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.
If a major motion picture studio gave you $50 million to make the movie of your choice what would it be like? If you’re producers Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner and writers Simon Pegg and Nick Frost it’d be a loving lampoon of geek culture and an homage to the films of the Spielberg/Lucas revolution but nostalgia is both an advantage and disadvantage in director Greg Mottola’s Paul.
Pegg and Frost star as a pair of nerds from across the pond who fulfill lifelong dreams when they fly to San Diego for the annual Mecca of nerdom Comic-Con. The doofy duo extend their trip to tour America’s extraterrestrial hot spots including Area 51 where they pick up an unexpected alien hitchhiker on the run from the proverbial men in black. Across the country they go getting into trouble picking up more passengers and building bromantic bonds as the little green man Paul inches closer to his escape from planet Earth and the shadowy government official who has been exploiting his knowledge of the universe since he crash landed in Wyoming over 60 years ago.
Fan-favorite filmmakers since 2004’s Shaun of the Dead Pegg and Frost have been making geek chic for years now and continue to create identifiable roles for themselves while finding humorous ways to write their like-minded friends into their movies. Their collection of wacky characters is charming if incredibly derivative but for better or worse they are the heart and soul of the film. Jason Bateman Kristen Wiig Bill Hader and Jo Lo Truglio turn in fun performances but I expected a bit more from the Jane Lynch David Koechner and Sigourney Weaver cameos. Still Seth Rogen’s vocal performance as Paul adds significant layers to an already adorable alien and enlivens the adequately rendered CG character.
The comedy is surprisingly sweet and doesn’t bite like Mottola’s Superbad though there are enough religious jabs and signs of anti-establishment fervor to call it mildly subversive. Lack of laughs isn’t the issue here; lack of originality is. Mottola is too dependent on pop-culture references and inside jokes pertaining to E.T. Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind so much so that the film ultimately becomes a parody of itself as its storyline mirrors that of Steven Spielberg’s massive 1982 blockbuster (in this world the movie mogul actually consults the incarcerated alien for inspiration for his beloved family film). While these nods are all amusing they’re not enough to carry the film and Mottola/Frost/Pegg offer little else. At its worst Paul will give you a reason to revisit those classic sci-fi staples and remember the good old days. At best it provides a few mindless chuckles and gives you good reason to give the geek next to you a great big hug.
As the fifth year at Hogwarts begins most of the wizardry world is having a hard time believing Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has returned further propagated by the Ministry of Magic who refuses to recognize anything evil is brewing and blames all the hullabaloo on Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Dumbledore (Michael Gambon). The Ministry even interferes with Hogwarts business by making Ministry employee Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor whose outwardly sweet demeanor hides a sadistic streak a mile wide. She thinks the children should only learn about the Dark Arts “theoretically” and tortures all those who disagree. But the Voldemort threat is a reality and Dumbledore has re-formed the Order of the Phoenix a group of witches and wizards that prepares to battle the Dark Lord. Harry is unfortunately being kept in the dark for his protection of course even as his connection to Voldemort grows stronger and he’s royally peeved at being ignored. Urged on by Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) he forms his own order of Hogwarts students called Dumbledore’s Army to teach them what defenses against the Dark Arts he has already learned. Oh yeah Harry also shares his first kiss but make no bones about it—love is the furthest thing on Harry’s mind when the crap hits the fan. War is imminent. Everyone steps up their game in Order of the Phoenix. Radcliffe Watson and Grint have shed their adolescent whininess and aw-shucks goofiness to give their characters the greatest depth so far. They are forced to grow up pretty quickly in Order with little time for any playfulness and the three actors handle the seriousness with aplomb. Of course both Radcliffe and Grint have already ventured out of the Potter world—Radcliffe shed more than just adolescence on stage in a production of Equus while Grint lost his virginity in the indie Driving Lessons--and their extra experience shows in Order. Also good are Matthew Lewis as the usually clumsy Neville Longbottom who shows his mettle in more ways than one and newcomer Evanna Lynch as the slightly off-kilter Luna Lovegood who proves to be a loyal member of Dumbledore’s Army. But the kids have to keep up with the talented adult cast especially Oscar-nominated Staunton (Vera Drake) as Umbridge. The veteran actress’ interpretation of one of J.K. Rowling’s nastiest characters so far in the Potter lore is spot-on down to the pink wool suits and irritating twitter “ahem” she uses when she wants your undivided attention. Helena Bonham Carter also makes an impression however over the top it is as the evil Voldemort follower Bellatrix Lestrange. Does she ever want to look pretty onscreen? Then there’s the laundry list of Brits whose time onscreen may be short but is nonetheless memorable including Alan Rickman as the sneering Prof. Snape; Gambon as the wise but flawed Dumbledore; Gary Oldman as the kindly Sirius Black Harry’s only real family; and of course Fiennes as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. His late-in-the-game appearance once again throws you for a loop. It stands to reason that at five movies in moviegoers would have a favorite Harry Potter flick by now. Those who love those Triwizard Tournament special effects might feel The Goblet of Fire was the best; or Prisoner of Azkaban for its time-bending action. Yet The Order of the Phoenix may be the one movie that speaks directly to the fans of the books. Without as much wide-eyed wonderment or wizardry flash the story is still chockfull of compelling details that are absolutely pivotal to the continuing Harry Potter saga. Screenwriter Michael Goldenberg (Peter Pan) and director David Yates (HBO’s The Girl in the Café) manage to wade through this volume of information and cut successfully to the chase with great effect. Yates who has signed on to do the sixth movie Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince even shows an affinity for action in the final dramatic confrontation between good witches and wizards and bad ones. But overall Order of the Phoenix may leave audiences not as well-versed in the novels a little itchy for some good old-fashioned wand-waving and Disney special effects. Thing is it’s just going to keep getting darker and darker for Harry and his crew. The days of happy fun playtime are over.