The Top 100 Women in Pop Culture! (Part 1)
A while ago we wrote an epic ten part list of our 100 favourite graphic novels. We liked it and the feedback we got was very positive. I though we’d do video games but fortunately we have writers who have great ideas, and we loved Jes’ suggestion that we could look at the 100 greatest female characters in pop culture. We went with that idea!
Before we unleash the first of five parts of this epic list, we’ll outline the criteria we settled on. The characters had to be female and be a part of modern pop culture. We decided not to include books in the process because that could produce a Top 100 list on its own. Our nominees come from comics, film, television and video games. We chose not to rank these characters from best to worst, instead celebrating each as an individual role. Our list of nominees was MASSIVE and we made some tough cuts, so we tried not to include to many from any one franchise. Also, this isn’t a ranked list…just the 100 best in random order.
We hope you enjoy our selections and give us feedback in the comments. We’d love to hear about the characters we haven’t had room for! Remember…they’ll be another 20 in the next instalment.
First Appearance: Batman: The Animated Series Episode Joker’s Favor. First comic appearance in The Batman Adventures #12 (Originally voiced by Arleen Sorkin)
Who is She?: In short, Harley Quinn is the Joker’s girlfriend. After training as a trapeze artist Harleen Quinzel took an interest in studying psychology. As a student she worked at Arkham Asylum and, wanting to make a name for herself, set out to psychoanalyse The Joker. Through his manipulations she fell in love with him and facilitated his escape, joining his side as the reinvented Harley Quinn.
Why She’s Great: Just why Harley Quinn wound up so popular is a complex question. Initially conceived as a walk-on role (creator Paul Dini wanted to break the pattern of male henchmen) and inspired by a dream sequence on Days of Our Lives there could not have been much of an intended future for the character. Casting the original Days of Our Lives actor Arleen Sorkin to voice the character and provide the basis of her personality was a good start, and perhaps the natural evolution into a fully realised character is a major factor. These days Harley Quinn is many things…the avatar of a damaged relationship, the contrasting view on a well known villain, the comic relief in a dark series, the lynchpin between Catwoman and Poison Ivy dynamic, the inspiration for thousands of cosplayers…all we know is that the superhero world would be poorer without her.
Entry written by G-Funk
First Appearance: Freaks and Geeks Season 1 (Portrayed by Linda Cardellini)
Who is She? Lindsay was a high school student with exceptional grades until she witnessed her grandmother’s dying breathe, a moment that has left her in an existential crisis.
Why She’s Great: Lindsay is lost in a way most kids her age aren’t. She is literally being pulled between 2 worlds: the slackers and the bookworms, the freaks and the geeks. We actively watch her learn the truth behind “the grass is always greener on the other side” while she tries to find a balance in her life between being a pragmatic student and a fun-loving kid.
Entry written by Slam Adams
First Appearance: Fargo (Portrayed by Frances McDormand)
Who is She? Marge is a pregnant sheriff in Minnesota. One day, a strange murder on the side of the road leads her into a convoluted kidnapping plot.
Why She’s Great: Good old Margie is completely unlike every other cop in cinema history. She is super nice and peppy (and pregnant, which certainly throws everyone). That middle American innocence hides that intelligent sleuth and brave go-getter that she really is. Seemig easy to steam roll is like a superpower to her. She is just so damn likable right off the bat that you can’t help but root for her strength to show itself. Little do we know, she was showing it the whole time, which was not clear to us until the resolution of the movie.
Entry written by Slam Adams
First Appearance: All-Star Comics #8
Who is She? Wonder Woman is Princess Diana of Themyscira who comes to Earth as a superhero and eventually joins up with the likes of Superman and Batman to lead the Justice League in protecting it.
Why She’s Great: With her lasso of truth and invisible jet Wonder Woman has become the main female face of superheroes, and a feminist icon. She stands for justice, love, peace, and equality and is known to be morally just. She is a constant reminder that women can do anything men can do, and just as well. As a superhero she’s practically unbeatable but that’s not her entire charm. Wonder Woman has been around for almost 75 years and is an icon to comic book loves and instantly recognizable by almost everyone. Over the years Diana deals with plenty of issues, some human (like love and acceptance) and some more difficult to relate to (like being an Amazonian princess). Wonder Woman paved the way for other female superheroes to be three-dimensional and equal to their male counterparts.
Entry written by Jamie Z.
First Appearance: Orange is the New Black Season 1 (Portrayed by Laverne Cox)
Who is She?: One of the inmates of a federal prison, serving time for credit card fraud perpetrated to fund her gender reassignment surgery. She passes the time running a beauty salon for the other prisoners.
Why She’s Great: Man, this was a tough call. There are so many phenomenal characters in this series we could have filled out twenty slots on this list from the first season alone. In the end we nominated Sophia, played by Laverne Cox, as she represents a shift in social attitudes regarding people of fluid gender. Played by a post-operation transgender actor (and her real life twin brother in pre-op flashbacks) Sophia opened up a public discussion about how transgender people are accepted into the world and the personal struggles they face in their relationships with family and friends. Even better, she isn’t cast as comic relief or a tragic figure (in spite of her circumstances), but a fully realised character making the best of a difficult situation. Sophia is a positive, brilliant character who makes the prison a brighter place.
Entry written by G-Funk
First Appearance: Sleeping Beauty (Voiced by Eleanor Audley
Who is She?: A witch, sorceress, “Mistress of All Evil” and sometimes dragon bent on destroying the happiness of the people who shunned her from the christening of princess Aurora.
Why She is Great: Maleficent is one of the most powerful, terrifying and beautiful villains in the Disney pantheon, she has been imitated and reimagined for decades, from Enchanted to the newest Malefeicent live action film. She is one of those evil characters that is just a joy to watch because she encapsulates the role so well, her actions are evil, the way she tortures the royal family for a simple slight to her pride should make us loathe her, and yet she is still amazingly popular and loved. It is rare for a Disney female character to not be a the good princess or the ugly hag, she isn’t royal, she comes out of nowhere, literally appearing in a shock of green light, even with no backstory or motives explained she enthralls us. There is no romantic entanglement causing her actions, no man at her side, she is strong, independent, black hearted and come on she becomes a dragon!
Entry written by Vampjezzc
First Appearance: The Last Of Us (Voiced by Ashley Johnson)
Who is She?: The secondary protagonist and currently only human immune to the virus that has been wiping out the human species.
Why She’s Great: At just 14 years old Ellie has never seen the world before it went to hell, she grew up without traditional values, where violence is a solution, not a crime and cursing out to get your point across is just commonplace. To this end Ellie is one tough little thing, able to care for herself in the harshest of conditions, not blink at the prospect of killing another person to protect herself and talks bluntly about hard topics. And yet there’s still an innocence to her, her fascination with the world long passed and what was left in its place is something to be endeared to and her weary but trusting nature in others juxtaposes nicely against Joel’s more cynical hatred of the post-apocalyptic world. Where Ellie shines is in how the events around her shape her into who she becomes, the deaths of her family and friends especially have been a big factor in her life and installed her with a fear of being alone, a trait that explains her actions with Joel later in the game
Entry written by OldKingClancy
First Appearance: Avatar: The Last Airbender Season 1 (Voiced by Mae Whitman)
Who is She?: Growing up as the only water bender in a peaceful small tribe at the South Pole, Katara had a simple life of gathering food and living day to day. When Katara and her brother Sokka find the lost Avatar – the balance of power in all the world, lost for 100 years – they join him on a journey to defeat the mighty Fire Emperor and bring peace to the world.
Why She’s Great: With any lesser writer Katara could have annoyed the living hell out of us. Motherly and bossy, she takes responsibility for Avatar Aang and her brother Sokka, acting like she knows best and getting angry when challenged. Like all character in The Last Airbender Katara is a complex and well crafted role model. Having lost her mother at an early age she grew used to filling that role, in part, to her brother, and although stubborn she learns to accept people for their own strengths. As the journey continues Katara becomes a powerful water bender and a wise leader through her mistakes and the influence of others.
First Appearance: West Wing Season 1 (Portrayed by Allison Janney)
Who is She?: CJ is the White House Press Secretary to President Josiah Bartlett, making her essentially the voice of the President.
Why She’s Great: Her duty as Press Secretary is to keep the jackal-like journalists at bay when they try to press for answers from the current administration. For that kind of battle of wits, CJ is overqualified, verbally sparring those who are employed to be wordsmiths. She has a wide arsenal of snarky comebacks, strong moral fiber, and clear, rational opinions on hot-button issues, but her most powerful secret weapon is knowing when to stop sparring and just tell it like it is, with plain words and high levels of empathy. That just about stops every argument she might wade into.
First Appearance: Sex Criminals #1
Who is She?: Suzie is the protagonist and fourth wall breaking narrator of 2013’s highly acclaimed new comic series Sex Criminals. She’s a librarian by trade, and when she has an orgasm time freezes around her.
Why She’s Great: A pair of male comic writers/artists are possibly the last people who’d expect to perfectly encapsulate a female character’s sexual awakening in one of the best stories committed to the panelled page, but Fraction and Zdarsky have done it. Suzie’s honesty and vulnerability have turned her into an instant cultural icon, creating a following who flood the books letter’s pages with confessions and concerns on a monthly basis. As the reader’s delve into her history, present and plans for the future they discover one of the most believable and fleshed out characters the medium has ever seen. As the book has grown in popularity Suzie is set to become a figurehead of this era in comics.
First Appearance: The Hunger Games (Portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence)
Who is She?: The nominated representative of District 12, one of the poverty stricken regions of futuristic Panem, to compete in ‘The Hunger Games’. Along with the other ‘Tributes’ she must fight for her life for the entertainment of the decadent high society.
Why She’s Great: Well, she’s an archer and that makes her cool in my books (although I’d like Lawrence to work on making her draw look more realistic). Having been born into the poorest district, the coal mining district, and her father being gone, Katniss has taken on the mantle of providing for her family by illegally hunting in the nearby woods. Having developed good instincts and a thick skin she’s well suited to the task – if she can learn to work with others and give the public what they want. It’s a refreshing action centred character, something that is routinely given to male roles.
First Appearance: Scream (Portrayed by Neve Campbell)
Who is She?: She is the star of the Scream franchise and has been the lead in all four movies, playing the final girl.
Why She’s Great: When I think of the great final girls of the slasher subgenre, Sidney Prescott easily ranks as one of the best. I wouldn’t even bat an eyelash. She has outlived and taken down the killers of FOUR horror films. She is a tough young woman who has lived one hell of a life, that she just can’t escape. With each movie we watched her grow up and evolve, but sadly she could never leave her past behind her because it always came back to haunt her. She was vulnerable, but she was strong. She was played by Neve Campbell, who was just brilliant in the role. She was sweet, likable, and badass. Campbell always acted like there was an oscar waiting for her, even though she was in a slasher film. My obsession with great final girls began with this film, and that is because Sidney is one of the best.
First Appearance: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (Voiced by Ana Faris)
Who is She?: Intern at a news broadcaster who send her to cover an event in the middle of nowhere, unaware that the meteorological event of all time was about to occur, launching Sam into a career as a world famous meteorologist.
Why She’s Great: Sam Sparks could be relatable to a whole generation of young geeks. Having developed a love of science and meteorology at an early age she wound up being bullied by her classmates for being a nerd. Determined to become a television meteorologist she squashes her geeky tendencies and highlights her femininity, even walking around half blind because she won’t wear her glasses. Fortunately she learns to be her geeky self, and it’s a great message for younger viewers. Also she’s possibly the only positive role model in family media with a deadly nut allergy, not using it to highlight what a loser the character is (looking at you The Big Bang Theory). As a parent with a child at risk of nut induced anaphylaxis this is a highly appreciated representation.
First Appearance: Fringe Season 1 (Portrayed by Anna Torv)
Who is She?: Olivia is a FBI agent teamed up with a mad scientist and his street-savvy son to investigate, prevent, and stop science gone wrong. As a child, she was experimented on by the same mad scientist she is now working with.
Why She’s Great: Olivia has all the makings of a great FBI agent. She’s intelligent, clever, assertive, and brave. She adds to that a tender femininity that makes her uniquely qualified for this kind of work. That trait is usually missing from assertive action heroes, being in touch with one’s emotions are usually considered a weakness. Not to Olivia. Olivia finds strength in them. They allow her to not just know her limitations but exceed them. It also allows her to connect with both the victims and the perpetrators, who are many times unwilling or misguided.
First Appearance: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992); Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 1 (Portrayed by Kristy Swanson and Sarah Michelle Gellar respectively)
Who is She?: Buffy Summers is the vampire slayer, the chosen one, and a young woman who is destined to fight vampires, demons, and all manner of evil trying to destory the world all the while surviving high school.
Why She’s Great: If you don’t know this by now, stop what you’re doing and go rent BTVS Season 1. Buffy is one of the greatest characters in any medium of all time. She’s a fierce warrior who defends the planet. She’s an insecure girl (then woman) who deals with family, friends, and a crazy love life. She’s a student, a guidance counselor, a sister, and a slayer. Buffy has had a movie and 7 seasons to evolve into the fantastic character that she is. We can relate to her on so many levels but at the same time, we have no idea what it’s like to be the one true slayer. Yet her character makes it easy for us to emphasize with her, to root for her, to sometimes be frustrated with her, but to always love her.
KITTY ‘SHADOWCAT’ PRYDE
First Appearance: Uncanny X-Men #129
Who is She?: One of the most popular members of the X-Men, this mutant has the ability to phase through solid materials. With her pet dragon, Lockheed, she was mentored by Marvel’s poster boy for mutantdom himself, Wolverine who helped transform the teenage girl into the tough as nails hero she became. During the historic X-Men run from Joss Whedon and John Cassady, Pryde became a central figure in the series and eventually committed a powerful act of self sacrafice in order to save the world.
Why She’s Great: Over the past several decades, comic fans have had the joy of watching Kitty Pryde grow and evolve in a way few characters are capable of. From the girl who was scared of Nightcrawler’s appearance, to the woman who used her powers to save the planet from a weapon fired from Breakworld, no matter what the cost is. During the acclaimed series, Astonishing X-Men, Pryde got to show the world how strong of a character she was by having thwe courage to stand up to the untrustworthy Emma Frost and rescuing Colussus. Pryde is also one of the first characters to bring the subject of religion into comics by having her Jewish faith play an important role in who she is as a character, and furthering the diversity of the characters in the pages of the X-Men.
LT. KARA ‘STARBUCK’ THRACE
First Appearance: Battlestar Galactica Mini-Series (Portrayed by Katee Sackhof)
Who is She?: One of the last surviving members of the human race, trapped on a fleet of spaceships on the run from the mechanical race of Cylons. ‘Starbuck’ is one of the top pilots on board the Galactica and although she can be a trouble maker she is invaluable to the survival of the humans.
Why She’s Great: In the original 1970s series the character of Starbuck was male character. Recast as a woman (much to the disgust of fans for some reason) the producers wanted an older, tougher more stereotypical woman for the part but went with their gut instinct when young, feminine Katee Sackhoff auditioned. Fortunately the writers did little to deviate from the original character profile, making Starbuck a pilot first and woman second. Initially career focused and reckless Starbuck would face her own relationship dramas, dangerous situations and personal conflicts, seeing her evolve into one of the most complex and interesting characters in sci-fi.
First Appearance: The Walking Dead: Season 1 (2012)
Who is She?: A young survivor in the midst of a zombie apocalypse.
Why She’s Great: (Some possible spoilers for season 1). Clementine enters the world of the Walking Dead from a tree-house where she alerts player character Lee Everett to the zombified babysitter behind him. From there the two of them build a sweet and caring relationship as Lee looks after Clem through the worst of the outbreak. In the first season Clem is a sweet but capable girl that it’s impossible not to love immediately and want to protect, however it’s season 2 when Clem finds herself on her own that she grows into the person she is to become. Lost, alone, she’s forced to make the hard choices to survive and putting players into the role of a young girl after spending the first season as a grown man is a great change up to show how things have turns for Clem. By the end of the second season you’ve watched Clem turn to a darker path and it’s almost hard to watch knowing where she came from but it’s understandable, the events of her life take Clem from a mature yet hopeful girl to a battle hardened survivor intent on staying alive, however with player input she can still maintain a hope for humanity in remembering what Lee taught her.
First Appearance: Firefly Season 1 (Portrayed by Jewel Staite)
Who is She?: The gifted and chirpy mechanic on board Firefly class ship ‘Serenity’. Grown up on a border planet and blessed with a positive outlook on life Kaylee discovered that she had an affinity for engines. Her talent was noted by Capt. Reynold’s who immediately sacked his engineer to offer her the job.
Why She’s Great: Joss Whedon does many things well, and one of them is understanding the purpose of a character who can be the ‘heart’ of a show. In Firefly that role is fulfilled by Kaylee, perfectly played by Jewel Staite. It’s impossible for the viewers not to fall in love with Kaylee, wearing her emotions on her sleeves, carries a bright outlook on life and can’t get Simon to pull himself together to make his move. Rather than the weaker character some shows may fall back on, Kaylee doesn’t let people push her around or dampen her spirits. Sadly Whedon used the audience’s love of Kaylee to make her the one that gets threatened or wounded when he needs to up the stakes.
First Apperance: Whip It (Portrayed by Ellen Paige)
Who is She?: Babe Ruthless is a roller derby girl from Texas. Her real name is Bliss Cavender, raised by prototypical Texas parents:a sports-loving father who wished he had a boy and a debutante mother who wants her daughter to follow in her beauty pageant ways.
Why She’s Great: Well, the simple fact that she would see a contact sport in a run down old warehouse and think “that’s what is missing from my life,” is pretty damn badass. Bliss also naturally goes against the grain and speaks her mind. When it comes down to it though, she is loyal to her family and really just wants to make her parents proud, no matter what it is she does.