Most of us are familiar with the classic films that feature iconic male leads. From Lawrence of Arabia to The Wizard of Oz, we know of many films that have offered us unforgettable male heroes. However, there are just as many films that feature equally strong female leads. While the movie industry has a long way to go in terms of accurate and meaningful representation of female characters, there have been a number of films that have featured powerful female protagonists throughout the years.
In this article, we’ll look at some of the best female-leading movies of all time. Not only have these films been critically acclaimed for their strong female characters and storylines, but they’ve also secured their places in the annals of movie history. These are the films that will remain iconic for years to come!
The Criteria For Our List
Before we dive into our list of the best female-leading movies of all time, let’s clarify how we chose the films to be featured:
We considered the film’s Rotten Tomatoes score
We considered how the film was received by critics
We focused on films with female protagonists or ensemble cast with a female lead
Without further ado, here are our picks for the best female-leading movies of all time.
The Best Female-Leading Movies Of All Time
Atomic Blonde (2017)
Charlize Theron stars as a super spy in this 2017 action-thriller. With an emphasis on strong female characters, the film tells the story of an espionage agent tasked with recovering a dossier from Berlin during the Cold War. With its stylish aesthetics, impressive fight scenes, and a female-driven narrative, Atomic Blonde has secured its place in the action-thriller hall of fame.
Thelma & Louise (1991)
Thelma & Louise is one of the most iconic feminist films of all time. Directed by Ridley Scott, the film tells the story of two friends who go on a road trip together, only to be pursued by a relentless cop. Starring Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis as the eponymous leads, this groundbreaking classic helped pave the way for female-driven stories in the movie industry.
Wonder Woman (2017)
Wonder Woman is a perfect example of a female superhero film done right. With its strong female lead and thoughtful storytelling, the film emphasizes the importance of female empowerment. Gal Gadot is perfect in the title role, and the film’s success has opened the doors for more powerful female-led superhero films.
The Favourite (2018)
This dark comedy from director Yorgos Lanthimos features a fantastic ensemble cast that’s led by Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone. It tells the story of a war between two cousins vying for the affection of a powerful queen. It was a critical success and won Colman an Oscar for best actress for her portrayal of Queen Anne.
Lady Bird (2017)
Lady Bird is a biographical coming-of-age story from writer-director Greta Gerwig. Set in 2002, the film stars Saoirse Ronan as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a high school student navigating her way through complex relationships with her peers, her mother, and boys. It was a critical and commercial success and earned Saoirse Ronan an Oscar nomination.
A League Of Their Own (1992)
This classic sports comedy, set during World War II, tells the story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. The film stars Geena Davis and Lori Petty as two very different sisters who join the league. This beloved comedy is just as relevant today as it was during its initial release in 1992.
The Hurt Locker (2008)
Kathryn Bigelow also deserves credit for being the first woman to win an Academy Award for Best Director. Her 2008 film, The Hurt Locker, starred Jeremy Renner as an explosive-ordnance disposal technician, but it was the strong female characters and the powerful story arc that cemented its legacy as an iconic action movie.
Disney Animation’s Moana truly benefited from the studio’s recent efforts to create diverse and largely female-led stories. Moana stars Auli’i Cravalho as the titular lead, a young Polynesian girl who embarks on an epic journey to fulfill her duties as the chosen one in her tribe. With its beautiful animation and its empowering female narrative, Moana will remain iconic for years to come.
Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Let’s not forget about the classic horror movie starring Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling. This gripping thriller follows a rookie FBI agent tasked with interviewing a dangerous serial killer in order to catch an even more dangerous madman. Foster’s star-making performance earned her an Oscar for best actress and cemented her place in the annals of movie history.
The live-action reimagining of Disney’s classic Mulan was long overdue. Starring Yifei Liu as the titular lead, the 2020 adaptation of the classic tale is all about female empowerment and remaining true to oneself. Like its predecessor, the new Mulan was a box-office success and a critical darling.
This 2017 Norwegian supernatural drama by Joachim Trier tells the story of a young woman who discovers her own supernatural powers. Not only is Thelma a remarkable achievement in film, but it’s also been praised for its nuanced and powerful portrayal of female characters.
Throughout the history of the movie industry, there have been a number of remarkable female-led films. From action-thrillers to coming-of-age movies, female-driven stories have made an indelible mark in movie history. These are only some of the best examples of female-driven movies, but they’re all reminders of the importance of meaningful female representation in pop culture.