizabeth Bennet (2005)

Rated PG, recommended for ages 11 and up

If Elizabeth is going to marry it's going to be for love. By sticking to her principles, even though it means she and her family could be turned out of their own home by the obsequious and unpleasant Mr. Collins, she manages to overcome her prejudice (and the wealthy and handsome Mr. Darcy his pride) so that everyone can find their happy ending.

His Girl Friday: Hildy Johnson (1940)

Rated PG, recommended for ages 12 and up

This screwball comedy about an editor and reporter was originally slated to star men. Director Howard Hawks decided he preferred a woman in the Hildy Johnson role, and Rosalind Russell further increased her presence by hiring her own writer to sharpen her dialogue (she didn't think she had as many good lines as Cary Grant). One of the classic movie women roles was created.

The Hunger Games: Katniss Everdeen (2012)

Rated PG-13, recommended for ages 13 and up

Talk about overcoming adversity. In this film based on the bestselling novel, Katniss sacrifices herself to save her younger sister from having to go to the teen-death arena and uses her super archery and wilderness survival skills to win the day and become a symbol of hope for the oppressed people of Panem. Necessarily gory but undeniably heroic.

Bend It Like Beckham: Jess (2002)

Rated PG-13, recommended for ages 13 and up

This feel-good soccer movie is more than a decade old but worth a revisit — after all, the Women's World Cup is coming in 2015!. Jess' parents want her to settle down but her love of soccer beckons. She needs to find the balance between her Indian ancestry and her modern British life.

Erin Brockovich: Erin Brockovich (2000)

Rated R, recommended for ages 15 and up

Erin's superpowers are being loud, tenacious and smart. Taking down corporate polluters is the way she saves the day. She makes sacrifices along the way and swears like a trucker but she is an excellent example of taking what life gives you and making the most of it.

This article was originally published on July 29, 2014, and updated on March 8, 2017.

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