This year has been a pretty great one for movies and TV. We’ve seen some epic movies like The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and of course, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And, on the television front, we’ve enjoyed excellent new shows like Jessica Jones, Agent Carter, and Supergirl, as well as rousing twists from established favs like Arrow and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
One of the most exciting developments in the entertainment world in 2015 has been the number of heroic female characters. And what’s more, they’re not just one-dimensional, ass-kicking fighters (although many of them can throw a mean punch!). they’re strong and tough, but they also demonstrate a lot of emotional complexity, and we get to watch them grow and evolve.
Here are the 20 Best Female Heroes of 2015 in Movies and TV.
20 Iris West (the flash)
Iris has been a fantastic character from the start. Even though she may not return Barry Allen’s romantic feelings for her, she is his oldest friend, and she never fails to show up for him when he needs her. We’ve watched her grow professionally into a successful journalist, as well as a crucial player on Team Flash.
In addition, Iris has had some very tricky emotional stuff to deal with this season – like dealing with the news that she has a brother she never knew. We get to watch her grapple with whether or not to tell her father about his long-lost son. At first, she wants to keep the information from him, fearing that he’ll be crushed when he realizes he was never a part of his son’s life. But ultimately, she makes the right call and tells her dad the truth.
19 Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (avengers: age of ultron)
In Avengers: Age of Ultron, we’re introduced to two new members of the acclaimed superhero team – The Vision and Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (there’s also War Machine and The Falcon, but we’ve seen Rhodey and Sam Wilson in previous movies).
Wanda goes through quite the transformation over the course of the film. At first, she and her brother Pietro/Quicksilver are essentially allied with Ultron, hoping to get back at Tony Stark because it was his company’s weapons that killed their parents, leaving them orphaned. Wanda is not completely confident with the use of her abilities, but by the end of the movie, she steps into her power, switches sides, and becomes a full-fledged Avenger.
Her defining scene comes when she and Hawkeye are battling Ultron’s robot army. They find themselves surrounded inside a mostly destroyed building, and Wanda is understandably a little paralyzed with fear. Clint tells her “If you go out there, you fight, and you fight to kill. Stay in here you’re good, I’ll send your brother to come find you. But if you step out that door, you are an Avenger.” A beat later and she’s outside kicking robot ass.
18 Katniss Everdeen (hunger games: mocking jay part 2)
Of course, we’ve been watching and reading about Katniss’s adventures for a while now. But the Mockingjay took her heroism to a different level this year in the fourth and final film of the series.
In Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, she realizes that the fight against the Capitol has been about more than simply taking out Snow. Replacing him with Coin, who proposes her own Hunger Games, would be nothing more than swapping one tyrant for another.
Unlike Gale, who allows his tactical thinking to be exploited by Coin in ways he apparently isn’t totally okay with, Katniss holds on to her integrity. Yes, this is the film where Katniss finally triumphs over the Capitol, but it’s also where she decides who she is and what she truly stands for.
17 Claire Temple (daredevil)
Claire is a ridiculously badass nurse, and the embodiment of grace under pressure. When she first meets Matt Murdock, she’s patching him up after a violent encounter with some bad guys. Most of her interactions with Matt are pretty intense, but she never freaks out or loses her cool. And during her appearance on Jessica Jones, she tends to Luke Cage’s rather dire medical needs with similar cool-headedness.
Also, although she’s willing to help Matt and give him the medical care he needs, she doesn’t just blindly jump on the “Matt-Murdock-is-an-awesome-superhero” bandwagon. Instead, she presses him about his vigilantism. Claire is smart, kind, and willing to take risks for what she believes is right - definitely a force to be reckoned with.
16 Jessica Jones
Honestly, we love everything about Jessica. She’s tough as nails, but she has a big, soft heart, which we see in her friendship with Trish and her relationship with Luke Cage. She’s a survivor of rape and mind control, and the show doesn’t sugar coat that. We see Jessica struggling with what is essentially PTSD, yet she’s not defined by her victimhood. At first, when she learns that Kilgrave is back in the picture, her reaction is to get out of town as fast as possible. But she changes her mind, and decides to stay and fight.
We love Jessica because she finds her own way to be a hero. She previously tried being an Avengers-style superhero, but realized it wasn’t for her. Despite not fitting the shiny, larger-than-live archetype of the traditional superhero, she nonetheless uses her super-strength and her wits to help others in need.
15 Hope van Dyne (ant-man)
We love Hope van Dyne because, even though she initially gets shafted in the superhero department, she demonstrates her skill and, as we see in the mid-credits scene of Ant-Man, she finishes the movie primed to become The Wasp, a superhero in her own right. Early in the movie, her dad, Hank Pym, chooses Scott Lang to wear the Ant-Man suit, despite the fact that Hope is a trained fighter and already knows how the suit works.
But Hope doesn’t just sit back and let Scott have all the fun. She trains him and proves herself to be a legit badass. When Scott patronizingly tells her he’ll go easy on her during a sparring session, she responds by jabbing him in the face and knocking him to the ground. Hope definitely makes it known that she doesn’t play second fiddle to anyone.
14 Bonnie Bennett (vampire diaries)
Yes, Vampire Diaries fits more into the urban fantasy genre, but it’s similar in tone to some of the other shows mentioned here, and it has some fantastic female characters. When all of the other characters are consumed by their own drama, Bonnie is the one who keeps things sane. She’s basically everyone’s touchstone, even when she’s going through some pretty crazy drama of her own.
Over the course of the show, we’ve watched Bonnie build her skills as a witch, get killed and come back to life, and grow into a confident, capable woman who knows how to stand up for herself and her friends. This season, she’s had to grapple with the very powerful Heretics, most of whom are snarky and not completely trustworthy. But when one of them demonstrates a desire to do some good and help with Bonnie’s college’s holiday toy drive, Bonnie gives her the chance to try and turn over a new leaf.
13 Thea Queen (arrow)
One of the best things about Arrow is that it had multiple amazing female characters from the very start. And they’re all well developed and multi-faceted.
At the end of the second season, we see Thea step into the role of the Red Arrow, and this season, we’ve watched her continue to grow as a hero. In season 3, Thea was saved from nearly dying by being dipped into what’s basically a mystical hot tub, and the experience left her with a pretty insatiable blood lust. Her father, Malcom Merlin – the seemingly omnipresent frenemy of Team Arrow – tries to convince her that it’s okay for her to sate her need to kill if she only murders bad guys. But Thea refuses to accept that, deciding instead to find another way to curb the blood lust.
This was a stand-out year for Thea both because she more fully came into her own as hero, and because she took the moral high road, even when it was very difficult for her to do so.
12 Daisy Johnson (agents of S.h.i.e.l.d)
Like Arrow, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D has no shortage of excellent female characters. Daisy has evolved significantly over the show’s three seasons. When we first see her in season 1, she’s living alone in a van and, although she’s an amazing hacker, she’s kind of drifting through life as an orphan without any family, real friends, or career prospects.
During seasons 1 and 2, we watch her gain confidence as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. When she learns that she’s an Inhuman in season 2, it’s initially very difficult for her. She’s afraid, and unable to rein in her powers. By the end of the season, she’s got control of her abilities, and by season 3, she’s using them – as well as the lessons learned from her experience – to help other Inhumans going through the same thing.
At this point, she has stepped into both her superpowers and her personal power, demonstrating impressive confidence and leadership skills.
11 Kendra Saunders/Hawkgirl (the flash)
While Kendra wasn’t exactly a regular character on this season of The Flash, the episodes that featured her definitely stood out. One minute, Kendra is a regular young woman working at CC Jitters, Team Flash’s favorite coffee spot, and the next she’s learning that she’s a reincarnated warrior priestess who has been killed over and over by the same guy in previous lifetimes. Definitely enough to make anyone’s head spin.
What’s great about Kendra is that she learns that, in order to realize her powers as Hawkgirl, she needs to honor who she truly is. Her reincarnated boyfriend, Hawkman, tells her to tap into her anger in order bring out her powers. But Cisco suggests that she should concentrate on the priestess part of “warrior priestess” instead. When she does that, focusing on her desire to use her powers in an uplifting way, she literally sprouts wings and takes flight. Also, Kendra is going to be a main character on the upcoming DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, which is super exciting.
10 Rey (Star wars: the force awakens)
Where to begin? Everything about Rey is just fantastic. For starters, we love finally seeing a female Jedi (or at least future-Jedi) in a feature film. This has been something a lot of Star Wars fans have wanted for a long time. It’s awesome to watch her confidence grow, and to see her starting to reach her potential.
SPOILERS: At first, the prospect of using the force freaks her out. When she holds Luke’s lightsaber and experiences a vision, she promptly gives the lightsaber back to Maz Kanata and basically tells her she wants no part of the resistance. But of course, that doesn’t last long, and Rey re-joins the fray more empowered.
One of Rey’s most significant scenes comes when Kylo Ren has her held captive. She’s tied up, and tries to use the Force to command a stormtrooper to undo the restraints. Her first couple of attempts fail, and the stormtrooper just laughs at her. But a light bulb goes off and she realizes she needs to say it with conviction (once more, with feeling!). She again tells the stormtrooper to release her, and this time, he complies. This is an incredible moment. Rey isn’t waiting for others to validate her; she understands that if she wants others to take her seriously, she needs to believe in her own power first.
9 Kara Danvers/Supergirl (supergirl)
We weren’t sure about this show at first. After watching the pilot, it seemed like CBS’s incarnation of Kara might be more like the Bridget Jones of superheroes (no offense to Bridget Jones – everyone loves a good rom-com now and then – we’re just not sure the world of DC superheroes is where she belongs). But the show is becoming increasingly awesome as it goes along.
Kara goes from being an awkward, self-doubting young woman who’s afraid to use her powers to a budding superhero. And she learns some important lessons along the way. For example, she comes to realize the necessity of claiming and being proud of who you really are, and that setbacks and bumps in the road don’t necessarily mean you’re on the wrong path.
Her adoptive mother discourages her from using her abilities, believing that staying under the radar will keep her safe. But Kara comes to the conclusion that the safest path isn’t always the most rewarding one, and it’s this realization that allows her to flourish.
8 Cat Grant (supergirl)
Kara’s not the only kick-ass woman on Supergirl. Cat Grant is pretty great in her own right. At the beginning of the season, she comes across as a cold, heartless boss type, reminiscent of Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. But as the season progresses, we see that Cat’s hardened exterior is the result of her having had to claw her way to success, despite a self-centered, unsupportive mother and male co-workers who had no trouble saddling her with gender stereotypes.
In fact, Cat becomes Kara’s mentor, showing her how to stand up for herself and not take crap from anyone. She also sets an example for Kara in terms of how to take important steps up the ladder – both in her career and in life. Of course, the relationship drama is supposed to be between Kara and her two potential romantic interests, James and Winn, but we find the relationship between Kara and Cat to be the more interesting one.
7. Peggy Carter (agent carter)
Oh Peggy, we love you! Of course, we got our first introduction to Peggy in Captain America: The First Avenger. And we loved her appearances in Winter Soldier and Ant-Man. This year, we were treated to an even fuller picture of her awesomeness with ABC’s Agent Carter.
Peggy is smart, talented, and a badass when it comes to fighting. She can run circles around her 1940s male co-workers, who treat her more like a secretary than an SSR agent. But, by the end of the season, she has demonstrated time and again that she’s extremely intelligent and capable, and even her old-school colleagues can’t deny it.
What we love about Peggy is that she has a strong sense of self-worth and doesn’t need external approval to feel validated. She even says as much in the season finale, explaining to Agent Sousa, “I don't need a congressional honor. I don't need Agent Thompson's approval or the president's. I know my value. Anyone else's opinion doesn't really matter.”
7 Leia Organa (star wars: the force awakens)
It was beyond amazing to see Leia return to big screen in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And the fact that she was portrayed as a general, rather than a princess, was ridiculously satisfying. It was an excellent performance by Carrie Fisher, who demonstrates how Leia has both changed and stayed the same over the years. General Leia simultaneously exudes a sense of wisdom and world-weariness that she didn’t possess in her younger days. But her kindness and commitment to her cause have remained.
We still too rarely see women over the age of about 45 playing powerful characters on-screen, so to see Leia as the leader of the resistance was just fantastic. And we loved that Leia was allowed to age naturally and with grace. (though Carrie Fisher has said she did feel some pressure to lose weight for the role). She looks great – and she looks like exactly the age she is. She’s not trying to be a younger version of herself – which is important, because the experiences she has gained over the years will help her lead the resistance to victory. In a sense, trying to look younger would have negated the significance of those life experiences.
6 Tris Prior (the divergent series: insurgent)
Yes, the Divergent series has been criticized for being a little too teen-angsty, and for riding on the coattails of The Hunger Games. And there is probably some truth to both of those critiques. Nonetheless, the series presents us with a protagonist whose story of self-discovery is significant and compelling.
In this year’s The Divergent Series: Insurgent, Tris learns the meaning of true self-sacrifice, as opposed to careless risk-taking for the sake of glory and/or escapism. She also learns to embrace her Divergence, rather than hide it, and in doing so, begins to be seen as a leader among the insurgents. It’s really a coming-of-age story. Tris begins to grow up and take responsibility for her decisions, and she’s faced with figuring out who it is she genuinely wants to be.
5 Jemma Simmons (agents of s.h.i.e.l.d)
In season 1 of S.H.I.E.L.D, Jemma is an adorable nerd girl. In season 2, we see her step up her game as she infiltrates HYDRA. And this season, we’ve seen her become even fiercer. She’s stranded on a desolate alien planet, but despite all odds, manages to stay alive long enough for Fitz to find a way to bring her home.
Jemma’s resilience is tested on a completely different level this season, and she’s proving to be stronger than ever. Plus, she shows that she’s not afraid to have own her feelings. She becomes romantically involved with Will, the stranded astronaut she meets on the alien planet, and she’s up-front with Fitz about it – she doesn’t try to sugar coat it for him.
At the same time, she’s not shying away from her feelings for Fitz, either. We finally enjoy a long-awaited kiss between the two of them and, although it’s certainly not a happily-ever-after (yet), Jemma is definitely being straight about where she stands… even if it's in a place that’s pretty confusing emotionally.
4 Melinda May (agents of s.h.i.e.l.d)
Melinda May is simply awesome. She has been a strong leader of Coulson’s team since the beginning and, in a lot of ways, a mentor for the younger agents. When it comes to fighting, she definitely knows how to win. She also demonstrates a certain wisdom and strategic thinking, making her one of Coulson’s most trusted advisors.
This season, we’ve had the chance to see May explore some deeper emotional territory. Her ex-husband Andrew shows up, and it’s clear she still has feelings for him. However, when he’s exposed to terrigen, he turns into the violent Inhuman Lash. Watching the man she loves undergo this transformation takes a toll on May, but she doesn’t let it bring her down, or stop her from helping the team.
3 Felicity Smoak (arrow)
This has been an interesting year for Felicity! Just to be clear, we don’t think she’s actually dead/dying, though things certainly won’t be easy for her after Arrow’s mid-season break. At the end of last season, Felicity and Oliver rode off into the sunset to try and build a normal, suburban life together. Oliver seems to take to it like a fish to water, even becoming a bit of a master chef. But Felicity misses the sense of purpose that being a part of Team Arrow has given her.
It was nice to see this reversal of stereotypical gender roles, with Felicity being the one who wants to chase after the bad guys (and the one who brings home the bacon), and Oliver being a bit of a happy homemaker. In addition, we’ve enjoyed watching how Felicity has approached her relationship with Oliver. She has been crushing on him since season 1, but now that they’re finally together, she doesn’t lose herself in the relationship. When she suspects that Oliver isn’t being completely honest with her, she calls him out on it.
Felicity is awesome because she’s smart, has a huge, open heart, and is brimming with integrity and independence.
2 Imperator Furiosa (mad max: fury road)
Furiosa is awesome in so many ways. In a post-apocalyptic world where life is pretty difficult and uncertain for most people, Furiosa at least has some job stability, working as a driver of Immortan Joe’s war rig. But she risks that to save a group of five women who are literally called “breeders” and valued only for their physical beauty and ability to reproduce.
What’s great about Furiosa is that she didn’t have to take that risk, but she did it anyway. It was the Five Wives being held captive – not her. The safest thing for her to do would have been to just stay put. But she took an enormous chance because it was the right thing to do, and it paid off.
Plus, over the course of the film, Furiosa’s courage rubs off on the wives, who begin to shed their damsel-in-distress status and start to claim their own strength as well.
There are so many other women we could easily have included in this list – like Natasha Romanoff, Daenerys Targaryen, and Trish Walker, for starters. It was really a fantastic year for heroic women, and it has been exciting to watch them flourish both on the big screen and on TV. We’re looking forward to seeing what these awesome ladies have in store for us in 2016.