AWFJ Wonder Women Countdown – Characters 55 through 44

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To celebrate AWFJ’s tenth anniversary and mark the movie industry’s feminist developments since our inception, we present our Wonder Women Project, a list of cinema’s top 55 female fiction characters, each one a reminder to industry insiders and movie lovers that iconic females in film have had entertainment impact and social influence since the earliest days of cinema.

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Our Wonder Women run the gamut from girls to grandmothers. Many of them have children as well as careers. Many of them are survivors—of violence, of crime, of war, of discrimination. Some of them are hellcats, others are hell raisers. Many of them inspire or hope to find love. These characters do not represent all women, but they are a clear representation of how Hollywood and mainstream media have viewed women through the decades. We are releasing the names of our Wonder Women characters in groups of eleven per week, counting down to our number one favorite pick. Can you guess who she might be?

Here, without further ado, for your enjoyment, are our Wonder Women, characters 55 through 44:

55. OLIVIA EVANS from Boyhood (2014)

oliviacroppedDirector Richard Linklater could have just as easily called his coming-of-age drama that was shot over 12 consecutive years Momhood, given that supporting-actress Oscar winner Patricia Arquette invests her own heart and soul—and allows the camera capture each new wrinkle of her ever-evolving appearance—as a divorced mother of a young son and daughter who encompasses an entire era of social change before our eyes while she fruitlessly searches for a man worthy of her love. While her ex initially acts more like a free-spirited kid than a responsible parent, Olivia assumes much of the burden of raising their children while bettering her circumstances by completing her degree. She eventually becomes a psychology teacher at a Texas college, where she excels at her job, but regularly exhibits terrible taste in romantic partners, including an abusive drunk of a second husband. But her greatest achievements are her children, who grow into well-rounded individuals. The final self-pitying speech that this resilient woman gives to her college-bound son seems uncharacteristically downbeat as she ticks off the milestones of her life: “You know what I’m realizing? My life is just going to go. Like that.” When he protests, Olivia adds, “I just thought there would be more.” But one suspects there will be more and then some. —Susan Wloszczyna

54. ELLE REID from Grandma (2015)

elleIf stories centered on women are rare, stories centered on older women are rarer still… and yet here we have 70something Elle: vibrant, bold, living her life to the hilt. She’s got a much-younger girlfriend—in a plot that treats her lesbianism as just one small factor of her dynamic personality—and a lively, engaged relationship with her granddaughter that is all about (at least as events here are concerned) sharing the wisdom of her maturity. In a movie that is (another rarity) about abortion as a central reality in the lives of women—even if some people would like to deny that—Elle is a breath of fresh, funny, unapologetic air about women’s authentically lived experiences. She is a template for older women the likes of which are almost entirely absent from the big screen. —MaryAnn Johanson

53. KATNISS EVERDEEN from The Hunger Games (2012 – 2015)

katnissAppearing at a time when the Hollywood mainstream was dominated by superheroes, Katniss Everdeen rose as a superheroine; a feisty young woman at the centre of a war that has as much to say about where our society is heading as it does about the power of the individual. We love Katniss not only because she’s a strong woman but because she’s human: sometimes vulnerable, guided by the heart and unafraid to ask for help. We’re only a few years removed from the conclusion of Katniss’ epic journey but her story of sacrifice and survival is timeless. Her struggles against a society and leaders who are constantly undermining her are a powerful parallel to the struggles women face throughout their lives. Katniss was the inspiration for a generation of young women who could see themselves as the leaders of a revolution and catalysts for change and she will undoubtedly continue to inspire future generations. —Marina Antunes

52. MAMMY from Gone With the Wind (1939)

mammyThe sole person in the world whose respect Rhett Butler says he’d like to have, Mammy is a figure of strength and wisdom despite having no control over her own destiny. A slave, yet she has considerable power among white characters. Her opinions count and her counsel is often sought. Even the strong-willed Scarlett O’Hara ends up doing what Mammy tells her to do, although she’s clearly not happy with it. Mammy celebrates and mourns with white characters, guards their public reputations and is, remarkable for the times both when the movie was set and filmed, an admirable authority figure. Often the moral conscience of a scene, Mammy speaks her mind, a filter-free character in a repressed world where people had voices but were prevented from using them. —Linda Barnard


Eve HAll women are complex and play many roles throughout their lives. Jean Harrington does it professionally as a bunko artist who lures wealthy men into crooked games of chance with her partner in crime—her doting, cardsharp father. Jean enjoys her footloose life, but when she impulsively drops an apple on the head of her latest mark, the handsome heir of an ale magnate sailing home from an expedition up the Amazon, both are destined to lose their innocence at the tree of love, screwball-comedy style. Jean, a shrewd judge of character, senses a bit of the old stick in her young man. Her initial overture to soften the blow of revealing her rule-breaking lifestyle is wise and delicate: “You don’t know very much about girls. The best ones aren’t as good as you probably think they are, and the bad ones aren’t as bad. Not nearly as bad.” His rejection, however, pushes Jean to the performance of her life—Lady Eve Sidwich, a fake aristocrat out to teach him a lesson in humanity. A moonlit deck may be “a woman’s business office,” but Jean’s a square at heart, with the emotional intelligence to drop the act in the end for the sake of her happiness. —Marilyn Ferdinand

50. LAINE HANSON from The Contender (2000)

laine hansonSenator Laine Hanson is a trustworthy and moral politician who comprehends the issues, has a keen sense of justice, believes in actually serving the public good rather than promoting a party platform, speaks her mind with a tongue sharp enough to cut through bullshit and get to the heart of the matter, stands by what she says, acknowledges her flaws and takes responsibility for them, knows how and when to say no in her personal and political life. She is charming, alluring, witty, stylish. All that, and she’s a dedicated and loving mother, wife and daughter, a marathon runner and basketball player. Laine’s got guts. When a male foe tries to torpedo her nomination for vice presidential by creating a sex scandal around her, she chooses integrity over ambition and simply refuses to dignify the salacious allegations with a response. She demands the same respect that’s afforded to men and all the rights enjoyed by them. She is the women we want as President of the United States and, portrayed so brilliantly by Joan Allen, she is the character who inserts into the mind of mainstream America the thought that a woman is quite capable of doing the job. Hell, yeah! —Jennifer Merin

49. ADA McGRATH from The Piano (1993)

ada2crop“The voice you hear is not my speaking voice—but my mind’s voice. I have not spoken since I was six years old. No one knows why—not even me.” Children begin to understand more about their place in the world when they turn six, and somehow, Ada McGrath sensed that her unique voice would be muffled in the stifling misogyny of Victorian Scotland. Her choice was to deny the world before it denied her. Ada’s strong sense of self, preserved even when she is sold by her father as a mail-order bride to a wealthy plantation owner in New Zealand who treats her like a dumb possession, is a wonder to behold. No voice, hampered by insanely constricting clothing in a wet and rugged land, forced to bargain for the right to play her own piano, Ada turns every restriction to her advantage. Not held back by social convention or pride, she finds erotic fulfillment with a gone-native Scot who thought to use her. Ada is the embodiment of a woman who knows how to cherish and protect her spirit—and how to let go when she finds someone worthy of her gifts. —Marilyn Ferdinand

48. TESS McGILL from Working Girl (1988)

tessTess (Melanie Griffith) wants to believe that being smart and working hard will make it possible for her to realize her dream of becoming an investment banker. But the sexist jerks she works for as a secretary will not take her seriously. And her new boss, a woman (Sigourney Weaver), pretends to support her but steals her idea. A boyfriend betrayal and a Valium later, she is stealing her boss’s dress, cutting off her Staten Island poof hairdo (“You want to be taken seriously, you need serious hair”), and pretending to be in the job she wishes she had. Way too many movie heroines have destiny-changing makeovers. But there is no trying-on-outfits montage here. Yes, she looks ravishing in her boss’s glamorous cocktail dress. But it turns out she has made a mistake. Dress for the event is business attire. She is still out of place. And yet, looking different brings her to the attention of Jack (Harrison Ford, terrific in a highly unusual supporting role). When they meet in “her” office the next day, he is as won over by her “head for business” as by her “body for sin.” In a crucial moment, Tess is able to show that the business idea her boss has stolen is hers by owning her intelligence, hard work, judgment—and her roots, acknowledging that it was reading one of the “lower class” newspapers led her to the idea that is going to be worth a great deal of money to her company and its client. She shows us and herself that it is her Staten Island savvy as well as her Wall Street ambition that make her indispensable to Jack, to her new employer, and to us. —Nell Minow

47. JANE CRAIG from Broadcast News (1987)

jane craig croppedJane, Jane, Jane. We’ve all been there. After all, we have a pulse—and hormones. Broadcast News addressed the age-old heart vs. head dilemma in the battle of the sexes. A tiny dynamo, Jane is good—no great—at her job. She’s an intense, tightly wound network news producer in our nation’s capital, with fierce devotion to her career. As impeccable as she is about work, single-lady Jane is a neurotic hot mess socially. Against her better judgment, she falls for the new pretty-boy anchorman. He’s been hired to boost ratings as the news focus shifts to more entertainment razz-a-ma-tazz. Outspoken Jane despises the style-over-substance trend. She commiserates with her best friend, a real newsman who is secretly in love with her. Oh, it gets complicated. But Jane comes to her senses when, in good conscience. an ethical breach can’t be ignored She may have temporarily lost her head, intoxicated by romance, but a grounded workaholic like Jane had to wise up, see the light. Holly Hunter is luminous as Jane, and we can see her sharp mind at work. With a quick wit and verve to spare, Jane remains steadfast about what she stands for, no matter what it costs. Integrity never goes out of style, and Jane Craig is an enduring poster girl for it. —Lynn Venhaus

46. LUCY HONEYCHURCH from A Room with a View (1985)

lucy honeychurchThis was the movie that brought E. M. Forster and the ivory-skinned beauty Helena Bonham Carter to the American audience in that kind of yummy, costumed, highly decorated arthouse film that the name Merchant Ivory represents. Lucy Honeychurch, like so many of Forster’s characters, wants to connect, truly connect. And yet convention is dead set against it. In this case, the corseted beauty longs to open herself up to the romanticism of Florence despite her observant chaperone. She falls for the inappropriate George (Julian Sands), resists, resists, resists, and finally, true to her heart and soul, relents and gives herself over to love. Ahh. Loosen that corset, ignore propriety and ease into true feelings, growing into her own woman with the potential for fulfillment: that’s Honeychurch. —Thelma Adams

45. SALLY BOWLES from I Am A Camera/Cabaret (1955, 1972)

sally bowlesCreated by Christopher Isherwood for The Berlin Stories, Sally Bowles is the central character in John Van Druten’s stage play and it 1955 film adaptation I Am A Camera, as well as the musical adaptation, Cabaret. Based on Jean Ross, a real-life British singer in 1930s Berlin, Sally is intriguing and compelling. Caught in an era of wanton indulgence, despair over losing World War I, and anger at Germany’s ruling Weimar Republic, she epitomizes excess. Impetuous and ingenuous, Sally loves to laugh, improvising her life on a daily basis while indulging her childish fantasy of tomorrow. She’s charming, witty, and eccentric, relishing disguises and masquerades. “I noticed that her finger-nails were painted green, a colour unfortunately chosen, for it called attention to her dirty hands, which were stained by cigarette smoking,” Isherwood wrote. As she descends into debauchery, Sally supports herself as a singer in a subterranean night-club, often entertaining generous gentlemen. After one affair, she becomes pregnant by a bisexual lover who offers to marry her, but she opts for abortion instead. Desperately determined to survive under the most adverse circumstances, she unabashedly uses people. Indeed, Sally Bowles may be the first heroine to embody this particular Bohemian lifestyle. —Susan Granger

44. THE BRIDE from Kill Bill: Vols. 1 & 2 (2003, 2004)

the brideThere is, perhaps, no single character (sans horror franchise monster) hell bent on revenge than The Bride. With the fight skills traditionally given to men, we see her journey from student, to assassin, to coma patient, to winning Mommy with a killer edge in both attitude and ability. Not without moral obligation, this is a woman on a mission to right the wrongs done to her and her honor. With not one, but two dedicated films to her plot line, beautifully choreographed fight sequences and some brilliant one liners, The Bride is a lady to put on a much deserved (and pretty badass) pedestal. —Liz Whittemore



AWFJ Wonder Women Countdown — Characters 33 through 22

AWFJ Wonder Women Countdown — Characters 43 through 34 (releasing Monday August 8, 2016)

About AWFJ’s Wonder Women Project — Marilyn Ferdinand comments

AWFJ Wonder Women Are Coming — Marilyn Ferdinand reports

AWFJ’s Top 100 Films List.

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).