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Seven groundbreaking female characters who changed Hollywood forever

From a vigilante to a superheroine, these fierce fictional femmes turned the cinematic landscape on its ear

Female characters have been shaking things up in the movies since Myrna Loy’s Nora Charles first went toe to toe with her detective husband, Nick, in 1934’s The Thin Man. And groundbreaking roles for women have continued to change what audiences see on the big screen. Here are eight more fictional femmes who have forever left their mark on Hollywood.

1. Annie Hall (Diane Keaton)

With her bodacious bowler, androgynous outfits and carefree attitude, the titular character in Woody Allen’s 1977 romantic comedy not only helped earn the film four Oscars® – including Best Picture and a Best Actress statuette for Keaton – but also became a style icon, forever influencing women’s fashion, both on film and in real life.

2. Coffy (Pam Grier)

Smart, sexy, strong and tough as nails, Grier’s nurse-turned-vigilante in her eponymous 1973 actioner cemented Grier as a feminist icon, onscreen and off. Coffy’s take-no-prisoners approach revolutionized roles for women in film, especially in the “blaxploitation” genre, and she’s considered to be one of cinema’s first female action heroes.

3. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver)

Named the eighth best movie hero of all time by the American Film Institute, Ripley – the gun-toting, nerves-of-steel star of Ridley Scott’s 1979 space-set horror film Alien (and its sequels) – laid the groundwork for countless big-screen heroines to come and instantly elevated the “final girl” trope to a whole new level.

4. Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher)

Though she predated Ripley by a couple of years, plucky and determined Leia faced comparatively more benign intergalactic foes in 1977’s Star Wars. Nonetheless, the character – who was a smart and fearless leader, and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with her male allies – broke the mould of previously demure and deferential women in sci-fi.

5. Thelma Dickinson and Louise Sawyer (Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon)

When it comes to “ride or die” BFFs, flighty Thelma and feisty Louise set the bar super-high. Their Oscar®-winning 1991 action-dramedy remains one of the most famous female buddy films of all time, and proved that an overtly feminist movie – about women taking control of their lives and avenging abuse – could be a commercial and critical success.

6. Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder)

Hard to believe it’s been almost 30 years (!) since high-schooler Veronica plotted to kill her vainglorious best friends in the seriously dark 1989 comedy Heathers. Not only did she eschew the typical teen-girl stereotype popular at the time, Veronica also changed the face of the teen-movie genre forever, giving way to films (and antiheroes) from Donnie Darko to Mean Girls.

7. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot)

In Hollywood, money talks – and the more than US$820 million Wonder Woman raked in worldwide has made the entire industry sit up and take notice. The film, and the character, blew the “audiences don’t care about female superheroes” theory right out of the water, and has opened the door to an array of women-led upcoming films, including Captain Marvel, Batgirl and the villainess-centric Gotham City Sirens.

Women have been blazing a trail in the real-life tech sector, too: click here to read all about it.