ByJames Wood, writer at
Unabashed Transformers fan. Man crush on Tom Hardy. Avid fan of Tommy Wiseau's cult disasterpiece The Room.
James Wood

With the DC flick Wonder Woman soaring at the box office, as well as raking in stellar reviews, it seems a female-led superhero movie is what we've all been wanting and waiting for, and 2017 is finally the year to give us one — and a spectacular one at that!

Gal Gadot, Robyn Wright, Connie Nielsen and Lucy Davis are just a handful of strong and empowering women in this superhero adventure. Let's also not forget the director behind the camera, Patty Jenkins, the first female given directing duties on a film with a budget north of $100,000,000 — and Jenkins knocked it out the park.

'Wonder Woman' [Credit: Warner Bros.]
'Wonder Woman' [Credit: Warner Bros.]

There has definitely been a surge over the past few years of female-led films, from the reboot of Ghostbusters, to Spy, Bridesmaids, Arrival, and Sicario, all representing women in a positive light, as well as being performed so superbly by its leads.

Edge Of Tomorrow and Mad Max: Fury Road boasted two commanding and unforgettable female roles in recent years, with Blunt as battle-hardened Rita Vrataski, who gives Tom Cruise a run for his money, and Charlize Theron igniting the screen as Imperator Furiosa, a woman with a mission set on a path for redemption. We are in a time where these kinds of roles are becoming more frequent, and we want more of it. I think it's high time to look back and remember some of the best and most positively praised female-led films that you may have forgotten about over the years. Some of these picks below are slightly more recent but hopefully inspire you to revisit them and appreciate the quality of content in these terrific movies.

1. Young Adult

Let’s rewind back a little to 2011 and check out a film that many critics had featured on their best lists of that year. Young Adult, a brilliant little dramedy starring the Oscar-winning Theron as Mavis Gary, a divorced alcoholic living in the shadow of her glory days when she used to write successful young adult novels.

Desperately trying to recreate her teenage fantasies and more youthful years, Mavis creates a trail of destruction upon visiting her old home town, where she sets her sights on an old flame, despite him being happily married. Of course, Theron is like thunder in the role and totally shocking in her behavior.

Diablo Cody’s screenwriting is sharp and witty, highlighting how a person can be so self-destructive but eventually realize how to change her ways. Jason Reitman’s directing is as natural as it can get, rounding out what is a fun, savvy and smart film that stands as one of Theron’s best roles.

2. Easy A

Emma Stone may have starred in the incredible La La Land, which later won her the Best Actress Oscar, but her role as Olive Penderghast in Easy A is still my favorite performance of hers. In this ultra-witty and laugh-out-loud teen comedy, Emma Stone plays a student who lies about her sex life, only for the rumor mill to churn out multiple versions of her story that are all far from the truth. Before she knows it, Olive’s deviance has spread far and wide.

Embroidering a red “A” on her clothing, Olive lives it up with her new identity as a “new school slut.” Stone owns the screen; she drops sassy one liners, delivers insults too smart for her bullies to even interpret and, best of all, learns to deal with the torment and loneliness that comes with her new behavior, only for her to turn things around and realize that what she gets up to in her own time is "nobody's goddamn business."

Stone is ultra charming and at her finest here. This is how you do teen comedies — keep the writing sharp while delivering a strong message and one heck of an unforgettable protagonist whose vocabulary is delightfully elegant and delivered with such elocution.

3. You're Next

Why hasn’t Sharni Vinson been given more movie roles, or at least turned up in a cinematic universe as a new key player to be reckoned with? Did anyone see You’re Next? Well, considering it was made on a tiny budget of $1,000,000, and then went on to make a healthy $26,000,000, You’re Next was not only a commercial success but also a critical success, with many praising its gruesome inventiveness and female lead Erin, played by the awesome and fearless Sharni Vinson.

Erin is the last person anyone thought who would fight back when her boyfriend’s family home is attacked by sadistic masked killers. Erin snaps into survival mode and fights back, and the results are gloriously gory, with Vinson living every moment as a badass with some very special skills. Repeat viewings of this slasher solidify her performance as one of the modern horror greats, and it’s about time someone considered Sharni Vinson for some bigger roles, because she’s wicked.

4. The Heat

One of Feig’s brilliant directorial efforts, , still leaves me laughing thanks to the fantastic pairing of Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy — think Miss Congeniality meets Bad Boys. The Heat finds Boston detective Shannon Mullins paired up with by-the-numbers special agent Sarah Ashburn. Cue the fireworks, cue the side-sidesplittingly funny insults and, of course, the natural comedic skill from Bullock and McCarthy, as well as Feig’s ability to leave the cameras rolling on the magic without having to cut away frequently. Together, Ashburn and Mullins bring down a deadly crime ring with their own brand of noise and harsh words, and it’s a total blast.

5. Drag Me To Hell

Here we have another horror film with its old-school blend of horror and dark humor. Sam Raimi directs with his signature style, delivering hauntingly gothic set pieces with terrifying shadows, stirring musical scores and deliciously crafted scares.

For the unlucky and possessed Christine Brown (portrayed by Alison Lohman), every day is torment as Christine awaits her ticket to hell. Alison Lohman starts off as the innocent, sweet girl, untouched by anything seedy or demonic. That is, until she becomes the next victim for Lamia. Lohman brilliantly shows the deterioration and descent into madness as she tries to defeat the curse placed upon her.

Lorna Raver also delivers a delightfully devilish performance as the evil Mrs. Ganush, who places the curse on Christine. Eight years later, Drag Me To Hell’s lead performances thrill, as does the horror, right up until its shocking yet strangely satisfying ending.

6. Romy And Michele's High School Reunion

Who doesn’t love Lisa Kudrow? As the adorable yet bumbling Phoebe from Friends, Kudrow has been on our screens for years, and hopefully will be for many more to come. Her appearances in films have always been welcome, from Easy A to The Boss Baby, but if we leap back to the '90s, chances are you may not remember the class comedy Romy And Michele's High School Reunion.

Buzzing with the most toe-tapping soundtrack, ultra-'90s fashion, and some of the most charming and playful humor, this brilliant, foul-mouthed comedy with a coming-of-age vibe packs two marvelous performances from its leads, Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino.

As Romy and Michele, these two best friends attempt to impress their old classmates at a reunion by lying every chance they get, leading to embarrassing reveals, shocking revelations and old throwbacks. This film is a breeze, with Kudrow and Sorvino sharing some of the most real chemistry and dynamic.

7. Precious

Talk about getting beaten down to a pulp then trying to pick yourself up again, Precious is that film. Gabourey Sidibe gives one of the most absorbing and real performances as Claireece "Precious" Jones, a girl who is on her second child at the hands of her father, suffering abuse from her mother without the willpower to fight back. Precious also lacks the ability to read or write; she can only dream about her passion to find fame and escape her oppressive life.

This hard-hitting, hugely affecting drama will knock you down, leave you in tears, and slowly build you up, and it’s thanks to the searingly intimate, raw performances. Mariah Carey is a revelation, Mo’Nique is phenomenal yet terrifying, and Paula Patton gives the film a sense of motivation and determination to escape the darker themes and see hope. Sidibe, though, is the real star — this actress will move you and break you. Eight years on, this film still packs a mighty punch, so go back to it and relive this incredible dramatic piece.

8. Trainwreck

Love her or hate her, Amy Schumer is outspoken, daring, controversial and open. Trainwreck highlights Schumer's natural gift for observational comedy while tugging at our heartstrings, boasting dramatic chops I never knew she had. As Amy Townsend, Schumer traverses choppy character traits as a stoner, drinker and monogamous woman who begins to change her ways when she meets the right guy, but first she must come to terms with her lifestyle and attitude if she hopes to settle down. It's not just your average girl-meets-guy affair, this film is smarter and funnier than you think, and is one of the funniest films of 2015.

9. Kill Bill

OK, so it's unlikely you've forgotten about one of Tarantino's best films. Kill Bill sees the epitome of cool, Uma Thurman, take on the notorious Deadly Viper Assassination Squad and the Crazy 88 in a flurry of the most spectacle-driven revenge you're likely to see onscreen. Uma Thurman plays The Bride, who takes a royal beatdown, and wakes up from a coma with revenge on her mind. We follow this tour-de-force character who has her sights set on slicing and dicing those who did her wrong, and she slices and dices spectacularly.

Uma Thurman is flawless, utterly convincing as this expert in swordplay and hand-to-hand combat, and her subtle comedic quips cut just as sharp as any knife. Acclaimed stuntwoman Zoe Bell works wonders with the more complex stunts, but when Thurman is clearly onscreen amidst the action, it feels real — with every cut, drop of blood and inkling of sweat. Thurman's performance as the titular character, make for the most thrilling, compelling and energy-infused female lead.

What did you think of my picks here? There are plenty more to choose, but I feel these nine leading ladies in their respective pictures really stand tall!


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