Female protagonists in film are somewhat hard to come by, so it only makes sense that good female protagonists in film are even farther and fewer between. If I were to ask you who your favorite male film lead of all time was, your mind likely would flood with possibilities (most of which are probably played by Leonardo DiCaprio). However, when thinking about the most famous female film protagonists, a select few come to mind: Holly Golightly, Elle Woods, Erin Brockovich, Miranda Priestly, etc. None of these characters are unworthy of their resounding praise, but it's also pretty striking how few of them there actually are. There are plenty of other underrated female film protagonists to celebrate, though, and they deserve as much regard as any Leonardo DiCaprio character does.
Hollywood is slow when it comes to featuring female leads, but things are changing, slowly. According to the San Diego State University's Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, "Females comprised of 29 percent of protagonists featured in the 100 top domestic grossing films of 2016." This is seven percentage points greater than 2015's report, so it is progress, but 29 percent is still nothing to call home about. So while we can only hope that things keep improving, we can also consider some of the less-celebrated female protagonists that we already have.
1Maggie, 'In Her Shoes'
First of all, In Her Shoes is a highly underrated movie in general, but its protagonist, Maggie, is even more underrated. This character has an incredible arc of growth over the course of the movie as she overcomes her lack of confidence which stems from unaddressed dyslexia. You'll both hate and love Maggie, and that's usually an indication that it's an interesting character.
2Troy Carmichael, 'Crooklyn'
Zelda Harris was only nine years old when she starred in Spike Lee's classic 1994 film. In Crooklyn, Troy grows up with four brothers and holds her own against them in their sibling rivalries. The matriarch of the family, Carolyn, is also memorable, but Troy's precocious tendencies throughout the story of her upbringing in the midst of boyhood and chaos make her a unique female character.
3Torrance Shipman, 'Bring It On'
What Torrance does (force her cheerleading squad to scrap all their routines because they've been stolen from the cheerleading squads that aren't able to go to competitions) takes a lot of courage and displays great integrity. When her boyfriend doesn't believe she can do it, she doesn't try to prove it to him, she says, 'boy bye.' Pretty damn inspirational if you ask me.
4Gaby Hoffmann, 'Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus'
Gaby Hoffmann's character in Crystal Fairy is easy to shrug off as the shallow, over-simplified "manic pixie dream girl" type, but in the film she's actually really interesting. Michael Cera's Jamie constantly attempts to demean Crystal and make her look stupid, but the way she makes him look stupid in the end is pretty genius.
5Stella Payne, 'How Stella Got Her Groove Back'
Why Stella Payne isn't as universally celebrated as Elle Woods is beyond me. How Stella Got Her Groove Back is a great movie about how a woman like Stella (played by the iconic Angela Bassett) can be both a high-power CEO and a fun sexy lady flirting it up on vacation. Sometimes we all lose our grooves, and Stella Payne shows that we can always get it back.
6Veronica Corningstone, 'Anchorman'
Veronica Corningstone is hilarious and unafraid of making her male coworkers look and feel stupid even when she's drastically outnumbered. She's all for standing up for herself and going toe-to-toe with the legendary Ron Burgundy.
7Ana, 'Real Women Have Curves'
Ana Garcia's character is likely deeply relatable for every woman growing up in a different culture — or even just a different generation — from their parents (which would be basically everybody). The balance between defiance and respect is a tough one to achieve, and this story about a first generation Mexican-American teen portrays that struggle well.
8Frances, 'Frances Ha'
Frances is the quintessential 20-something in this eponymous film, and it might be hard to watch her without cringing at times. Both her passion for something she's not very great at and her changing relationship with her best friend are very relatable, but it's all for the best because she's such a great character.
9Donna, 'Mamma Mia'
Out of all the amazing Meryl Streep roles, it might seem weird to sing praises (ABBA-style) about her role in Mamma Mia, but that's exactly why it's an underrated role. Not only is Donna fun and adventurous, she's also an independent business woman, a loving mother, and a great friend. She's a pretty good singer, of course, which makes the character that much better.
10Yu Shu Lien, 'Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon'
This movie is so cool, and it's worth revisiting to watch Yu Shu Lien kick total warrior ass. Kill Bill I & II isn't the only source of awesome female action like this, and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon has a totally different plot — the heroine is fighting for a sword rather than getting revenge on a man who scorned her, which is refreshing.
11Olive, 'Easy A'
Olive is smart, funny, and has awesome parents. She's the kind of person who may not be considered cool in high school but you know will thrive in any other setting. She's a joy to watch.
These characters are all so fantastic, and they totally break the Holly Golightly mold. Let's hope that this year ends up having even more female film protagonists than last year, and that the leading roles available for women continue to become both more abundant and interesting.