When you think of women in film, honestly what’s your first thought? Maybe a woman who is a writer/reporter/magazine editor living in New York City, coffee in hand, battling a misogynistic boss that she ends up falling for? Or maybe you think of a woman who ultimately dies. Some poor script-writer’s wet dream who has to be brutally killed so the star actor gets to FEEL something.
When you’re a film fan who happens to also be a woman, sometimes you can really get bent out of shape at the way women are portrayed in films. It’s like, for every woman on screen who is good enough, there are going to be twenty more flimsy, hazy outlines of characters just there to advance a plot or maybe look great. But the beauty is when you watch a film with a woman who is strong (and we can be strong in so many ways) it’s pretty much life affirming. It’s the good shit. On screen representation is so important, I’ve got a checklist in my head of what films I’m going to show my daughter at different stages of her life (I mean, after she is born first. It’s extreme in-advance planning).
To whittle a list down to just ten of my favourite roles was hard. Believe me. My shortlist was miles long. There’s the obvious choices, the Ripley’s and the Sarah Connor’s and the Furiosa’s. But I wanted to get a little more in depth with you, and ultimately I decided on my TOP TEN WOMEN WHO RULE CINEMA.
10. Vanessa Lutz - Freeway (1996)
Remember like, two years ago when Reece Witherspoon’s husband got pulled over by the cops and she cussed them out? The world was shocked at Reece’s potty mouth, but truth be told, Reece was just obviously taking cues from one of her first film roles, Vanessa Lutz in Freeway.
Freeway is a fairytale wrapped up in drugs, sex and murder. Vanessa (Red Riding Hood) escapes a brutal home life to go live with her gran, only to find herself in the clutches of the Ted Bundy-esque Kiefer Sutherland, and things only get a lot worse once she shoots him in the face.
It’s pretty much impossible not to fall in love with Vanessa. She kicks ass (literally), puts cops in their place and goes on the run cross country. She’s trailer trash versus the middle class. She is everything society wants to sweep under the carpet, and she’s proud of it. Fearless and able to hold her own, Vanessa deserves her spot for a) surviving a serial killer and b) having the guts to tell him he looks “like shit” in court.
9. Helen - Wetlands (2013)
Okay so imagine you’re hanging around just minding your business and all of a sudden you watch a trailer about a girl who tries to shave her butthole and ends up in hospital. Maybe it's not appealing to you, but to me I couldn’t get that premise out of my head. Along comes Wetlands to blast literally every other coming of age story out of the water, a no holds barred look at the life a girl discovering her sexuality.
Helen isn’t afraid of sex, isn’t afraid of her own vaginal discharge and the celebration of everything that makes you a woman. Helen is just as gross as any guy you have come across. Here’s a spoiler for you: girls are really gross. Honestly, we are disgusting. Helen is the embodiment of everything we do in the bathroom, everything we do late at night in bed when we’re alone, and everything we do to try and coerce people into having sex with us.
8. Justice - Poetic Justice (1993)
Poetic Justice is a road trip movie full of self discovery and also happens to star Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur. It’s a great coming of age tale, and knowing your true self and finding someone to share that with.
Justice is having a tough time. Her boyfriend was brutally murdered in front of her, she’s a poet (the poems she narrates throughout are actually Maya Angelou’s!) and a lonely soul. Justice doesn’t bow to the pressures of inner city LA, she doesn’t get bossed around by anyone, and she learns to heal her wounds on her own terms and in her own time. Plus she snags Tupac by being aloof and unavailable until he sorts his fucking shit out, which is an extremely good quality to posses.
7. Buffy - Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)
Everyone knows Buffy’s story. Or at least, they know the Buffy from the TV series. They know the Buffy who hated popular girls, the Buffy who spent time in the library with frankly, heinous nerds, and fell for a string of really awful men. The Buffy from the 1992 movie is a totally different character altogether.
Movie Buffy was a cheerleader, a shallow valley girl who just happened to be the Last Slayer but would rather just go to the fucking mall. The movie is superior to the TV show in every way, defying conventions by placing a source of evil highschool lore (the blonde cheerleader) and redeeming her throughout. I mean, she still falls for Luke Perry, but nobody’s perfect.
6. The Girl - A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014)
This film had such a buzz around it, when it first hit my radar I thought this was going to be some message involving cat calling or the generally terrifying ordeal of being a woman outside when it’s dark.
Nah, this film was about a skateboarding vampire (The Girl) who takes an interest in a guy and they listen to White Lies together. WHICH IS AWESOME. I could not leave The Girl out, the way she torments children, men, everyone, and ultimately turns a corner (whilst riding her skateboard, I’m sorry I just love it) is super enthralling to watch. I mean, she says like three words in the whole film, but her stoic silence is extremely admirable when surrounded by a host a weirdo characters.
5. Corinne - Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains (1982)
In the tumultuous situation of being on tour, being an all-girl punk band can be daunting. Never fear though, Corinne (played by the extremely Good Person Diane Lane) isn’t going to let nothing like not being able to play instruments or having any proper songs get in the way of her message. The Fabulous Stains is totally That Thing You Do! Except the whole band are women, and they don’t give two shits if you like them or not.
Corinne delivers maybe one of the single greatest lines in cinematic history “I'm perfect! But nobody in this shithole gets me, because I don't put out!” whilst wearing a see through shirt and hot pants. The whole film is peppered with feminist messages, every teenage girl should watch this and learn how to fuck over snobby punk boys and rise to the top. There is no such thing as selling out. There is no such thing as punk. I think ultimately The Fabulous Stains is such a good film because it deals with teenage girl’s relationships with bands. The Stains end up with a cult following who wants to be exactly like them, and that threatens the boys so much that they make fun of it and try and tear it down. But it doesn’t work, and that’s the key here. Never underestimate the power of teenage girls bigging each other up.
4. Nami - Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion (1972)
Women in Prison films are not exactly a bastion of female empowerment. Don’t get me wrong, they’re extremely fun to watch, but in a way that makes you question your life choices after. Not so much with Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion (which is such an awkward title to try and remember off the top of your head).
The film centres round Nami, falsely incarcerated by her crooked cop boyfriend. Nami has to survive the prison guards, the mean bitches of the prison getting on her case, the Yakuza trying to kill her off and at one point being hung from a ceiling and beaten by her prisonmates. Orange is the New Black this AINT. Nami suffers all her excruciating punishments without a word of complaint, keeping one thought in her mind: REVENGE. And boy, does she get her revenge.
3. Billie Jean - The Legend of Billie Jean (1985)
I guess I like, have a weakness for ‘white trash’ America. The Legend of Billie Jean follows the titular Billie Jean from her trailer park to nationwide adoration. When Billie and her brother are picked on by the local yuppie guys and everything sort of goes terribly wrong, Billie leads a revolution across America to stand up for the injustice of no one believing you just because you’re young and you’re poor.
Billie Jean also serves actual LOOKS in this film. You always know shit is going to hit the fan as soon as a girl chops off her waist length hair into a crop. And then starts wearing a wetsuit(?) around. You know, for THE STATEMENT. Billie Jean is articulate, she’s sticking up for her brother AND sticking it to The Man.
2. Lois Lane - Superman: The Movie (1978)
Can you imagine how tough it must be to be the star reporter in a male driven environment in the 70s? Lois Lane can. Not only does Lois bang out headline after headline, but she also has to contend with being the object of Superman’s affections, which is probably a huge deal, you know, internally.
Lois is so fearless in Superman (I’m totally only talking about the Chris Reeve Superman’s here guys, I would never sully Lois with her more recent portrayals), always going after that story, whether it’s surviving a helicopter crash or getting buried alive, Lois always springs back into action (and can you please go get her a cheeseburger? She’s starving). She’s a hard-talking, fast walking Metropolian who is too busy to chat to bumbling Clark, and that’s exactly as she should be.
1. Anne Lewis - Robocop (1987)
Okay so maybe just maybe I am a little bit biased when it comes to Robocop, the greatest film of all time, I apologise in advance but seriously, have you ever watched Lewis in this film? Like totally closely? Lewis is a bubblegum smacking, doe-eyed angel in a full riot gear suit, punching bad guys in the face and just trying to do her job in a failing society.
Lewis is the only one to work out who Robocop is, she’s the only one who even helps. Lewis is a woman of strong principles and morals, and you know she gets paid shitty money and gets beaten down every day and yet here she is, still showing up to work and now she’s gotta deal with this fucking cyborg causing even more drama?
I am super into films where the two leads have no romantic interest. I always feel it makes for a better film , and I am so glad Lewis isn’t in love with Robocop, or Alex Murphy. She just wants to help, because it’s the right thing to do.
So there you have it! A journey into my own personal greatest Girls on Film, it’s been emotional guys. No, really. I listened to this like on repeat the whole time. Hopefully if you haven’t seen any of these films maybe now you would want to? A few are even on Netflix! What’s your excuse?
Robyn is one half of Bimbo Movie Bash, an avid fan of Angel Delight and a Pee Wee apologist.