Wonder Woman finally made her big screen debut last month, and we're breathing sighs of relief to see a female lead for a superhero movie at last. As Diana continues to kick butt at the box office, we're inspired to remember the powerful cinematic women who have come before her. These badass female characters may not be able to stop bullets like Wonder Woman can, but their unique brands of strength awe, inspire, and thrill audiences just the same.
Morticia Addams from The Addams Family
Rearing two children can be hair-raising, but Morticia Addams isn't just raising kids—she's raising sociopaths. Plus, she has to contend with a mother prone to cursing enemies, and a brother-in-law who may or may not be an impostor. In other words, life as Morticia Addams requires a fortitude that most of us don't possess.
Dot from Spaceballs
Have you ever dragged a Druish princess’s luggage through the desert? You couldn’t do it with half of the wit and charm of Dot. Plus, what good would a badass woman list be without the late Queen of Comedy Joan Rivers represented?
Sarah Williams from Labyrinth
Sure, she may whine about things not being fair, but, at the end of the day, Sarah defeats the maze, wards off goblins, resists Bowie’s sultry singing voice, and doesn’t completely freak out at whatever those weird “Chilly Down” monsters are. No wonder the Goblin King has no power over her.
Sarah Bailey from The Craft
Standing up to a group of witches in high school is no small feat. Sarah teaches mean girls everywhere to never underestimate the quiet one.
Cherry Darling from Planet Terror
Cool, confident, and not afraid to kick some undead butt, Cherry not only unleashes sick moves on some terrifying zombie soldiers, but also ends up saving humanity and starting a new generation of zombie killers.
Kate from A Knight’s Tale
Heath and his golden locks might be the star of the show, but it’s the hard-edged blacksmith Kate, not only making her way in a man’s profession but doing it better than any of her competitors, who steals the spotlight. Even the biases of 14th century Europe can’t keep Kate from doing whatever a man can do—and then also dancing like a proper lady.
San from Princess Mononoke
Abandoned by her parents when she was very young, San was raised by wolves, and has a fierce, loyal bond to her wolf family and the forest where she lives. She’s not afraid to die, or to kill, to save her home and the animals she loves. But with the help of Prince Ashitaka, she has the strength to gradually acknowledge her humanity as well.
Buffy Summers from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Kristy Swanson’s cheerleader-turned-monster-hunter may not be as iconic as Sarah Michelle Gellar’s, but her turn as the Chosen One shows how power can lurk in the most unexpected places. Plus, the leather jacket and prom dress look will never get old.
Lily Sloane from Star Trek VIII: First Contact
Zefram Cochran may have been the first man to successfully attempt warp flight, but he would have gotten absolutely nowhere without Lily keeping him on track. While Zef struggles to come to terms with his future fame, Lily is transported to a spaceship, fights Borg, and teaches Picard a lesson about being a leader. Yeah, she deserves a statue right next to Zef.
Jack from Pitch Black
I would not recommend going toe-to-toe with Vin Diesel—unless you’re like Jack, a scrappy orphan on the run and completely capable of holding your own. If that’s the case, you’ll probably fare better than most foes the infamous Riddick encounters.
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Ava in Ex Machina
We’re supposed to be on the side of humans in robot films, but Ava is undeniably different. Created by men for male pleasure, her ultimate outwitting and triumph over her captors, while brutal, is also incredibly satisfying.
Leeloo from The Fifth Element
Preternaturally brilliant, uncannily flexible, and disarmingly sweet, Leeloo kicks butt and wins hearts from the moment she’s created from an ancient arm. Oh, and she’s the key to saving the entire world—no big.
Imperator Furiosa from Mad Max: Fury Road
This one-armed, truck-driving loner is a rebel with an extremely noble cause. Her plan to outwit the evil Immortan Joe and free the 'wives' he's enslaved is beyond admirable, but it’s her determination to succeed despite overwhelming odds and heartbreaking setbacks that makes her a true hero.
Mon Mothma, from the Star Wars franchise
Star Wars' Mon Mothma is a BAMF. She was one of the earliest members of the galactic senate to raise the alarm about Senator Palpatine's increasing power, and later led the Rebel Alliance throughout the Galactic Civil War.
Sarah Connor from Terminator 2: Judgment Day
While all of Sarah Connor’s incarnations are incredible, her incarnation in Terminator 2 takes the cake. Equal parts sly, resilient, wise, and motherly, she makes sure her son survives to fulfill his destiny. Linda Hamilton’s blend of emotional investment and military-level prowess makes Sarah Connor legendary.
Marion Ravenwood from Raiders of the Lost Ark
She may be a damsel, but this hard-drinking, wise-cracking, monkey-taming businesswoman is anything but in distress. Marion is equally as apt to save Indy as he is to keep her from getting into trouble. Just don’t do the math too closely as to how old Marion was when she and Indy were first a thing.
Peggy Carter from the Marvel Cinematic Universe
Smarter and more cunning than her male colleagues, Peggy rises to the top of S.H.I.E.L.D. despite rampant sexism, a broken heart, and multiple attempts at sabotage from Hydra. Her calm collection and quick-thinking makes her just as formidable as anyone with superpowers—and, in fact, gains her the respect of most of the powered people she meets.
Zoe from Serenity
River may be the Serenity crew member the Alliance wants, but Zoe is the one to have on your side. A soldier through-and-through, her stoicism and unwavering loyalty, as well as a mean ability to wield a gun, saves the crew of Serenity time and again. And her commitment to “do the job, sir,” in the face of unbelievable tragedy, makes her one of the strongest characters to ever grace the screen.
Nyota Uhura from the Star Trek franchise
Zoë Saldana does a fine job with the role, but it’s Nichelle Nichols who made this spacewoman an icon and a role model. A constant presence of calm amidst the frenetic action of the Enterprise bridge, Uhura wears many hats, from that of a communications officer, to a transporter technician vital to the rescue mission of Spock, to a field agent hunting down nuclear warheads in “historic” San Francisco. She can do whatever it takes and look poised and regal while doing it.
Ripley from Alien
Dallas may be command of the ship Nostromo, but when a xenmorph begins picking off the crew, it’s the practical-yet-crafty Ripley who proves to be MVP. The only one to successfully fight off the horrifying monster, she never loses sight of her need to stop the creature from getting to Earth—and doesn’t forget to evacuate the cat, Jonesy, when she escapes. Even when things seem hopeless (or, in later movies, when she becomes a half-xenomorph clone), Ripley doesn’t lose her cool and always manages to find a way to outwit the alien threat.
General Leia Organa Solo from the Star Wars franchise
Poised diplomat, beloved princess, and brilliant strategist, General Leia Organa Solo is the brains, the heart, and the strength of the Rebel Alliance. From her first on-screen moments, where she refuses to waver in the face of Darth Vader, to her stoic acceptance of Han’s fate, Leia is the epitome of class and strength. There will never be another heroine like her—in this galaxy or one far far away.
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Pepper Potts from the Iron Man films
Reigning in the ego of a millionaire playboy genius superhero is one thing, but also quietly running the day-to-day operations of a multinational, multi-billion dollar corporation is another. Without Pepper, Iron Man would probably eventually end up wearing tin cans. She’s the quick-thinking, ever-patient yin to his yang, and every bit a match for his intellect and ego.
Jen Yu from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Skilled, fearless, and occasionally reckless, it's hard not to root for Jen Yu, even when her actions are dishonorable. Jen Yu refuses to settle for the life her parents want for her, and instead pursues adventure, regardless of the struggle and heartbreak that comes with it. Jen Yu's path isn't an easy one, but we're impressed by her determination to fight for her own desires, no matter what.
Eleanor Arroway from Contact
We admire Dr. Ellie Arroway for always following her passion, and for her determination to look to the stars and further the development of our species — even when that drive leads to her being ridiculed. A Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) researcher, Ellie insists that others keep an open mind about aliens – and when extraterrestrials finally make contact, she's not afraid to study them first-hand.
Lilo from Lilo and Stitch
An outcast orphan with a will of her own, Lilo goes from dance school misfit to savior of the world—and mainly by just being herself. Unapologetically who she is and unerringly loyal and loving to her family, Lilo wins over Stitch, the supposedly dangerous alien, and then even averts an interplanetary disaster. Imagine what she’ll do when she’s actually old enough to drive.
Featured photo from "Wonder Woman" via Warner Bros.