Ripley-and-cat-image.jpg

The greatest strong female characters of all time

Contributed by
Jan 31, 2019

January is a time of fresh starts and new beginnings. The way we kick off a new year informs the months that follow and that's why we're living our best Capricorn-season lives and declaring it the Month of the GOAT, celebrating the Greatests of All Time in genre. From the best Star Trek captains to our favorite strong female characters, we're honoring the greats all month long.

In the entirety of its existence, the majority of sci-fi, fantasy and horror works have centered men — usually straight, white ones. It is then perhaps all the more impressive that the most powerful, inspirational characters across genre are women. While there is still a long way to go to make genre less white, less cis and less able-bodied, we are grateful for the women who showed us that genre isn't just for "boys" and that not all heroes are male. 

As we close out of Month of GOATs, these are the greatest strong female characters of all time.

Wonder Woman No Mans Land

Wonder Woman

There is no way we could leave the most well-known female superhero off this list. Diana Prince, aka Wonder Woman, embodies strength tempered with compassion. In a way, that’s what makes her different from most other superheroes. Everything she does, from trying to understand other cultures when dealing with women in peril (which doesn’t always work out) to a true understanding of the reasons behind many of her enemies’ actions, is tempered with love and compassion. Also, she could totally kick Batman and Superman’s asses. Forget Batman v Superman. Let’s see Wonder Woman v Captain Marvel! (OK, that’s never going to happen because they’re DC and Marvel respectively, but it’s nice to dream.) - Jenna Busch

WynonnaEarp_Episode_311

Wynonna Earp

Wynonna Earp defines the word strength. From accidentally murdering her father as a child during an attack by revenants to purposefully murdering her evil sister to facing down the Serpent himself (aka Bulshar), Wynonna has managed to handle all matters of evil with swagger, humor, and a good deal of whiskey. Wynonna has kicked ass and taken names in leather jackets, often while pregnant as all get out. Faced with the impossible decision of raising her daughter in a revenant-filled hellhole (almost literally) or sending her daughter away to be raised by a family member, Wynonna chooses her daughter’s safety over her own comfort, nearly tearing her own poor heart in two. And, when she’s lost her magical weapon, her team is otherwise occupied, her boo Doc is a vampire, and Bulshar has her imprisoned, Wynonna delivers a rousing speech to unify herself with the revenants against their common enemy. She’s one fierce mama and the anti-hero our world — and the Ghost River Triangle — needs. - S.E. Fleenor

Arya_House_of_Black_and_White.jpg

Arya Stark

This young woman from Game of Thrones has survived so much. For those of us who hated princess stories and would rather have played with a sword than a doll, Arya has been a cultural touchstone. She’s powerful, despite her age. She’s a better shot than her brothers before she even gets her hands on Needle. (Stick ‘em with the pointy end!) She has made a pretty good dent in her list of people she’d like to kill. We’ve watched her grow up and we’ve watched her become powerful. Despite that, she’s loyal to her family and still has hope. Arya has made it so far, and has finally been reunited with Jon and Sansa. She deserves to either sit on the Iron Throne (though she’d probably hate that) or at least become the Hand of the King or Queen. Also, can we please have a Brienne and Arya spinoff so we can just watch them be powerful and awesome together? Winter is here. - Jenna Busch

sfc-uhura

Nyota Uhura

There are so many reasons to love communications officer Nyota Uhura. The intense emotions at play on the original Star Trek series needed the logical, wry, calming presence that Uhura provided, and when she was finally introduced to the show she fit in perfectly. Although she was underutilized in the series as well as in film versions thereof, Uhura’s importance as the first Black woman in the outer space of TV can’t be ignored. Underrated or not, she has been a great character from the start. Famously, Uhura and Kirk’s kiss was the first interracial kiss on TV, and it remains one of the best-known moments of the original series. Meanwhile, my personal favorite moments of Uhura’s backstory include her rocking out with Spock on Vulcan lyre to entertain the crew and the animated series episode "The Lorelei Signal" in which she takes temporary leadership of the Enterprise. The actor that played Uhura, Nichelle Nichols, is equally heroic in real life and took the influence she had straight to NASA, helping to recruit female astronauts and impacting the future of STEM. - Sara Century

sfc-lessa

Lessa

Lessa from Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series embodies the true strong female character. Even better? It was written back in the late '60s when SFCs were few and far between. Lessa survived in awful conditions as a child, was chosen as the last Dragonrider of a Queen, ensuring the survival of the creatures. She defied conventions and helped prepared for the return of the deadly Threadfall, traveled 400 years back in time to bring forward other Dragonriders to help and stood strong against the very male-dominated society she lived in. OK, maybe her time travel did sort of form a paradox that caused the deficit in Dragonriders to begin with, but hey, she couldn’t know that, could she? Lessa took no crap from anyone, was proud of her no bull policy and is the perfect example of someone defined by the Shakespeare quote, "And though she be but little, she is fierce." - Jenna Busch

ScullyXFiles.png

Dana Scully

Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) has been through a lot since The X-Files debuted more than 25 years ago. Near death experiences, multiple abductions, her sister’s murder, being violated by the very people she was working for — and don’t even get me started on the parentage of her child. But through it all, Scully has remained steadfast in wanting to find the truth and get justice for those lost along the way. This isn’t just her partner's quest. She has to put up with gender politics in the office; she didn’t even get her own desk until recently, but Scully will always call people out. She’s smart, keeps a level head in a crisis and is funny af. A good sense of humor and a healthy dose of sarcasm is required in this line of work. I started watching The X-Files when I was 12 and Gillian Anderson’s portrayal of Dana Scully has shaped me in more ways than it is possible for me to even realize; from the pantsuits I craved — no matter how baggy — to the withering stare I tried to perfect. She also showed us that sometimes it is fine to fall apart. Strength doesn’t mean a tear-free face. - Emma Fraser

Alex Kingston as Professor River Song.jpg

River Song

Our hearts broke for the River Song the first time we met her, at the end of her life, and the last time she sees the Doctor. He’s never met his wife River before, and he watches her sacrifice herself to save others. Over the next few seasons, we got to know the glory that is the daughter of Amy and Rory, conceived on the TARDIS, and with some of the powers of the Time Lords. Despite everything that happens to her, including her marriage, she’s an independent woman who has an incredible life all over the universe and all through time. In a way, she’s far more powerful than the Doctor, because she isn’t living for her companions half the time. She’s living for herself and for her experiences. I mean, she’s got other husbands and some wives. She’s been to prison. Heck, she uses hallucinogenic lipstick! Can we read her diary? Spoilers be damned, sweetie. - Jenna Busch

sfc-doctor

The Doctor

Look, there’s the obvious immediate criticism that Jodie Whittaker has only had one season so far as the Doctor and that she hasn’t had time in the role yet to truly make it her own. But luckily, if there’s one thing that the Doctor excels at, it’s embracing the timey-wimey nature of the universe. In the last year and a half since she first lowered her hood during a Wimbledon match, this bright-eyed Doctor and her flashy coat have captured the hearts of fans everywhere. We hope we’ve only seen the beginnings of a long and epic run, but we’ve seen angles on stories we’d never have had in the show’s previous 55 years. While much of her history was lived through male iterations, it’s still a history that belongs to her, which itself is something of an incredible metaphor for the FANGRRLS who have spent so much of our lives with stories that don't always immediately serve us. And, like the way that genre has finally started acknowledging that nerds like us exist, her future belongs to us as well. - Riley Silverman

Hermione_Deathy_Hallows

Hermione Granger

It took some of us longer than others to realize that without Hermione Granger, Harry’s quest to defeat the Dark Lord would’ve ended mid-way through Book 1. The bushy-haired book-nerd was constantly saving the Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee sidekicks J.K. Rowling stuck her with, both in the books and their movie counterparts. But Hermione isn’t a strong character because she can cast complicated spells, time-travel, and solve problems twice as fast as “The Chosen One.” To me, Hermione’s greatest strength was her compassion for others. She was brave, sure, she could reason her way out of dangerous situations, and she had great taste when it came to literature, but it was Hermione’s heart, her willingness to do whatever it took to help those she loved, no matter the consequences, that felt so inspiring. Harry might’ve been on his journey because of personal vendettas and a sense of responsibility, and Ron... well, Ron was always along for the ride, but Hermione was the glue that kept the group together, the one steering their course, not for fame or personal gain but because she genuinely cared about the people she called family. That’s a f*cking hero. - Jessica Toomer

sfc-Dawn

Lilith Iyapo

Dawn, the first book of the Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis series, opens with Lilith Iyapo awakening in an unfamiliar room. The last thing she can remember is Earth crumbling from the effects of a nuclear war. It turns out that Lilith is one of the few human survivors scavenged by an alien race called the Oankali. What Butler does with this apocalyptic premise is give us a flawed heroine who isn’t forced to rise above her pain, but to survive despite it. A heroine who has to reckon with what that survival means in the face of her humanity. She’s “strong” in the sense that she’s quite literally physically strong, but also strong in the very dangerous and complicated decisions she’s forced to make. What makes Lilith such a lasting character is her strength to do what she feels is right, even when the consequences will lead to hatred and anger from the only people she wants to surround herself with. She makes the sacrifices necessary of a leader. And as readers, even with all the sacrifice and all the pain in her life, we get to see Lilith grow into a content, whole person. - Preeti Chhibber

moana-disney.jpg

Moana

As we move further into a more modern era of Disney Princesses, we’re starting to get a glimpse at the idea of them as women who have real purpose in their lives, characters with agency rather than simply romantic ambitions. But while we see Elsa get crowned Queen in Frozen, Moana, the “princess” of her island nation, is actually going to be tasked with the duty of leading it as chief one day. Her conflict isn’t one of romance; in fact, she doesn’t even have a love interest. She’s torn between her intended duty to be present to make daily decisions concerning her people, and leaving in order to do what she thinks is ultimately better for them. From the very beginning of her story, when she saves the sea turtle on the beach, she’s the rescuer, not the one to be rescued. And in the end, she’s also wise enough to see that the way to save her people is to actually bring peace to one’s own shattered, warring nature. She doesn’t destroy her enemy, she heals her. She doesn’t remain behind or abandon her people, she helps them rekindle their once proud traditions of wayfaring. In the end, the reason why Maui’s proudest accomplishment in the film is simply teaching Moana how to sail is because he knows that the rest of the story belongs to her. - Riley Silverman

Linda Hamilton, Sarah Connor, The Terminator

Sarah Connor

When we first meet Sarah Connor, she’s not a hero. She’s not a chosen one with some dormant magical destiny or anything like that. She’s a waitress. She has a destiny, but it’s literally just to be the mother of some dude who does some stuff. But what does she do when she finds that out? Does she remain content in letting Kyle Reese save her and then live out the rest of her life wiping her hands of it, going back to slinging dishes and forget the whole thing ever happened? Heck no. She. Gets. Ripped. She knows that time traveling robots from the future are like cockroaches or tables selling Girl Scout Cookies. You see one, there’s gonna be more. And they will not stop coming. So instead of thinking she’ll just buy a box of DoSiDos and some Thin Mints to stick in her freezer and be done with the whole affair, she trains. She arms herself. She sticks to her story and prepares even when therapists and doctors try to convince her she's crazy. Sarah Connor is an ordinary woman who, when called to take action, never looks back. She’s a symbol of the fact that all of us have the potential to be a hero, that all of us can take control of our own destiny. And she has the power to repeatedly pretend that more than half the movies made in her franchise never existed and that itself is a power we all wish we could share. - Riley Silverman

sfc-theo

Theo

This is an underrated and understated character for the most part, but hugely important for queer horror fans across the last century. Making her debut in Shirley Jackson’s Haunting of Hill House in 1959, Theodora was a psychic and an artist strongly hinted to be a lesbian. Her sexuality and her profession have fluctuated over various renditions of the story, but the basic themes of outsiderness and tortured knowledge of things unseen have remained central to her character, as has her genuine desire to do good in a world that tends to villainize her. My personal favorite take on the character was the 1963 film version of The Haunting portrayed by Claire Bloom, but the most recent version of Theodora in the Netflix series, brought to us by Kate Siegel, was likewise pretty amazing. For sensitive queer women with an aptitude for wearing black and being misunderstood, Theo is a true icon, and her unwavering strength rates her as one of the most important recurring queer female characters of genre. - Sara Century

Buffy screenshot

Buffy Summers

Obviously Buffy Summers is strong and powerful — but not merely because of her powers. Buffy didn't choose the Slayer life; the Slayer life chose her. But it's what she did with her calling that makes her so spectacular. Through her efforts to have some semblance of normal teenage life, from dropping out of school to act as a single parent to her sister Dawn following the devastating loss of their mother, to literally giving her life and sacrificing herself for that sister and all of humanity, Buffy's true strength was in her selflessness and vulnerability. Her body was fierce but her heart was breakable. She did what she had to do — never because she wanted to, but because it was right. She saved the world. A lot. And we are all grateful. - Courtney Enlow

Laurie Strode Halloween Jamie Lee Curtis

Laurie Strode

One fateful Halloween night in 1978, the town of Haddonfield was forever changed when a masked madman known as Michael Myers stalked and killed several people. Of those lives he threatened, one was fortunate enough to survive: a young babysitter named Laurie Strode. Played by Jamie Lee Curtis in her first ever film role, Laurie's story has experienced some jumpstarts and resets over the years, most recently with the 2018 reboot-quel Halloween which saw Laurie's connection to Michael Myers reduced from their original sibling bond to something much more terrifying: a random victim. However, this Laurie didn't share the same fears and paranoia as her earlier incarnations; she chose to prepare and lie in wait for the inevitable day when Michael would break free, because whenever that day came she'd be ready to take him on. Laurie Strode may have started out as a Final Girl, but she's since grown and changed to emerge as Last Woman Standing — no longer a victim, but a victor. - Carly Lane

KathrynJanewayVoyager123.jpg

Kathryn Janeway

Being a ship captain is challenging no matter who you are, but when Kathryn Janeway takes the helm of Voyager, she finds that being a woman in that role makes things awkward, to say the least. Refusing to be daunted by her crew’s equivocation around addressing her — Captain, she reminds them, will do just fine — Janeway does her job and does it well. She and her crew are stranded 70 years from Earth and Janeway maintains order on her ship, even while blending the Maquis crew into the Federation crew. She’s an empathetic leader and mentor who is willing to hear her crew out, but in the end, she knows that she’s the one in charge and doesn’t tolerate people defying her orders. She’s tough, she’s cool, and she’s one hell of a captain. Plus, have you seen how she handles Q and his creepy advances? Boss, indeed. - S.E. Fleenor

peggy-agentcarter.jpg

Peggy Carter

How can you summarize the amazingness of Peggy Carter in one paragraph? Peggy is she one of the most badass women of Marvel (without even having a superpower). In Agent Carter, she was kicking ass at work for the Strategic Scientific Reserve while simultaneously fighting the patriarchy in the 1940s. She was smart enough to earn the admiration of genius Howard Stark and strong enough to keep up with Captain America. Not only could Peggy hang with the biggest heroes in comics, but she was also able to use her smarts to take down some of the baddest of the bad. Peggy used assumptions and preconceived notions about women to her advantage against her enemies, showing them exactly how much better she was than most of the men. In the huge, interconnected Marvel world, Peggy Carter is one character that made a significant impact on the very fabric of the universe. - Heather Mason

zoe_firefly

Zoe Washburne

A soldier loyal to her captain, a woman unafraid of her strength, a wife of a man who celebrated all of her, Firefly's Zoe Washburne embodies everything we love about women in genre. Fiercely committed to her cause and to those she loves, Zoe's no-nonsense nature doesn't preclude her from heart, soul and humor. But the moment we see the depths and heights of Zoe's strength is the worst moment of her life, when her world comes crashing down after the death of her beloved husband Wash. Even in utter grief, she is committed to her mission and the wellbeing of her cohorts and the universe. Not merely as an act of strength, but of survival. The fight is all she has. So she keeps going even when she's falling apart. Because sometimes, there's no choice. And that's when we see our true character.  - Courtney Enlow

Ellen-Ripley-Alien.jpg

Ellen Ripley

A mother just trying to make a better life for her self and child became a hero the universe didn’t deserve. In the very first movie of the Alien franchise, she held her own against a terrifying monster and a psychotic AI who was hellbent on making sure its employer received a specimen. She then spent decades in cyro sleep after escaping a real-life nightmare only to wake up to more horror. Like the GOAT she is, Ellen managed to survive her encounter with xenomorphs — AGAIN! Ellen Ripley was a mom who wanted a better future for her child and thankfully for everyone else that meant she would do whatever she could to make sure no one on Earth had to encounter the nightmares she faced in space. A beautiful symbol of a mother’s strength and love. - Stephanie Williams

sfc-Leia

Leia Organa

Y’all know we can’t make a list like this without talking about the General, the Princess, the blaster-toting, force-wielding, hair-bunning lady herself, right? It’s no secret here at FANGRRLS that we love ourselves some Leia. For many of us, she was an entry point into our early days as baby nerds. For some of us, she’s been the constant, the guiding light, the beacon in a storm that helps us find our way. We’ve spilled so much ink on Leia Organa and likely will do so much more, but what makes her stand out even higher for us is how Carrie Fisher only served as an even greater inspiration in our lives, taking the spirit of Leia and making it her own. She’s given us confidence, she’s given us hope. She’s been our strange galactic surrogate mother. When people say silly things like "Star Wars is for girls now," we point to Leia, because she’s always been here, and she’s always been ours. And there is no Star Wars without her. - Riley Silverman

Make Your Inbox Important

Get our newsletter and you’ll be delivered the most interesting stories, videos and interviews weekly.

Sign-up breaker
Sign out: