Whether it’s a bad break-up, an awful boss, a back-stabbing friend or just a Friday night in with a bottle of wine, it’s always an occasion for an inspiring girl power movie.
Fierce leading ladies have won audiences over since Hollywood’s golden age, with classic stars as charming as Shirley Temple and as iconic as Kathryn Hepburn, to the millennium, where girls have grown up with sexy, confident actresses like Angelina Jolie and Sarah Jessica Parker starring in warrior women movies like Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Sex and the City. The thing that makes these powerful, inspiring girl power movies? Gumption. The courage to act.
This doesn’t always come in the same form. Some movies make drastic transitions, superficial characters having life altering revelations to help others, be better people, or do something great. Other movies highlight women whose strength is their superpower, and their inspiring (and sometimes real life) stories add to a collection of films and stars that women have grown up admiring.
From the 1980’s to now, this list of girl-power inspired movies has gathered a cult following of women, drawn to the fearless female leads, the no nonsense hero’s, the drastic self-transformations and the stories of love, friendship and even a little revenge. If you’re in need of any of the above, grab a glass of wine or some girlfriends and indulge in some of the best girl power movies of our time.
15. Clueless (1995)
One of the most iconic movies of the 1990’s, spoiled and naive Beverly Hills High School socialite Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) is a seemingly superficial, boy crazy, therapy shopping, rich girl—but with a surprising series of mature self-realizations and clever negotiating skills. She quickly learns that the key to her own happiness comes from her many good deeds and starts seeing people for who they are instead of how they look.
14. Legally Blonde (2001)
Following an unexpected and brutal breakup, Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) applies and gets accepted to Harvard Law School to try to win back her ex-boyfriend. Despite everyone’s preconceptions, she becomes a fashionable heroine, using her brains and determination, not her beauty, for success. In a twist on outward appearances, this once naive sorority girl personifies the idea that looks can be deceiving.
13. A League of Their Own (1992)
“There’s no crying in baseball!” Based on the true story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball team (Geena Davis, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell), this movie is pure grit, raw emotions, real life relationships, surrounding the accomplishments of ordinary women involved in an extraordinary league.
12. Now and Then (1995)
Anyone who grew up in the 1990’s grew up watching this beloved story of four adult friends (Goldie Hawn, Rosie O’Donnell, Demi Moore, Rita Wilson) reflecting on their childhood. As different as four young girls could be, (Thora Birch, Christina Ricci, Gabby Hoffman, Ashley Aston Moore) they formed an inseparable bond through the pains of growing up, from bra-stuffing to divorce.
11. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992)
No one kicks butt like the chosen one. Tough and sassy, Buffy (Kristy Swanson) takes on the burden of saving the world from vampires—a stark contrast from her pre-slayer high school cheerleader lifestyle. Sarah Michelle Gellar continued Buffy’s vampire slaying quest in the hugely popular television series, airing for seven seasons.
10. Erin Brockovich (2000)
Based on the true story of Erin Brockovich, a single mom (Julia Roberts) goes from being unemployed and injured to taking down Pacific Gas and Electric in a class action lawsuit after discovering that people in a nearby town have been diagnosed with cancer. Her tough character persuades the victims, who have long been told by PG&E that their chemicals are safe, to join her in the lawsuit.
9. Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2005)
Four best friends (Blake Lively, Amber Tamblyn, Alexis Bledel and America Ferrera) are separated for the first time as they each spend a summer away from home. Before they leave, they find a magical pair of pants that fits each of their unique bodies, promising to share the pants during the summer. Love, tragedy, and family disappointment plague each of their experiences, but the pants are a reminder of the bond they share and the power of their friendship to overcome life’s obstacles.
8. Under the Tuscan Sun (2003)
Although a well-worn theme, both in life and film, Under the Tuscan Sun is not just about the empowerment of a middle aged woman (Diane Lane) after her husband’s affair with a younger woman. This particular story finds its strength not only in new romance, but in female friendship and creating a family out of the unexpected people that enter your life.
7. The Hunger Games (2012)
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is one of the toughest and most understated female heroines to ever grace the big screen. One of the few games participants to maintain compassion in a kill or be killed world, she becomes a symbolic icon for rebellion against the Capitol. She’s natural, intelligent and brave and she stands up for the people who can’t.
6. The Other Woman (2014)
Most women wouldn’t become best friends with the (multiple) women their husband has been having an affair with. Unless it’s to get even. Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann and Kate Upton prove that sometimes the best friendships, and personal empowerment, come in the most unexpected places.
5. The Holiday (2006)
After two devastating break ups—a closed off, successful, Los Angeles based movie-trailer maker (Cameron Diaz) and a broken-hearted, desperate English journalist (Kate Winslet) switch houses through an online company for the holidays. An ocean away, they learn to become the “leading ladies” of their own lives after new-found men challenge their independence.
4. Double Jeopardy (1999)
Framed and jailed for a crime she didn’t commit, Libby Parsons (Ashley Judd) sets out for revenge after her release from jail in a seriously smart and intense girl-power drama. Relying on the Double Jeopardy clause in the Fifth Amendment, Libby is determined to commit the crime she has already been found guilty of.
3. The Help (2011)
Starring Emma Stone, this movie is full of inspiring, independent and self-sufficient women fighting both sexism and racism in the Civil Rights Era. Dealing with cross generational women in a time of deep racial divide in Jackson, Mississippi, aspiring writer, Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan decides to ignore her mothers wishes that she marry and put down roots and instead write an expose on the life of African American maids in the south. Writing the story exposes much more than how the maids are treated, but uncovers alliances, trust and possible fall out from the story.
2. Pretty in Pink (1986)
Andie Walsh (Molly Ringwald), a working class born high school student, gets asked and then uninvited to prom by a rich and popular kid giving into social pressure. Sewing her own dress from a used gown her father bought and a friends old prom dress, she bravely attends the prom alone—making the boy realize that he was wrong is letting other people’s opinions sway their relationship.
1. Sex and the City (2008)
The big screen adaptation of the popular show that ran from 1998 to 2004 follows four women living in New York City, navigating love, relationships, careers and of course, sex. Although characters Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Samantha (Kim Cattrall), Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) are in their 30s and 40s, Sex and the City was a hit among all ages of women with its heartfelt and timeless portrayal of relationships and relatable characters struggling through familiar scenarios of infidelity, sexual and personal independence and fear of commitment. The movie reunites the four women that have moved on in their respective lives, adopting a child, leaving for the suburbs and following a career, and man, out west, for Carrie’s wedding to the infamous Mr. Big. When it doesn’t go as planned, the women help Carrie pick up the pieces of her life, simultaneous learning to rebuild their own. Cynical yet hopeful, independent yet searching for true love, dark and tragic yet humorous, their not-so-perfect experiences are great examples of strong willed women leading courageous lives.
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