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The PAM-10: Strong-Willed Female Leads

Move over, boys. The girls are taking over, and this isn’t just any group of girls. These are the ones who demand your attention, who don’t take “no” for an answer, the ones you don’t want to mess with. You know, tough girls.

Disney’s latest film, Secretariat, tells the story of Penny Chenery, the housewife who bred the amazing racehorse that legendarily won the Triple Crown. With her sheer determination and will, Chenery went against the odds and did the impossible. In the film, she is played by Academy Award-nominated actress Diane Lane. With much acclaim and even some Oscar buzz, it goes without saying that Lane's performance fits perfectly into this elite group of women that never back down.

In honor of Lane's buzzed-about work in the film and the film itself, Player Affinity would like to take the opportunity to honor ten other strong-willed leading ladies.

10. Bridget Jones (Bridget Jones’ Diary)

Starting off the list is fictional columnist Bridget Jones, the Elizabeth Bennett equivalent in this modernized interpretation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Protagonist Jones has to make a decision of love between her boss and a lawyer, played by Hugh Grant and Colin Firth, respectively. Complete with a flawless British accent and the stubborn sensibilities of the character's inspiration, actress Renee Zellweger of Jerry Maguire fame not only broke through to American audiences as a leading lady, but she received her first of three Oscar nominations for her performance in this film.

9. Leigh Ann Tuohy (The Blind Side)

Conservative Southern matriarch Leigh Ann Tuohy gets the number nine spot on our list, as she brings Michael Oher, a poverty-stricken teen, into her home. Even amidst the fighting against the ensuing prejudice, she still holds on to her values and maternal love. This is the most recent performance to make our list. Tuohy was portrayed deftly by Sandra Bullock in an Oscar-winning performance.


8. Annie (Sleepless in Seattle)

Romantic comedies are not often the place to look for terrific female leads, especially the more recent ones. Even so, Meg Ryan defined the perfect romantic-comedy lead in this performance opposite regular co-star Tom Hanks.

7. Maggie Fitzgerald (Million Dollar Baby)

Maggie Fitzgerald wants to fight, and that’s certainly what she’s going to do. In Clint Eastwood’s 2004 classic, Hilary Swank gets tough and competitive in the world of boxing. Swank won a second Oscar for her performance.

6. Annie Wilkes (Misery)

Taking a slight turn in favor of a more corrupt leading lady, we have Annie Wilkes. As a crazed fan of author Paul Sheldon, played by James Caan, she does not at all hesitate to take him in when he is unable to travel. While she seems to be a kind and normal individual at first, her true colors are revealed to Mister Man in the most unflattering way. If you're worried about running into her, be sure to keep some ankle protection handy. Kathy Bates won an Oscar for this breakthrough performance.

5. Celie Johnson (The Color Purple)

Celie Johnson makes this list by surviving the obstacles of the unfortunate time period in which the story takes place. Despite keeping a relatively somber attitude throughout her life, she reveals her true strength by lashing out against her tormentors towards the end of the film. The now-famous Whoopi Goldberg was an unknown in the industry before leading Steven Spielberg’s epic adaptation of the classic Alice Walker.

4. Roxie Hart (Chicago)

It may have been Velma Kelly that was the big headliner in jazz-era Chicago, but it was Roxie Hart that never gave up on her desire to be famous, even when her actions were met with disastrous consequences. Musicals have always been dependable in the strong-willed female department, but this might be the epitome of strong female leads in a musical. Zellweger’s work in Rob Marshall’s hit musical marks her second appearance on the list and her second Oscar nomination.


3. Elizabeth Bennett (Pride and Prejudice)

The modern equivalent has already been listed, so why not give credit to the inspiration? Elizabeth Bennett is the iconic female protagonist in the literary world, and her headstrong attitude translates perfectly to the screen. Keira Knightley’s Oscar-nominated performance helped bring this character to a new and appreciative audience.

2. Diana Christensen (Network)

As we make a short return back into less congenial territory, Diana Christensen would do anything to get her television network XYZ to the top of the ratings heap in this classic satire portraying the cutthroat world of media. In an Academy Award-winning performance, Faye Dunaway subtly but phenomenally portrays what may be one of the most unlikable protagonists in motion picture history.

1. Ellen Ripley (Alien films)

Let’s face it: this character is a no-brainer for such lists, but that does not make her any less deserving of being on it.

Played with an intense vivacity by Sigourney Weaver, she proved that she could fight with the best of them. The character broke the mold of the traditional sci-fi lead, as Weaver received an Oscar nomination for Aliens, the second film in the series.

That’s the list. Who are your favorite strong-willed leading ladies?




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