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There have been movies with strong female characters almost as long as motion pictures have been produced (think Scarlett O’Hara in 1939’s “Gone With the Wind”). While there is certainly still a gender divide in Hollywood, especially in terms of salary, a 2019 report found a significant upward trend in women playing leading roles in top movies.
With the countless streaming devices and platforms available today, it’s not too challenging to find a great film portraying a woman or girl in a powerful and prominent role. So, make some popcorn, gather the family or snuggle up on the couch for some “me time” and enjoy the moving and meaningful performances by leading women in one or more of these movies that you can stream right now.
“Akeelah and the Bee” (2006)
Movies with strong female characters aren’t always focused on grown women. Take this film about 11-year-old Akeelah, played by a young Keke Palmer, who reluctantly signs up for the school spelling bee after being threatened with detention. After overcoming obstacles at home and in her newfound competitive venture, she eventually makes it to the Scripps National Spelling Bee. The supporting cast includes veteran stars like Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne.
You can stream “Akeelah and the Bee” free with ads at Bounce with no login required or on The Roku Channel.
One of the most iconic women in modern cinema comes from this sci-fi/horror classic. Sigourney Weaver plays Ellen Ripley, an officer on the space ship Nostromo, who finds herself and her crew trying to outlast a terrifying alien predator who has come onboard. Ripley is the type of no-frills action hero that would’ve typically been played a man — and she’s equally fearless and determined in the film’s acclaimed sequels, as well.
“Captain Marvel” (2019)
Although most superhero movies feature male champions, some are carried by strong female characters. One of them is Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel, who led this 2019 movie to become one of the top-grossing in history. She starts the film as Ver, a warrior and member of the military group Starforce, who suffers from recurring nightmares. After you see this one, you’ll understand why many argue that Larson’s character may be the most powerful member of The Avengers.
You can stream “Captain Marvel” with a Disney+ subscription.
“Erin Brockovich” (2000)
Based on a true story, unemployed single mother Erin Brockovich, played by Julia Roberts at her most powerful, successfully fights the Pacific Gas & Electric Company over a groundwater contamination incident. She might be gritty and unprofessional, but she is also resourceful, brilliant and relatable. Roberts won an Oscar for her performance in this inspiring feminist flick.
Stream “Erin Brockovich” with a Peacock+ subscription.
“Hidden Figures” (2016)
Like “Erin Brockovich,” this acclaimed movie’s characters are based on real women. “Hidden Figures” follows three Black NASA scientists, Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), as they prove instrumental to the organization’s earliest space flights. These pioneering women crossed lines of gender and race but were relegated to performing their essential work in the background as others were written into the history books. Anyone with an interest in STEM subjects, especially girls and women, need to see this one.
“The Hunger Games” (2012)
In this young adult dystopian film, 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence, learned to become a skilled archer and hunter from her late father and used her skills to help feed her family. When her little sister is selected to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a sadistic battle to the death, Katniss steps in to take her place. In the end, she saves herself, the men around her and everyone else.
You can stream “The Hunger Games” free with ads from The Roku Channel or with subscriptions to FuboTV, DirecTV, Spectrum, Sling or Freeform.
“Legally Blonde” (2001)
Reese Witherspoon portrays Elle Woods, who wants nothing more than to become Mrs. Warner Huntington III in this comedy. So when her boyfriend dumps her instead of proposing because she’s not smart enough to be “marriage material,” she sets out to prove him wrong. Along the way, she discovers how smart and strong she really is and how much more she has to offer the world than just her appearance.
“A Raisin in the Sun” (2008)
It makes sense that “A Raisin in the Sun” would feature strong women since it was written by the great Lorraine Hansberry! Recently widowed, Lena Younger (Phylicia Rashad) is faced with deciding how to make the most of her husband’s life insurance policy in Lorraine Hansberry’s unforgettable drama. Lena’s dream is to move her family into a house in a good neighborhood. However, her children have their own dreams, and the family struggles as they’re all pulled in different directions.
“Soul Food” (1997)
“Soul Food” is loaded with great female characters who carry the story all the way through. The Josephs are a close-knit family until Mother Joe (Irma P. Hall), the matriarch who keeps the family strong, passes away. Teri (Vanessa Williams) steps up, taking in her troubled cousin Faith (Gina Ravera) and keeping her sister Maxine (Vivica A. Fox) financially afloat. Plenty of dramatic turns threaten to tear the family apart in this beloved 1990s classic that also features Nia Long and Mekhi Phifer.
You can stream “Soul Food” as an on-demand rental from all major platforms, including Redbox, where it’s just $2.99.
“Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991)
While Arnold Schwarzenegger is the main attraction of “Terminator 2,” anyone who’s seen it knows that Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor is the real star. After being terrorized and nearly killed by a robot from the future in the original movie, Sarah is fixated on a single mission: to prepare herself and her son for the imminent rise of androids who plan to take over the world. Although society deems her mentally unstable, her ramblings prove true and her preparation has a purpose. With help from Schwarzenegger’s tough cyborg, Sarah does all she can to save humanity from its own future mistakes.
You can stream “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” with a subscription to AMC+, DirecTV or FuboTV.