10 great movies with kick-ass women who don’t necessarily kick anyone’s ass

I’ve been putting together a number of lists of movies, TV shows and other media that feature women that I have called kick-ass. (For an index to the lists, see the kick-ass women project page.) The lists so far are mostly about movies and shows in the action genre, with lots of nods to those women characters who can really kick some ass. As in physical kicking of physical asses. It has recently been suggested to me that it would also be nice to see more about movies with women who kick-ass in a more figurative sense: strong, courageous, intelligent and in control. Possessing of dignity, integrity and wit. So, here goes:

10 great movies with kick-ass women who don’t necessarily kick anyone’s ass

  1. Cold Comfort Farm (1995)
    Flora Poste (Kate Beckinsale) is a witty young woman who likes to put things in order. She is not easily daunted, even by her somewhat menacing eccentric relatives. (This is one of my favorite movies, too. Also a very funny and pleasant movie.)
  2. Dolores Claiborne (1995)
    This thriller features several strong and intelligent women characters, played by Kathy Bates, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Judy Parfitt.
  3. Contact (1997)
    Jodie Foster plays Eleanor Arroway, a brilliantly kick-ass scientist. (I actually haven’t seen this yet, but have it on good authority that her character kicks ass.)
  4. Zero Effect (1998) Kim Dickens plays Gloria Sullivan, a young woman who brilliantly and calmly masterminds a scheme for her own ends. An excellent mystery movie overall, too.
  5. Shakespeare in Love (1998)
    Viola De Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow) flouts tradition and disguises herself as a boy in order to pursue her desire to act on the stage.
  6. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
    In this adaptation of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, Kat Stratford (Julia Stiles), is a high school girl who knows her mind. And knows a lot of other things, too.
  7. Saving Grace (2000)
    Brenda Blethyn plays Grace Trevethyn, a courageous and innovative woman with a green thumb who turns to unusual measures to make money to save her house.
  8. Le Fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain (2001)
    Audrey Tautou stars as Amélie, who uses her wit and creativity to make a difference in the world around her.
  9. Bend it Like Beckham (2002)
    Parminder Nagra plays Jesminder ‘Jess’ Kaur Bhamra, a teenage girl who defies her traditional family’s wishes to pursue her love of football (as in soccer). Also features Keira Knightly as another footballer.
  10. Volver (2006)
    This Almodóvar movie is dominated by strong women characters.Penélope Cruz stars as Raimunda, a daughter, a sister, and a mother of a teenage daughter. Courageous and resourceful, she pulls things together to protect her daughter after an incident where her daughter kills a man in self-defense.


This post is being kicked over to the //engtech group writing project #3.

Thanks to bs, who suggested a version of the title of this post in a comment.

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18 thoughts on “10 great movies with kick-ass women who don’t necessarily kick anyone’s ass

  1. Amélie is so kick-ass!

    Another kick-ass character from Jean-Pierre Jeunet is Miette, the young girl trying to find her brother in La cité des enfants perdus. And while I wouldn’t quite call her a woman – she’s about 11 or 12 – she’s a complete heroine and deserves the title. See it if you haven’t!

    By the way Alejna, I’m grappling with just how to add you to my blogroll. It’s an unfortunate consequence of my binary ‘about language’, ‘not about language’ hierarchy, since ‘language’ per se isn’t your focus.

  2. i think you could put “any film by almodovar’ in place of volver. kick-ass (albeit crazy) women seem to be his specialty.

    oh! i haven’t checked all your previous posts, but have you included winnifred “fred” burkle (angel) in your lists? she’s another of joss whedon’s girl creations, something of a parallel to river (serenity/firefly).

  3. Jangari-
    Yeah, I want to watch “Amélie” again. (That’s one of the problems I run into when making these lists. I think “hey, I want to watch that again.” But the truth is, I don’t actually have so much time to watch movies.) And yeah, good call on Miette and “City of Lost Children.” Again, want to re-watch it. (As far as categorizing my blog, “not about language” seems to be a better fit, given the constraints. Unless there is a category “more than 0% but less than 50% about language.” That being said, please don’t feel obligated to add me to your blogroll. I’m flattered that you are considering it!)

    I need to see more Amoldovar movies. I saw “Women on the Verge” ages ago, and mostly just remember gazpacho. And I actually never watched “Angel” beyond the pilot, and maybe 1 more episode. I was never particularly fond of the Angel sequence on Buffy. Plus the show (“Angel,” that is) seemed to take itself too seriously. Did it get more fun? I did hear that Cordelia became more kick-ass over time, but I hadn’t heard of this Fred person. And hey, have you seen Babylon 5? I keep coming across refs to it suggesting potential kick-assedness of women.

  4. Mmm…”All About My Mother” (another Almodovar film). Totally kick-ass women. And the main love interest in Y Tu Mama Tambien (since I’m thinking in Spanish).

    Wow, I should think on this, but since I’ve got two kick-ass women (who will hopefully not kick my ass) on their way over for some wine, I’ll have to come back.

  5. “Cold Comfort Farm” used to be one of my favorites, but I lost all respect for Kate Beckingsale. Now I can’t enjoy the movie at all, once I heard she got implants. I think we should all be grateful for the body that God gives to us, and it’s a sin (and ought to be against the law) to defile that gift just to look good or get noticed.

  6. Nice list! Glad I could at least provide inspiration, since I was unable to help with content (except for perhaps adding to the Contact vote tally).

    Re Angel: I missed the first season entirely because Cordy epitomized many of my least favorite female stereotypes. But not only did she become more kick-ass after season one, a number of great characters were also added to the cast (including the aforementioned Fred). I would recommend giving the show a try.

    Re B5, here’s what I know: The guy who created it basically said “I have this idea for a show that will last five seasons.” So you have a storyline with more integrity than most shows, which start with a tentative arc that either gets cut off when the show is cancelled, or stretched beyond reason if the show becomes popular. Then, when it looked like the show might get cancelled after 4 seasons, the writers wrapped up the storyline, only to learn that the show did get a fifth season. Consequently, the resulting 5th season wasn’t that strong (or so I’ve heard.. I only saw the first 4 seasons).

    My opinion of B5 is that the stand-alone episodes were kind of meh, but the episodes that advanced the overall arc were quite good, or at least the arc itself was good. And in retrospect, the story is rather chilling, in that it is frighteningly prescient concerning the course of history following the show (it wrapped up in 1998, if that’s any clue). I might recommend getting a B5 fan to list the episodes that advance the arc (my experience is that they will be very willing to do this), and then watching just those episodes. And if you obtain such a list, let me know, because I might want to do the same. Oh, and to keep this on topic, yes, there were some good female characters.

  7. Angela- I’m dismayed about the amount of nipping and tucking taking place in Hollywood too, but I think if you’re going to rule out an actress based on the fact that she had some work done, you’re going to end up ruling out most actresses. My understanding (based entirely on many misspent hours looking at websites like awfulplasticsurgery.com) is that the majority of young, beautiful actresses feel pressure to correct perceived flaws with surgery or botox or whatnot. And often, sadly, they look the worse for it. (It also robs us of the chance to see beautiful women age gracefully, another beef of mine..) So I think there’s a larger issue here, namely, why did a gorgeous, talented woman like Kate Beckinsale feel the need (or feel pressured) to have surgery in the first place?

  8. Great list! And thanks for the link over to my site, I feel all famous now getting linked from a wordpress blog, hehe.

    I can’t believe you haven’t seen ‘Angel’! I’m not sure what episodes you saw, but ‘Angel’, like ‘Buffy’, never takes itself too seriously (except for that one season…but even Buffy had that one season that was too serious). And while the women are not the focus of the show (the central theme is more about the shades of gray that the adult world has) the females that we meet along the way are strong, smart, sexy, and fun.

    Yes, go rent season 1. Or grab it from Amazon next time it’s on sale (it was like $18 the other day). Like any Joss Whedon show, it’s all about creating fantastic characters and stories. You won’t be let down!

  9. Nice list! You make me want to come up with a parallel one (only of Asian movies). The trouble is…I’m sooooo busy these days! ;(

  10. NotSoSage-
    Good suggestions. I’ll have to check them out. Keep ’em coming!

    It doesn’t thrill me that Kate Beckinsale got implants, but for very different reasons. However, I tend to place more blame on our culture and society than on her individually. (Much like bs talks about above.) She was already beautiful. Why send the message that she wasn’t good enough? Can’t we have people accepting a range of shapes and sizes as beautiful? Another issue for me about making blanket statements against appearance-oriented surgery is that it is so hard to draw the line. If breast implants are so wrong, what if the woman has had a mastectomy? Are modifications to the body like circumcision wrong? What about lasik? Electrolysis? Ear piercing? Shaving? Curling your hair? Wearing make-up? Some of these practices are culturally accepted as normal. Cultures vary. Apparently in the Hollywood subculture, plastic surgery is an accepted practice. The difference is that it also sends a public message about ideals of beauty that are then absorbed by our culture at large, narrowing expectations of what women should like, with somewhate detrimental effects on the self-image and self-esteem of women and girls everywhere.

    Thanks for the info on Angel and B5. I will investigate. Thanks for the post inspiration. Keep it coming! Also, interesting points about the plastic surgery issue.

    Haven’t seen it. Will investigate. Thanks!

    Glad you like the list! (And so glad the link doesn’t embarrass you. “Who is the freak linking to me, and what the hell is she doing?”) And OK, OK, I’ll check out Angel again.

    Yes, you absolutely need to come up with a parallel list of Asian movies! I hope it gets high priority. (I guess you have been busy. And depriving me of news about what’s been keeping you so darned busy! All work? Hopefully there’s some play, too.)

  11. jenny-
    Funny, I’ve actually already started a post where I was going to mention that, but haven’t had time to actually finish/post it yet. It could be very cool. Should be very cool. Hopefully I’ll get my act together to put up something new for that. Anyhow, thanks for passing on the link. It is indeed right up my alley.

  12. bs – The people you read about on awfulplasticsurgery.com are the ones who figure that if a little bit of a good is good, then a lot must be great. They’re the ones who have problems, and you read and hear about them just because they have problems. They get their faces tightened until they can’t move their lips, and they go for the porn star boob jobs. That’s because of their own problems, and I think it’s unfortunate, but too much of anything is never good.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong or diminishing about cosmetic surgery, just as long as it’s not an obsession. There’s a lot of good and not-bad reasons to do it, and lots and lots of people do it without winding up looking like Michael Jackson or Posh Spice.

  13. Thank you guys! You’ve helped my research no end. I’m a trainee teacher specialising in Sociology. I’m also working on a doctorate concentrating on the images of women in Hollywood. Basically, if you want an Oscar, get ugly. See Charlize Theron, Halle Berry and Nicole Kidman, just to name a few. Why is it women are simple relegated to the role of support? If they’re strong, independent women then they have to have overcome something terrible or have to be overly masculine (ala Ripley).

    Why is it we rarely see a woman in a role of a normal human being unless it’s in a romantic comedy? Even then they have to be a little kooky.

  14. Rachel-
    I’m glad the list and discussion are helpful to you. How cool! You might also want to check out The Hathor Legacy and Heroine Content.
    Good question about the rarity of women in roles as normal human beings.
    Your research sounds very interesting. What stage are you in as far as the doctorate goes? (I’m in grad school too. I would classify myself as “pre-dissertation” stage. A very long drawn-out stage.)

  15. Oh! Sad to see this discussion ended in 2007! Let the dialogue continue.

    Did anyone mention Gena Davis in “Long Kiss Goodnight?!” Her character is definitely physically kick-ass and, in real life, Davis made the women’s olympic archery team in her forties AND created a foundation called See Jane to help change the way young girls are portrayed in the media. Kick-ass all the way around.

    On another note, Holly Hunter is kick-ass in “The Piano.” Defiantly strong without saying a word!


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