A character's first appearance speaks volumes, and for a female character first impressions can often set the tone for how the audience perceives her throughout the remainder of the story. But as fans watching at home (or in the theater), sometimes we forget that a female character is defined long before she ever makes it to the small or silver screen. The female character is created in a script, but lots of changes can happen within the journey she takes from the screenplay to the final edit of a movie.
It's interesting to go all the way back to the moment when a female character was first conceived of on the page, and thanks to Vulture recently combing through old screenplays we're able to glean a lot of meaning from how these fictional ladies are described.
We all know the evolution of Sarah Connor in the Terminator film series, but the way Linda Hamilton's character is described by James Cameron between the first movie and its follow-up sequel is pretty illuminating. The Sarah Connor of Terminator is "small and delicate-featured," and "pretty in a flawed, accessible way," while the Sarah from Terminator 2: Judgment Day is not really defined by her looks at all. She's "defiant and intense," speaking in a "low and chilling monotone."
Similarly, The Hunger Games' Katniss Everdeen is established sans any reference to her attractiveness; she's "lean and hungry ... a fighter, robbed of her little-girl years long ago." And while one of our FANGRRLS favorites, Beetlejuice's Lydia Deetz, is described as pretty, this pairing of images in the film's screenplay perfectly sums her up in a nutshell without even needing to go into greater detail: "a combination of a little death rocker and an ’80s version of Edward Gorey’s little girls."
Some female characters in genre are written as either being unaware of their beauty, or so stuffy as to be unmemorable — but that doesn't mean they're not intended for greater things. The Princess Bride's Buttercup "isn’t as attractive as she might be, but she’s still probably the most beautiful woman in the world," and The Mummy's Evelyn Carnahan is a rather uninteresting British GIRL: "eye-glasses, hair-in-a-bun, long boring dress, your typical prudish nightmare."
Ultimately, what examining scripts like these tells us is that Hollywood relies on any number of ways to describe their female characters—whether they be young or old, hero or villain. Check out the full piece at Vulture and don't forget to take the included quiz, which asks you to test your skills at figuring out which female characters are being described based on their first script intro.