No good roles for women? Not always. THR's industry survey shows how Olivia Pope to Annie Hall become possible when the industry actually writes with 51 percent of the population in mind.
Whatever else one can say about gender equality in Hollywood, there's clearly no shortage of female roles for space princesses, alien hunters and flying nannies.
's latest intra-industry poll, the editors asked Hollywood professionals — actors, writers, directors and others — to take an online survey of their favorite fictional female characters. More than 1,800 participated — twice as many women as men — but the results proved there isn't such a great divide between the sexes after all, at least when it comes to what types of females we enjoy watching on screens. By comfortable majorities, both genders picked a certain Hogwarts know-it-all as their No. 1.
Naturally, the poll was anonymous, but some industry pros don't mind sharing. "The tough Angelina Jolie characters in
— and whoever Ava Gardner played in capri pants," offers Dawn Hudson, CEO of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
franchise producer Nina Jacobson confesses to having a "soft spot for Katniss Everdeen," while Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy admits that as a child she worshiped Scout from
Chances are, there's at least one character on these pages who you once imagined being, particularly if you're female — and maybe even if you're not. After all, who hasn't dreamt of bitch-slapping an alien, owning a pet dragon or even traveling by umbrella?
Click here to vote for your favorite female character of all time in
Edited by Benjamin Svetkey and Andy Lewis. Reported by Rebecca Ford, Mia Galuppo, Borys Kit, Ashley Lee, Kendal McAlpin, Brian Porreca and Bryn Elise Sandberg.
A wisenheimer beyond her years, this super engaging pregnant teen made smart-aleckyness an art form. "She just has this plethora of knowledge and wit you wouldn't expect from someone her age," Page tells
. "She really pushed the social norms in her town. But I think because Juno was so unapologetically unique, audiences could really relate to her."
"Her naivete is her strongest trait," Moss once said of her 1960s-era ad exec character. "She's naive enough to voice her opinion. She's naive enough to ask for a raise. She's naive enough to insert herself into these situations. It's kind of lack of fear that gets her into these rooms, and it has kind of gotten her where she is."
Proving that knuckleheaded studio execs always have existed in Hollywood, suits at MGM wanted to cut Dorothy's opening number, "Over the Rainbow," out of the 1939 film (they thought it slowed down the movie). The tune won an Oscar, as did its singer — though in her case it was the Juvenile Award (which she always referred to as her "Munchkin Award").
Originally, Janeane Garofalo was cast in the part, while Cox was slated to play Rachel. She also was nearly censored in the pilot when she slept with a date on the first night. NBC thought it made the character too promiscuous, but creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman defended her honor.
is the one thing Julie's done onscreen where she was completely herself," her co-star Christopher Plummer tells
. "She was more relaxed in front of the camera than she was in other films." Which is amazing considering she'd just finished
, given birth to her first daughter and left her husband. Adds Plummer, "I couldn't believe she was plagued by all those problems in the middle of this happy movie. However, she certainly threw all cares aside when she started working, and she was a wiz in that movie. That terrific belief in innocence which fills Julie's face is completely universal — people from all over the world can’t help but be drawn to her."
Davis became the first black woman to win an Emmy for best actress in a drama in 2015 for playing this "complicated, sexual, brilliant and manipulative" law professor, as the character's creator, Peter Nowalk, describes her. "I would never have the guts to do what Viola does, going onscreen with my clothes off or crying with snot in my nose. But Viola always pushes us to go there." The ABC series’ enigmatic antihero resonates with viewers because of Davis’ “magnetic” performance, says Nowalk. “She always finds the emotional underpinning of things, and works her butt off making sure every moment feels fresh and new. I don’t have to make her likeable, and that’s such a gift when writing for TV."
fans. She can't fight or wield a sword, and she's girly in ways the other women aren't. But that's what made her greatest moment — feeding torturer Ramsay Bolton to the dogs — so emotionally satisfying, especially to Turner. "It's Sansa's first kill, and it's such a strong moment for her because all her life she's been affected by these men who have just done such terrible things to her."
"Some topics are so difficult that they cause resistance to making the episode," says Hargitay, who has spent 17 years investigating underage sex rings and incestual rape on 400 episodes (and counting) of the ongoing spinoff. "But in the end, we always get there."
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit ranks on Hollywood's 100 Favorite TV Shows.
Louis-Dreyfus is one of two actresses appearing twice on this list for two different characters (the other is Julie Andrews), but Elaine almost didn't make it onto the air. Originally, the show's female lead was going to be a waitress at Monk's Cafe, played by Lee Garlington. But that part was cut after the pilot, and NBC execs got nervous that the sitcom would skew too male, so a new girl was introduced: Elaine, loosely based on co-creator Larry David's ex … and yada yada yada.
In her novel, Gillian Flynn didn't delve too deeply into the children's books Amy's parents wrote about her as a kid. But director David Fincher made sure Flynn filled in details when he adapted
for the screen. "He asked me to come up with a title for every single
book," she says. "I started cute but then just spun into raunch.
(Amy experiments sexually). And some you couldn't print."
"I love that she’s flawed — that’s unusual in a female character, certainly onscreen — and her wit is undeniably compelling,” says Ehle, one of the many actresses who have been playing Jane Austen's much-loved Lizzy for more than 75 years. But Knightley was the first to get an Oscar nomination for it. "When we cast her at the time, there was lots of celebrity bullshit going on," recalls director Joe Wright of his 2005 adaptation. "Paparazzi were constantly asking whom she was dating and what she was wearing and all that. But Keira blocked all that stuff out and focused on the story she was telling."
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Though a sanitized version of Truman Capote's novella about a call girl (and call boy) on New York's Upper East Side, the 1961 film was considered pretty bold for its time. By today's standards, though, it's practically a fairy tale, complete with a happy ending. "She created the look of an American princess," says Broadway costume designer William Ivey Long, a fan of the film. "You know you've made it when everyone copies you on Halloween."
Theories abound that Brienne of Tarth is based on Joan of Arc (catch the alliteration?), but not so, says
author George R.R. Martin, who has confessed another inspiration: Xena (No. 33). "I did not think it was an accurate portrayal of what a woman warrior was or would be. I created Brienne of Tarth as an answer to that. I was inspired by the queens of Scottish history and Lady Macbeth — strong women who didn't put on chain-mail bikinis to go forth into battle."
's Kate Burton remembers first seeing Scarlett when she was 11 — and has been a big fan ever since. Burton watched Leigh's 1939 performance again this past Thanksgiving. "It's a wonderful tutorial for a young actress on how to approach a larger-than-life character," she says. "Leigh makes large, specific choices — you always know what she's thinking. That might be an old-fashioned approach, but it's a time-honored one."
"She's complex," insists Katic about her tough but tender NYPD detective. "And she's also flawed. She is not a perfect character." Perfect enough for her legion of fans, which include feminist bloggers who like that she's usually the smartest, most competent cop in the precinct. Males, though, still need a little convincing. Although women respondents ranked her 17, men had her all the way down at 244.
, people didn't talk about sex with comedy," says creator Michael Patrick King. "They talked about sex with porn, and they talked about sex with shame." Shame wasn't one of Carrie's issues — and neither was comedy. Her highly relatable antics in and out of bed kept the show on HBO for six seasons and spawned two feature films and a CW spinoff series.
She's the one who coined the series meme-iest catchphrase — "You win or you die" — and so far, she seems to be winning. Nobody has killed off more enemies more spectacularly. "Isn't it obvious?" Headey once replied when asked who should finally win the throne in the end. "I genuinely think Cersei is like, 'It's going to happen if I just get rid of everybody.' "
It ended its run 15 years ago, but Lawless still is getting mobbed by Xena fans, even in Italy. During a recent trip, she discovered a new generation of admirers. "I was completely floored by the attention," she tells
. "But for these people in their 20s and 30s who grew up during the Berlusconi [era], this ass-kicking woman who was tougher than all the dudes was a type they hadn't seen before."
When Wen went in for her first recording session on this 1998 Disney animated movie — based on an ancient Chinese legend about a daughter who takes her father's place in the army — she spoke in a youthful voice more like Minnie Mouse's than a fierce medieval warrior. "The director and producers and writers had to correct my acting choice," she says. "They had chosen me for the role because of my distinctive voice. I just needed to be me."
The film took five years to make, and Wen was attached for most of the ride, going in to do voiceovers every three to four months over three years. "Her story is about a young person discovering her own strengths, self-worth and identity," says Wen. "She is an individual with great honor, love and loyalty. When things got tough, Mulan didn’t fall apart and give up."
Adds Wen: "Most of the fans of Mulan I’ve met over the years and the new fans of today all share with me their personal stories of how much Mulan taught them to stand up for themselves and to follow their hearts."
This telekinetic-powered teen became the breakout character of Netflix's buzzy paranormal drama this summer, thanks largely to the 12-year-old actress playing her. "I remember, right before we shot the scene [where she kills a guard in a holding room], Millie asked, 'Hey, can I do a little something with my head, as a gesture, when I break the guy's neck?' " recalls executive producer Shawn Levy. "And it's such a defining moment for the character."
Creator Rob Thomas got the idea for the wisecracking teen detective when he was working as a high school teacher. "There is no more self-conscious people in the world than teenage girls," he says. "So when I was coming up with the character, I wanted to write a teenage girl who had been to hell and back and no longer gave a shit what people thought of her. That was her superpower."
There was a last-minute casting shuffle that changed this character's destiny. "They wanted Courteney [Cox] to play Rachel," explains Aniston, who was nearly cast as Monica. "But unbeknownst to each other, I wanted to play Rachel, and she wanted to play Monica, so it worked out perfectly."
The down-on-her-luck superhero was inspired — no joke — by a Sean Young interview in
magazine. "She talked about how it's worse to have been on the A-list and removed from it than not having been on the list at all," recalls comics author Brian Michael Bendis. "I found that fascinating, and I thought, 'What's the superhero version of that?' "
She made oversized khakis and bolero hats — all from Keaton's own wardrobe, by the way — into 1977's biggest fashion craze. The character is loosely based on the actress herself (her real name is Diane Hall), and there are moments (like the famous lobster scene) where she and Woody Allen were barely acting at all. La dee dah.
It took Louis-Dreyfus all of 30 seconds to decide to play the role of this spectacularly self-centered Washington, D.C., politician. "My agent said, 'Look, there's this thing being developed at HBO, and it's about a female vice president,' " she recalls. "I think he used the word 'unhappy' to describe her. I was like, 'Oh, f—, I got to get in on that.' " And
showrunner David Mandel credits her for making Selina likable. "No matter how horrible Selina is, somehow the
audience and we as writers still root for her," he says. "Root for what, I’m not sure, as she was not a great president, but we still root for her."
It was Thomas Harris’ 1988 novel that first brought FBI Special Agent Clarice Sterling to director Jonathan Demme’s attention. “I felt the twinge that Clarice had the potential for joining the ranks of the great all-time movie heroines,” says Demme.
But Foster gave Oscar-winning depth to the FBI character from Harris' novel, which even director Demme was not expecting. He tells
, "Jodie led the charge on bringing the film's theme — one young woman fighting her way through a male-dominated ecosystem to save the life of another young woman — into vivid cinematic focus."
"She is badass personified," is how stuntwoman Zoe Bell describes the jilted Bride at the heart of Quentin Tarantino's two-part martial arts opus — and Bell should know since she was Thurman's stunt double in both films. "Out for revenge, she is righteous, capable and fierce," she goes on. "And that combo is impossible to not be inspired by. She is a complex character. She's multilayered. Relatable and terrifying, vulnerable and empowering, crazy and cool as a cucumber."
"And evil takes human form in Regina" is how the character is introduced to the audience. Her Juicy Couture sweatsuits and side bangs made Regina the perfect teenage bully for the mid-2000s, but Lindsay Lohan originally was supposed to play the role until she switched to the lead. Director Mark Waters told
was totally R-rated. Regina George cussed like Joe Pesci in
." The final version of the Tina Fey-penned movie ended up being much tamer. "We all knew it had to eventually be PG-13, so we cleaned up the dialogue."
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"George Miller had the idea for a one-armed female road warrior to play against the Mad Max character," co-writer Brendan McCarthy says of Furiosa. "Two damaged souls who might possibly heal each other." First, though, they had to agree on a hairstyle. Miller's early sketches had a braided, tied-back 'do. Theron came up with the killer buzz cut.
Six decades later — the show has never gone off the air — that conveyor belt scene in the chocolate factory still is cutting-edge comedy. "Funny is funny, no matter when it aired," says Ball's friend Carol Burnett. And profitable: In 2012, CBS CEO Leslie Moonves revealed that the show still generates $20 million a year in revenue for the network.
She reinvented the TV mom with her fast-talking parenting and pop culture references. Most TV scripts average 45 pages;
' scripts ran 70 pages. Kelly Bishop, who played Lorelai's mom — and who reprised her role along with Graham and the others in the recent Netflix revival — says the dialogue was a challenge: "It's like Double Dutch, where you have to calculate where the ropes are going so you can get yourself in there to start jumping."
Three sister witches — Prue could move objects with her mind, Phoebe could see the future and Piper could freeze stuff — use their superpowers for good. What's not to love? "I dread the day my sons see
," says Combs. "They're going to think it's embarrassing. They're going to make so much fun of me."
Kevin Spacey's Frank Underwood gets to put his feet up on the Resolute desk, but the real power in this White House is his first lady — a point not entirely lost on the actress who plays her. "I was looking at statistics, and Claire Underwood was more popular than Frank for a period of time," Wright recently revealed. "So I capitalized on it. I was like, 'You better pay me or I'm going to go public.' "
On election night, as it became clear Donald Trump was about to win, her name started trending worldwide on Twitter. "Where is Olivia Pope when you need her?" wondered singer Demi Lovato. Pope, of course, plays the ultimate D.C. fixer — she rigged the election of Fitz, the sitting president and her sometimes lover — but even her powers have limits. Washington tweeted back, "Olivia Pope is trending, but Olivia Pope is not real."
Few characters have suffered as much — father executed, family slaughtered, sight taken by the faceless men — as Arya Stark. Fans love her single-minded drive (she keeps a list of people she'd like to kill), gender nonconformity (she dresses like a boy) and her absolute loyalty. Williams sounds just as single-minded. Her hopes for what her character does next on the series: "Kill more people."
Felicity was supposed to be a minor character, but her chemistry with Oliver Queen made her a fan favorite. By season two of The CW's adaptation of the DC comic, she was a regular player. "Felicity has developed over the course of the series," says Rickards. "She's from a regular world. She's relatable, honest and grounded. But she's not boring."
Ridley had no idea what she was getting into — literally none — when she signed on as the lead in J.J. Abrams'
film. "I hadn't properly read the script before I was cast, so getting to see Rey on the page for the first time was incredible," the actress tells
music man John Williams has cited Rey as his favorite character from the galaxy far, far away. The 84-year-old composer said that one of the main reasons he is returning to score
is because he doesn’t want anyone else writing music for Rey. "George Lucas created something unbelievable with
is a joyous continuation of a much loved piece of cinematic history."
“Katniss’ decision to volunteer for her sister is one of the most memorable moments of any book I’ve ever read,” says producer Nina Jacobson, who acquired the film rights to Suzanne Collins’ YA trilogy in 2009.
Chloe Grace Moretz, Abigail Breslin, Hailee Steinfeld and more than 30 other actresses all were aiming to star as the arrow-slinging rebel, but Lawrence's "frankness and honesty" is what won her the lead of the $3 billion franchise, according to Jacobson. "She feels like a real girl while breaking virtually every rule of what a girl onscreen is supposed to be."
She was modern Hollywood's first female franchise hero — but before she kicked E.T.'s butt, the filmmakers had to get her wardrobe right. "The first costume was the light blue Nostromo uniform," Weaver tells
. "[Director] Ridley Scott took one look at me and said, 'You look like f—ing Jackie Onassis in space.' We found a flight suit from NASA, which was much better."
' premiere dismissed Phoebe as a "New Age flake." We're not ashamed to admit when we're wrong. The character has had more staying power — even 12 years after the finale — than any of the other amigos, with her "Smelly Cat" music video nearing 4 million views on YouTube as a new generation embraces
"Julie seemed to have a lot in common with Mary Poppins, a proper English lady," Dick Van Dyke recalls of making Disney's 1964 film. "The author of the book [P.L. Travers] wasn't happy with her casting. She wanted someone middle-aged and dowdy. Julie was neither." The casting choice continues to resonate within the industry. "Her vanity in the movie is such an interesting take — that moment when they’re on the rooftop doing 'Step in Time' and she powders her nose with more soot is so funny!" says Laura Benanti. "She brings you into a world you don’t question, even if she’s just popped into a sidewalk chalk drawing and dancing with animated animals.”
Witherspoon nearly turned down the role of Elle, thinking the 2001 part was a "frivolous sorority girl." Then she saw Gloria Steinem in a documentary praising Goldie Hawn's turn in
. "She spoke about how seeing a different side of feminism changed people's ideas of what women could accomplish."
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that fans from all over the world still come up to her to say they were inspired to go to law school because of her performance as the perky modern feminist character, “a sorority girl who valued her femininity and her own strength.”
Five characters from the fantasy series — the most successful show in HBO's history — made this list. But none of the others have their own dragons. Clarke's inspirations: Cate Blanchett's
and her own "strong mum," who had a "naive and beautiful" notion that men and women were equals.
If only more politicians were like Knope: honest, dedicated, hilarious. "She was routinely knocked down, but she maintained a sense of hope," says co-executive producer Aisha Muharrar. "You wouldn't call her a cynic, but she's not all puppies and rainbows. Though she definitely loves puppies and rainbows."
Her fear of sex and love of night cheese still resonate with fans. "She's a kind of woman that exists in the real world," says Fey, who based the character on her days as a writer on
. "Also, she's an overt, if often misguided, feminist," a characteristic Fey says she shares. "I did refuse to wear a pushup bra after season one. Check out the drop on Netflix!"
Anderson nearly lost the part of the skeptical FBI agent when she became pregnant during the first season in 1993. "One network exec wanted to replace her," recalls creator Chris Carter. "But the writers hatched the plan to have her kidnapped, and that choice changed the direction of the show — for the better."
Streep enjoyed playing the imperious fashion magazine editor so much that she stayed in character throughout the 2005 shoot. "She felt it was necessary," says the film's producer Wendy Finerman. "She couldn’t jovially hang around because that would have lost the magic, all the tiptoeing around her." The actress also chose to wear a gray wig inspired by Carmen Dell'Orefice and maintain that deadpan whisper, recalls screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna. "She had tremendous insight into what her demeanor would be: the calm at the center of the storm, someone who talks so quietly that others have to lean in. Meryl understood the power of stillness, and how people can use their composure to unnerve others."
Who is your favorite female character of all time? Click here to cast your vote.
"Buffy balanced the horrors of adolescence with the horrors of the Hellmouth, which made her extremely relatable," says Gellar, who spent her own adolescence portraying the high school superhero from 1997 to 2003. "We are all haunted by demons, but with Buffy, it was literal. Demons literally haunted her."
Both male and female survey takers placed Leia in the top 10 — No. 2 for women, No. 6 for men — which jibes with Fisher's own take on the character. "I was something women and men could agree on," she writes in her just-published memoir,
. "They didn't like me in the same way, but they liked me with the same intensity, and we were all fine with the other sex liking me, too. Isn't that weird?"
Without this clever, Muggle-born little witch, Harry and Ron still would be pulling their wands out of their noses. "Her empathy, her sense of integrity, her decency and resolute belief in fighting for justice and fairness — even when her earnestness made her an easy target for ridicule — they're all unwavering," the character's biggest fan, Watson, who played Hermione in the $7.7 billion-grossing films, tells
Watson was asked if there was anyone else in the series she'd be interested in playing. "There was never a question in my mind: I was in love with Hermione," says Watson, who began playing the whip-smart witch at age 11.
The character, from the mind of J.K. Rowling, was not only extremely smart, but also kind and, often, the voice of reason in the trio of best friends. "She's all head
The one change that Watson fought for? She was determined to get "her out of those ridiculous tartan skirts in the first two movies," which she accomplished by the third film in the seven-film franchise.
"Hermione made it OK for girls to be the smartest in the room. To be a leader, the one with the plan," says Watson. "She's not just a role for me, she's a symbol. I am deeply proud to have played her."
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