Female characters have come a long way from the passive roles they were usually relegated to in the early days of film. In the past few decades, there has been a surge in amazing, badass women in movies, ranging from women wielding vast political power to iconic action heroes to terrifying villains. Enjoy these 45 fierce facts about the most ferocious women in cinematic history.
45. Kind of a Skywalker
The design of Rey for Star Wars: The Force Awakens is thought to be based on concept art for Luke Skywalker, from a time early in production when George Lucas was considering making Luke female. Better late than never!
44. Humble (And Kind of Prejudiced) Beginnings
The concept for Mulan started with a short Disney was developing called China Doll. This short revolved around an oppressed Chinese girl who was rescued and whisked away to the West by a British soldier. Around the same time, a consultant brought up an idea for a film based on the poem “The Song of Fa Mulan". Disney ultimately combined the two projects, dropping the China Doll idea.
43. Stunts for Two
Gal Gadot was pregnant while filming reshoots for Wonder Woman. Her baby bump was covered with green cloth that would allow editors to digitally remove it in post-production. Gadot commented that the green addition to her armor looked like “Wonder Woman pregnant with Kermit the Frog".
42. Getting Real
Jodie Foster shadowed a real FBI agent, Mary Ann Krause, for her role as Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs. Agent Krause inspired Foster to add the scene where Clarice cries by her car, as Krause told her it was a good emotional release from the overwhelming work.
41. The Baddest of All Witches
Many of Margaret Hamilton’s scenes as the Wicked Witch of the West had to be cut or deleted from The Wizard of Oz because they were considered too frightening for the audiences of the time. On that note, by the time Wicked hits the screen in 2019, it’ll have been 80 long years since the original The Wizard of Oz was released.
40. The Almost Cameo
When the groundbreaking character of Uhura was rebooted on the big screen in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek, Abrams wanted to include a cameo from the original Uhura, Nichelle Nichols. Nichols agreed to the cameo and suggested she could play Uhura’s grandmother. Unfortunately, the plan was derailed by the writer’s strike in Hollywood.
39. Mad Skills
For her scene in the mental hospital in Terminator 2, Linda Hamilton actually learned how to pick locks.
38. Based on an Adorable True Story
Brave co-creator and director Brenda Chapman based Merida on her own daughter, even creating dialogue for Merida based on things her daughter had said.
37. Practically Perfect in Every Way
Walt Disney had his heart set on casting Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins. In order to get her in the part, he offered to delay filming until she had the baby she was expecting and delay it further if she was cast in My Fair Lady. Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers was also very pleased with Julie Andrews’ casting. As was everyone else, because Julie Andrews is pretty much perfection.
36. The Sympathetic Villain
Meryl Streep took the part of Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada because she wanted to change the way Miranda was portrayed. In the novel, Miranda is an emotionless villain, and Streep wanted to play her as a sympathetic character. She wanted to address the expectation that female bosses are supposed to be nicer than male bosses, as well as delve into the pressures and responsibilities on Miranda’s shoulders. We’re sure that Anna Wintour, the Vogue editor who the character was allegedly based on, appreciated the gesture.
35. Princess Expectations
Carrie Fisher was twice pressured to lose weight to play Princess Leia, once when she first started the part in A New Hope, and again when she was reprising the role as General Organa in The Force Awakens. We’re sure that Fisher had some choice words for that producer that made him regret ever opening his mouth.
34. Keeping Her Job
While filming Fargo, Frances McDormand and John Carroll Lynch were asked to invent a backstory for their characters Marge and Norm Gunderson. They came up with the backstory that the couple met while they were both on the law enforcement force. When they got married, one of them had to quit. They decided Marge would stay on the force since she was a better officer.
33. The Top of Her Class
Legally Blonde’s Elle Woods is said to have earned a 179 on her LSAT exam. This is a single point shy of a perfect score (180) and would have put her in the top 0.1% on the exam. No wonder she was able to bring Chutney to her knees in the courtroom.
32. The Cut Backstory
Storm was meant to have a scene explaining her backstory in X-Men, where she discovered her powers by changing the weather in her Kenyan hometown and causing massive damage. Why is it never a happy accident when mutants discover their powers? Couldn’t she have helped the farmers with their crops or something?
31. Quite an Entrance
Uma Thurman herself came up with the opening shot of the K.Bill movies, with her character Beatrix Kiddo bloody and beaten up in her wedding dress.
30. The Alternate Ending
Although the ending to Thelma and Louise is now iconic, director Ridley Scott almost changed it during production. Susan Sarandon met with Scott, frustrated with the idea that he might change the ending to make it happier. He admitted that he always planned for Louise (Sarandon) to perish, but he was considering sparing Thelma (Geena Davis). In the end, he went with the dramatic ending that made the film a classic.
29. Not Giving Up Without a Fight
The fight between McGonagall and Snape in the last Harry Potter film was almost changed to a fight between Harry and Snape. J.K. Rowling insisted that it stay the same, as she felt the scene was important for McGonagall’s character. Personally? I’ve watched all of Downton Abbey and I find Dame Maggie Smith way more intimidating than Daniel Radcliffe.
28. A Not Very Disney Fact
Because she caused the avalanche that wiped out the Shan Yu’s army, Mulan has a higher body count than any other Disney character, hero or villain.
27. The Two Faces of Jean
When Famke Janssen was set to play the dual roles of Jean Grey and Phoenix in X-Men: The Last Stand, she researched split personalities and dissociative identity disorders, allowing her to better portray the switch between Jean and her destructive alter ego.
26. Resisting Arrest
While filming a scene in Norma Rae, Sally Field accidentally broke an actor’s rib as she was struggling against him to resist being loaded into a law enforcement car. Bet that actor didn’t “really like her” after that.
25. The Ancient and The Modern
Wonder Woman’s Amazon warrior armor was inspired by ancient historical queens and warriors combined with modern athletic wear that would function better during filming. Costume designer Lindy Hemming gave a greater priority to function for riding horses and fighting than she did to the elegance of the costumes. Each Amazon warrior in the movie was also given a style of armor that would reflect their character. Hippolyta was a gilded royal style, while Antiope’s armor was meant to look like she made her own armor out of the skins of animals she hunted.
24. A Piercing Portrayal
Rooney Mara’s piercings were real in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. She got Lisbeth Salander’s multiple piercings in a series of sessions, but removed most of them after filming was completed. No pain, no gain—and no worrying about a fake eyebrow ring flying off in the middle of a difficult take.
23. Showing Off the Guns
Sarah Connor used an arm with one hand in Terminator 2 because her other arm was injured. This scene was reportedly inserted because Linda Hamilton had become so muscular in training that she was strong enough to pump a piece with one arm.
22. The Elven Women
The roles of Galadriel and Arwen in The Lord of the Rings were almost filled by different actresses. Peter Jackson wanted to cast Uma Thurman as Arwen and Xena’s Lucy Lawless as Galadriel. However, both of his first-choice actresses became unavailable due to pregnancy during the casting process, and Cate Blanchett and Liv Tyler were cast instead.
21. But She’s Still The Worst
As Louise Fletcher lobbied for the role of Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, it changed the way director Milos Foreman thought of the character. He was originally going to portray her as a personification of evil, but when picturing Fletcher in the role, he started to think of her as a character who genuinely believed she was helping the patients.
20. A Voice They Couldn’t Turn Down
Eleanor Audley, who voiced Maleficent in the original Sleeping Beauty, originally turned down the role because she was battling tuberculosis. Eventually, she changed her mind and agreed to voice the iconic villain.
19. Almost Book-Accurate
For Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the filmmakers tried to match the children’s physical appearance to the books, which included giving Hermione buck teeth. However, Emma Watson couldn’t speak clearly while wearing the fake buck teeth, so the plan was dropped.
18. Working With What You Have
The costume designer for The Matrix revealed that Trinity’s costume was made out of cheap PVC because of the tight budget. It all looks the same on screen, I guess!
17. The Evil Queen and the Old Hag
For the Evil Queen in Snow White, Lucille La Verne had to voice both the normal queen and the old hag. When she was told they needed an older, raspier version of her voice, she reportedly removed her teeth and created the perfect voice based on that. Here’s hoping they were dentures or a bridge.
16. The Queen Is Born
Star Trek: First Contact’s Borg Queen went through an extensive trial-and-error process with makeup and costuming. She had to look like the intimidating leader of the Borg while still matching the writers’ vision of a hauntingly beautiful queen. When they revealed Alice Krige in her final Borg Queen makeup and costume to the production crew for the first time, the crew members gasped and stepped back.
15. More Reality Than You Would Think
Carrie-Anne Moss performed many of her own stunts as Trinity in The Matrix. While filming a scene, she twisted her ankle, but decided not to tell anyone to avoid being recast.
14. No Cast Changes!
The Incredibles commanding Edna Mode was voiced in the final film by director and writer Brad Bird. Bird had recorded Edna’s dialogue as a temporary track, and the filmmakers approached Lily Tomlin to record the final voice. Tomlin turned the role down, as she considered Bird’s performance perfect for the character already.
13. The First and Only Choice
Dame Maggie Smith was handpicked by J.K. Rowling for her role as Professor McGonagall. And why wouldn’t she be? She’s a legend!
12. Controlling the Queen
Aliens brought back Ellen Ripley to face the Alien Queen. The queen was brought to life with extremely complicated puppetry and machinery. The alien queen was operated by as many as eight different people that had to coordinate their movements. Two stuntmen were inside the queen to operate her four arms, and other people controlled her movements with wires, rods, and hydraulics. So when Ripley yelled “Get away from her, you b****,” it could’ve technically been B-word plural.
11. A Difficult Shapeshift
Rebecca Romijn’s transformation into Mystique for X-Men required 110 prostheses that covered a large portion of her body. The makeup took nine hours to apply. Romijn was not allowed to fly, use skin creams, or drink grape booze before the application because it would change her body chemistry and the prostheses could fall off. She could only wear Mystique’s contact lenses for an hour at a time because they drastically reduced her vision.
10. Too Good of a Villain
Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent terrified the young children on set, who refused to approach her and interact with her. Most of her own children were also scared of her and upset by her while she was in character. Only one of Jolie’s youngest children, Vivienne, was not scared of her character, and she ended up playing the young Aurora in the movie.
9. Commitment to Continuity
For her final scene in Carrie where Carrie’s hand emerges from her grave, Sissy Spacek insisted on being the one in the ground instead of a stunt double. She filmed the scene in a box buried in the dirt.
8. Gender Swap
Ellen Ripley of Alien was not originally intended to be a woman, as earlier drafts of the script featured a male Ripley.
7. Terrifying Improv
In scene where Bellatrix Lestrange tortures Hermione in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Emma Watson and Helena Bonham Carter were directed to improvise the scene as the cameras rolled. Together, they came up with the idea that Bellatrix would carve “mudblood” into Hermione’s arm. The filming was so intense that Carter later approached Watson to make sure everything was okay.
6. The Other Amazons
Black Panther’s all-female army guard, the Dora Milaje, are likely based on the real historical all-female army corps of Dahomey, West Africa, nicknamed the Dahomey Amazons, who protected the king.
5. A Story Worth Telling
The real-life Katherine Johnson didn’t understand why her story became such a big deal in Hidden Figures, commenting, “There’s nothing to it—I was just doing my job".
4. Unintentionally Dangerous Role
Margaret Hamilton suffered for her art during her performance as the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. The copper-based makeup she wore was poisonous to her, forcing her to live on a liquid diet. She was also burned on her hands and face when she caught fire in one take. After this accident, she was hospitalized for six weeks, but still came back to set. As she said of the rigid studio system of the time, "I won't sue, because I know how this business works, and I would never work again".
3. A Scene of Epic Proportions
Director Patty Jenkins explained that her filming crew questioned the purpose of Wonder Woman’s famous No Man’s Land scene while it was being filmed. The crew asked why the scene was necessary when there was no enemy on screen to fight and her ability to stop bullets had been established. Jenkins convinced them to go ahead with it by saying that the scene was about Wonder Woman, not the enemy she was fighting.
2. A Beastly Rewrite
Screenwriter Linda Woolverton had to fight her story team for her adventurous vision of Belle in the 1991 version of Beauty and the Beast. The story team was constantly rewriting Belle in ways Woolverton considered regressive. She wrote one scene where Belle was showing places she would like to travel on a map, but her story team rewrote it into a scene of Belle in a kitchen decorating a cake. She finally compromised with them to have Belle reading.
1. Avoiding the Trip to the Hospital
While the real Erin Brockovich says the Julia Roberts movie about her is 99% accurate, they did leave out an important real-life detail. Brockovich actually got sick as a result of investigating chromium intake and had to spend some time in the hospital. Director Steven Soderbergh left that part out so the audience wouldn’t get the impression Brockovich was terminally ill because of her work. Still, chromium intake, and Brockovich well knew, was no joke: the toxins are potentially fatal.