- Janet (Susan Sarandon), The Rocky Horror
Picture Show (1975)
It was back in the '70s that she got liberated from her fatuous
virtue, and since then good girls have had no excuse for their insufferable
- Jody (Joan Cusack),
Men Don't Leave (1990)
Serenely eccentric, winningly bossy and unstoppably blithe, Jody
steals teenaged Chris O'Donnell out of his unhappy, fatherless home
and takes him into her own home and bed, then cures his grieving,
widowed mom. One of film's inexplicable, inimitable good souls.
- Kirsten (Lee Remick),
Days of Wine and Roses (1962)
At last, equality for women in alcoholism.
- Sandra Kovak (Mary Astor),
The Great Lie (1941)
A brilliant, conceited, self-obsessed pianist who hands off her
newborn to her friend like last year's gown. A career woman's career
woman in the age before cheap Central American labor.
- Sugar Kane Kowalczyck (Marilyn Monroe),
Some Like It Hot (1959)
Best thing that ever happened to a ukelele, Tiny Tim included.
- Lara (Julie Christie),
Doctor Zhivago (1965)
What other heroine has incited passion, madness, betrayal, revolution,
thousand-mile treks through snow, poetry and bestselling theme music?
- Mabel Longhetti (Gena Rowlands),
A Woman Under the Influence (1974)
Whereas there are a thousand times more serial murders on-screen
than there are in real life, the reverse is true of nervous breakdowns.
Mabel has such a dilly it almost compensates for the imbalance.
- Wilma Dean Loomis (Natalie Wood),
Splendor in the Grass (1961)
A one-girl argument against parental meddling in teen romance.
- Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman),
The kind of celluloid creation who ruins guys for real-life women.
- Mama (Irene Dunne),
I Remember Mama (1948)
This warm, enduring, protective Norwegian mom struggles to make
a decent life for her family in San Francisco, setting a terrifying
standard for women forced to play this role in real life.
- Marge the Police Chief (Frances McDormand),
She can crack a case, build up her man's self-esteem, capture a
killer and speak out for human decency, all while in an advanced
state of pregnancy and at sub-zero temperatures.
- Martha (Elizabeth Taylor),
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
One of the crudest, funniest, most self-destructive and venomous
harpies in the history of film. An early glimpse of how Elizabeth
Taylor looks in the morning.
- Maude (Ruth Gordon), Harold and Maude
The character who poses the question, Why kill yourself when you
can have sex with a 79-year-old woman instead?
- Terry McKay (Irene Dunne),
Love Affair (1939)
The earliest and best version of this thrice-created character who's
proof that women who are down on romance are the most likely to
meet the love of their lives.
- Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway),
That most fascinating of creatures, an honest liar. When the tarnished
beauty doesn't let her sordid past keep her from dressing spectacularly,
making a last stab at trusting a man, or dying to protect her child,
she becomes a tragic heroine.
- Ninotchka (Greta Garbo),
A delightful prototype of today's Russian woman--an overnight, overdue
convert to capitalism and glamour.
- Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh),
Gone With the Wind (1939)
Hollywood's one-woman argument for PR-stunt talent searches.
- Sugarpuss O'Shea (Barbara Stanwyck),
Ball of Fire (1941)
Who'd have thought a Snow White knockoff could be so sexy?
- Kitty Packard (Jean Harlow),
Dinner at Eight (1933)
"I read a book the other day. Do you know that the guy said
machinery is going to take the place of every profession?"
says this '30s blonde bimbo supreme. Another character looks her
up and down and says: "Oh, my dear, that's something you'll
never have to worry about."
- Sarah Packard (Piper Laurie), The
"The girl" in this smoky, gritty, booze-guzzling classic
about pool sharks raises passivity to an art form.
- Mildred Pierce (Joan Crawford),
Mildred Pierce (1945)
A '40s, martyr-style working mom who's a mystery to any late '90s
working mom, but an inspiration to female impersonators everywhere.
- Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman), The
Last Picture Show (1971)
She may be a dirty-dishwater Mrs. Robinson, but at least she sleeps
with Timothy Bottoms instead of Dustin Hoffman.
- Rachel (Kelly McGillis),
From strapping farm widow and obedient adherent of a marginal antimodern,
pacifist religion to luminous maiden straight out of de la Tour
to passionate heretic and soul-changing lover. All in one season.
- Rachel (Lillian Gish),
The Night of the Hunter (1955)
Cinematic proof that little old spinsters are children's and civilization's
best defense against bad parents and psychopathic, homicidal, fundamentalist
- Norma Rae (Sally Field),
Norma Rae (1979)
We like her, we really like her.
- Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher),
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
Without this spiteful, power-abusing psychiatric head nurse in our
collective imagination, how many more of us would have succumbed
to the lure of going nuts?
- Raymond's mother (Angela Lansbury), The
Manchurian Candidate (1962)
The mom other paranoid males only think they have.
- Ripley (Sigourney Weaver),
A woman so cool, so smart, so brave and so beautiful that she can
move in after the guys have failed and blast the bejesus out of
a gnashing, drooling outer-space killing machine and look sensational
in bikini underpants? Plus she risks her life for a puttytat? The
ultimate role model for the Millennium.
- Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft),
The Graduate (1967)
This lacquered, restive suburban barracuda elevates The Graduate
from a museum of '60s romantic blather into a genuine classic.
- Rosemary (Mia Farrow),
Rosemary's Baby (1968)
We are all indebted to Rosemary for making it perfectly clear that
if you grow up a good Catholic girl, and treat others as you would
have them treat you, you'd better not marry an actor.
- Sally (Susan Sarandon),
Atlantic City (1981)
This oyster shucker, who's hell-bent on becoming a croupier, has
such an inventive way with a lemon that she prompts ancient Burt
Lancaster to pop a woody.
- Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn),
The African Queen (1951)
A middle-aged spinster shoots the whitewater rapids of the Dark
Continent with a sweaty, cussing skipper, and beams post-coitally,
"Now that I've had a taste of it, I don't wonder why you love
boating, Mr. Allnut." What other character could have given
Hepburn a chance to experience the Big O on-screen?
- Sera (Elisabeth Shue),
Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
The newest member of cinema's elite club of beautiful losers.
- Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland),
The Heiress (1949)
A Jamesian masterpiece of a woman, Catherine gets exquisite, if
Pyrrhic, revenge on looker Montgomery Clift not so much for lusting
after the money she has, as for not lusting after the beauty, charm
and wit she doesn't have.
- Cora Smith (Lana Turner),
The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
She's cheap, self-deluded, hot-blooded, homicidal. In other words,
a "Hard Copy" calendar girl, way before her time.
- Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), The
Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Hannibal the Cannibal loves her enough to refrain from mixing her
with fava beans. She needs no further endorsement.
- Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins),
Gun Crazy (1950)
A money-and-gun-obsessed carnival markswoman who shoots up much
of the nation's countryside the instant she finds the guy who really
makes her trigger-happy.
- Sue Ann Stepanek (Tuesday Weld),
Pretty Poison (1968)
A true-blue American psychoteen who gets straight to the point and
shoots her mother.
- Milly Stephenson (Myrna Loy),
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
When her husband comes home from war, she refrains from applying
her emotional energies to the task of trying to understand either
what he's been through or what he's going through now, and reserves
them for unpresumptuous tolerance.
- Frances Stevens (Grace Kelly),
To Catch a Thief (1955)
"I'm sorry I ever sent her to finishing school," carps
her nouveau riche mother. "I think they finished her
there." Oh shut up.
- Anne Sullivan (Anne Bancroft),
The Miracle Worker (1962)
Tough love in action.
- Thelma (Geena Davis),
Thelma & Louise (1991)
They're mad as hell and they're not going to take it anymore, and
like most people who are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore,
they must die. But, as exemplary feminists, they do the job themselves.
- Louise (Susan Sarandon),
Thelma & Louise (1991)
- Judith Traherne (Bette Davis),
Dark Victory (1939)
Trash cinema's persuasive argument that the best fate for a society
playgirl is an early death.
- Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone),
Basic Instinct (1992)
Dresses like Grace Kelly (sans panties), kills like Norman Bates
- Vivian (Lauren Bacall),
The Big Sleep (1946)
One of the coolest, most sardonic, most glamorous rich girls ever
to hit noir. Whether you want to be her or sleep with her, she's
your best defense against going nuts trying to follow the plot she's
- Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner),
Body Heat (1981)
A woman who can wear a red skirt like nobody's business and mean
it when she says, "You're not too smart, are you? I like that
in a man."
- Lucy Warriner (Irene Dunne),
The Awful Truth (1937)
Cinema's wittiest, smartest, loveliest and most stylish lesson in
how to avoid the ugliness and drudgery of playing the Wronged Wife.
- Lena Younger (Claudia McNeil),
A Raisin in the Sun (1961)
A wise South Side Chicago widow who finds herself locked in the
conflict between Old School black vs. New.
- Sophie Zawistowska (Meryl Streep), Sophie's
You expect that a woman of such luminous and live beauty is energized
by secrets. The beauty becomes indelible when you discover there
is just one secret, and it is calamity.