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The portrayal of women in cinema has thankfully and drastically changed over the last 50 years. From the hard case personality the late Carrie Fisher injected into her portrayal of Princess Leia in the Star Wars franchise, to the revenge-seeking survivor that the captivating Noomi Rapace fueled into the character of Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo trilogy, the female character is no longer the helpless figure who needs saving and must reward the male lead with sex (see James Bond). Indeed, often it is the female who truly saves us and the one who dominates the cinema screen.
Taking a look at specific movies and genres – action, comedy, drama, horror and sci-fi – the following five films display female empowerment. But most importantly they show how people’s views can be changed by a single and outstanding female performance.
This groundbreaking horror by Ridley Scott proved that our view of the damsel in distress was out of date and that women in movies were not the weaker sex. It’s hard to believe it’s been 40 years since Sigourney Weaver brought the character Ellen Ripley to life. The ultimate bad ass – as the male crew of the spacecraft fall foul to the terror loose in the shadows – it is Weaver who succeeds and finally overcomes.
The character of Ripley returned just as dominating in the all-out action follow up Aliens (1986). For four films, Weaver projected the boundary-defying hero that cinema needed, shirking off the need for companionship and dropping the glamour of the dainty female lead.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Fury Road caused a stir of anticipation after Tom Hardy was brought in to replace original lead Mel Gibson. Unfortunately, the British actor in the title role mostly grunted his way through this George Miller production. For a majority of the film, he was muffled – simply seeming lost on the screen.
However, the entirety of the movie was stolen by the emotionally charged performance of Charlize Theron. In this tale of sexual revolution based in an apocalyptic wasteland, the South African actress is the heroine freeing oppressed females from slavery. Her character overshadows, with a sizzling brilliance, the titular male hero. Without Theron, the movie may have fallen flat and become muddled within a sandstorm of confusion.
Erin Brockovich (2000)
Within the movie Erin Brockovich (directed by Steven Soderbergh) is the ultimate captivating performance by Julia Roberts in the title role. It was not just her finest moment as an actress but an Academy Award and Golden Globe winning tour de force. It is here where Roberts broke free from the rom-com efforts of the nineties (My Best Friend’s Wedding, Runaway Bride) and instead focused her attentions on translating what is the rise of a remarkable person.
The actual Erin Brockovich on which the movie is based was a single mother who got a job as an investigator for a law firm. She was the underdog that took on a large company who were poisoning a town. Against all odds, she won.
The Babadook (2014)
Women in horror films have never fared well. In The Babadook however this all changed. The genre was brought screaming into the 21st century with its first true bolt of original terror.
In the debut by writer-director Jennifer Kent (whose follow up The Nightingale is due this year), the audience gets a dark, claustrophobic thrill ride. It centres on a single mother (Essie Davis), battling both her own demons and a hidden force who seeks to steal her child. Like any mam protecting her child, Amelia is driven to the brink of madness. This time though we stare into the abyss her life is becoming and the evil that lurks to prey on her fears. Not for the faint-hearted but be assured, the performance of Davis is outstanding and fearless.
Nine to Five (1980)
Sexual harassment in the workplace has always been an issue. 39-years ago, it was as big a topic as it is now. In Nine to Five we have three of the biggest female stars in Hollywood – Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton – teaming up to prove that the time of the male chauvinist in the workplace is well and truly over.
Based on the book by Patricia Resnick, the story revolves around three secretaries who get their own back on their sleazy boss. Yes it is a light-hearted comedy, though at the same time it does get its message across. The film was so successful it spawned a television series and a Broadway show. Ultimately not just a vehicle for Parton, Nine to Five was a statement of intent at the dawn of the 80s