In praise of pop culture anti-heroines
The easiest way to simplify a conflict is to put it into terms of good vs. bad. Cinderella? Good. Her conniving step-family? Bad. It’s black and white, true good vs. true evil, and it’s completely at odds with how real people act.
Pop culture has plenty of mostly good and mostly bad characters, and then there are those who fall in-between: too far gone from the moral right to be the traditional hero, but still someone you can root for. The past decade has given rise to some of the most memorable anti-heroes of all time: Walter White on Breaking Bad, Don Draper on Mad Men, and Tony Soprano on The Sopranos.
Yet for whatever reason, though most of these male characters are adored despite their moral foibles, there aren’t nearly as many female anti-heroines sharing in the pop culture spotlight (with one recent, high-profile, very controversial exception).
Luckily, the future is bright for some of pop culture’s best bad females. Here’s a list of some of our favorite anti-heroines in recent memory, doing bad for good, paving the way for difficult, complicated, and amazing female characters.
Stieg Larsson, the author of the original The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, died before he saw the international success of his books, and specifically the popularity of its namesake, tatted hacker/holy terror Lisbeth Salander. Portrayed with anger and grace by Noomi Rapace (in the original Swedish films) and Rooney Mara (in David Fincher’s 2011 adaptation), Salander was rude, violent, and utterly in the right, a lightning rod of female rage in a series all about the atrocities of men.
Given that the Swedish film series is complete and the American film series stalled after the first one, is this the end of Salander’s pop culture presence? Not a chance: writer David Lagercrantz finished Larsson’s last and incomplete manuscript, That Which Does Not Kill, and the book is coming out this year, August 27.
Sure, Catwoman is the most popular woman in the DC Universe, but she’s already had Michelle Pfeiffer, Halle Berry, and Anne Hathaway play her in movies. It’s about time that someone else gets the spotlight, and that someone is former Arkham Asylum psychiatrist/style icon Harley Quinn.
Quinn, played by Wolf of Wall Street‘s Margot Robbie, is part of the all-star DC villain line-up for the upcoming Suicide Squad movie (other actors cast are Will Smith as Deadshot and Jared Leto as the Joker). While we’ve still got a while to go before we get a female-led comic book movie (looking at you, Captain Marvel in 2018), it’ll be refreshing to see at least a few more lady supes get their due.
The ’80s gave birth to a lot of action stars, but one of the only women to bloom out of the genre was Linda Hamilton playing Sarah Connor in the Terminator series. Throughout the years, Connor has done some pretty terrible things in the name of humanity, but she’s always been played by women with conviction and abs as hard as rock.
Game of Thrones‘s Lena Headey, aka alpha anti-heroine Cersei Lannister, played her on TV in 2008’s The Sarah Connor Chronicles, but it’s Thrones co-star Emilia Clarke, mother of dragons, taking over the role for summer tentpole Terminator: Genisys. Though recent trailers for the film have started to focus on Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character, we all know Connor’s going to take the front seat for the actual event, no small feat in the male-dominated summer box office.
Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary tells the tale of one of literature’s most infamous unhappy wives: Emma Bovary yearns for a way out of her boring marriage, but in pursuit of a happier life, finds herself in over her head. While the original novel served as a morality tale, taking its protagonist to task for her choices, modern interpretations have redeemed Emma as a character, and now she’s headed to the big screen.
Mia Wasikowska, who brilliantly brought Jane Eyre to life in the 2011 film, takes on another complicated female canonical lit figure. The film, directed by Sophie Barthes, looks utterly romantic and dreamy, belying the drama and deceit that runs throughout the story.
We’re all kinds of obsessed with these gorgeously complicated lady characters and can’t wait to see what anti-heroines the big screen brings us next!