Throughout the history of cinema, Hollywood has never been short of iconic female characters. There have been countless female characters whose significant contributions to popular culture have persisted to this day.
Starting out with the decades of the post-war baby boom and the modern American family, the fifties and sixties have given rise to some of the most iconic female characters onscreen. Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn are two of the world’s most acclaimed movie stars and style icons.
Monroe, an iconic sex symbol from Hollywood’s Golden Age, plays the character Sugar Kane in Some Like It Hot released in the late fifties. The film follows two male musicians who disguise themselves as women as they flee in an all-female band after witnessing a mob hit. This film of meticulous crafts revolves around nothing but sexual desires. In the film, Sugar Kane dresses provocatively as she pours herself in a dress that flaunts her breasts for needy men. Her character speaks to female objectification and misogyny whilst motivating women to propagate toward the idea of revealing attire.
Hepburn, recognized as a film and fashion icon, stars in one of Hollywood’s notorious films in the fifties, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Her character, Holly Golightly, became a huge aspiration for some women during the sixties and even to this day. The film revolves around a young New York elegant socialite who finds herself infatuated with her charming new neighbour. Over the years, the film’s pop culture energy has sparked lyrical inspiration, household merchandise, and a muse for dress-up parties. She becomes a glamourized icon that changed the way women viewed fashion, accessories, and their jewelry.
Moving on to the seventies, Carrie White, played by Sissy Spacek in the film Carrie released in 1976, demonstrates a complicated, strong, and terrifying expression of the terrors of being a teenage girl. Carrie White, a shy and friendless teenager, is kept by her domineering mother and later unleashes her telekinetic powers after being humiliated by classmates at her senior prom. Her character portrays the difficulties of girlhood and addresses familial repression and the issues of bullying in school. Additionally, the horror film’s depiction of female roles in the thriller genre also has created a substantial female fanbase that resonated with pop culture. Females have continued to occupy such a part in this category decades later.
Next, Molly Ringwald, one of Hollywood’s most iconic actresses in the eighties has starred in several classic and recognizable films directed by John Hughes: Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, and The Breakfast Club. But what made her role so influential in pop culture? This question can be answered with nothing other than her attitude. Her role among all three films share the same cool, overindulged, rich kid personality that stood out to several teens in the eighties as Ringwald captured the typical high school teenage girl in this decade. Many young girls desired her image and strived to facsimile her character.
The nineties have generated countless female characters who were role models even today. Films like Clueless, 10 Things I Hate About You, Pretty Women, and even animated movies like Beauty and the Beast have portrayed iconic female roles that inspire many women. Because these films are relatively recent releases, this decade might be the most recognizable and influential towards shaping pop culture in our present society.
Meryl Streep plays Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada which focuses on a fictional magazine and aspiring New York journalist as she lands a job working with the ‘ice-queen’ editor-in-chief. Miranda Priestly embodies a woman in a senior position of a company who holds great power, influence, and control. Her character was extremely influential for pop culture as she expresses female power and promotes women in positions of authority. Her portrayal is significant in film as powerful female leads are not common in cinema.
And lastly, Mean Girls is a film that has arguably become the greatest touchstone for millennials released in the early 2000s. Filled with numerous memorable female roles, this classic film had a large impact for teenage girls as it depicts high school stereotypes in such accurate and comedic manner.
The film revolves around Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan), a homeschooled girl who is thrown in a public high school, and her journey on how to survive. She interacts with common social groups many adolescents are familiar with in school, such as the popular girls, the nerds, the varsity jocks, and the band geeks. Her struggle with the mean girls has truly spoken to the teenage audience and has largely impacted adolescent identity in pop culture.
Nevertheless, women have continued to occupy significant roles in cinema and inspire pop culture. This article specifically focused on films rather than television but that is not to say television has had any less prominent female roles. Despite years of gender inequality, women have undoubtedly succeeded in the film and television industry and should be applauded for their prosperity.