This is supposed to be a Top 10 list of the roles that highlight the best representation of women in film in 2017. Only, I started looking at the films released in 2017, and realized there wasn’t just a real lack of films with strong female representation, but of roles offered to women — period. So I changed the criteria and decided to massage the best performances by actresses who elevated their role by representing a marginalized audience.
Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2
Because Terminator 2 was re-released in theaters this year, it makes it eligible for this list. And I found it increasingly hard to ignore how powerful the role of Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) was in helping society at large realize that women are more than just mothers and lovers. They’re complex creatures you seriously do not want to mess with, just ask the T-1000 (Robert Patrick). Sarah Connor is more than just a mother, protector and friend and this is all thanks to the partnership between Linda Hamilton and James Cameron. Sarah Connor will forever remain an iconic role powerful enough to elevate a woman to full-blown action star doesn’t just blow away male action stars, it gave them something to aspire to. Plus, I still want to be her when I grow up.
Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde
You can fight me on this one, but seeing Charlize Theron kick major ass as double agent Lorraine Broughton, made me think back to every time I’ve heard men mock women by saying, “She hits like a girl,” and laugh. Hitting like a girl is hardly an insult with the array of creative ways Broughton double crosses and kicks ass. There’s a lack of respect and representation for the work it takes to be a truly physical actor who nails stunts beautifully. And although the plot for Atomic Blonde was flimsy, Theron nailed the choreography, proving that real women can kickass.
Nicole Kidman in Killing of a Sacred Deer
In terms of representing women over the age of 50 by being sexy and layered, Nicole Kidman nails it as Anna Murphy. Nicole has perfected the art of looking good but being ugly, especially in this role that portrays her character as a sort of Dorian Grey. The magical realism of this films slips into Nicole’s performance truly elevating her emotional demise and fortifying the idea of the aging ingenue, clinging to who she once was.
Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman
There is an idea that women can’t kick ass, but then there’s the idea that to be tough women must kick ass. In her breakout role as Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot is able to accurately portray the iconic superhero as a person who won’t back down from a challenge, without sacrificing the innocence and warmth that made Wonder Woman so iconic in the first place. Wonder Woman isn’t perfect and Gadot’s portrayal helps to put an end to the idea that women must be anything other than who they need to be.
An Seo Hyun in Okja
Before I saw Okja, I heard about it from multiple people who swore I would be touched by this film about a girl and her relationship with her pig…and they were right. Okja is wholly endearing, but credence given to it really has to do with the spectacular performance by Mija (An Seo Hyun). She brings a real dignity to a character who’s facing the loss of her best friend. Without this touching portrayal of Mija, Okja wouldn’t have deeply touched as many people as it did.
Dafne Keen in Logan
Spanish-English actress Dafne Keen dazzled as Logan’s feral progeny Laura Kinney. The pint-sized mutant carries this film from the second she hits the screen, truly stealing the spotlight from both Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Logan (Hugh Jackman), titans of the franchise. Keen’s performance is so rich, you hardly feel like you’re going to miss Logan and Professor X… once you finally stop crying. Keen’s wild, raw performance really excites me about where they might choose to take this character in the future.
Kelly Marie Tran in Star Wars: The Last Jedi
The introduction of an Asian character into the Star Wars universe has captivated audiences, but Kelly Marie Tran’s depiction of resistance heroine Rose Tico is the sort of hero we need in real life America. I loved this role because it’s not just an extension of the power given to women in the Star Wars universe, but it takes it a step further by casting the franchises first Asian actress in a major role.
Tiffany Haddish in Girls Trip
There is a tragedy in the fact that Tiffany Haddish was overlooked for a Golden Globe nomination as Dina. Girls Trip made Tiffany Haddish a household name, but with how effortlessly hilarious she is, it was only a matter of time before she exploded. Being funny is equal parts timing, personality, and magic, all things Haddish brings to the table in Girls Trip. The movie might not be high art, but with as serious as things have been in the news, roles like this are the Calgon bath I need to slip into.
Frances McDormand in 3 Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
I know, I know…another white woman on the list, but Frances McDormand crushes it as Mildred, the hard as nails mother who wants answers about her daughter’s death. Mildred is mean. It’s who she is at her core and how she gets things done. McDormand strips away any sense of sentimentality to get down to the rawness of a woman beyond grief.
Sony Pictures Classics
Daniela Vega in A Fantastic Woman
Trans actress Daniela Vega breaks hearts with her strength as Marina Vidal, a trans woman who’s older boyfriend, Orlando (Francisco Reyes), suddenly falls ill and dies. Vega carries the story with grace, breaking my heart over and over again in her ability to confront society with not only who she is but in the fact that her love is real and powerful. A Fantastic Woman is both an excellent role and superb storytelling, and something we need to see more of, trans women being used to tell their own stories.
Sabrina Cognata is an award-winning writer, producer and storyteller. During a decade long meltdown, she burned her life to the ground and revamped it as often as Madonna. Sabrina has written or produced for HuffPost Live, CBS Radio, TMZ and XO Jane, and she’s currently producing a syndicated news show for FOX television while tirelessly fighting the patriarchy Every. Damn. Day.