The Top 15 Feminist Film Stars

Movies can spell trouble for women. Usually, a female-centric flick entails a morose, unlucky-in-love woman who pines for love. Ultimately, she finds it with a reformed bad boy. When does this happen? Usually after she’s realized that her wacky commitment to her career has made her unsuitable for love. Shed of her silly life aspirations, she settles into domestic bliss for the rest of her life. Or as long as the end credits take to roll. Anyone else asleep right about now?

Instead, let’s think about the ladies of authority, the women of wit, the steel magnolias of cinema. For every loveless lass brought to life by a Rom Com Queen, there’s a kick-ass character of empowerment. Here are our 15 favorites.

Sigourney Weaver Say what you will about James Cameron and his obsession with special effects – this man knows how to write a strong woman. Ellen Ripley of the Alien franchise embodies the strength of Future Woman as no other Hollywood screen siren. Not to mention, her turns in “Working Girl” and “The Ice Storm” gave depth to otherwise complicated (okay, horrible) women.

Greta Garbo Some call her the most fascinating woman in film history. Garbo’s 1930s screen siren was well ahead of her game with strong roles such as Queen Christina, Mata Hari and more.

Katharine Hepburn Ms. Hepburn was the daughter of a suffragette and was taught to speak her mind. And how! From her Tracy Lord to Rose Sayer to Eleanor of Aquitaine, Hepburn’s cool composure is a model for tough, resilient women.

Pam Grier Grier was a staple in early blaxploitation films playing strong, assertive women. In 1973s “Coffy,” she was noted as the first female African-American star to headline an action film. She is perhaps best known as Foxy Brown, a character with similar attributes.

Mae West Before there was Marilyn Monroe’s breathy, little-girl-lost sex symbol, there was Mae West. Born in 1893 to Vaudeville stars, West wrote and starred in films that were unabashedly about female empowerment. One of the earlier plays she penned, “Sex,” landed her in jail for obscenity charges in 1926. West was known to quip “A dame that knows the ropes isn’t likely to get tied up.” Here’s to the original dame.

Angelina Jolie A friend of mine recently worked on a Jolie film. Jolie wasn’t the original choice for the role, but the studio insisted she be cast. Why? Because this woman inspires audiences all over the world to run into movie theaters throwing cash into buckets. (That is, most of the time she does. Exception: “The Tourist.”) Why? Because she’s an action hero. “Salt,” “Wanted,” and the Lara Croft series prove this woman knows how to conduct herself on a runaway car.

Meryl Streep Streep, currently the most honored actor of all time, has played more powerful women than one could list in a few mere sentences. One favorite might her turn as Danish author Baroness Karen von Blixen in “Out of Africa.” More recently, her turn as Miranda Priestley in “The Devil’s Wears Prada” was like staring into the eyes of a steel dragon. Up next for Meryl? She’s to portray Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.” We are so there.

Linda Hamilton Hamilton’s Sarah Connor from the Terminator series blasted onto big screens in 1984. But it was her turn as the iconic character in 1991s “Terminator 2” that had people talking. Hamilton kicked cyborgs to the curb and gave the world a view of a mama you did not want to mess with.

Anne Bancroft Bancroft’s turn as a seductress in “The Graduate” gave new life to female sexuality. Amidst a tremendous career, she is also recognized for her iconic turn as Annie Sullivan in “The Miracle Worker.” Here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson.

Dorothy Dandridge Dandridge was a trail blazer for women of color in Hollywood. Her turns as Bess in “Porgy and Bess” and well as “Carmen Jones” are etched as iconic roles in film history. Though her life was cut short by a tragic death at age 42 in 1965, she undoubtedly paved the way for acceptance for all women in film.

Uma ThurmanThurman is perhaps best known for her role as Beatrix Kiddo in the Kill Bill series – in which she could not be killed. But her turns as June Miller in “Henry and June” and as Mia Wallace in “Pulp Fiction” makes this actress a pillar of empowerment.

Jodie Foster Actor, director, producer – this two time Oscar winner for Best Actress does it all. Foster, a child actor, first catapulted into international acclaim for her turn as a trash-talking child prostitute in “Taxi Driver.” But it was her role as FBI agent Clarice Starling in “The Silence of the Lambs” that introduced her to a whole new generation of viewers. Her sensitive portrayal of Sarah Tobias in “The Accused” gave a voice to rape victims.

Helen Mirren Mirren has long established career portrayal strong women with a frank sexual empowerment. And yet, it was her turn against type as Queen Elizabeth I in “The Queen” that had a whole new generation bowing to this woman.

Barbara Stanwyck Stanwyck is perhaps best known for her role as the matriarch of the 1960s TV series, “Big Valley.” (Not to forget her performance as Mary Carson in “The Thorn Birds.” Ever.) But Stanwyck was established as a screen siren well before her turns in TV. Her role as Jean in “The Lady Eve” is a female powerhouse.

Penelope Cruz Penelope Cruz is known in her native Spain as “the Spanish enchantress.” We know her for adeptly portraying resilient womanhood. Her portrayal of the stalwart Rainmunda in “Volver” will convince anyone that this woman knows how to handle herself on and off the screen.

Still, there are more. What about Judi Dench as M? Susan Sarandon as Thelma? Not to mention Marlene Deitrich’s Lola Lola or Barbara Streisand’s Katie. Then there’s Hilary Swank’s Maggie Fitzgerald. And Cate Blanchette as Elizabeth I and Emma Thompson as Emma Thompson. We could go on…

Images: chang-er, Wikimedia Creative Commons, Wikimedia Creative Commons, Wikiemedia Creative Commons, db4dawn, Wikimedia Creative Commons, Wikimedia Creative Commons, kr4gin, People Quiz, iluvrhinestones, classic film scans, Wikimedia Creative Commons, Wikimedia Creative Commons
Mirren: Wikimedia Creative Commons
Stanwyck: mijori
Cruz: Wikimedia Creative Commons

Katherine Butler

Katherine Butler is the Beauty Editor of EcoSalon and currently resides in Los Angeles, California.