Although there haven’t been enough powerful female protagonists in Hollywood films, on occasion the big box movie industry has gotten it right. Here are 13 ladies whose passion and skill stole the show on the silver screen.
1. She’s The Man — Viola Hastings (played by Amanda Bynes)
Who she is: When her school team gets cut, Viola Hastings wants to play soccer so badly she pretends to be her twin brother at another school and joins the men’s team.
Why she’s awesome: Faking your identity to stay on the field? That’s commitment. Viola sports a wig, fake sideburns and wears sweatshirts in the hot sun in order to play soccer. And not only does she battle her way to a starting spot, she also scores the winning goal on a corner kick in the opening game against her old high school’s boys’ team (and new school’s rival).
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2. Fast Girls — Shania Andrews (played by Lenora Crichlow)
Who she is: Shania is used to running on the streets, but she takes it up a notch when she joins the world of elite track & field. Lisa, the star of the sprinting relay team, feels threatened by Shania. The two become rivals and must battle it out as they work their way up to the World Championships.
Why she’s awesome: Shania is used to fending for herself and must learn what it means to be a part of the team. She’s a natural-born runner, but mostly she rules because she’s the underdog.
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3. Love and Basketball — Monica Wright (played by Sanaa Lathan)
Who she is: Stellar point guard for her high school in California, Monica proclaims at a young age that she’s going to be the first girl in the NBA. Her love for the game is stronger than most of the boys’ and she ultimately leads her high school team to the state championship game her senior year, earning a scholarship to USC in the process.
Why she’s awesome: Monica puts her game first and foremost, above all other aspects of her life. She’s a firecracker on the court, wearing her emotions on her sleeve. One day at practice in college, she is punished for being smug, holding her follow-through hand up a little too long and not getting back on defense. As a punishment, she has to stand with her arm up in that position for the remainder of practice. She learns her lesson and ups her work ethic. Eventually she earns a starting spot and the respect of her teammates.
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4. Whip It — Bliss Cavendar (played by Ellen Page)
Who she is: Bliss is a bit of a high school misfit, drawn to a couple of roller derby girls one day at the mall. Although her mother wants her to do beauty pageants, Bliss finds her calling on the roller rink.
Why she’s awesome: Bliss makes the list because, although she is technically too young to join the team, she takes a risk by putting herself out there to try the sport in the first place. She happens to dominate at “jammer”—the players who score by lapping members of the opposing team while trying not to get knocked down. On the roller rink, Bliss learns about herself, and throughout the film, she brings teamwork and ferociousness to other parts of her life.
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5. The Next Karate Kid — Julie Pierce (played by Hilary Swank)
Who she is: Karate guru Mr. Miyagi takes on a new pupil, Julie, a high school student, whose parents died in a car accident. Miyagi takes Julie to a Buddhist monastery so she can learn the mental capacities of karate as well as the physical skills of balance and coordination.
Why she’s awesome: Julie isn’t afraid to break the rules and do things her own way. Despite the hardship she is dealing with, she learns how to be aware of her surroundings and focus her mind. At the end of the film, she is forced to fight tough guy Ned. She wins, of course.
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6. Girlfight — Diana Guzman (played by Michelle Rodriguez)
Who she is: Troubled teen Diana turns to boxing for relief, with no support from her father or prospective trainers in a male-dominated sport. As it turns out, Diana is a powerhouse and, with a grueling training regimen, she becomes her gym’s first female champion.
Why she’s awesome: Once she starts, Diana doesn’t stop, and she has a snarky mouth to boot. In one scene, she shows up her classmates in gym class on the chin-up bar. And in her the final match of the film, she fights her boyfriend and wins by a considerable margin.
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7. Bring It On — Torrence Shipman (played by Kirsten Dunst)
Who she is: Going into her senior year of high school, Torrence is elected captain of her cheerleading squad. Captain duties include leading her team to their sixth consecutive national championship.
Why she’s awesome: Already handling the pressure to maintain the squad’s reputation, Torrence learns that the team’s former captain had been stealing their routines from a school across town. Despite a few setbacks along the way, Torrence is adamant about turning things around and coming up with a new, original routine. And she pushes her squad like never before.
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8. The Mighty Ducks, D2 & D3 — Julie “The Cat” Gaffney (played by Colombe Jacobsen-Derstine)
Who she is: Julie Gaffney meets up with the Ducks, having already won three state championships as a goalie for Bangor, Maine.
Why she’s awesome: Despite the fact that the other goalie started before her, Julie sticks it out with the Ducks and waits patiently for her time, only to prevail in the clutch. During the final shootout goal in the championship game against Iceland (D2), Coach Bombay subs her in to face Iceland’s leading scorer Gunnar Stahl. Stahl is no match for Julie, and as she flips the puck out of her glove onto the ice, Team USA goes wild in celebration.
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9. Little Giants — Becky “Icebox” O’Shea (played by Shawna Waldron)
Who she is: Starting fullback and best all-around player on the Little Giants, Icebox plays football with the best of the boys.
Why she’s awesome: “You can talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?” she challenges macho meathead Spike, who refuses to be on the same team as a girl. Icebox is also a natural born leader on and off the field. When her uncle refuses to let her join his pee-wee squad because she’s a girl, Becky scouts around and recruits new players for a brand new team. Although she has a moment of weakness in the final game, opting out of the squad to impress her QB crush, her passion for the game ultimately reveals itself, and she resumes command of the huddle.
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10. Million Dollar Baby — Maggie Fitzgerald (played by Hilary Swank)
Who she is: When small town girl Maggie Fitzgerald asks mediocre boxing trainer Frankie to work with her, he responds by saying he doesn’t train girls. After Maggie stubbornly works out day after day in his gym, Frankie finally agrees to take her on.
Why she’s awesome: Maggie turns out to be a natural. She’s astute enough to recognize boxing as her true calling, and she pursues it with a ferocious work ethic, never taking no for an answer. Without the support of her own family, Maggie persists until she begins to win fight after fight in the women’s welterweight boxing division.
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11. A League of Their Own — Kit Keller (played by Lori Petty)
Who she is: Kit convinces her older sister Dottie to try out for the all-women’s baseball league during World War II, and the two end up on the same team. Dottie is the primary character, but Kit is the real athlete.
Why she’s awesome: Kit knows what she wants and is unrelenting and determined in going for it. In the championship game, the sisters face off. Dottie, a catcher, is fluid and composed, but Kit releases pitch after pitch through exhaustion and grit. Kit gets the last laugh with the game-winning hit.
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12. Bend It Like Beckham – Jess Bhamra (played by Parminder Nagra)
Who she is: With dreams of playing like David Beckham, Jess finally gets her chance with an organized team when she is recruited by her new teammate Jules. But in order to play, Jess must overcome a significant barrier—her parents’ lack of support—because practicing sports as a female defies the traditional women’s role in her family’s Indian household.
Why she’s awesome: Not only is Jess a natural talent with a true passion for the game of soccer, she is self-taught. Though her friend Jules is also a natural athlete, Jess faces a real challenge when choosing soccer over her family’s values. Jess’s love of the game prevails over everything else, as she gains confidence and experience on the pitch, eventually landing a college scholarship.
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13. Blue Crush — Annie Marie Chadwick (played by Kate Bosworth)
Who she is: Aspiring surfer Anne Marie sets her sights on surfing Pipeline, despite an incident in which she nearly drowns.
Why she’s awesome: “Getting back on the horse” is the expression here. Anne Marie trains like a beast—particularly in one scene when she’s carrying a rock underwater with her friends on her back. But there’s nothing badder than catching a wave at Pipeline off Hawaii’s north shore.
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