Badass Women of Action Flicks

Action movies tend to be the domain of men – actors like Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Will Smith and Tom Cruise have prevailed at the box office for decades with their various brands of action movie hero. But here at Peanut Butter and Julie, women rule the day. Here is a list of some of the most badass female characters in action movie history.

  • Sigourney Weaver (Alien series)

Ellen Ripley is one of the most badass movie characters of any gender. The only survivor of the events of Alien (along with the ship’s cat, Jones), Ripley proceeds to outlast every marine but one in Aliens. After being impregnated by an alien queen embryo in Alien 3, Ripley sacrifices herself, but Sigourney Weaver nevertheless returns for Alien Resurrection as a Ripley clone. There aren’t many line readings more badass than this one:

  • Linda Hamilton (Terminator series)

Sarah Connor is a reluctant movie hero, pulled unwittingly into the events of the first Terminator film – a cyborg is sent back in time to kill Sarah, whose son John will someday save humanity from the machines. John sends soldier Kyle Reese back too, to protect his mom, who isn’t even pregnant yet (hint hint: Kyle’s the daddy – we may get into the time paradox thing later, but for now just go with it). In the second film, Judgment Day, a buff and badass Sarah, now institutionalized for her (supposedly) paranoid delusions about humanity’s future, is visited by an updated Terminator model, the T-1000, AND the T-800 model from the original film; this time, the T-800 is her ally. Linda Hamilton, who sat out the three previous films in the franchise, returned in 2019 for the sixth film, Dark Fate. She’s sixty-four years old and as badass as ever.

  • Carrie Fisher and Daisy Ridley (Star Wars)

Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), member of the Imperial Senate, soldier in the Rebel Alliance and founder and General of the Resistance, is a feminist icon and all-around badass. Leia is anything but the damsel-in-distress sexpot (although she is hot as hell) and she proves you can be “one of the boys” without ever sacrificing your femininity. In the sequel trilogy, Leia’s successor Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, becomes a Jedi apprentice under Leia’s brother Luke and a leading figure in the Resistance movement. Skilled as a fighter, resourceful and brave, Rey is a survivor – and a total badass.

  • Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road)

I could have selected any number of Charlize Theron movies for this list – Hancock, Atomic Blonde and The Old Guard come to mind – but for my money, no Theron character is more badass than Imperator Furiosa. Although Max is the title character, the movie undeniably belongs to Furiosa, a war captain who is charged by antagonist Immortan Joe with ferrying oil back to the Citadel using the “war rig”, but instead uses the war rig to smuggle the Five Wives (Joe’s concubines) out of the Citadel. Although Joe sends his war boys after her, Furiosa uses her intelligence (and her mechanical arm) to best them and slay Joe, freeing herself, the Five Wives, Max and all of the Citadel’s citizens in the process. Apparently a stand-alone Furiosa prequel is in the works, with Anya Taylor-Joy in the role.

  • Scarlett Johansson (Avengers)

Natasha Romanoff, AKA Black Widow, is a Russian spy and expert in hand-to-hand combat who eventually defected to the United States and became a member of S.H.I.E.L.D. The lone woman on the otherwise all-male Avengers team, Romanoff is a very human superhero, using her fighting skills and her wits to defend her team, and doing it all in a badass black leather catsuit. More than ten years after her first appearance in 2010’s Iron Man 2, Black Widow will finally get her own stand-alone movie this year. Fun fact: Emily Blunt was originally tapped to play the role, but she had already committed to Gulliver’s Travels; Scarlett Johansson has more than made the part her own.

  • Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman)

Gal Gadot’s version of Wonder Woman made her first appearance in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. She got her stand-alone film the following year. Wonder Woman is the alias of Diana, the daughter of Queen Hippolyta and Zeus, and an immortal Amazon warrior. She is strong and brave, and she believes in justice and the goodness of humankind. She battles Ares for the future of humanity, and of course she prevails. Gadot is such a badass that she did reshoots for the movie while five months pregnant; they used green screen technology to cover up her baby bump!

  • Kate Beckinsale (Underworld series)

Kate Beckinsale plays Selene, a Death Dealer (a member of an elite group of vampire assassins) who is determined to destroy the Lycans who murdered her family. She also becomes the protector of a human named Michael, who is a descendant of both the vampires and the Lycans; both groups desire Michael for his unique gene which would allow him to become a vampire-Lycan hybrid. In keeping Michael safe, Selene is estranged from her vampire coven and places herself in the middle of the vampire-Lycan war. And of course, she does it all while wearing a skin-tight black leather suit.

  • Jennifer Lawrence (Hunger Games series)

Like a lot of the women on this list, Katniss Everdeen is a survivor and a reluctant hero. Her exceptional archery skills allow Katniss to be the primary provider for her family. She volunteers for the 74th Hunger Games in the first film when her younger sister Prim’s name is drawn for the annual competition. Her subsequent win sparks a rebellion against the Capitol and its fascist President, Coriolanus Snow. By the third film, Katniss has become the symbol of the rebellion, the Mockingjay. Jennifer Lawrence depicts all of Katniss’s conflicting emotions perfectly, and makes Katniss one of the most endearing movie heroines of the 21st century.

  • Uma Thurman (Kill Bill: Volume 1 and 2)

The Bride, as Beatrix Kiddo is known, was shot in the head and left for dead on her wedding day. After awakening from a four year coma, she vows revenge on the people responsible – her former cohorts in the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad and its leader (and her former lover) Bill. Using her sword-fighting skills, martial arts and the infamous Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique, the Bride dispatches them one by one, unflinching in her quest for retribution.

  • Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow)

Sergeant Rita Vrataski of the United Defense Force is charged with training US Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), a PR guy with no combat experience, to be battle-ready in the war against the Mimics, a race of aliens intent on conquering Earth. She has her work cut out for her. Emily Blunt trained for three months prior to shooting, including aerial wire work and Krav Maga, and wore the heavy metal suits required for combat scenes. She even did reshoots while pregnant with her first child. In the process, she stole the show, no easy feat when Cruise is the star.

  • Noomi Rapace, Rooney Mara and Claire Foy (Millennium series)

Lisbeth Salander, the androgynous, anti-social, tattooed computer hacker, is one of the most compelling fictional characters of the 21st century. A survivor of both childhood and adult trauma, Salander has her own code of ethics that guide her behavior, and she is fiercely protective of the people in her small social circle. Played by Noomi Rapace in the Swedish series and Rooney Mara in the US version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (sadly, David Fincher’s planned trilogy became a stand-alone movie when the box office receipts fell short of expectations), the character was revived in 2018’s The Girl in the Spider’s Web, in which she was portrayed by The Crown‘s Claire Foy. All three actors conveyed Salander’s badass-ness (Rapace was nominated for a BAFTA and Mara for an Oscar for their performances).

  • Pam Grier (Jackie Brown)

Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) is a flight attendant who makes ends meet by smuggling money into the US for gun-runner Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson). She negotiates a deal with Ordell to smuggle enough money for him to retire, but double crosses him by keeping the money for herself. Adapted from Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch, and inspired by the 1970s blaxploitation film Foxy Brown (starring Grier), the film changed Jackie’s ethnicity and last name, but kept her badassery in full.

  • Michelle Yeoh and Ziyi Zhang (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)

One of the most honored films of 2000, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon features female warriors struggling to shed the societal expectations placed on them by their gender. The title is a Chinese idiom that refers to people having hidden abilities and talents; it encourages us to look beneath the surface. These women are martial arts masters, strong and fierce, but still feminine. They are a good reminder that women can be whatever they want to be, while still being fully women.

  • Jodie Foster (Panic Room)

Meg Altman is recently divorced and looking for a home for herself and her daughter Sarah. She finds a beautiful brownstone on the Upper West Side. The house’s previous owner, a reclusive millionaire, installed a panic room and an extensive security system to protect himself from intruders. On Meg and Sarah’s first night in their new home, three men (led by the millionaire’s grandson) break in, looking for the bearer bonds hidden in a safe in the panic room. What they haven’t accounted for is the new occupant’s ferocious determination to protect herself and her child. Nicole Kidman was originally supposed to play a version of Meg that was more helpless, making her an easier mark for the burglars. When Kidman had to drop out due to a knee injury, Meg was rewritten because let’s face it, no one was going to buy Jodie Foster as a defenseless victim.

  • Franka Potente (Run Lola Run)

Lola’s boyfriend is a bagman responsible for delivering $100,000 Deutschmarks to his boss. After inadvertently leaving the money on the train, he calls Lola in a panic; he has twenty minutes to come up with the cash or his boss will kill him. The film then replays the next twenty minutes three different times, each time showing how tiny variations in Lola’s interactions with others change the outcome. A pre-Bourne Identity Franka Potente is dazzling – and totally badass – as the flame-haired Lola.

Quick Hits: March 25

  • The Queen of Soul would have turned 79 today – happy birthday, Aretha!!
  • Today is also Elton John’s birthday (he’s 74) – here are my favorite Elton albums:
  • On this day in 1991, Kathy Bates became the rare actor to win an Oscar for a horror film. Her delightfully terrifying turn as Paul Sheldon’s #1 fan, Annie Wilkes, was a performance for the ages, and it made Bates a star. If you haven’t seen the movie, do yourself a favor and watch it – it’s currently streaming on HBO Max.
  • And on this day in 2001, Julia Roberts won the Best Actress Oscar for her hilarious and heartfelt performance as the title character in Steven Soderbergh’s Erin Brockovich, a favorite of mine.

  • On this day in 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono held their first bed-in for peace at the Hilton Hotel in Amsterdam. They were celebrating their honeymoon AND protesting the war in Vietnam.

Quick Hits: March 21

  • Spring has sprung! Michigan is looking beautiful – it’s going to be sunny and 60s today – and I’m feeling twitterpated!!
  • On this day in 1970, the first San Diego Comic-Con was held at U.S. Grant Hotel. How times have changed!
  • I just came across this ew.com article about Oscar winners as child stars, and some of these pictures are priceless!

https://ew.com/oscars/oscar-winners-child-stars/?slide=5577174#5577174

  • Happy birthday to Matthew Broderick and Rosie O’Donnell, who both turn 59 today!
  • And finally, on this day in 1961, the Beatles made their first appearance at the Cavern Club in Liverpool.

Badass Women of Hitchcock Films

Alfred Hitchcock tended to put his leading ladies – the characters AND the actors who played them – through the wringer. “The Master of Suspense” was a consummate filmmaker, but by some accounts, he was verbally (and possibly sexually) abusive to the women he worked with. The torment they endured make their performances all the more impressive. Today, I’ll pay homage to seven of Hitchcock’s most badass leading ladies.

  • Joan FontaineRebecca and Suspicion

Rebecca was Hitchcock’s first American film, and what a debut it was. Based on Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 novel of the same name, the gothic tale of suspense centers around the psychological torture of the second Mrs. Maxim de Winter, who is haunted by the specter of the first Mrs. de Winter, Rebecca, and tormented by Rebecca’s confidant, housekeeper Mrs. Danvers. The story relies on Mrs. de Winter feeling unworthy of her aristocratic husband (played by Laurence Olivier), to the point of considering suicide, and Joan Fontaine portrays that vulnerability perfectly. For her efforts, Fontaine was nominated for Best Actress at the 13th annual Oscars (and the film itself was nominated for twelve more awards, and won Best Picture), and many felt she should have won (she lost to Ginger Rogers for Kitty Foyle).

Suspicion, Fontaine’s second collaboration with Hitchcock, was released just a year after Rebecca, and as with that film, the central tension rests with the doubts and insecurities of its female lead. Fontaine plays Lina McLaidlaw, a young woman with wealthy parents who meets a charming, irresponsible playboy named Johnnie Aysgarth (played by Cary Grant, naturally). Johnnie convinces Lina to marry him, but almost immediately, Lina begins to suspect that her new husband’s motives are less than honorable. Once again, Fontaine was nominated for Best Actress, but this time, she won. Hers was the only Oscar-winning performance in a Hitchcock film.

  • Ingrid Bergman – Spellbound and Notorious

Spellbound, Ingrid Bergman’s first Hitchcock film, is the story of Dr. Constance Petersen, a psychoanalyst who falls in love with Dr. Anthony Edwardes (Gregory Peck), the new director of the mental hospital where she is employed. Since this is a Hitchcock film, Edwardes is not what he seems. It turns out he’s not Edwardes, he’s suffering from amnesia and he may or may not have murdered the real Edwardes. Dr. Petersen uses her psychiatric skills to get to the bottom of both the amnesia and the murder mystery.

In Notorious, Hitchcock and Bergman’s next collaboration, Bergman plays Alicia Huberman, the American daughter of a Nazi spy, who is recruited by US government agent TR Devlin (Cary Grant) to seduce Alex Sebastian (Bergman’s Casablanca co-star Claude Rains), a Nazi friend of her father’s who is currently living in Brazil. The mission is complicated when Alicia and Devlin fall in love. Once again playing on themes of trust (trust withheld, trust too easily given), Hitchcock also succeeds in telling his most passionate love story (even getting around the three-second rule in the Hays Production Code by interrupting a two-and-a half-minute kiss every three seconds).

  • Grace Kelly – Dial M for Murder, Rear Window and To Catch a Thief

In Dial M for Murder, Grace Kelly’s first of three Hitchcock films, Kelly plays a wealthy socialite named Margot whose husband discovers she has had an affair and arranges to have her murdered. The hit goes awry, the hitman ends up dead and Margot winds up in prison. The assault scene supposedly took five days to film and left Kelly covered in bruises. Hitchcock, enamored of (obsessed with?) Kelly’s combination of “frigidity and lust”, would cast her in his next two films, and would even attempt to coax her out of retirement ten years later to play Marnie; Tippi Hedren would wind up with the role – more on that in a bit.

Kelly’s next collaboration with Hitchcock, Rear Window, is one of Hitch’s best and Kelly is perfect as Lisa Fremont, socialite girlfriend to photographer LB “Jeff” Jeffries (James Stewart), who is laid up in his Greenwich Village apartment with a broken leg. To pass the time, Jeff spies on his neighbors through his courtyard window and becomes obsessed with the notion that one of them has murdered his wife. Initially, Lisa is skeptical, but eventually comes around, even participating in the investigation by climbing up the fire escape and breaking into the neighbor’s apartment. One of my favorite shots in any movie is Lisa pointing to her finger, on which she has placed the missing wife’s wedding ring.

Kelly’s final Hitchcock film, To Catch a Thief, is a more light-hearted romp than Hitchcock’s usual fare. It’s technically a mystery, but one with lower stakes – John Robie, played by Cary Grant, is a former jewel thief lured out of retirement when a copycat burglar puts him in legal jeopardy. Robie teams up with an insurance adjuster, who reluctantly divulges the name of the woman most likely to be the cat burglar’s next target and arranges a meeting with her – and her socialite (seeing a trend here?) daughter Frances, played by Kelly. The plot is merely a pretext to put the two impossibly beautiful stars together, but they both play their roles to perfection. And Kelly, wearing some of the most exquisite costumes Edith Head ever created, never looked more stunning.

  • Kim Novak – Vertigo

Widely regarded as Hitchcock’s finest work (and one of the best films ever made, period), Vertigo received mixed reviews at the time of its release. A film noir about romantic obsession, Vertigo is the story of John “Scottie” Ferguson (James Stewart), a police detective forced into early retirement when an incident leaves him with a fear of heights and a raging case of, you guessed it, vertigo. An old acquaintance named Gavin Elster hires Scottie as a private investigator to track the movements of his wife Madeleine, played by Kim Novak. In the process of trailing Madeleine, Scottie naturally falls for her. If you haven’t seen the movie, I’ll not spoil it here, but since it’s Hitchcock, things aren’t exactly what they seem. There’s so much genius in this film – from Bernard Herrmann’s iconic score, to Edith Head’s elegant costumes, to the use of the dolly zoom to mimic Scottie’s vertigo – but the audience buy-in depends so much on the captivating, unattainable Madeleine, and Novak plays her to perfection.

  • Eva Marie Saint – North by Northwest

For his next film, North by Northwest, Hitchcock hired another beautiful blonde, Eva Marie Saint. Saint plays Eve Kendall, who meets Cary Grant’s Roger Thornhill on a train. Thornhill, in a case of mistaken identity, is on the run from thugs who think he’s a spy (he’s actually an advertising exec). And because this is a Hitchcock film, once again the beautiful blonde is not who she says she is. North by Northwest features some of Hitch’s most iconic set pieces – the UN General Assembly, a crop dusting plane over a cornfield, Mount Rushmore – but those are mere backdrops to Kendall’s icy beauty.

  • Janet Leigh – Psycho

For his next film, 1960’s Psycho, Hitchcock chose another gorgeous blonde, Janet Leigh. The promotional materials – and the fact that Leigh was such a big star – led audiences to believe that her Marion Crane was the film’s protagonist; imagine their shock when she is murdered less than halfway through. Psycho was revolutionary in a lot of ways – showing an unmarried, bra-clad Marion in bed with her lover, for instance, was forbidden by the Hays code, as was the shot of the flushing toilet. And the film’s casual violence, though merely hinted at through quick cuts and clever camera angles, was unthinkable prior to 1960. Filming the shower scene was brutal – it took a full week, and Leigh never voluntarily took another shower in her life. But for her efforts, she was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, and won the Golden Globe in that category.

  • Tippi Hedren – The Birds and Marnie

In 1961, Hitchcock saw Tippi Hedren in a diet soda commercial and knew immediately that he wanted to work with her; she certainly was his type – tall, blonde and beautiful. Hedren met with Hitch and agreed to a seven year contract. She made her film debut in Hitchcock’s next effort, 1963’s The Birds. Filming turned out to be an arduous experience for Hedren. In her 2016 memoir, Tippi, Hedren accused Hitchcock of making sexual advances toward her, and when she rebuffed him, he punished her by using live birds instead of mechanical ones for the scene in which her character, Melanie, is attacked. She spent five days filming the scene with live birds being thrown at her and attached to her body with rubber bands. At one point, a bird almost pecked her in the eye. The ordeal left Hedren exhausted and leery of working with Hitchcock again.

Knowing she couldn’t break her contract with Hitchcock without consequences – and afraid of being blacklisted – Hedren worked with Hitch again on his next film, 1964’s Marnie. A psychological thriller about a damaged woman with suppressed memories of childhood trauma, Marnie turned out to be traumatic for Hedren as well. In her memoir, Hedren states that Hitchcock put her dressing room next to his office, with an adjoining door, so he could walk in whenever he pleased. Hitch “gleefully” wanted to keep the marital rape scene when screenwriter Evan Hunter implored him to excise it. At one point, Hedren alleges that Hitchcock sexually assaulted her. Once filming was complete, Hedren was under contract with Hitchcock for several more years, but she refused to work with him again, and he refused to allow her to work with other directors. Hitchcock promised Hedren, “I’ll ruin your career”, but Hedren was a fighter, saying “He ruined my career but he didn’t ruin my life.”

Quick Hits: March 17

  • It’s St. Patrick’s Day! Here are a few of my favorite depictions of the holiday in film and television:

“No Tomorrow” – How I Met Your Mother

Ted has decided to forego barhopping for game night at Marshall and Lily’s new apartment; Barney has other plans, and convinces Ted to join him for an evening of consequence-free debauchery. It turns out to be anything but consequence-free, but when Ted returns to the club the next day to search for his lost phone, he instead finds his future wife’s yellow umbrella.

The Fugitive

Deputy US Marshall Gerard has tracked Richard Kimble to a downtown Chicago prison (Kimble is visiting a one-armed man who may be his wife’s killer); Kimble escapes and disappears into the St. Patrick’s Day parade, eluding Gerard once again.

“St. Patrick’s Day” – The Office

Jo Bennett, on her last day at the Scranton branch of Dunder-Mifflin, forces the office to work late, much to Michael Scott’s dismay (“It is St. Patrick’s Day. And here in Scranton, that is a huge deal. It is the closest that the Irish will ever get to Christmas.”).

  • The nominations for the 93rd Academy Awards were announced this week. Regina King missed the cut for Best Director (she would have been the first black woman to be nominated), but two women were nominated for the first time ever – Promising Young Woman‘s Emerald Fennell and Golden Globe winner Chloé Zhao for Nomadland. Somehow both title characters in Judas and the Black Messiah are supporting roles, as Lakeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluuya were both nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Viola Davis is now the most-nominated black actress in history, with four career nominations. And Glenn Close (Hillbilly Elegy) became the third person to receive Oscar and Razzie nominations for the same performance; the other two were James Coco for Only When I Laugh and Amy Irving for Yentl.
  • Yaphet Kotto has died at the age of 80. I loved him as Parker in Alien and as Lt. Giardello on Homicide: Life on the Street.

Badass Women of R&B

Rhythm & Blues (R&B) is a blanket term used to describe music recorded primarily by black artists; it combines elements of jazz, gospel, blues and soul. R&B developed in the mid-20th century along with the Great Migration that saw African-Americans leaving the South for urban industrial centers like New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and Detroit. The term “rhythm & blues” is credited to Jerry Wexler of Billboard Magazine; previously, R&B had been referred to as “race records”, and that term (understandably) didn’t sit well with Wexler.

As with other musical genres, men generally get much of the credit for its development, but the women of R&B have been badasses from the start. Artists like Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Alberta Hunter, Mamie Smith and Big Mama Thornton contributed to the development of R&B. As the decades went by, R&B evolved into sub-genres like doo-wop, disco, funk and hip-hop. The following artists were instrumental in that evolution. Here are some of the most badass women in the history of R&B.

  • Etta James

Etta James is a significant artist in the development of R&B in the 50s and 60s. James primarily recorded doo-wop inspired ballads, but she could growl her way through bluesy numbers as well. Her signature song, “At Last”, is one of the greatest love songs ever recorded; her sweet and soulful voice blends perfectly with those dreamy strings. James was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.

  • Dionne Warwick

Dionne Warwick is one of the most-charted female vocalists of all time, with fifty-six Hot 100 singles and twelve Top Ten hits. Warwick and Burt Bacharach represent one of the greatest singer/songwriter combinations ever – their collaborations include “Wishin’ and Hopin'”, “Anyone Who Had a Heart”, “Walk On By”, “The Windows of the World” and “Do You Know the Way to San Jose”. At the age of 80, Warwick shows no sign of slowing down; she’s still performing, and if you don’t follow her on Twitter, you’re really missing out.

  • The Supremes

R&B took a big leap into the mainstream in the 60s, and Motown Records was largely responsible. Motown popularized the “girl group” sound with artists like The Marvelettes and Martha & The Vandellas, but none attained the critical and commercial success of The Supremes. Comprised of Diana Ross, Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson, The Supremes are, to date, the most successful vocal group in US history, with twelve number one singles on the Billboard Hot 100 (only The Beatles, Mariah Carey, Elvis Presley, Rihanna and Michael Jackson have had more). With some of the greatest songs of the era, a career that has influenced countless artists (among them, The Pointer Sisters and Destiny’s Child) and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, The Supremes have left a lasting legacy.

  • Aretha Franklin

What can I possibly say about “The Queen of Soul” that hasn’t been said before? Not a god damn thing, so I’ll just leave this here.

  • Tammi Terrell

Another sound that Motown helped popularize was the soulful duet, and no two people did duets better than Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. “You’re All I Need to Get By”, “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” are essential pop songs in the Motown canon. Tragically, Terrell’s career was cut short when she died of brain cancer at the age of 24, but she left behind a substantial legacy nonetheless.

  • Gladys Knight

Gladys Knight & the Pips were one of the top vocal groups of the 60s and 70s; first with Motown Records, where they recorded such songs as “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and “If I Were Your Woman”, then with Buddah Records, where they recorded “Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me” and the #1 smash “Midnight Train to Georgia”. Knight also had a successful solo career with songs like “License to Kill”, the theme song to the 1989 James Bond film. Known as “The Empress of Soul”, Knight was inducted, along with the Pips, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.

  • Merry Clayton

You might be asking yourself, “WHO?” By far the least famous woman on this list, Merry Clayton nonetheless merits a spot. She began her career at age 14 when she performed a duet with Bobby Darin titled “Who Can I Count On? (When I Can’t Count on You)” and for a time was one of Ray Charles’ Raelettes. But Clayton is most well known for providing vocals for “Gimme Shelter”, off the Rolling Stones’ 1969 masterpiece, Let It Bleed. Listening to Clayton’s voice cracking as she delivers the searing lyrics “Rape, murder/It’s just a shot away/It’s just a shot away” gives me chills every time. Clayton, who was pregnant at the time, suffered a miscarriage shortly after returning home, leading some to speculate that the physical strain of her exertions during recording were to blame.

  • Tina Turner

From her early days performing with ex-husband Ike on hits like “Proud Mary” and “River Deep – Mountain High” (and surviving years of his abuse) to her 1984 comeback Private Dancer to her acting career in films like Tommy and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome to her recent career as a writer, there really is nothing Tina Turner can’t do. She has sold over 100 million records, won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and was inducted with Ike into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991; she is nominated again this year as a solo artist, and she would be only the second woman (and the first black woman) to be inducted twice.

  • Diana Ross

The only artist on this list twice, Diana Ross had a very successful solo career in addition to her work with the Supremes. She also made the leap into acting in films like Lady Sings the Blues, for which she won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of Billie Holiday. She ranks among the top five artists on the all-time Billboard Hot 100 and she was named “Female Entertainer of the Century” by Billboard in 1976. She was responsible for #1 hits like “Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To)”, “Love Hangover”, “Upside Down” and “Endless Love”, her 1981 duet with Lionel Richie. Her role as an R & B legend is unequivocal.

  • Thelma Houston and Gloria Gaynor

Thelma Houston and Gloria Gaynor are responsible for two of the most iconic and abiding #1 singles of the disco era; Houston’s 1977 smash “Don’t Leave Me This Way” and Gaynor’s 1978 phenomenon “I Will Survive” were both runaway successes. “Don’t Leave Me This Way” became the unofficial theme song for the HIV/AIDS epidemic among the gay community, and “I Will Survive” is the biggest dance anthem of all time. If you can hear either song without shaking your groove thing, you’re a stronger person than I.

  • Donna Summer

Known as “The Queen of Disco”, Donna Summer recorded some of the most iconic songs of the 70s and 80s, including forty-two Hot 100 singles and four #1s – “MacArthur Park,” “Hot Stuff,” “Bad Girls” and “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)”, her duet with Barbra Streisand. Her three-octave voice could belt or coo, and it harmonized exceptionally – listen to “I Feel Love” to hear how well she harmonized with herself. She oozed sex appeal, but also sang about female empowerment. Her sixteen minute opus to sexual ecstasy, “Love to Love You Baby”, contained (by the BBC’s count) 23 orgasms; an edited version of the song became Summer’s first top 10 hit.

  • Janet Jackson

Janet Jackson comes by her talent naturally; the youngest of ten, Janet’s older brothers were superstars by the time she was in elementary school. Jackson began her career as an actress in such television shows as Good Times, Diff’rent Strokes and Fame. At age twenty, she catapulted to pop music fame with Control, her #1 smash album that contains five top 5 hits. Her next album, Rhythm Nation 1814, became the best selling album of 1990 and yielded seven top 5 hits. It is also the only album in history to produce #1 hits in three consecutive calendar years (1989-1991). Jackson continued her musical success through the 90s with albums like Janet and The Velvet Rope, and began a successful movie career with 1993’s Poetic Justice. She is a fashion icon, one of the most successful female recording artists of all time, and an all-around badass.

  • Whitney Houston

Another artist who came by her talent naturally (her maternal aunt is Dionne Warwick), Whitney Houston became a superstar at age twenty-two with the release of her first album, Whitney Houston, which stayed at #1 on the album chart for fourteen weeks and yielded three #1 singles. Her follow-up, Whitney, debuted at #1 on the album chart and produced four #1 singles. Her musical career continued to flourish in the 90s, and she launched a successful film career with 1992’s The Bodyguard, in which she starred as – and this was quite a stretch – a pop star. Her musical contributions to the film, including the #1 sensation “I Will Always Love You”, made the soundtrack the best-selling album of 1993. By the early 2000s, Houston’s personal struggles and drug use began to overshadow her career, and Houston tragically died in 2012 when she accidentally drowned in the bathtub of her room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. But her status as one of the best R&B singers ever remains intact. Houston was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2020.

  • Queen Latifah

From her early career as one of the most successful female hip-hop artists to her Oscar-nominated turn as Matron “Mama” Morton in Chicago to her recent jazz-inspired recordings, Queen Latifah is constantly transforming, but always stays true to herself. She is a fashion and feminist icon, and an absolute badass.

  • Mariah Carey

With her bonkers five-octave range and incredible vocal runs (known as melisma), Mariah Carey has one of the most distinctive voices in R&B. With the release of her self-titled debut album in 1990, Carey became an overnight sensation at just twenty years old, and was the first artist in history to have their first five singles go to #1 on the Hot 100. With sales of more than 200 million worldwide and nineteen #1 singles, she is one of the most successful female artists of any genre.

  • TLC

Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas – TLC – are one of the most successful female vocal groups of all time. Their signature blend of R&B, funk and hip-hop – along with their sexy, edgy image – made them superstars. TLC recorded three of the most successful albums of the 90s, and scored four #1 hits – “Waterfalls”, “Creep”, “No Scrubs” and “Unpretty”. The video for “Waterfalls” made TLC the first black act to win the MTV Video Music Award (VMA) for Video of the Year. In 2002, before their fourth album could be completed, Lopes died in an auto accident; T-Boz and Chilli carried on as a duo.

  • Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott

Missy Elliott is the best selling female rapper in history, and a consummate badass. Songs like “Work It” and “Get Ur Freak On”, and their companion videos, made Elliott one of the most successful hip-hop artists of the 2000s. She was the first female rapper inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and she paved the way for future artists such as Eve, Nicki Minaj and Cardi B. She’s a feminist, a fashion icon and one of the most impossibly cool human beings on the planet.

  • Destiny’s Child and Beyoncé

Destiny’s Child exploded onto the pop music scene with the release of their second album, The Writing’s on the Wall, in 1999. The album yielded two #1 hits, “Bills, Bills, Bills” and “Say My Name”. Their second album, Survivor, entered the Billboard album chart at #1 and generated two more #1 singles, “Independent Women Part I” and “Bootylicious”. In 2002 and 2003, on hiatus from the group, all three members released solo albums, and the most successful – by far – was Beyoncé’s Dangerously in Love. Destiny’s Child officially disbanded in 2006, and Beyoncé has continued to dominate pop music ever since. She’s won more Grammy Awards than any other artist in history (thirty-two after last night). She’s won more MTV VMAs than any other artist in history. She won a Peabody Award in 2017 for Lemonade. She’s an actress, a fashion designer, a philanthropist and a bona fide badass.

  • Rihanna

Rihanna is the best-selling artist of the 21st century – and seventh on the all-time list – with more than 250 million albums sold. Her distinctive Caribbean-inspired (she’s from Barbados) dance music and her sexy, provocative image have made her a superstar. Like other artists on this list, she too made the foray into acting and fashion design. She is known for her humanitarian efforts, donating millions to HIV/AIDS and cancer research, and COVID-19 relief. She is sexy as hell, and a complete and total badass.

Some other badass women of R&B:

Badass Women of Rock

Part of my ongoing series celebrating Women’s History Month.

Rock and roll remains a man’s world – women make up less than 8% of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame membership – but that doesn’t mean women don’t know how to rock. Women may still struggle to be recognized for their contributions, but these trailblazing women have been rocking out for decades.

  • Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Ruth Brown and Memphis Minnie

Rock and roll evolved from a combination of blues, gospel, jazz and rhythm & blues – all genres originated by black people. So it’s no surprise that the original women of rock and roll were black. These badass pioneers paved the way for the rest of the women on this list. Tharpe was one of the first artists to use heavy distortion on her electric guitar, heralding the rise of the electric blues; she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018. Brown was noted for bringing a pop music style to R&B, portending the popular R&B music of the 60s; she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993. Memphis Minnie, known as “Queen of the Country Blues”, was a trailblazing guitar player, and her songs have been covered by such artists as Jefferson Airplane and Led Zeppelin; she has not been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

  • Grace Slick

As singer and songwriter for Jefferson Airplane, Slick was an instrumental figure in the San Francisco psychedelic rock scene of the mid-60s. Airplane’s first album with Slick, the stone-cold classic Surrealistic Pillow, is quintessential psychedelia. “Somebody to Love” is an absolute banger, and “White Rabbit”, the album’s highlight, is two and a half minutes of sheer perfection. The song was purportedly written by Slick in less than an hour, and it’s so good, I even forgive her for “We Built This City”. Slick, along with the rest of Jefferson Airplane, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.

  • Janis Joplin

Janis Joplin’s career only spanned about three years, but what a legacy she left behind. Though Joplin played the autoharp, her voice was her primary instrument. She could pivot between a lovely mezzo-soprano lilt and a full-on bluesy wail with astonishing ease. Joplin died in October 1970 of an accidental heroin overdose; three months later, her fourth album, Pearl, was released posthumously. Pearl went to #1 on the Billboard album chart and stayed there for nine weeks, and her blistering, beautiful cover of Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee” became only the second posthumous #1 single in chart history (fun fact: the first was Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”). Joplin was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995.

  • Joni Mitchell

The best female folk singer-songwriter of all time, period. A bout of polio when she was nine guided Mitchell toward music. Her early songwriting years yielded hits for other artists (“The Circle Game”, “Both Sides Now”) and garnered her enough attention to record her first album in 1968. Her masterpiece, 1971’s Blue, is one of the best albums by any artist (in 2017, Blue was ranked #1 on a list of the greatest albums made by women); highlights include “California”, “A Case of You” and “River”, a song so gorgeous, Kate Hudson shed unscripted tears in the Almost Famous scene where Penny Lane and Russell Hammond meet. Mitchell was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.

  • Bonnie Raitt

Bonnie Raitt can play the slide guitar with the best of them, and her bluesy voice can convey a myriad of emotions. Raitt recorded her first album at the age of 22, and her mastery of her craft was evident from the very beginning, but it took her eighteen years – and ten albums – to become a superstar. Nick of Time, released in 1989, was a critical and commercial smash, selling five million copies in the US and winning Raitt an armful of Grammys. It’s now been 50 years since Raitt’s debut; she has maintained that longevity by consistently staying true to herself. Raitt was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.

  • Ann and Nancy Wilson

The only siblings on this list, the Wilson sisters have been rocking together since they saw The Beatles on Ed Sullivan when they were kids. Ann’s voice is a force of nature; her full voice is powerful and compelling, and her vibrato is perfection. Nancy’s guitar provides some of the band’s best moments – that opening riff in “Barracuda” is such a killer (she’s also done some beautiful scoring, primarily for ex-husband Cameron Crowe’s films; check out “Lucky Trumble” from Almost Famous). Nancy occasionally sings lead, but usually provides harmonies, and the combination of their voices is simply to die for. One of my favorite songs by the two is their cover (as The Lovemongers) of “The Battle of Evermore”; here’s a live version of it from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concert in 1995, the year Led Zeppelin was inducted (the Wilson sisters, and the rest of Heart, were themselves inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013).

  • Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie

It’s impossible to overstate how massive Fleetwood Mac were in the 70s (Rumours alone has sold 40 million copies worldwide), and they had their greatest success after Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks joined the band (I’ll likely wax poetic about my love for Lindsey Buckingham another time; this ain’t his day). Nicks, with her distinctive voice and her witch persona, got the lion’s share of the attention, but McVie’s contributions to the band should not be overlooked: “Don’t Stop” is as good as anything Fleetwood Mac recorded. Fleetwood Mac were inducted into the Rock and Roll in 1998; Nicks was also inducted as a solo artist in 2019, making her the only woman to be inducted twice.

  • Joan Jett

Joan Jett is a rock and roll icon. From her early days with the all-female teenage band The Runaways, she was a superstar. In 1980, after being rejected by 23 labels, Jett formed her own label, Blackheart Records (becoming one of the first women to create her own label) and went on to record some of the most recognizable rock songs of the early 80s , among them “I Love Rock ‘n Roll”, “Bad Reputation” and “I Hate Myself for Loving You”. She’s also a fashion icon; her signature look consists of black hair, black eyeliner and black leather. Jett was inducted, along with her band the Blackhearts, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015.

  • Tina Weymouth

Tina Weymouth joined Talking Heads when David Byrne and Weymouth’s boyfriend/future husband Chris Frantz couldn’t find a suitable bass player for their band; in doing so, she paved the way for future female bassists like Kim Gordon and Kim Deal (more on them in a bit). Weymouth kept the Heads’ rhythm going without flourish, but when she stepped to the forefront, as in the (ahem) killer opening bass riff on “Psycho Killer”, she absolutely dazzled. And her side project with Frantz, Tom Tom Club, produced one of the most original songs of the era, “Genius of Love”. Weymouth, along with the rest of Talking Heads, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.

  • Debbie Harry

You don’t get much more badass than Debbie Harry, lead singer and co-founder of Blondie, fashion icon and friend of Andy Warhol. Blondie created some of the most iconic music of the late 70s and early 80s, and are credited with recording the first rap song to top the Billboard singles chart (“Rapture”, off their 1980 album Autoamerican, a personal favorite of mine). Harry’s edgy persona and dreamy voice were a significant part of the band’s success, and Blondie just wouldn’t have been Blondie without her. Harry and Blondie were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.

  • Pat Benatar

Originally trained as an opera singer, Pat Benatar decided instead to be a rock star, and recorded some of the most indelible music of the 80s. Beginning with her debut album in 1979, Benatar was a force to be reckoned with. Strong, confident and sexy as hell, with a powerful three-octave range, Benatar forever changed what rock stars looked and sounded like. Benatar was nominated to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2020 but was not inducted; she failed to snag a nomination this year.

  • Chrissie Hynde

As the founding member, guitarist, lead vocalist and songwriter of the Pretenders, Chrissie Hynde is one of the most influential women in rock and roll, and an all-around badass. Confident and cool as shit right from the start, with a deep growly voice, Hynde started out with a bang – the Pretenders’ 1980 self-titled debut, with its smash hit “Brass in Pocket”, an ode to female empowerment, heralded the arrival of a superstar. Hynde is a survivor, moving past drug and alcohol use, and the premature deaths of two of her bandmates, to create some of the most iconic music of the 80s. Hynde and the Pretenders were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.

  • Kate Bush

Kate Bush has always defied categorization, but art-rock is an appropriate moniker for her innovative combination of eclectic melodies and unconventional, often literary lyrics. Bush was just nineteen when her debut album, The Kick Inside, was released. The lead-off single, “Wuthering Heights” went to #1 on the British charts. Bush was wildly successful in the UK but failed to catch on in the US until 1985, when she released her fifth – and best – album, Hounds of Love. And while Bush plays piano and keyboards, her main instrument is her voice – with a four-octave range, Bush can go from a child-like whisper to a bloodcurdling shriek. Bush was nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018 but was not inducted; she is nominated again this year.

  • The Go-Go’s

The Go-Go’s started life as an LA punk band in 1978, and switched to their signature power pop-new wave sound once their lineup of Belinda Carlisle, Jane Wiedlin, Gina Schock, Kathy Valentine and Charlotte Caffey was complete. The Go-Go’s were the first all-female rock band to write their own music, play their own instruments AND top the Billboard album chart. Beauty and the Beat, their iconic 1981 debut, is one absolute banger after another. One of my favorite Go-Go’s songs is “Cool Jerk”, off their second album Vacation; give it a listen to hear killer solos from drummer Schock and bassist Valentine. The Go-Go’s have finally been nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame THIS year, after 15 years of eligibility.

  • Siouxsie Sioux

It’s hard to explain just how much my world opened up when I discovered goth music in the mid-80s, and the main reason why is Siouxsie and the Banshees. Impossibly cool, with a raw yet commanding voice, Siouxsie Sioux exemplified the sound that helped me survive my adolescence. Sioux’s version of The Beatles’ “Dear Prudence”, off the Banshees’ 1984 album Hyaena, is quite possibly my favorite cover of all time, retaining the song’s original psychedelic sound yet making it utterly her own. Sioux has never been nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but she’s too cool for the Hall of Fame anyway.

  • Kim Gordon and Kim Deal

Not to diminish the accomplishments of these two by lumping them together, but they have so many things in common – bass players named Kim, in iconic bands of the post-punk era. Kim Gordon, co-founder of Sonic Youth with ex-husband Thurston Moore, and Kim Deal, bassist and co-lead vocalist (with Frank Black) of the Pixies, are two of the most badass female rockers of the last forty years. Sonic Youth and the Pixies helped pioneer the scuzzy post-punk sound that presaged the grunge movement, and Gordon and Deal were a big part of that sound. For proof, listen to Sonic Youth’s “Kool Thing” or the Pixies’ “Here Comes Your Man”. Deal also founded another iconic band of the 90s, the Breeders, during a Pixies hiatus. Sonic Youth have been nominated twice for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but have not been inducted; in one of the biggest snubs (THE biggest?) in the history of the Hall of Fame, the Pixies have never even been nominated, despite influencing a generation of artists from Nirvana to Radiohead (both of which have been inducted).

  • Björk

Björk is another artist who defies categorization; eclectic, avant-garde and experimental are all adjectives used to describe her unique blend of pop, trip hop and electronica. Her dynamic, somersaulting voice is unlike anything else you’ve heard. From her early days with the Sugarcubes (if you’ve never heard it before, do yourself a favor and listen to “Birthday”), through her magnificent solo work, Björk is authentic and audacious, and I love her for it. Björk has never been nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

  • Liz Phair

Self-assured, refreshingly candid and delightfully foul-mouthed, Liz Phair made her entrance into the music world in 1993 with Exile in Guyville, one of the finest debut albums in history. Spare and unpretentious, Exile inspired countless imitators, but Phair is a one-of-a-kind. Phair has not been nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; her foray into more overt pop in the 2000s may keep it that way.

  • Courtney Love

Though her personal life tended to overshadow her career, there’s no denying that Courtney Love belongs on a list of badass female rockers. Live Through This, Hole’s breakthrough album, was released on April 12, 1994 – four days after Love’s husband, Kurt Cobain, was found dead from a shotgun wound to the head. The timing was unfortunate, because Live Through This is one of the best albums of the 90s, blending grunge riffs with stripped-down, structured melodies. Listening to Love sing “Someday you will ache like I ache” in “Doll Parts” could crack your heart open. Hole has not been nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

  • Some other badass women who rock:

Readers – who are YOUR favorite badass women of rock?

Quick Hits: March 9

  • My husband and I have finished watching The Queen’s Gambit, and I’m a little sad to not be living in Beth Harmon’s world anymore. I’m considering watching PBS Masterpiece’s The Miniaturist next, because I just can’t get enough of the remarkable Anya Taylor-Joy.
The Miniaturist
  • The Critics Choice Awards were held over the weekend, and several winners mirrored the Golden Globes, potentially forecasting the Oscars – Nomadland won Best Picture and Chloe Zhao Best Director (Zhao also won Best Adapted Screenplay), Chadwick Boseman posthumously won Best Actor for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Daniel Kaluuya won Best Supporting Actor for Judas and the Black Messiah. However, whereas Andra Day won Best Actress at the Globes, Carey Mulligan won the Critics Choice for Promising Young Woman. On the TV side, The Crown cleaned up once again, and The Queen’s Gambit and Anya Taylor-Joy won as well (yeah!).
  • Rent opened twenty-five years ago this month, which means it’s now 100 “Seasons of Love” old. This is a nice tribute which includes new interviews with the incomparable Idina Menzel and the delightful Wilson Jermaine Heredia.
  • Composer Samuel Barber was born on this day in 1910. His “Adagio for Strings” became iconic after director Oliver Stone used it in his 1987 film Platoon. Who can hear this music without thinking about the death of Sgt. Elias, his arms raised in the air?

Female Friendships I Love

Stay tuned throughout March for posts about remarkable women, starting with a discussion about some of my favorite female pop culture friendships.

  • Elle and Max – Stranger Things

Elle and Max got off to a rocky start. Having been separated from Mike, Dustin and Lucas for most of season 2, Elle sees Max as an interloper and a potential rival for Mike’s affections (she doesn’t realize Max is actually attracted to Lucas). But at the start of season 3, the two have put those issues aside and are BFF’s. In the second episode of the season, “The Mall Rats”, Max takes Elle to the new Starcourt Mall and the two go shopping at The Gap, pose for some Glamour Shots and eat ice cream cones. Elle, encouraged by Max, breaks up with Mike (“I dump your ass!”) for lying to her. Later in the season, with Max’s step-brother Billy (along with one of his fellow lifeguards) seemingly missing, Elle and Max become amateur sleuths, using Elle’s powers and some old-fashioned detective work to solve the mystery. It’s an endearing, wholesome portrait of young female friendship that belies the danger that exists in Hawkins.

  • Sydney and Francie – Alias

The life of a spy is complicated – you may have to jet off to Taipei, Bucharest or Morocco on a moment’s notice, but your friends think you’re a banker so you tell them you’re going to Boston or San Francisco. And though much of Sydney’s life is a secret, her friendship with Francie is the real deal. They’ve seen each other through the worst – murdered fiancés, estranged fathers, potentially cheating fiancés, actually cheating fiancés. But together they also enjoy the simpler pleasures – cocktails, dancing, Halloween parties, Thanksgiving dinners and pints of ice cream. When Francie is murdered and replaced with a double, Sydney senses something is wrong but can’t quite put her finger on it; once she does (“Francie doesn’t like coffee ice cream”), the result is one of the most epic fight scenes in the show’s history.

  • Annie and Becky – Sleepless in Seattle

Becky is the ultimate movie best friend – supportive and loving, and funny as hell, Becky not only tolerates Annie’s antics, she encourages them. But Becky also serves as Annie’s conscience, a romcom Jiminy Cricket (“You don’t want to be in love. You want to be in love in a movie!”). The chemistry and affection between Meg Ryan and Rosie O’Donnell is genuine; you really buy this friendship. Sleepless was the first time I recall platonic pop culture friends saying “I love you” to each other, and it was refreshingly realistic.

  • Mae and Doris – A League of Their Own

In a movie full of female relationships, this one is my favorite. Mae and Doris are sassy, and often tease each other, but it’s always done with love (“You think there are men in this country who ain’t seen your bosoms?”). They support each other and celebrate each other’s successes, and at the end of the day, isn’t that what friendship is all about? Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell struck up a real-life friendship during the making of the film, and remain good pals to this day; that authentic affection definitely translates to the screen.

  • Janey and Lynne – Girls Just Want to Have Fun

Unlike a lot of the friends on this list, these two don’t already know each other at the beginning of the movie (Janey has just moved to Chicago), but 10 minutes in, they’re besties. Janey has lived too long under the thumb of her strict military father, and Lynne brings out her adventurous side, eventually sneaking a grounded Janey out of her house so she can get to the Dance TV studio in time for the competition. A good BFF will always have your back when you need her. This movie is wildly dated – you definitely know you’re in 1985 – and it was completely ridiculous to begin with, but I love it.

  • Pauline and Juliet – Heavenly Creatures

Unlike the other, fictional friendships on this list, Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme are real people. Based on an actual 1954 murder case in Christchurch, New Zealand, Heavenly Creatures depicts the obsessive friendship of two teenage girls, who created an elaborate fantasy life to cope with their unhappy exterior lives. Concerned over the intensity of their friendship (and worried that the relationship was sexual), the girls’ parents conspire to keep them apart; in retaliation, the two murder Pauline’s mother. An absurdly young Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey are astonishing as Juliet and Pauline, and convincingly portray the obsessive nature of the girls’ friendship (and director Peter Jackson does a helluva job bringing their fantasy world to life).

By the way, Juliet grew up to be mystery author Anne Perry, a fact that was not widely known until the release of the movie in 1994.

  • Monica, Rachel and Phoebe – Friends

DUH. Like I wasn’t going to say these three. Yes, the six Friends often appear together, but they can also be broken up into smaller groups, and I love when it’s just the gals. Whether they’re seeing each other through life’s major changes – marriages, children, careers – or just hanging out, these three are always there for each other. Even when they fight, they always make up (but not before giving the audience a solid dose of humor).

  • Corey and Gina – Empire Records

These two have their shares of ups and downs, even over the course of one day. And while a lot of the tension between them is fairly cliché (Gina’s a slut! Corey’s popping pills!), we buy their angst (especially Gina’s – a pre-Jerry Maguire Renee Zellweger outshines co-star Liv Tyler, who’s lovely nonetheless). The two also know how to have a good time, and while it feels like a friendship that might not survive a change in life events, we accept that they are work besties, at least for now.

A side note – I met my own bestie/sister-in-law while working for a retail record store chain (the “Town” in Empire‘s “Music Town”), and for that reason, the two of us adore this silly movie more than is probably rational. We are not Corey and Gina though; we’re more like Sydney and Francie from Alias, without all the spy shit.

Readers – what are YOUR favorite female friendships?