Who runs the world? Girls. If Barbie’s box office domination has taught us anything, it’s that audiences are desperate for more movies with a female lead. We can’t all just Beach, Ken.
Women have long since dominated the pop culture landscape — whether we’re talking about Cher Horowitz, Leia Organa, or Wonder Woman. Though people might automatically think of rom-coms when we talk about female protagonists, women have been at the forefront of movies in every genre and headlined some of the most iconic and beloved titles in cinematic history.
We’ve come a long way in Hollywood since the original Final Girl, and we’re seeing women lead more action, sci-fi, and comic book-centric movies than ever before. Hollywood dismissed the marketability of women in film for so long, but the Scarif tides are changing. And with the success of Barbie, it’s only a matter of time before we get even more badass women leading the charge — both on and off the screen.
Until then, let’s look at some of the best movies with a female lead currently streaming.
It may seem like Ghostface is the life (or death) of the party in Scream, but that honor goes to Neve Campbell’s Sidney Prescott. Nearly every plot in the entire Scream franchise has tied to Sidney in some way, be it uncovered family history, bad boyfriends or revenge.
The 2022 Scream reboot slightly edged away from Sidney. However, she’s still the heart of the series (even when Sidney’s not actually in the movie). Campbell helped usher in a new era of self-aware final girls who take their fate into their own hands.
Unlike many horror series that ditch the OG main cast by the time the sequels hit the screen, Scream has featured the core 1996 characters right up through Scream (2022). We even have a few classic cameos in Scream VI. That cohesiveness prevented Scream from becoming yet another horror franchise with too many bad sequels — and it’s all thanks to Campbell, the late great Wes Craven, and writer Kevin Williamson.
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The ‘90s weren’t exactly known as a hub for mental health representation and discussions. However, the decade was a launching point for the mental health movement that finally began taking form in the early aughts. Enter the 1999 movie Girl, Interrupted, where Winona Ryder played the psych ward-bound character Susanna. Set in 1967, the film chronicles the lives of a group of teenage girls with various mental health conditions living in a psychiatric facility.
The movie has some One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest vibes, but with a gender-bent twist and a less problematic depiction of mental health. The film's biggest strength comes from the fact that the characters’ mental health conditions aren’t villainized. Even the often cruel and sadistic antagonist has some breakthroughs.
Girl, Interrupted boasts a superstar cast with names like Angelina Jolie (Lisa), Clea DuVall (Georgina), Brittany Murphy (Daisy), Elizabeth Moss (Polly), and Jared Leto (Tobias). Jolie even won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Writer/director James Mangold adapted the movie from Susanna Kaysen’s 1993 book by the same name.
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As if anyone can name a coming-of-age movie better than Clueless. Alicia Silverstone (Cher Horowitz) couldn’t have known it at the time, but the fresh-faced 18-year-old actress would go on to change the pop culture landscape forever. Cher’s iconic yellow plaid ensemble is now one of the defining markers of the ‘90s. The film continues to usher in new generations of fans ready to bring the movie’s quintessential vernacular back to life.
Let’s not forget that Clueless also birthed Paul Rudd’s career as Hollywood’s sweetheart. Rudd’s quirky yet charming and mildly sarcastic Josh is the perfect match for Cher’s, shall we say, occasionally clueless and entitled attitude. But deep down … okay, way deep down, Cher has a good heart. And if her good deeds also benefit herself, well, she can’t do anything about that, now can she?
With Amy Heckerling helming this Hollywood Hills iteration of Jane Austen’s Emma, the 1995 film was sure to be a hit. And hey, everyone loves the classic and totally relatable tale of a Valley Girl who falls in love with her ex-stepbrother. (They were step-siblings for like, five minutes, okay? It's fine.)
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If we’re honest with ourselves, Star Wars would have been a 20-minute franchise if it weren’t for Carrie Fisher’s Leia Organa. Yet despite being the brains (and often brawn) of the operation, Leia is passed over by Luke as the franchise’s headliner. However, the new era has given us two headlining women: Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones).
Star Wars has existed since 1977, but many core fans cite 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as one of the best Star Wars movies of all time. The bold standalone film gives fans some Death Star history while Jyn and a ragtag group of rebels fight to steal the Death Star plans just a week before the events of A New Hope. Prequels of the original trilogy must contend with writing a plot and introducing any new characters with a reasonable explanation for not appearing in the films that are set later down the line. Rogue One certainly understood that assignment.
Jyn is a badass protagonist for plenty of reasons, but Rogue One was the first time we’ve seen a run-of-the-mill Rebel leading a franchise rather than a Jedi. It’s also refreshing that Jyn is firmly focused on the mission and not a romance arc with Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor. And who can forget Alan Tudyk’s adorably wholesome K-2S0?
Watch on Disney Plus
Mad Max: Fury Road
What could be better than an action-packed sci-fi movie with a woman leading a rebellion against tyranny? Mad Max: Fury Road is the fourth movie in the Mad Max franchise that debuted in 1979. While the first three movies came and went by 1985, it took 30 years for Mad Max: Fury Road to come onto the scene — which is a pretty hefty amount of time for fans to wait. However, most would agree that it was worth the hiatus.
In this post-apocalyptic action flick, Charlize Theron took on the role of Imperator Furiosa, while Hugh Keays-Byrne played her on-screen nemesis Immortan Joe. The movie boasts plenty of other stars like Tom Hardy (Max Rockatansky), Nicholas Hoult (Nyx), and Zoë Kravitz (Toast the Knowing).
13 Going on 30
When you’re 13, you dream of being 30, and when you’re 30, you dream of being 13 — that’s just the way it works. When 13 Going on 30 was released in 2004, the movie brilliantly appealed to both Gen X and millennials. Gen X got the fun ‘80s-centric blasts from the past as a young Jenna Rink (Jennifer Garner) navigates her life as a teen and a magically aged 30-year-old. Meanwhile, millennials got the relatable storyline of wanting to grow up (and the life lesson that adulthood and popularity are not all they’re cracked up to be).
Mark Ruffalo played Garner’s love interest Matt Flamhaff alongside epic performances from Judy Greer (Lucy Wyman) and Andy Serkis (Richard Kneeland). Director Gary Winick led the movie written by Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa. 13 Going on 30 also gave parents the perfect opportunity to explain product placement when every kid demanded a pack of Razzles after watching the movie.
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If you’re looking for a lighthearted movie, Precious definitely isn’t the way to go. But for anyone in the headspace to process a heavy and tragic plot, the film is worth the watch. The hard-hitting drama centers around a pregnant teenager dealing with physical and sexual abuse at home. Yet despite the abysmal cards that life dealt her, Precious (Gabourey Sidibe) is determined to make a better life for herself.
Having a support system is a new concept for Precious, but her teacher Ms. Rain (Paula Patton) is determined to prevent the teen from falling off the face of the earth by helping her learn to read and write — and most importantly, love herself. Mo’Nique (Mary), Mariah Carey (Ms. Weiss), Lenny Kravitz (Nurse John) also starred in the Oscar-nominated movie, which was adapted from the 1996 book Push by Sapphire.
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