In general, there is a paucity of fictional female characters compared to the number of male ones and there are even fewer that are really great, three-dimensional characters. I’ve decided to celebrate the ones that do exist. Here’s hoping for more characters as interesting as my favourite ones below. I have divided them into three categories: television, books and films. Remember, these are only my personal favourites so don’t be upset if your own favourites are not included.
• Lorelai, Rory, Paris and Emily from Gilmore Girls
I love these four people. All of them are witty, intelligent, unique characters. Lorelai and Rory are obvious contenders for this list due to them both being awesome (and immediately likeable). Just don’t ask me to pick a favourite; it’s a near impossible task. I’m probably more similar to Rory, or at least I used to be before I became ill, but I do also have Lorelai’s love of silliness. I think that there’s more than a little bit of an inner Paris in me too.
Although Emily and Paris start off as not so obvious choices for this list, I came to love them almost as much as the other two, especially Paris. They really grow on you and are very amusing to watch.
C.J. is brilliant. She is by far the best character in The West Wing. She has a bit of a rocky start but I blame the writer for that. She’s intelligent, quick-witted, compassionate with a wicked sense of humour.
• Starbuck, President Laura Roslin and Dee from Battlestar Galactica
Starbuck is great. She’s a hothead with a tendency to get into trouble and has a problem with authority. She also happens to be the best pilot in the fleet. She’s my favourite character in Battlestar Galactica.
President Laura Roslin is completely different but I love her self-belief when everyone else thinks she’s crazy. She has the conviction and courage to carry on anyway and saves everyone. She does have a few annoying moments but I’m willing to forgive her for them!
I like Dee. She has an awesome moment in S2E6. With a few brave words, she brings Adama to his senses and the fleet back together. She changes everything.
• Kaylee, Zoe and River from Firefly
Kaylee is my favourite in Firefly. She’s the cheerful, exceptional mechanic of Serenity. She sees the best in everyone.
Zoe is hardcore tough-as-nails but she’s also a fully fleshed out person on top of that. She has a dry sense of humour and an affectionate but realistic relationship with her husband. She has a lot of heart alongside a strategic, military mind and her soldier’s instincts.
• Donna Noble from Doctor Who
Donna is awesome. She is the best companion to the Doctor by far. The pairing of her and the tenth Doctor was perfect – a partnership of friends and equals. For me, those two together were the peak of Doctor Who’s brilliance and that is why the whole of the fourth season is my favourite season of Doctor Who ever. It’s unlikely that anything will surpass it.
• Joan Watson from Elementary
I would go as far as to say that Joan Watson is my favourite depiction of Dr. Watson in any Sherlock Holmes adaptation. She is the most interesting and nuanced, with a marvellous depth of character and progression. She is what makes Elementary stand out from the crowd of other adaptations.
• Sam Carter from Stargate SG-1
A genius. Astrophysicist and engineer. She always comes up with a solution to a problem just in time to save the day. She avoids being a one-dimensional character though; she has friendships, hobbies and relationships. She shares the curiosity, compassion and love of knowledge of Daniel Jackson, the soldier mindset of Jack and Teal’c, as well as the leadership skills of General Hammond. Stargate SG-1 was my favourite TV show in my mid-teens.
• Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles from Rizzoli & Isles
Jane is an excellent detective. I like her because she’s a multidimensional tomboy, who is competitive, intelligent and funny.
Maura is a genius, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of just about everything and a love of order. She’s a doctor of forensic pathology and the Chief Medical Examiner of Massachusetts. She’s the polar opposite of Jane but their growing friendship is one of the greatest draws to the show.
• Melinda May, Jemma Simmons and Skye/Daisy Johnson from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Agent May is the consummate SHIELD agent. She is a woman of few words, often favouring to just give someone a look instead, but is brilliant at her job, the best of the best. She is a formidable fighter and is extremely loyal. She’s the only one whom Coulson can always truly rely on and trust.
Jemma Simmons is a genius, an exceptional biochemist. Her partnership with the equally brilliant Fitz often saves the day when they come up with a solution to a problem. She is enthusiastic with a deep passion for science.
I like Skye/Daisy because even before she became an inhuman with superpowers, she was a master hacker. She has a dry sense of humour and becomes a skilled Agent through her training.
• Captain Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager
Way back in my early teens, Star Trek: Voyager was my favourite TV show. Janeway wasn’t my favourite character (Tom Paris was) but she still deserves to be on this list. A few inconsistencies in the writing aside, she was a great captain. Human and flawed, yes, but she did the best in an impossible situation, stranded in a different quadrant of space. It was her leadership and dedication that brought the crew home with the fewest amount of deaths possible.
Diane is my favourite person in The Good Wife. She is an excellent lawyer and loves it. She’s a really interesting character.
Chuck is my favourite television show of all time. When I came to write this list though, I realised that all my favourite characters in it are male (Chuck, Cpt. Awesome, Casey and Morgan) but there are some good female characters in it too that just about make the cut for this list.
On the outside, General Beckman is stern and severe but she has a wonderful wry sense of humour and is really just a big softie.
Ellie Bartowski is a caring and protective older sister to Chuck. She’s highly intelligent, an excellent doctor and is always looking out for her brother. Unfortunately, she spends most of the show being lied to due to being kept in the dark about Chuck’s spy life as the Intersect.
Sarah Walker is harder to warm to as she hasn’t exactly got bags of personality or much depth. I wish that she had been written better. She is an exceptionally skilled CIA agent though who does have growth and character progression.
I love Once Upon A Time’s refreshing retellings of traditional stories. It’s really fun. The women are particularly great; each character gets her own complex backstory which explains her motivations and choices.
Snow White still has a good heart and sees the best in people but after being forced out of her home and hunted by the Queen, she learns to fight for herself and survives as a bandit. Snow White and Prince Charming (Snow teasingly dubs him thus) become equal partners and leaders in the fight against the Queen (and later, other foes) and he is just as often in need of her help as she is of his.
Kate is a gifted homicide detective with the NYPD. She is tough, hard-working and dedicated but has a softer, compassionate side when dealing with the families of murder victims.
Captain Gates is highly competent at her job. She can be uncompromising and likes to play things by the book and not waver from the rules.
Alexis is Richard Castle’s level-headed daughter, who has a slightly firmer grasp on reality than her dad. Sensible and very intelligent but with a sense of fun too. She grows a lot as a character throughout the show’s seasons, starting off as a sweet but naïve teen and progressing through to adulthood.
FBI Special Agent Diana Berrigan is chronically underutilised throughout the show. Despite this, she is superbly competent, intelligent and a most trusted colleague to Peter. Her growing relationship with Neal is wonderful. She has her head screwed on straight so she views Neal with the amount of suspicion that he deserves but they find a rhythm and a banter that makes the show better. They eventually come to find a way to trust each other.
Veronica is a proactive, witty, smart teenage detective. She relentlessly pursues the truth and has the best snappy and irreverent one-liners.
Betty is friendly, enthusiastic and hard-working. She’s always upbeat and positive. Her need to take care of everyone and her tendency to put everyone else’s needs before her own can get her into trouble. She is a good leader though and is very capable; she always manages to overcome the obstacles she faces.
Although Chandler is my favourite character in Friends, Monica is my second favourite. They are the best characters by a long way. Though not without her flaws, Monica is caring, intelligent, funny and highly competitive, which are always good things in my book.
Darrell is clever, great at sport, good-hearted, responsible and sensible but, crucially, alongside these things, she also has a great sense of fun and mischief. She gets involved with pranks on the teachers, which become legendary. Unlike Alicia, who can play the fool in class and still get top marks in everything, Darrell learns that she herself is not able to do both. She becomes best friends with the level-headed Sally instead, who is a better influence on her than Alicia.
Darrell was my favourite character ever as a child and I wanted to be just like her (apart from her temper).
• Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling
Extremely intelligent, hard-working and logical. Unashamedly enthusiastic about learning and reading. She has an enormous heart with a strong conscience and always does what is right. She sets up S.P.E.W. and valiantly fights for the rights of the oppressed, despite everyone else mocking her for it. Harry and Ron would both have been dead without her knowledge of magic and cool-headed logic in extreme situations. She should have been the protagonist instead of Harry Potter. Awesome personified.
Alanna swaps places with her twin brother and disguises herself as a boy in order to train to become a knight. Unwaveringly determined, stubborn and courageous. She becomes the first female knight in a century. I admire her toughness, defiance of gender stereotypes and inner steel.
An outspoken, energetic girl with a good heart, lively imagination, massive intellect and a passion for writing.
“I hate to think I’ve got to grow up, and be Miss March, and wear long gowns, and look as prim as a China aster! It’s bad enough to be a girl, anyway, when I like boys’ games and work and manners! I can’t get over my disappointment in not being a boy; and it’s worse than ever now, for I’m dying to go and fight with Papa, and I can only stay at home and knit, like a poky old woman!”
~ Jo March
Sonea is from a poor family and discovers her magic through chance when she angrily throws a stone at the Guild magicians’ shield while she is being forced back to the slums during the annual Purge. We discover that she is one of the few magicians whose powers have developed naturally without the assistance of another, which means that she is extremely powerful.
During her first year studying at the Magicians’ Guild, she becomes even stronger by straining her powers to their limits to fend off her rival’s attacks. She also learns to develop clever strategic thinking to achieve victory in the arena. She is highly talented and hard-working; she learns two years worth of knowledge in half the time. Sonea always wants to protect those who need defending and help those who are suffering.
• Professor McGonagall from the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling
I love Professor McGonagall. She may be strict but she is always fair, even to the detriment of her own House. She is great at her job, brilliantly intelligent and capable. She’s a good person, someone of substance and integrity. I love how she lets go and forgets herself at Quidditch matches, jumping wildly up and down when Gryffindor win.
A fierce tomboy who is intelligent, curious, thoughtful and good-hearted.
Kess is a girl of action who rebels against the society she lives in and wants to make it a better place. Her twin brother Bowman is reflective, empathetic and sensitive, leading people to say of Bowman and Kess “He is the one who feels, she is the one who does.”
Lyra is a scruff who prefers to play in the streets with other children than be at Jordan College, which she finds stuffy. She is rebellious, unruly, independent and fierce. She is quick-witted and canny, which leads to her being called Lyra Silvertongue.
Kind, generous and clever. She has a vivid imagination and is great at making up stories. Even when she is starving and poor, she gives up the food that she has to someone whom she believes is even more worse-off than herself. This generosity and relentless determination to be good to others, even when they are not good to her, is what sets her apart.
Sabriel is intelligent, strong-willed and determined. As Abhorsen, she is forced to shoulder a massive responsibility. She has to maintain extreme self-control over herself at all times so that the Dead will obey her. She wants to hurry to save her father but her compassion to those both living and dead means that she shows kindness to those who need it.
Lirael has to overcome the pain of being different and of being the only Clayr that is unable to see the future. She has to find her identity and destiny herself. She is strong and determined and has emotional depth. She is also inquisitive and always pushes herself to learn and grow.
Matilda possesses an intelligence far beyond her years and loves to read. She is bullied and neglected by her parents and brother; she plots ingenious tricks on them in revenge. She discovers that she has the power of telekenesis. I think that we all tried to move objects with the power of our minds after reading Matilda.
I really struggled to find great fictional women in films. This says a lot about the film industry. There really is a dearth of female characters and the ones that do exist are a bit rubbish. I managed to recall some that I love for this list but they are mostly younger roles; there were only a few adult roles that I deemed good enough (Hollywood, do better please). Here are my favourites:
I love Anne’s energy and enthusiasm. This, along with her passionate, stubborn and sometimes impulsive nature, can get her into scrapes. She is a daydreamer who often gets lost in her imagination, in a fantasy world. But she is also good-hearted, gets top marks in class and has an unquenchable thirst for learning and books.
There isn’t much to say about Katniss that hasn’t been said already. On top of the obvious strength, fierce determination and resourcefulness, I also admire her selflessness and love in not even hesitating to trade places with her sister by volunteering as tribute. At that point, she doesn’t know that she will survive the Hunger Games so her action in that moment is effectively the same as stepping in front of someone whom is being shot at in order to take the bullet. We all hope that we would possess that same bravery for those we love.
Pai is a natural leader. She has great respect for her tribe’s traditions and culture but she happens to defy the gender expectations of her community. Just by being true to herself, she expands what is possible for women to be in her tribe. I love her growing self-belief and determination.
Mulan is the best animated film of all time and Mulan is the best animated character ever. End of. We can’t be friends if you don’t agree (kidding…sort of). Mulan is awesome.
Jess loves playing football and is great at it. She joins her local football club. Unfortunately, her strict Sikh parents have very different ideas about what is appropriate for a young woman to be and do, which results in them banning her from playing football. She loves her parents very much but has to be strong enough to carry on being herself and doing what she loves.
Jo’s dad died when she was little in an F-5 tornado. This is what drives her storm-chasing and her life’s work to gather data from inside tornadoes’ funnels to better understand how they work and create an early warning system to save people’s lives so that nobody else would ever have to go through what she went through. She is passionate, determined and tough.
Ellie is a brilliant scientist who works at SETI, searching for signs of extraterrestrial life. Due to her dedicated pursuit of this, she has long suffered the derision of the scientific community but she sticks to her guns and is passionate, intense and iron-willed. Her passion is fuelled by a deep fascination with the mystery of human existence and whether we are alone in the universe.
Gracie Hart is the most intelligent and capable FBI agent but sometimes has a problem with following orders because she actually has a brain and thinks for herself. This gets her into trouble with her boss. She’s tough, dedicated and a lovable scruff who is thrown way out of her comfort zone.
As with most films where a female character undergoes a makeover/transformation, I prefer the person pre-transformation to afterwards (another good example being Sandy in Grease).
Lina loves to run and is fast. She becomes a Messenger in the underground city of Ember, which means she gets to run about all day and meet people, delivering their messages. She is curious, open-minded and notices everything, which is how she gradually begins to unravel the secrets and mysteries involved in the failing city as the power outages get longer and longer. Her bravery and determination take her out from the world she has always known.
Without anything except her necklace as a clue, Anastasia sets out from the orphanage that she grew up in to try to find any family that she might have. She is playful, quick-witted and determined. It’s a long journey to find what she’s been looking for.
Anastasia is the second best animated film of all time. I love it. The songs are great too.
Deloris is outgoing and funny with bags of personality and wit. She is thrown into a situation where she is a fish out of water but manages to make friends and revitalise the convent. Her energy and natural leadership bring about a lot of good as she persuades the nuns to leave the four walls of the convent, connect with the community and give it the practical help and love it needs.
Merida is adventurous, bold and brave. She just wants to be free to be herself and to be free to make her own decisions; she pushes back against the expectations of her mother.
A mischievous girl who loves sport, being active and playing pranks.
Annie and Hal are the impish twins in this well-known film. Lovable and mischievous, they devise ingenious schemes first against each other at summer camp and then to swap places so that they get to meet their other parent and then to get their parents back together.
A precocious, curious girl who is growing up and has to deal with experiencing loss and grief.
After losing her mother in a car accident, Amy is left bereft and has to go to live with her father, who is a stranger to her. At first she is sulky and sullen but she starts to heal. Things begin to change for the better when she finds some goose eggs that she nurtures and hatches. Through her determination and her growing relationship with her father, she achieves an epic feat, involving flying a glider across the US in order to save her geese and give them a normal life.
Athletic and resourceful, Maddy goes to extreme lengths when her parents don’t have the money for an operation which her much-loved father needs.
A socially awkward teenager with a wry sense of humour, who discovers that she is the heir to the throne of another country.
After a tragic accident that results in the death of her best friend, Grace is left with a partially amputated leg and a traumatised horse who becomes uncontrollable. Grace becomes bitter and withdrawn but the horse whisperer helps her and her horse begin a journey of healing together and overcoming the grief and trauma.
Leslie is fast and can beat all the boys at running. She’s adventurous, compassionate and stands up for what’s right. Her boundless imagination and creativity make her see magic in the ordinary and she creates a fantasy world, which she shares with her best friend.
In order to hold her own in a man’s world, Calam dresses, speaks, rides and shoots like a man. She is capable and well-meaning but also disaster-prone.
Annie is a lovable scamp who is kind to her fellow orphans at the orphanage and looks after them. She is energetic, forthright and endearing.
Nim lives on an uncharted island with her father, having adventures across the island with her animal friends. She has a passion for books and is fascinated by wildlife and nature. She is good-natured, independent, resourceful and imaginative.
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What do you think about my favourite fictional female characters? Are they much different from your own favourites? Who are your favourites? Let me know.
[NB This blog post has been sitting as a draft blog post for a couple of years. I’ve been gradually adding to it, tapping it out on my iPhone with my thumb when I’ve been able. I recently realised that it was complete so I’ve finally hit the publish button. There will probably be a few mistakes and omissions but it’s the best that I can do in the situation I’m in. I don’t know how interested anyone else is in this kind of thing but I love creating these sorts of lists so that’s what matters, I guess. I haven’t been able to get onto my iPhone for months at a time of late. My hands, wrists and forearms are very damaged and completely destroyed at the moment so please don’t expect replies to any of your comments. I’d love to be able to reply. Sorry that I can’t. I’d still love to hear from you though.]