Lionsgate / Warner Bros via Everett Collection
Miley Cyrus. Kim Kardashian. Nicki Minaj -- little girls and young women everywhere look up to these ladies. And while this may or may not be a good thing, it’s always nice to have the occasional fictional character whose awesomeness we can all aspire to. So if the pop stars of today aren’t doing it for you, here are a few of our favorite young heroines of film. They're brilliant, badass, and fully-clothed, and for that we thank them.
Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games Series
We predict that in a few years college courses will be taught on the legacy of The Hunger Games heroine Katniss Everdeen. Feminists love her, young and old alike adore her, as she embodies all of the qualities of a true hero. Self-sacrifice, strength in the face of death, and there’s even a certain (albeit complicated) rags to riches aspect of her story. Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of Suzanne Collins’ beloved character brought a unique femme figure to cinema – a young woman whose beauty and romantic interests played second (even third) fiddle to her other priorities. In a cinematic world filled with many a Bella Swan (no offense, Twihards) Katniss was a welcome and necessary addition to the young leading ladies in film.
Hermione Granger, Harry Potter Series
Emma Watson’s Hermione days are behind her now but Harry Potter fans watched her grow up on screen as the brilliant young witch whose fearlessness and dedication to her studies made her a huge asset to Harry and Ron. Functioning as the irreplaceable glue that kept everything and everyone together, Hermione was no sidekick. Without her amazingness, and her ability to do pretty much anything, there would have been no Harry Potter.
Mattie Ross, True Grit
Little Mattie Ross (played by Hailee Steinfeld in the 2010 Coen Brothers film) was the definition of true grit. Out to avenge her father’s death, she teamed up with the meanest Marshal around and takes on the perils of the west with more courage than some of the grown men around her. Frighteningly precocious, Mattie is another character who was heralded by feminists and beloved by movie-goers and critics alike. Steinfeld received an Oscar nomination for her brilliant portrayal of the unforgettable character.
Hushpuppy, Beasts of the Southern Wild
A small film with a teeny little girl premiered in 2012 and practically took over the world. Quvenzhané Wallis was critically acclaimed (and also nominated for an Oscar — the youngest person ever) for her role as Hushpuppy, an independent, fierce ball of fire weathering life in the back woods, bayou community known as the Bathtub. Taking on the wrath of a storm, her father, and mythical beats, Hushpuppy was the unique heroine we’d all been waiting for, whether we knew it or not.
Mindy McCready/Hit-Girl, Kick-Ass Series
From the moment she uttered the line, “Okay you c-nts, let's see what you can do now,” Chloë Grace Moretz as Hit-Girl became a crowd favorite. Her controversial role as the young superhero/assassin makes her different from some of the other characters on this list (she’s no role model, in the traditional sense), but her genuine badassery and love for both Clint Eastwood and Hello Kitty makes her one of our absolute favorite young heroines in film.
In the ever-changing west of 1882 city marshal Virgil Cole (Ed Harris) and his deputy Everett Hitch (Viggo Mortensen) are two tough dudes out to clean up lawless towns a mission that takes them to Appaloosa. This small mining town has been taken over by a ruthless power-hungry land baron Randall Bragg (Jeremy Irons) who along with his band of thugs has run the place into the ground. Although their initial efforts are met with some success Cole and Hitch run into personal and professional conflict when a pretty mystery lady Allison French (Renee Zellweger) blows into town. She complicates the picture walking on the gray line between good and evil and generally making the Marshal and his No. 2 overcome unwelcome obstacles in their fight to bring Bragg and his boys to justice. The film based on the novel by Robert B. Parker smartly details the unique problems inherent in bringing law and order to an unruly West. Guiding his co-star Marcia Gay Harden in 2000’s Pollock to an Oscar Harris the director once again shows he has a natural affinity for steering his fellow actors at least most of them into superlative performances which includes himself. In fact the actor doesn’t seem to be the least intimidated in playing the leading role in a movie he also co-wrote directed and produced. Harris comes off as the embodiment of a dedicated lawman who quietly goes about his business determined to clean up the wild wild West his way with the help of a loyal deputy. Mortensen is wonderfully authentic as Harris’ partner in stopping sagebrush crime looking like he’s lived in those boots his entire life. Mortensen’s demeanor and style in the role of Everett Hitch evokes a true feel for a place and time long gone. Together these two do not seem fake or awkwardly contemporary but instead come off as the real deal. Irons is slippery and fun to watch as the devious outlaw Bragg proving as he did in his Oscar-winning Reversal of Fortune there’s nobody as good at playing subtle shades of bad. Zellweger on the other hand lets her acting show at every turn. To be fair her character rarely adds up but she does nothing to give any dimension beyond the obvious to a woman courting both sides of the law. In only his second outing behind the camera in a decade Harris shows Pollock was no fluke. Clearly enamored with the era he nobly honors the great American western tradition crafting a film that fits in with some of the best examples Hollywood has turned out. Some may complain that Appaloosa is long on talk and short on action but the time director Harris devotes to letting his characters develop is far more satisfying than a lot of pointless violence that many Westerns wallow in. Like Howard Hawks’ 1959 classic Rio Bravo this is an honest tale of the camaraderie between a pair of lawmen simply trying to do a job. This is a director whose emphasis is focused on his cast and he’s picked them very carefully right down to the smallest roles surrounding himself with a lot of terrific character actors. Just as impressive are the top notch production values including cinematographer Dean Semler’s stunning New Mexico landscapes.
Based on the best-selling book by Mark Foster Game tells the remarkable real-life story of Francis Ouimet (Shia LaBeouf). He was a working-class immigrant kid who in the early 1900s turned the privileged world of golf on its ear. The story begins with Francis working as a caddie at a posh country club where he masters the game by quietly practicing on his own. His French-born father (Elias Koteas) thinks he's wasting his time and should be earning an honest wage but Francis is far too smitten with the game to give it up. Francis finally gets his big break when an amateur spot opens up at the 1913 U.S. Open. With a feisty 10-year-old caddie named Eddie (Josh Flitter) by his side egging him on Francis plays the best he ever has. He eventually finds himself facing off against the sport's undisputed champion Harry Vardon (Stephen Dillane) a U.S. Open winner and six-time British Open champion (a record that still stands today). Their legendary battle changes the face of the sport forever--but I wouldn't necessarily call it the greatest game ever.
Game is one of those juicy little biopics actors can really sink their teeth into. Starting with our young lead LaBeouf (Holes) is sufficiently determined as the guy playing against impossible odds. His Francis with his liquid brown eyes and winning smile is full of optimism and raw talent that propels him into the majors. And he looks pretty authentic swinging a golf club too. Still it may be time for LaBeouf to move on from the Disney family fare and do something grittier sort of like what he showed in Constantine. Dillane--who was so achingly good in The Hours as Virginia Woolf's beleaguered husband--also does a fine job as the legendary Vardon a man haunted by his own demons. In a way Game is a story about both men who have more in common than they realize. Although a top professional in the sport Vardon has to fight against the elitist golfing community's prejudices. You see Vardon grew up dirt poor on the plains of Scotland and because of his background was never permitted into any "gentleman's" clubs. The cast of colorful supporting players add to the film especially Flitter as the caustic but encouraging Eddie. He may be small but he packs a wallop. The last shot of the movie features Francis and Eddie walking off the golf course at sunset evoking the classic Casablanca ending line "This is the start of a beautiful friendship"--which apparently really happened. The real-life Eddie and Francis remained friends for the rest of their lives.
The main slice against Game is that it's about golf. Besides comedies such as Caddyshack and Happy Gilmore a serious movie about the game really isn't going to stir your soul say like football or baseball. But actor-turned-director Bill Paxton--who made his directorial debut with the creepy Frailty--takes the story and keeps it convincingly affecting. Much like Seabiscuit it's the real-life historical context that makes Game even more compelling. Paxton painstakingly details how the game was played at the turn of the century--and who was allowed to play it. The whole discriminatory arrogance surrounding the game makes the stakes even higher for our heroes. Vardon had a score to settle while Ouimet simply became the game's new hero paving the way for legendary whiz kids like Tiger Woods to step up on the green. Paxton also views Game as a Western. The final golf round between Vardon and Ouimet is the ultimate shootout á la the OK Corral in which the camera angles are inventive--a bird's eye view of the ball sailing through the air or gliding on the green into the hole. Plus he keeps the tension as taut as he can considering the less than exhilarating subject matter. Oh come on who isn't a sucker for a good sports underdog story even if it is golf?