10 of the Best Strong Female Film Characters From the Last Decade


Cinematic female roles have grown increasingly bold and capable as their stories have become more diverse. In the last decade, the women of these films are breaking barriers as symbols of strength and resilience. From horror, drama, action movies, and more, these characters stand defiant in the face of oppression and danger.

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While there are numerous solid female characters across the box office, these women are completely normal: no superpowers or superhuman physical abilities. Familiar with deceit, heartache, and sacrifice, the women of these stories are forces to be reckoned with. Especially with the struggles and constant uphill battles to be faced in day-to-day life, having powerful and resonating female characters that make the most of their situation without the aid of superpowers makes all the difference on the big screen.

10 Cassie Thomas

‘Promising Young Woman’ (2020)

Image via Focus Features

Revenge has no expiration date and Cassie (Carey Mulligan) is the grim reaper for sexual predators. Seeking justice for her friend’s college rape that led to suicide, Cassie dedicates her life to sending a message to men who prey on vulnerable women. She tracks down the powerful and successful parties responsible for silencing the crime, teaching them a lesson with no forgiveness.

Written and directed by Emerald Fennell, Promising Young Womanbrings audiences a character capable of carrying out retribution without superpowers, espionage, or intense action sequences. The way that Cassie meticulously carries out her master plan of taking down the scum of the world in her own, rebellious way makes for one of the most empowering and self-fulfilling stories in recent memory. Even though the climax of Promising Young Woman doesn’t go entirely to plan, she still finds a way to have the last laugh against all those who stand in her way.

Promising Young Woman
Release Date
December 13, 2020

Director
Emerald Fennell

Runtime
113

Watch on Amazon Prime

9 Lorraine Broughton

‘Atomic Blonde’ (2017)

Charlize Theron as Lorraine Broughton in a neon-colored club in Atomic Blonde
Image via Focus Features

The female equivalent to James Bond, Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) is an MI6 agent that kicks butt and takes names. Sent to sort out a double agent list in Cold War-era Berlin, Lorraine trusts only herself, her skills, and her wits. She easily makes her way through hundreds of highly skilled enemies on her blood-soaked journey, proving her effectiveness as one of the best action icons in recent memory.

Lorraine has all of the skills and gargantuan on-screen presence that a modern choreography-defined action star requires, helping elevate Atomic Blonde into being one of the best action movies in recent memory. She’s lethal with everything from a gun to a stiletto. This character proves that women do not need to take a back seat role in espionage stories. No stranger to strong lead roles, Theron demonstrates once again that she can carry a film in any genre.

Atomic Blonde
Release Date
July 26, 2017

Rating
R

Runtime
115

Rent on Amazon

8 Adelaide Wilson & Red

‘Us’ (2019)

Adelaide Wilson & Red in Us

A hero or a villain? It’s hard to tell who is who when it comes to these women. Both portrayed by Lupita Nyong’o in Us, Red and Adelaide are linked by dark forces as one is a shadow version of the other. Orchestrating a world takeover, Red seeks revenge on Adelaide for the life she stole. It’s difficult to sing the praises of one character without the other, as their interconnection, parallels, and differences are a major part of what makes both characters such powerful female icons.

Red and Adelaide are forces to be reckoned with as both are willing to fight to the death to see their plan through. Adelaide does everything she can to protect her family and the life she built, while Red is an intelligent leader capable of overcoming the adversity she was dealt as a child. Both sides of the coin have their own effective motivation and strengths behind their action, making it extra heartbreaking that these two sides have to face off, and cannot coexist.

Us (2019)
Release Date
March 22, 2019

Rating
R

Runtime
116 minutes

Watch on Netflix

7 Mildred Hayes

‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ (2017)

Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Image via Fox Searchlight Pictures

A real-life mother bear, this woman is not to be trifled with. After her daughter’s brutal rape and murder goes unsolved, Mildred pays for three billboards to taunt local police while holding them accountable for her daughter’s death. Even despite all the hardships and backlash that she gets from government officials, she stands her ground in being able to provide due justice to a system that has failed her family with no signs of change.

Winning the Oscar for this role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Frances McDormand lets loose as a foul-mouthed Missouri woman who takes no slack from anyone. With a tough exterior and a heart full of pain, Mildred does her best to get by after the loss of her daughter. This character proves that there is no love like a mother’s. It’s incredibly easy for audiences to resonate and connect with Mildred’s hardened no-nonsense attitude, finally taking a stand and going out of her way to combat an oppressive system.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Release Date
December 1, 2017

Director
Martin McDonagh

Rating
R

Runtime
115

Watch on Fubo

6 Astrid Young Teo

‘Crazy Rich Asians’ (2018)

Astrid Young Teo Crazy Rich Asians

A woman of business and family, Astrid stays humble and compassionate of those around her. She is a friend to Rachel (Constance Wu) regardless of her status and does her best to support her husband with his insecurities. Flawless, Gemma Chan expertly embodies success and grace with this Crazy Rich Asians character.

Romantic comedies as a whole are a genre that live and die by their powerful and resonating female leads, with Astrid being one of the best examples that the genre has seen in recent memory. Even in the face of her husband’s infidelity, she’s a picture of elegance. She finally understands by the end of the film, that there’s no reason to hide her success. Astrid is an excellent role model to prove there’s no shame in taking pride in your accomplishments.

Crazy Rich Asians
Release Date
August 15, 2018

Rating
PG-13

Runtime
121

Watch on Hulu

5 Harley Quinn

‘Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn’ (2020)

Harley Number 10

Bold, brash, and the right amount of sass, this portrayal of Harley Quinn is the story she needed. Margot Robbie’s first take on this iconic villain in 2016’s Suicide Squad was bogged down by a poor script and messy editing. Birds of Prey is the rock-bottom breakup audiences needed for her. No longer weighed down by Joker (Jared Leto), Harley is out to make a name of her own as she teams up with a few other intense personalities.

While Harley does exist in the DC Universe, she doesn’t possess notable superpowers like other comic book characters. Tough as nails, Harley’s path to confident independence resonates with fans who may have gone through a similar feat. It’s no surprise that Harley became one of the biggest icons and successful recurring characters to come from the DC Universe, thanks in part to just how well she has resonated with audiences since the very beginning.

Birds of Prey
Release Date
February 5, 2020

Rating
R

Runtime
108

Watch on Netflix

4 Evelyn Wang

‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ (2022)

Michelle Yeoh as Evelyn, fighting while paper sheets fly around her in Everything Everywhere All at Once
Image via A24

The lead protagonist from the Best Picture-winning sci-fi action film, Evelyn Wang (played by Michelle Yeoh) is an aging Chinese immigrant who runs a normal laundromat and suddenly finds herself at the center of a multiversal struggle. Considered to be the one person who can put a stop to a multiversal threat, Evelyn is trained in ways of tapping into versions of herself from other universes to be able to use their skills and talents in combat. However, it soon becomes apparent that this multiverse-threatening villain is much more closely tied to her than previously assumed.

While Evelyn eventually is able to perfect and weave between universes to become an all-star fighter, what makes her such an engaging character is her normal and unassuming beginnings. It’s a sign that anyone, no matter how boring or mundane their life may be, has the potential to grow into something amazing, and you never know where life may take you, but it’s important to find joy wherever it does. It also helps that the action in Everything Everywhere All at Once is top-notch, combined with Yeoh’s pristine legacy in the action genre, makes for a character who takes down everyone in their path. – Rob Lee

Everything Everywhere All at Once
Release Date
March 25, 2022

Rating
R

Runtime
139 minutes

Watch on Amazon Prime

3 Okoye

‘Black Panther’ (2018)

black-panther-movie-cast-images-danai-gurira-okoye
Image via Marvel Studios

Another mortal in a universe filled with superheroes is quick-witted Okoye (Danai Gurira). This Dora Milaje General symbolizes loyalty and heart, being the face and strongest warrior in an army filled to the brim with dangerous combat-ready women. Leading an army of women, she protects the Wakandan throne at all costs. Excellent in combat, she is a woman not to be messed with.

The dedication to her people and her leadership makes Okoye a candidate worthy of praise. Her human status and ability to succeed without superpowers make the character more realistic to identify with. She’s an icon for young viewers and brings a strong representation to the screen. In a franchise filled to the brim with iconic female heroes with their own signature stories, it speaks volumes that Okoye can stand out as one of the best MCU female icons all through her natural skills, with no superpower to call her own.

Black Panther
Release Date
February 16, 2018

Director
Ryan Coogler

Rating
PG-13

Runtime
134 minutes

Watch on Disney+

2 Barbie

‘Barbie’ (2023)

Margot Robbie wearing a cowboy hat and smiling at an older woman at the bus stop in Barbie
Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

One of the most surprising and unexpected female icons in modern cinema, the portrayal of Barbie in Greta Gerwig‘s wild and zany comedy elevated the character to levels few people could have ever expected. Barbie spends the majority of the film searching for a sense of identity, after getting strange feelings that can only be answered from the real world. However, after a conundrum affects BarbieLand, she must use her knowledge and fundamental tenets of what’s right to set things right in the world.

What makes Barbie such a powerful and inspiring icon in the film is her ability to mend bridges, stay positive, and inspire people no matter how difficult and impossible the tasks at hand may seem. The film expertly adapts and understands the core values that Barbie has held for generations to create the perfect ideal interpretation and modern evolution of the character. Barbie’s message and strength have easily resonated with audiences across the world, as the film continues to surmount a powerful legacy thanks to the strength of its main character. – Rob Lee

Barbie
Release Date
July 21, 2023

Rating
PG-13

Runtime
114 minutes

Watch on Max

1 Imperator Furiosa

‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ (2015)

mad-max-fury-road-charlize-theron-social
Image via Warner Bros.

Another hard-hitting woman, Imperator Furiosa is a heroine in a world without heroes. Rescuing a group of female prisoners, Furiosa searches for her oasis in a post-apocalyptic world, with help from a mysterious transient named Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy). Gritty, Furiosa is intelligent in the art of deception and a mechanical genius. She’s able to gain the trust of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and then turn her back on him to save his enslaved wives.

She’s a tough woman in an even tougher world. Her dilemma, while distinct from those she rescues, is similar: she desires to find a home where women are safe. Her determination and skill set make her another notable character in Theron’s repertoire. It speaks volumes to the power and weight of the character that in a long-running series like Mad Max, she was able to stand out and make such an impact as to the point where Furiosa is receiving her own prequel origin story film.

Mad Max: Fury Road

Years after the collapse of civilization, the tyrannical Immortan Joe enslaves apocalypse survivors inside the desert fortress the Citadel. When the warrior Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) leads the despot’s five wives in a daring escape, she forges an alliance with Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), a loner and former captive. Fortified in the massive, armored truck the War Rig, they try to outrun the ruthless warlord and his henchmen in a deadly high-speed chase through the Wasteland.

Release Date
May 13, 2015

Director
George Miller

Rating
R

Runtime
120 minutes

Watch on Max

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