The world needs more female-led TV shows and movies. Hits including Ocean’s 8 and last year’s The Old Guard show that a strong female in charge can be as entertaining, and it’s nothing new. The original Charlie’s Angel TV series is still one of the strongest female-led shows to grace our TV screens, but 45 years on, Hollywood is still slow on the uptake.
That said, 2021 has been an exceptional year, with a string of incredible female-led content to hold out attention. As what it means to be a woman and notions of femininity shift and evolve as the years go by, female characters on screen have to evolve alongside too.
Here are some recommended viewings, some honorable mentions, and one that doesn’t quite have the power.
A Quiet Place Part ll
The sequel to the roaring successful A Quiet Place starring Emily Blunt, A Quiet Place II sees the Abbott family facing the terrors of the outside world as they continue their fight for survival against aliens in silence.
With the death of her movie husband at the end of the first movie, lead star Blunt continues her role as a protective and brave mother, this time bringing along a new baby on the journey, alongside her children Marcus (Noah Jupe) and Regan (Millicent Simmonds). The four are forced to venture into the unknown and realise that the creatures that hunt by sound are not the only threats that lurk beyond the sand path. A strong and heart-pumping performance by Blunt, the sequel not only centers around the 38-year-old actress’ character Evelyn but also pushes Regan to the limelight as she makes the big adventure across states and dangerous waters.
Marvel’s latest blockbuster, Black Widow sees Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) go into hiding after the events of Captain America: Civil War. In her attempts to go under the radar, she comes in contact with her sister Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) and together, they put a stop to Dreykov and the Red Room once and for all.
Johansson and Pugh both bring strong chemistry to the screen, often supportive of each other with a few jokes and jabs here and there amongst all the big Marvel action. A movie that is meant to fill up Natasha’s timeline and explain her drastic changes when she returns for Avengers: Infinity War and eventual sacrifice in Avengers: Endgame, Black Widow gives the respectable assassin the send-off fans have been waiting for years.
Emma Stone takes the role as one of Disney’s biggest villains, Cruella de Vil. An origin tale on the dalmatian-obsessed designer, Cruella sees a little British girl named Estella who lost her mother at a young age and made her way through life as a con-artist. After years of pickpocketing, Estella gets scouted by well-known designer The Baroness (Emma Thompson) and works her way up the fashion ladder. A rivalry soon follows between the two hard-headed women and we see Estella slowly take form into the villain Cruella.
Keeping in line with badass women like Black Widow and Cruella, Gunpowder Milkshake is an ensemble outing with a tad more violence and several diehard female action icons, all wrapped up in rainbows and butterflies.
Gunpowder Milkshake sees Karen Gillan as a young assassin who must team up with her estranged mother (Lena Headey) and her mom’s former assassin colleagues (Carla Gugino, Michelle Yeoh and Angela Bassett) in order to save a young girl (Chloe Coleman) from other assassins.
Think The Expendables, but with Nebula, Cersei Lannister, Silk Spectre, Yu Shu Lien and Amanda Waller taking control. The action-thriller is a mixture of Kill Bill and John Wick lore all together, so if those flicks are up your alley, then Gunpowder Milkshake should be on your to-watch list.
Kate Beckinsale stars in action-comedy Jolt, as a bouncer with an anger-management problem who later goes on a revenge-fueled rampage after the murder of a friend. Whilst the film’s premise is a little bit crazy and far-fetched, Beckinsale’s performance, of letting her anger take control each time she comes across something so insipid is a little something that all of us understand, but she get to put feelings of anger at the front and centre – because hey being angry is unlady-like – and owns it.
Calling all fans of K-series, zombies and history. The ever-so-successful Kingdom series on Netflix sees a plague of zombies terrorising villagers and dynasties. With season 2 ending with the appearance of a mysterious woman, Kingdom: Ashin of the North comes to explain who she is, and what her role was with the mysterious disease. Starring Gianna Jun as the titular character, the 39-year-old actress carries the entire weight of the movie. Likewise, her character Ashin plays a significant role in the franchise’s lore, that without Ashin or Kingdom: Ashin of the North, there wouldn’t have been Kingdom at all.
Promising Young Woman is a revenge tale of 30-year-old Cassie (Carey Mulligan) who works at a coffee shop and in the evening pretends to be drunk so that she can teach a moral lesson to guys who try to take advantage of her. Cassie goes on a crusade to avenge men who sexually harass women – including that of herself – in twisted, unhinged ways that are oh so deeply satisfying to watch. The thriller-comedy is a provocative and ingenious deathly dark satire of gender politics that promises just the right amount of fear whilst raising awareness on date-raping.
If action and thrillers don’t interest you, then this fantasy and romance series just might. Netflix’s Shadow & Bone sees a young Alina (Jessie Mei Li) who once thought of herself to be a nobody, grow into her powers as a Grisha (people who can practice small science) and become one of the most powerful beings in all the land. The small, mousey, unassuming girl evolves and grows into so much more and later finds herself surrounded by people who either want to keep her safe or kill her. In this gripping magical tale, Alina puts a stop to the manipulation and learns that the only person who can save her, is her.
WandaVision has won numerous awards since its premiere and it’s no shocker given how this Disney+ series is a heart-wrenching and heartwarming tale that discusses topics such as love, grief, and trauma – and for the first time in the Marvel Cinematic Universe too.
Grief-stricken Wanda Maximoff (Elisabeth Olsen) controls an entire town called Westview and its residents to play house with her dead lover Vision. A dark tale at its core, the series perfectly balances between romance and comedy at its heart, through creative and imaginative means such as exploring different periods and eras and numerous easter eggs that link the events inside Westview to the events outside of it, as well as events present in the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe.
WandaVision set the tone and the bar for all Marvel series to follow, and up till now, none has come close to it.
Honourable Mention: The Flight Attendant
Our list centers on shows with a 2021 debut, but HBO’s The Flight Attendant deserves a mention because while it premiered in November 2020, new episodes were released weekly. The series stars Kaley Cuoco as a flight attendant who wakes up next to a dead man after a night out of booze, and with no recollection of what happened.
The miniseries is a mixture of thriller and comedy that sees Cuoco bring a sense of warmth and excitement to an otherwise heavy series that delves deep into difficult topics such as trauma, alcoholism, murder and grief. With a second season in tow, The Flight Attendant is an easy to watch crime-drama about a drunk flight attendant caught at the wrong place, at the wrong time.
It pains us to add this to the list, because as a standalone series, there are strong females shown in this animated sequel to the iconic 1980s cartoon, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Sadly, Masters of the Universe: Revelation doesn’t hold the same sway due to the way the story unfolds.
At its foundation, Masters of the Universe: Revelation is another one of Netflix’s attempts to strike up nostalgia in folks who grew up watching and playing with He-Man but failed terribly. The series rather seems more like Teela and her sisters look for the Masters of the Universe instead – which isn’t entirely a bad thing, but hear us out.
Whilst Teela and her sisters were rather greatly portrayed – especially since Teela’s personal battles with grief and responsibility is worth making the series a watch – having a series focused on and led by female characters disguised under the name of a hunky, bulked dude is not something we can stand by. And what sets Teela off? She gets recognised for her efforts and is made Man At Arms, but abandons her duty when she discovers that no one bothered to share Prince Adam’s secret with her. Oh, did we mention that she did so after the death of He-Man as well? What strong female lead would do that?
With plenty more movies and tv-shows to hit theatres and streamers as we come into the second half of the year, we can only hope that we’ll have more female-led movies and tv shows that see women in all their glory and not just some love interest who sits still and look pretty.