By Spencer Blohm
In the mostly male-dominated world of Hollywood’s film industry, it’s refreshing to see the recent abundance of women in lead roles traditionally reserved for men. It seems the spotlight has shifted and women are being recognized more and more as equals in the battle for blockbusters. It’s been a long time coming, with roles for women as late as last year still conforming to the supporting and subordinate stereotypical characters of the wife, girlfriend, or mother.
Since it’s been such an empowering year for women providing a fresh perspective on traditionally male roles, we’ve decided there’s no time like the present for a top ten list of the year’s best female-led films. So without further ado, here we go:
Amy Schumer turns gender stereotypes on their heads with her role as an independent career woman who simply doesn’t believe in monogamy. She drinks, smokes pot, and sleeps around without apology nor apparently any lasting consequences, much as we’ve so often seen in male-dominated roles. While the film plot eventually leads to the character’s realization that a lasting relationship may not be such a bad thing, the story makes no distinction for gender bias; this is a quintessential male role being played instead by a strong female.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Charlize Theron leads the pack toward more leads for strong and independent women, and no other films hammers that home more than this one. Theron plays the post-apocalyptic warrior Furiosa. While the title character, played by Tom Hardy, is instrumental in helping her survive, it is her leadership and her commands that are obeyed as they first evade and then destroy their pursuers. This movie is also more relevant than ever for its theme of a world that is running out of natural resources such as oil, gas and drinking water. In such a world, gender roles suddenly have far less importance in the grand scheme of things.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve, this film stars Emily Blunt as a young and idealistic FBI agent assigned to work the U.S.-Mexico border in the war against the Mexican drug cartel. According to Villeneuve, the screenplay called for a female lead from the beginning, a factor that was instrumental in drawing him into the project. The plot involves several twists that test the ethical convictions of the lead character and blur the lines between acceptable force and an end justifies the means mentality toward violence, a theme that is all too relevant in today’s world of murky political waters.
The characters of this film take on several female stereotypes and smash them to smithereens. Lily Tomlin plays the title role as a 70-something lesbian whose main interaction throughout the film is with her teenage and pregnant granddaughter who eventually seeks (and gets) an abortion. The cast also includes a single mother and successful corporate CEO, a transgender woman, and another lesbian. The beauty of this film is that none of these labels are in and of themselves treated as strong defining characteristics of these women, but rather just part of what makes them real people. At its roots, this film is instead about familial relationships and interactions, something any audience can relate to.
Pitch Perfect 2
This sequel brings back the all-girl cast of acapella singers from the first film, now moving on to bigger and better things and raking in more than $285 million worldwide at the box office in the process. The music of the Bellas keeps the movie moving along, but it’s the interactions among the girls that provides the main themes of the movie. Made with a female screenwriter and female director as well as a dominantly female cast, this film may be one of the most influential in finally convincing the Hollywood establishment that films centered on female leads can also be huge box office hits.
One of the areas that has had the strongest surge in strong female leads is that of the scifi and fantasy genre, as witnessed by such films as Mad Max: Fury Road described above, the Hunger Games series, and this second installment in the Divergent series. Tris Prior returns to the dystopian world of a future Chicago as an outcast and rebel on the run, but one that refuses to give up on fighting for a better world and a better system. While Four is still very much in evidence by her side, the traditional roles are reversed as she takes the initiative with or without his support.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2
Continuing the hugely successful saga of Katniss Everdeen, this film is expected to once again explode box office records and continue the juggernaut of young adult novel adaptations that has drawn in audiences of all ages and genders. Once again, Katniss shows herself to be anything but a damsel in distress as she is instrumental in finishing the revolution that she inadvertently helped start and kept alive. If the film remains true to its source, we can expect to see Katniss once again defying orders and taking the action that she feels is for the greater good.
Theron’s second contribution to this list comes in the form of character Libby Day in this second film adaptation of a Gillian Flynn novel. While Libby isn’t a typical damsel needing rescuing stereotype, neither is she typical of the other strong roles discussed here. Instead, she is deeply flawed and damaged. However, it’s the flaws that give her a more subtle strength as she fights against her own inner demons while also eventually fighting to right an injustice that she herself perpetrated at a much younger age. The beauty of this role is in the idea that a female can be ethically and emotionally damaged and still be her own saving grace who doesn’t necessarily need rescuing.
With Robert De Niro in the credits, traditional Hollywood wisdom would assume that Anne Hathaway’s character is actually the intern of the title, but this film turns that idea completely around and places the retired character of Ben, portrayed by De Niro, in the senior intern role of a fashion company owned and operated by Jules, portrayed by Hathaway. This mix proves instrumental in highlighting the idea that women can successfully juggle both career and family, with the infidelity of Jules’ stay-at-home husband leading to the statement that it’s the fault of his insecurity rather than her successful career.
This R-rated comedy starring Amy Poehler and Tina Fey is set to hit theaters in December 2015 and is expected to continue the trend toward more films with female leads in non-traditional female roles. The premise is based on two sisters being called back to the family nest to clean out any remaining personal belongings before their parents sell the home. The sisters decide to take it a step further and throw a rager of one last house party as a way of both letting go and reconnecting to their roots. We haven’t seen these two in a film together since 2008’s Baby Mama, so this reunion of two of the leading ladies of comedy on screen is a long time coming.
There are a variety of reasons why these films continue to gain popularity, one of the strongest being that they finally reach for a more diverse audience base. These films are proving that members of other demographics are also willing to patronize the box office when films cater to their particular interests. Since in the film industry, just as in any other area of business with money talks, we can only hope that the gender distinction in traditional roles will continue to be blurred and eventually fade away.