It’s almost time to bid farewell to Katniss Everdeen. The Girl on Fire’s story comes to a close on November 20 when the eagerly anticipated final installment to The Hunger Games movies hits theaters. The character of Katniss has been inspiring young women since the original book came out in 2008, and with good reason: Katniss kicks some serious ass.
Katniss is far from perfect, but she’s a heroine in her own right. She is stubborn, prideful, and volatile. But she is also incredibly compassionate, dryly witty, and willing to put those she loves first, no matter what the cost.
Jennifer Lawrence, who has played Katniss in the movies for more than four years, has even credited the character’s courage and sense of justice for inspiring the essay Lawrence wrote last month decrying Hollywood’s wage gap. So, I would like to celebrate the end of Katniss’ story by looking at other strong women in the movies so that we can continue to be inspired long after the credits of Mockingjay, Part 2 roll.
This first group of leading ladies includes your classic action movie heroes, except that we all know the typical action hero is a buff male. These women show that you don’t need a Y chromosome to take charge.
Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley in the Alien Franchise
The character of Ellen Ripley paved the way for women’s roles in science fiction to move beyond the stereotypical. Film critic John Scalzi wrote in 2011:
“She’s not a sidekick, arm candy, or a damsel to be rescued. . . . Science fiction film is filled with hot kick-ass women doing impossible things with guns and melee weapons while they spin about like a gymnast in a dryer. As fun as that is to watch, at the end of the day it’s still giving women short shrift [because] what they are then are idealized killer fembots rather than actual human beings. Ripley, on the other hand, is pushy, aggressive, rude, injured, suffering from post-traumatic syndrome, not wearing makeup, tired, smart, maternal, angry, empathetic, and determined to save others, even at great cost to herself.”
The next time someone at work seems to be acting more like an evil alien than a human being, take a deep breath, and channel your inner Ripley. Know that you are competent, intelligent, and not to be messed with, and then take a moment to be grateful that your job does not involve fighting off extraterrestrials. Suddenly logic models and budget projections don’t seem so daunting.
Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity in The Matrix
You could not escape The Matrix if you grew up around the same time I did, and although this type of movie is not my usual cup of tea, the character of Trinity brings a serious serving of kick-ass mojo to the table. Between her computer hacking wizardry and gravity-defying martial arts skills, Trinity’s uniquely female prowess shines in this male-dominated movie. Even her (spoiler alert) willingness to sacrifice herself for Neo doesn’t smack of weakness or being the victim—instead, it highlights her strength of commitment to her cause. So, the next time you get flack for being “unyielding” or “inflexible,” don your metaphorical black sunglasses, and never waver when it matters. (Black leather jumpsuit optional.)
Honorable mentions: Demi Moore as Lieutenant Jordan O’Neil in G.I. Jane and Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Next, I would like to recognize female characters who kick ass in less obvious, physical ways but who are no less inspirational for their efforts. These are the women who kick ass simply for being themselves, no matter what.
Emma Watson as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter Movies
The Harry Potter books and movies may technically be about the boy who lived, but the real hero of the story is Hermione Granger, the frizzy-haired teacher’s pet with spunk to spare. Without Granger’s book smarts, courage, and loyalty, Harry Potter would not have won the day—of that I am sure. So, ladies, don’t worry about being the smartest in the room—own it! Use your brain to kick ass (metaphorically, of course) at home, at work, and at play. Granger never backs off, and neither should you.
Ellie Fredrickson (animated by Pixar) in Up
Audiences only meet Ellie Fredrickson for a short period of time in Up, but that is enough to recognize how amazing she is. From the second we meet her, she marches to the beat of her own drum. She is passionate and adventurous and generous, and she changes Carl’s life simply by being present in it. She is an amazing inspiration for how to win at life, and we can all learn a thing or two from her about celebrating our quirks, living life to the fullest, and bringing joy to those around us. The next time you are at an event surrounded by strangers (my personal nightmare), remember Ellie; put a smile on your face, and give the next person you see a smile and a big hello. Who knows what will happen? And that’s the fun part.
Meg Ryan as Kathleen Kelly in You’ve Got Mail
Outdated Internet references aside, this movie still hits home for me because of the amazing character of Kathleen Kelly. As my friend Elizabeth put it, she kicks ass for fighting to keep her store open, for her bravery to end a relationship that isn’t working, and for her grace in handling the loss of her beloved business. Everyone faces adversity in their lives, and Kelly shows us how to kick the blues to the curb through the sheer power of optimism and an unbreakable belief in the greater good. When life throws you a curveball, don’t let it completely derail you. Take a page from Kelly’s book, and find the happiness in a friendly daisy or freshly sharpened pencils.
Honorable mentions: Julie Andrews as Maria in The Sound of Music and Kelly Macdonald as the voice of Merida in Brave
Feminine and Feisty
Then there are the ladies of the silver screen who kick ass by showing us that sports are NOT just for the boys. These characters don’t let any amount of ridicule or nay-saying get in the way of doing what they love.
Elizabeth Taylor as Velvet Brown in National Velvet
This movie is my go-to for when I’m sick and need a boost. The girl power in this classic is undeniable, from young Velvet Brown disguising herself as a boy to ride her horse in a male-only race to her mother having swum the English Channel years before. These women don’t let society norms keep them from achieving what they dream of; they believe in themselves and their abilities and don’t let any opportunity pass them by. So, don’t let anyone criticize you for doing something “unfeminine.” Know that there are a million different ways to be female, and chasing your dreams is a winning choice every time.
Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, and All the Women Playing the Rockford Peaches in A League of Their Own
Every single woman in this movie kicks ass. They are given an impossible task of keeping America’s pastime alive, and they throw themselves into that task 110 percent. They are strong, adventurous, opinionated, and driven, whether they are on the baseball field, taking classes at charm and beauty school (oh, my), or holding their families together during the war. I cry at six very specific spots during this movie, and each time it is because of how magnificent and resilient these characters are. Let this movie, and all the kick-ass women in it, inspire you to celebrate your own team of ladies who push you to be better every day. Having a team of strong women around you is priceless.
Honorable mention: Parminder Nagra as Jess in Bend It Like Beckham
Political Power Players
Last but not least, there are the women who kick ass in the political arena, refusing to have their opinions silenced simply because of their gender. Take inspiration from these characters as we gear up for the 2016 presidential elections.
Octavia Spencer as Minny Jackson and Viola Davis as Aibileen Clark in The Help
In my humble opinion, the book The Help is much better than the movie, with the possible exception of the performances of these two women. Their courage and willingness to share their stories made it impossible for this fictional Southern town to ignore the racial inequalities that ran rampant throughout the social system. These two women kick ass by harnessing their individual strengths—Aibileen Clark’s patience and Minny Jackson’s sass—for the good of their community. Let them inspire you to speak out against the injustices you see around you. Nothing changes by staying silent.
Annette Bening as Sydney Ellen Wade in The American President
This movie may technically be about a fictional POTUS, but the most compelling character by far is lobbyist Sydney Ellen Wade, who finds herself being pursued by the president. Wade’s intelligence, ambition, wit, and unwavering dedication to her cause are inspiring regardless of whether or not you believe in her politics. She refuses to compromise her own beliefs, not succumbing to outside expectations and dazzling everyone around her at state dinner parties. As the 2016 elections approach, let Wade inspire all of us to research the issues we care about and proudly and willingly debate our opinions not just with those who agree with us but also with those who completely disagree.
Honorable mentions: Julia Roberts as Erin Brockovich in Erin Brockovich and Carey Mulligan as Maud Watts in Suffragette