The 50 Most Complex Female Characters in Movies

Truly complex female characters in movies have, historically, often been conspicuous by their absence. Women are often underrepresented in roles compared with men and, whilst male characters take the lead, female characters are sidelined. Many writers still rely on outdated stereotypes as female characters often serve primarily as the romantic interest for the male protagonist, with their own development taking a backseat.

However, more recently, there have been notable strides in improving women’s representation in movies and a break away from traditional stereotypes. Movies increasingly focus on female-centric stories where the primary narrative revolves around female character’s experience and growth.

Strong female characters are more frequently depicted on screen and their characters are becoming multidimensional figures who exhibit depth, realism and relatability. So, where do these authentic and varied representations of women appear on screen? To answer, we take a look at the top 50 most complex female movie characters.

Table of contents

Most Complex Female Characters…Historical Figures

Tonya Harding (I, Tonya – 2017)

Portrayed by Margot Robbie, Tonya Harding is a former figure skater who became embroiled in one of the most notorious scandals in the history of the sport.

Tonya Harding complex female characters

The movie explores Harding’s early life, her rise to fame as a talented figure skater, and the events leading up to the 1994 attack on her rival, Nancy Kerrigan.

Harding’s tumultuous personal life is delved into and themes of ambition, class struggle, and the media’s portrayal of Harding as a villain lead her to be a prime example of a complex female character.

Katherine Johnson (Hidden Figures – 2016)

Katherine Johnson, portrayed by Taraji P.Henson, was a pioneering African American mathematician whose work at NASA played a crucial role in the success of the early space missions, including the orbit of astronaut John Glenn around the Earth.

Despite facing discrimination and segregation as a black woman working in a predominantly white and male environment, Johnson’s exceptional mathematical skills and perseverance earned her the respect of her colleagues and helped pave the way for future generations of women and minorities in STEM fields.

Hidden Figures | Official Trailer [HD] | 20th Century FOX

Katherine Johnson’s perseverance, intelligence, and determination allowed her to break barriers. She is an inspiration to women and young girls everywhere.

Joan Clark (Imitation Game – 2014)

Clarke (Keira Knightly) is a Bletchley Park recruit. Her talents in mathematics make her an invaluable asset to the team.

Joan Clarke complex female characters

Clarke faces significant gender-based challenges and prejudice. Her contributions are often undervalued by the male characters and she fights for her place in a male-dominated environment.

She works closely with Turing and other members of the team to develop techniques and devices that eventually lead to breaking the Enigma code, which significantly contributes to the Allied war effort.

Marie Antoinette (Marie Antoinette – 2006)

Staring Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette, Marie Antoinette depicts the last queen of France before the French Revolution.

The film chronicles the life of Marie Antoinette from her arrival in France as a young Austrian archduchess to her rise as queen and, ultimately, to the precipice of the French Revolution.

Maire Antoinette complex female characters

It focuses on her personal experiences, the pressures of court, her marriage to Louis XVI (played by Jason Schwartzman), and her attempts to find happiness and personal freedom within the confines of Versailles. Her story is complex and includes an examination of the isolation of power, the extravagance and decadence of the French court, and the clash between personal desire and public duty. She is a great example of a complex and strong woman.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg (On the Basis of Sex – 2018)

The movie portrays the early career of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Felicity Jones), who would later become a Supreme Court Justice of the United States. The film focuses on her struggles and triumphs as she fights against gender discrimination.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg complex female characters

The narrative highlights both her personal and professional life, including her marriage to Martin Ginsburg, her role as a mother, and her struggles to balance these roles while pursuing her career.

It sheds light on the personal and professional challenges Ginsburg faced and a timely exploration of issues of equality and justice and her role in shaping the legal landscape of the United States. She is a prime example of one of the many strong female characters portrayed on screen.

Queen Elizabeth I (Elizabeth – 1998)

Elizabeth depicts the early years of Elizabeth I’s (Cate Blanchett) reign. Themes of political intrigue, the struggle for power, religious conflict, and the challenges Elizabeth faced in asserting her authority in a male-dominated society, lead to a nuanced portrayal.

Elizabeth complex female characters

Depth, complexity, and a strong emotional core are central to the character. Elizabeth’s vulnerability and strength make for a well-rounded and strong female character.

Katharine Gunn (Official Secrets – 2019)

The movie tells the true story of Katharine Gun (Keira Knightley), a British whistleblower who leaked a top-secret NSA memo in the lead-up to the 2003 Iraq War.

Official Secrets - Clip "Loyalty" I HD I IFC Films

Struggling with the moral implications of her discovery, Gun decides to leak the memo to the press, triggering a political scandal and a legal battle.

She has internal conflict, moral conviction, and faces the personal and professional risks. The character’s bravery, determination, and vulnerability are self-evident, leading her to be a complex female character.

Sacha Pfeiffer (Spotlight – 2015)

Spotlight is based on the real investigation by the Boston Globe that began in 2001 and led to the exposure of widespread sexual abuse by priests and the systematic cover-up by the Catholic Church.

Pfeiffer complex female characters

Rachel McAdams plays Pfeiffer who is an experienced and dedicated journalist who plays a crucial role in interviewing survivors and digging into the details of the story. She is an empathetic, determined female character who is commitment to uncovering the truth.

Tina Turner (What’s Love Got to Do with It – 1993)

The movie chronicles Tina Turner’s (Angela Bassett) childhood, her rise to fame, and her tumultuous relationship with Ike Turner. It highlights her struggles with domestic abuse, her journey to reclaim her life and career, and her ultimate triumph as a solo artist.

Tina turner complex female characters

Displaying both vulnerability and incredible strength, Tina Turner is resilient and ultimately empowered. The movie depicts the transformative power of music, and Tina Turner is an example of one of the many strong women depicted on screen.

Billie Jean-King (Battle of the Sexes – 2017)

Emma stone plays Billie Jean-King and the movie foregrounds the struggle for gender equality in sports, portraying King’s fight against the entrenched sexism of the time and her efforts to secure better conditions and recognition for female athletes.

The movie dramatizes the famous 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. It captures the spirit and determination of someone who fought tirelessly for gender equality.

Battle of the Sexes | Official HD Trailer | 2017

It explores the personal and professional challenges faced by King and her burgeoning relationship with her secretary, Marilyn Barnett.

Most Complex Female Characters…Coming of Age

Lady Bird (Lady Bird – 2017)

Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) is a teenage girl living in Sacramento, California who longs for adventure and independence. She rebels against her conservative Catholic upbringing and dreams of escaping her mundane surrounding for a more exciting life on the East Coast.

Lady Bird (2017) - Call Me Lady Bird Scene (1/10) | Movieclips

Despite facing various obstacles and setbacks, she is wants to pursue her dreams, whether it’s attending a prestigious college or finding acceptance. Moments of vulnerability and insecurity result in a nuanced and heartfelt female character.

Elle Woods (Legally Blonde – 2001)

Elle Woods, portrayed by actress Reese Witherspoon, defies expectations and stereotypes by showing her intelligence, determination, and legal acumen.

elle woods complex female characters

She ends up excelling in law school, earning the respect of her peers and professors, and winning a high-profile case that she initially took on as an intern. She is a symbol of empowerment, breaking stereotypes, and believing in oneself.

Hermione Granger (Harry Potter Series – 2001-2011)

Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) is a highly intelligent and resourceful witch and she has exceptional academic prowess.

Hermione Granger complex female characters

She is a fiercely loyal and brave friend, willing to stand up for what is right and defend those she cares about. She is not afraid to speak her mind or challenge authority when necessary, embodying the values of courage, integrity, and empathy.

Molly (Booksmart – 2019)

The film follows best friends Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), two teenage girls. Molly is an ambitious and determined student who realizes she might have missed out on important social experiences.

molly complex female characters

The movie includes themes of friendship, self-discovery and the pressures of balancing fun with academic achievement. Feldstein’s performance captures Molly’s intensity, intelligence, and vulnerability, leading her to be one of the many strong female characters portrayed on screen.

Juno (Juno – 2007)

Juno MacGuff (Elliot Page) is a sharp-witted teenager who faces an unplanned pregnancy and decides to find adoptive parents for her unborn child.

Juno forms a bond with Mark and Vanessa Loring (played by Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner), a couple looking to adopt.

Throughout the film, Juno navigates the emotional ups and downs of her pregnancy, her evolving feelings for Paulie, and her growing relationship with the Lorings, leading to a character with a lot of emotional depth.

Jo March (Little Women – 2019)

Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) is a character who embodies independence, creativity, and a strong sense of self. She’s a fiercely determined aspiring writer in a time when opportunities for women were limited.

LITTLE WOMEN Clip - I'm So Sick Of It

Jo rejects societal expectations and pursues her ambitions with courage and resilience. Her relationships with her sisters are central to the story, showcasing loyalty, love, and the complexities of family bonds, an example of one of many complex and strong women depicted on screen.

Nadine (The Edge of Seventeen – 2016)

Nadine (Hailee Steinfield) is intelligent, witty, and often socially awkward, struggling with feelings of insecurity and isolation. The film explores her turbulent relationships, particularly with her best friend Krista and her older brother Darian, whose dynamic shifts significantly when Krista and Darian start dating.

hailee complex female characters

Nadine is marked by moments of humor, vulnerability, and growth as she learns to confront her fears and accept herself.

Jess (Bend It Like Beckham – 2002)

Jess (Parminder Nagra) is determined and passionate, with a love for football (soccer) in a traditional Indian family.

jess complex female characters

She challenges cultural expectations and stereotypes as she pursues her dream of playing football professionally, despite her family’s objections. Her journey involves balancing her aspirations with familial duties and navigating issues of identity, independence, and belonging.

Sam (The Perks of Being a Wallflower – 2012)

Emma Watson portrays Sam, a charismatic, compassionate, and deeply empathetic character, serving as a supportive friend to the protagonist, Charlie. She is depicted as someone who has experienced her share of hardships, including past trauma and complex family dynamics, yet she remains hopeful and resilient.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (3/11) Movie CLIP - The Tunnel (2012) HD

Throughout the film, Sam navigates her own journey of self-discovery and acceptance, exploring her passions for music and literature while also grappling with personal insecurities and relationships. She is an authentic figure who all audience can relate to.

Leslie Burke (Bridge to Terabithia – 2007)

Burke (AnnaSophia Robb) is a vibrant and imaginative young girl who becomes the close friend and confidante of the protagonist, Jesse Aarons. She is portrayed as adventurous, creative, and unafraid to challenge societal norms and expectations.

Leslie complex female characters

Leslie’s character stands out for her unique perspectives and her ability to see beyond the ordinary. She introduces Jesse to the magical world of Terabithia, a place they create in the woods where their imaginations can run wild.

Most Complex Female Characters…Villains

Red (Us – 2019)

Lupita Nyong’o portrays Adelaide Wilson and her doppelgänger known as ‘Red.’ She is both a mirror and an opposite to Adelaide, the protagonist. Her presence raises questions about identity, trauma, and the darker aspects of human nature. Red’s backstory reveals a disturbing connection to Adelaide, adding layers of complexity to their relationship and blurring the lines between hero and villain.

Red complex female characters

Throughout the film, Red’s character serves as a symbol of the unknown and the unsettling, challenging audiences to question the nature of duality within themselves and society.

Miranda Priestly (The Devil Wears Prada – 2006)

Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep) is known for her formidable presence and demanding demeanor. She is a perfectionist who expects nothing less than excellence from her employees, often exhibiting a no-nonsense attitude and razor-sharp wit.

The Devil Wears Prada (2/5) Movie CLIP - Andy's Interview (2006) HD

Miranda is portrayed as a complex character with vulnerabilities and insecurities of her own, hinting at the sacrifices she has made to achieve success in the competitive world of fashion publishing.

Harley Quinn (Birds of Prey – 2020)

Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) is a character marked by her chaotic energy, sharp wit, and complex personality.

Harley Quinn complex female characters

She is depicted as fiercely independent yet vulnerable, blending her quirky charm with a raw, unapologetic toughness. The film showcases her evolution from being defined by her relationship with the Joker to becoming a powerful figure in her own right, changing the narrative for female characters within the DC universe.

Hedra- (Single White Female – 1992)

Hedy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a seemingly sweet and shy young woman who becomes the roommate of the film’s protagonist, Allison “Allie” Jones, portrayed by Bridget Fonda.

At first, Hedy appears to be a supportive and understanding friend, helping Allie through a difficult breakup. However, as the film progresses, Hedy’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic and obsessive. This unsettling transformation reveals Hedy’s deep-seated insecurities and psychological instability.

SINGLE WHITE FEMALE [1992] - Official Trailer

Hedy’s character is marked by her vulnerability and a desperate need for identity and connection, stemming from a traumatic past involving the death of her twin sister.

Annie Wilkes (Misery – 1990)

Annie (Kathy Bates) is a former nurse who becomes the self-proclaimed “number one fan” of author Paul Sheldon.

Annie Wilkes complex female characters

When Paul, played by James Caan, is involved in a car accident during a snowstorm, Annie rescues him and takes him to her remote home to recover. However, it quickly becomes apparent that Annie is dangerously obsessed with Paul and his work.

Annie’s initial facade of kindness and care deteriorates. Throughout the film, Annie’s erratic and sadistic behavior, combined with her moments of childlike innocence and delusional beliefs, create a deeply unsettling atmosphere.

Bellatrix Lestrange (Harry Potter Series – 2001 – 2011)

Bellatrix (Helena Bonham Carter) is known for her cruelty, sadism, and unwavering dedication to the Dark Arts.

As a member of the pure-blood Black family, Bellatrix embraces Voldemort’s ideology of blood purity and despises anyone who does not share her extremist views. She has a fierce and almost unhinged devotion to Voldemort, often displaying an unsettling combination of affection and fanaticism towards him.

Wizard Duel: Molly Weasley vs. Bellatrix Lestrange | Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2

The character has malevolent glee and deep-seated madness. Bellatrix serves as a representation of the extreme consequences of fanaticism and the seductive power of dark ideologies.

O-Ren Ishii (Kill Bill Series – 2003-2011)

O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu) is a skilled assassin and a key member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, known by her codename, Cottonmouth. Her character arc and backstory are detailed and impactful, contributing significantly to the narrative’s depth and intensity.

o-ren Ishii complex female characters

O-Ren’s backstory is tragic and poignant. She witnessed the brutal murder of her parents by the Yakuza, which sets her on a path of vengeance and violence. By the age of 20, she becomes a top assassin and eventually the head of the Tokyo Yakuza, known for her ruthlessness and exceptional combat skills.

O-Ren is a complex blend of elegance, honor, and brutality.

Nurse Ratched (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – 1975)

Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), also known as “Big Nurse,” oversees a psychiatric ward with a facade of calm and control, maintaining a strict regimen that suppresses the individuality and freedom of the patients. Her methods are manipulative and authoritarian, utilizing psychological manipulation, fear, and punishment to maintain order and dominance over the patients.

nurse ratched complex female characters

Ratched’s character has a cold demeanor, passive-aggressive behavior, and an unwavering belief in the righteousness of her methods. She has subtle expressions and a calm, yet intimidating presence.

Samara Morgan (The Ring – 2002)

Samara’s character (Daveigh Chase) is a ghostly and malevolent presence, associated with a cursed videotape that brings death to anyone who watches it within seven days. Her backstory is tragic and chilling. Samara possessed unusual abilities, including the power to burn images into objects and people’s minds.

Samara Comes to You - The Ring (8/8) Movie CLIP (2002) HD

Daveigh Chase’s portrayal of Samara is eerie and memorable, effectively conveying the character’s tragic origins and terrifying presence. Samara Morgan embodies the themes of vengeance from beyond the grave and the impact of neglect and abuse, serving as a chilling reminder of the horrors that can arise from buried secrets and unresolved suffering.

Amy Dunne (Gone Girl – 2014)

Amy’s character (Rosamund Pike) is multifaceted, blending intelligence, charm, and a deeply calculating nature.

Amy is initially the seemingly perfect wife of Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), but as the story unfolds, her true nature and motivations are revealed.

amy complex female characters

Amy’s most striking trait is her meticulous and cunning mind. She orchestrates an elaborate plan to frame Nick for her supposed murder, meticulously planting evidence and creating a false narrative to ensure he appears guilty.

Pike effectively captures Amy’s duality: the charming, picture-perfect wife and the cold, vengeful mastermind. Her performance brings depth to Amy’s character, making her both fascinating and terrifying.

Most Complex Female Characters…Thriller/Crime

Clarice Starling (Silence of the Lambs – 1991)

Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is a young trainee FBI agent, determined to prove herself in a male-dominated field. Driven by a desire to pursue justice for victims, she is highly intelligent and resourceful, using her investigative skills to track down serial killers. She demonstrates sharp intuition and deductive reasoning throughout the film.

clarice starling complex female characters

However, beneath her professional exterior, Clarice harbours vulnerability and insecurities, her interactions with Dr. Hannibal Lecter revealing her inner turmoil and the emotional toll of her work.

Celebrated for her intelligence, strength and moral integrity, she is a prime example of a well-written complex female protagonist who displays depth and humanity.

Marge Gunderson (Fargo – 1996)

Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), is a police chief in Brainerd, Minnesota, known for her sharp investigative skills and no-nonsense approach to law enforcement. She is a strong moral character, driven by sense of duty and justice.

Margo complex female characters

She maintains her integrity even when faced with corruption and deception, refusing to compromise her principles for personal gain.

Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games – 2012)

Jennifer Lawrence portrays Katniss Everdeen, is a teenage girl who is a symbol of resourcefulness and independence. She displays fierce loyalty and motivation to protect her loved ones, particularly her younger sister Prim.

Despite stoic exterior, Katniss harbours deep emotional wounds, her vulnerability and inner turmoil gradually revealed as the series progresses.

katniss complex female characters

She struggles with the weight of responsibility and expectations placed upon her, grappling with the moral complexities of leadership and rebellion as she is thrust into the role of a revolutionary symbol, the ‘Mockingjay’, leading her to be one of the strongest female characters in recent movies.

Mildred Hayes (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – 2017)

Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) is a grieving mother whose daughter, Angela, was brutally murdered. Her unresolved grief and anger drives much of the movie, as she seeks justice for her daughter’s murder.


She is a complex character with layers of vulnerability, strength and flawed humanity. While she is driven by her desires for justice, she also grapples with feelings of guilt and remorse over her own failings as a mother.

Lisbeth Salander (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – 2011)

Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) is a skilled computer hacker and investigator with a remarkable ability to uncover hidden information and navigate complex systems. She is shaped by her experiences of a traumatic childhood marked by abuse, neglect, and institutionalisation.

lisbeth complex female characters

Lisbeth is fiercely independent and self-reliant, preferring to rely on her own skills and instincts rather than seeking help from others. While she is capable of great kindness and empathy towards those she cares about, she is also capable of ruthless and violent acts when necessary.

Despite her tough exterior, Lisbeth is vulnerable and emotionally scarred from her traumatic past. Her resilience and strength in the face of adversity are central themes.

The Bride ( The Kill Bill Series – 2003)

Uma Thurman portrays the Bride, also known as Beatrix Kiddo, who is former member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, a group of highly skilled assassins. She seeks revenge against her former colleagues after they betray her on her wedding day, leaving her for dead.

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (7/12) Movie CLIP - The Bride Arrives (2003) HD

The Bride is a complex character, combining elements of vulnerability, strength, determination, and moral ambiguity. Despite her violent quest for revenge, she is also a mother figure and desires justice and closure.

Loretta McPherson (Boston Strangler – 2023)

Loretta McPherson (Keira Nightly) is a journalist who played a crucial role in uncovering and reporting on the infamous Boston Strangler case during the 1960s.

loretta mcPherson

McLaughlin is a tenacious and courageous reporter working in a male-dominated field. She has a strong sense of justice and a commitment to uncovering the truth, despite facing significant professional and personal challenges.

Throughout the movie, Loretta highlights investigative skills and persistence as she delves deeper into the case, uncovering patterns and connections that others have overlooked.

Ruth Slater (The Unforgivable – 2021)

Ruth Slater (Sandra Bullock) has a complex past and desires redemption. The movie revolves around Ruth’s struggles as she re-enters society after serving a 20-year prison sentence for a violent crime.

Ruth has a profound sense of guilt and a determination to rebuild her life. Upon her release, she faces the harsh reality of a society that is unwilling to forgive her past actions. She wants to connect with her younger sister, Katie, who she was separated from when she was incarcerated.

The Unforgivable | Sandra Bullock | Official Trailer | Netflix

Ruth displays great vulnerability, resilience, and the movie explores the emotional weight of her past.

Molly Bell (Molly’s Game – 2017)

Molly Bell (Jessica Chastain) gained notoriety for organizing high-stakes underground poker games for celebrities, athletes, and business moguls. The movie explores Molly’s rise and fall in the world of underground gambling and her subsequent legal battles.

molly bell

Molly Bloom is a highly intelligent and ambitious woman who runs an exclusive and lucrative poker games in Los Angeles and New York. She is able to navigate the complex world of high-stakes gambling and attract wealthy clientele.

She is complex and controls her own destiny despite the risks and consequences. Jessica Chastain’s performance captures Molly’s resilience, intelligence, and the emotional toll of her legal battles.

Katherine Melli (The Woman in the Window – 2021)

Katie Melli (Julianna Moore) has layers of complexity and mystery. Katie’s presence becomes intertwined with the unfolding mystery surrounding Anna’s perception of reality, as she witnesses unsettling events from her window that may or may not involve Katie and her family.

The Woman in the Window | Official Trailer | Netflix

She has depth and ambiguity, blending empathy with an air of enigma. Katie serves as a catalyst for the suspense and intrigue in the film, challenging Anna’s perceptions and adding to the interesting psychological tension.

Most Complex Female Characters…Science Fiction

Black Widow (Black Widow – 2021)

Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) desires redemption and wants to confront her past. The movie explores her internal conflict and the moral complexities of her actions as a former assassin.

black widow

Black Widow highlights her strength, resourcefulness, and tactical skills while also revealing her vulnerability and emotional depth. Natasha’s relationships with her surrogate family add a personal dimension to her character, showcasing her ability to form deep bonds, making her one of the strongest female characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Captain Marvel (Captain Marvel – 2019)

Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), Captain Marvel, is a member of the elite Kree military unit Starforce. She suffers from amnesia and recurring nightmares. Throughout the movie, Captain Marvel embarks on a journey of self-discovery that reveals the true identity of Captain Marvel as a former U.S. Air Force pilot and unlocks the full potential of her powers.

Captain marvel

The journey of Captain Marvel is one of reclaiming her identity and understanding her true power. As Captain Marvel pieces together her past, she overcomes the control and manipulation.

Captain Marvel embodies resilience and strength. Captain Marvel has an inner strength and determination, one of the many brave and complex female characters in the Marvel Universe.

Evelyn (Everything Everywhere All at Once – 2022)

Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) runs a struggling laundromat with her husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), and is dealing with various personal and family issues.

Everything Everywhere All At Once | Official Trailer HD | A24

Evelyn discovers that she is part of a multiverse and that she holds the key to saving it from a looming threat. Guided by an alternate version of her husband, Michelle Yeoh gives a nuanced performance as she learns to tap into the abilities and experiences of her alternate selves across the multiverse to combat a malevolent entity known as Jobu Tupaki.

Michelle Yeoh portrays Evelyn’s journey as about realizing her untapped potential and the myriad possibilities of who she can be.

Princess Leia (Star Wars Series – 1977 – 2017)

Princess Leia (Carrie Fischer) is a key leader in the Star Wars Series and figure in the Rebel Alliance, fighting against the tyrannical Galactic Empire.

princess leia

She appears in numerous Star Wars movies and is a figure of immense strength, intelligence, and leadership. Princess Leia inspires those around her with her courage and strategic mind, a strong female character in the Star Wars Series. Despite the losses and challenges she faces, Leia’s compassion and dedication to the greater good remain unshaken, marking her as one of the strongest female characters in the Star Wars Series.

Ellen Ripley (Alien Series – 1979 – 1997)

Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is a warrant officer aboard the commercial space tug Nostromo. She evolves significantly throughout the series, transforming from a by-the-book officer to a hardened warrior and a symbol of human endurance against unimaginable horror.


Displaying quick thinking and resilience, her final confrontation with the Xenomorph showcases her resourcefulness and determination. She has a relentless, brave will to survive, but is a also greatly vulnerable.

Trinity (The Matrix Series – 1999 – 2021)

Trinity (Carrie-Anne Mossis) is a skilled hacker and a formidable fighter who is part of the human resistance against the machines that have enslaved humanity within a simulated reality known as the Matrix

The Matrix (1999) Official Trailer #1 - Sci-Fi Action Movie

Trinity, as a mysterious and highly capable operative, guides Neo (Keanu Reeves) in his awakening to the real world. She’s a symbol of empowerment, showcasing physical prowess and intellectual acumen. Although initially a minor character, she ultimately breaks gender stereotypes, presenting a strong, independent woman who is integral to the narrative.

Dr. Louise Banks (Arrival – 2016)

Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) has intellectual prowess, emotional depth, and the unique ability to connect with others.

She is a renowned linguist who is recruited by the U.S. government to communicate with extraterrestrial beings, known as Heptapods, who have arrived on Earth. Her expertise in languages and her methodical, empathetic approach are crucial in deciphering the aliens’ complex language and understanding their purpose.

Arrival Trailer (2016) - Paramount Pictures

She displays great emotional depth and intellectual subtlety and Louise Banks stands out as a strong, compassionate, and interesting female protagonist.

Lena Double (Annihilation – 2018)

Lena Double (Natalie Portman) is complex and multi-layered. She navigates a journey of self-discovery, transformation, and confrontation with the unknown.

Annihilation (2018) - Official Trailer - Paramount Pictures

Lena is a cellular biology professor and former soldier who embarks on a perilous mission into an environmental disaster zone known as “The Shimmer.”

Lena’s journey is a profound exploration of identity, trauma, and the nature of change. Her confrontation with her doppelgänger at the film’s climax serves as a powerful metaphor for self-reflection and transformation. Lena’s narrative arc is central to the movie’s philosophical and existential inquiries.

Dr Ellie (Contact – 1997)

Dr. Eleanor “Ellie” Arroway (Jodie Foster) is a dedicated and brilliant radio astronomer working for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) program. She seeks to find proof of intelligent life beyond Earth.

Dr Ellie

Ellie is a passionate and determined scientist, often at odds with the scientific community and funding bodies skeptical of her work. Her journey reflects themes of personal growth, the search for meaning, and the acceptance of the unknown.

Wanda Maximoff (Marvel Cinematic Universe – 2014 -2022)

Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) has immense but initially uncontrolled powers. She suffers from loss, trauma, and the struggle to control her powers and find her place in the world.

wanda maximoff complex female characters

Wanda is heavily influenced by her experiences with loss and trauma, from her parents’ death to losing her brother, Vision, and, ultimately, her children. Her grief drives much of her actions and decisions, illustrating how deeply pain can shape one’s life and choices, leading her to be one of the strongest female characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Feeling inspired by these complexly written characters? Take a look at our list of 50 Character Flaws to Use In Your Next Screenplay and How to Avoid Writing One Dimensional Characters for some more inspiration.

This article was written by Amy Forster.

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