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She Said - Strong Women in the Movies

Updated on November 2, 2019
"I'll admit I may have seen better days, but I'm still not to be had for the price of a cocktail, like a salted peanut." Margo Channing, All About Eve
"I'll admit I may have seen better days, but I'm still not to be had for the price of a cocktail, like a salted peanut." Margo Channing, All About Eve

Women Characters

Movies where women are the main protagonists, the undisputable rulers of the show, are scarce at best. The odds improve with female characters that feature prominently, accompanied or led by a male presence that carries the tune.

In spite of the sorry state of affairs for important and memorable women leads, after over a century of the seventh art one can at least find a very decent collection of wonderfully strong and willful women characters.

In most cases, if not always, these characters are played by actresses that made their careers out of playing these smart, strong willed, independent and rather unique protagonists.

Naming Names

Give it to me, baby.
Give it to me, baby.

Lauren Bacall, Katherine Hepburn, Joan Crawford, Bette Davies are some of the key names in the classic era, and more recently we have actresses like Susan Sarandon, Jodie Foster, Glenn Close, or Sigourney Weaver to name a few. And a few is all one can name, sadly.

These aren't the only ones today, but let's face it, cleavage will take women a lot further in their careers than anything else. There is a minority of women whose talent and personality took them to the top, where they belong, and they were casted in movies that weren't about being pretty, nor about being led by a man, but about leading, and about being in command.

This is dedicated to all of them, whether I include them here or not. We may see a part dos of this homage yet.

She Said

What follows are quotes, script lines, from these memorable female characters. Bette Davis as Margo Channing in All About Eve is the epitome of the type of actress and character that I'm talking about here, so forgive me for using and abusing her.

"Nice speech, Eve. But I wouldn't worry too much about your heart. You can always put that award where your heart ought to be." Margo Channing, All About Eve

Vienna, played by Joan Crawford, Johnny Guitar, 1954

Possibly one of the best love scenes of all times:

Johnny: How many men have you forgotten?
Vienna: As many women as you've remembered.
Johnny: Don't go away.
Vienna: I haven't moved.
Johnny: Tell me something nice.
Vienna: Sure, what do you want to hear?
Johnny: Lie to me. Tell me all these years you've waited. Tell me.
Vienna: [without feeling] All those years I've waited.
Johnny: Tell me you'd a-died if I hadn't come back.
Vienna: [without feeling] I woulda died if you hadn't come back.
Johnny: Tell me you still love me like I love you.
Vienna: [without feeling] I still love you like you love me.
Johnny: [bitterly] Thanks. Thanks a lot.

Vienna: [Spoken to Johnny Guitar, with a certain scornful bitterness] A man can lie, steal... and even kill. But as long as he hangs on to his pride, he's still a man. All a woman has to do is slip - once. And she's a "tramp!" Must be a great comfort to you to be a man.

Patty Hewes played by Glenn Close, Damages, 2007-9

Patty Hewes, played by Glenn Close, Damages, 2007-9
Patty Hewes, played by Glenn Close, Damages, 2007-9

Martin: If you were a man, I'd kick the living dogshit out of you.
Patty: If you were a man, I'd be worried.

Patty Hewes, played by Glenn Close, is the latest addition to the not so long list of strong women on screen, in this case the little one. She is cold, ruthless, and has the best advice a girl can give to another: "Trust no one".

“Scout” Finch, played by Mary Badham, To Kill A Mockingbird, 1962

Scout Finch, played by Mary Badham, To Kill A Mockingbird, 1962
Scout Finch, played by Mary Badham, To Kill A Mockingbird, 1962

Scout: Atticus, do you defend niggers?
Atticus Finch: [startled] Don't say 'nigger,' Scout.
Scout: I didn't say it... Cecil Jacobs did; that's why I had to fight him.
Atticus Finch: [sternly] Scout, I don't want you fightin'!
Scout: I had to, Atticus, he...
Atticus Finch: I don't care what the reasons are: I forbid you to fight.

Scout: Mr. Tate was right.
Atticus Finch: What do you mean?
Scout: Well, it would be sort of like shooting a mockingbird, wouldn't it?

Older Scout: [narrating] Neighbors bring food with death, and flowers with sickness, and little things in between. Boo was our neighbor. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a knife, and our lives.

Bridget Gregory, played by Linda Fiorentino, The Last Seduction, 1994

Bridget Gregory, played by Linda Fiorentino, The Last Seduction, 1994
Bridget Gregory, played by Linda Fiorentino, The Last Seduction, 1994

Mike Swale: I'm trying to figure out whether you're a total f*cking bitch or not.
Bridget Gregory: I am a total f*cking bitch.

Bridget Gregory: You're my designated f*ck.
Mike Swale: Designated f*ck? Do they make cards for that? What if I want to be more than your designated f*ck?
Bridget Gregory: Then I'll designate someone else.

Bridget Gregory: Is it true what they say?
Harlan: What?
Bridget Gregory: You know, size?
Harlan: Is it true what they say about white women?
Bridget Gregory: What's that?
Harlan: No ass.
Bridget Gregory: Oh, come on. I was wondering for real. Let me see it.
Harlan: F*ck you. Drive.
Bridget Gregory: I'm sorry.
Harlan: About what?
Bridget Gregory: About your shortcoming.
Harlan: I'm not gonna play this game.
Bridget Gregory: Is that why you carry a big gun?
Harlan: The Freudian mind-f*ck isn't gonna work either.
Bridget Gregory: Ooh, touchy. I'm sure your woman is very understanding.
Harlan: Exactly how is it that we end this phase of our relationship?
Bridget Gregory: By you showing it to me. Come on, let me see it. I've never seen one before.
Bridget Gregory: I'll show you my ass.
Harlan: What makes you think I wanna see your bony ass?
Bridget Gregory: Show me.
Harlan: Show me.
Bridget Gregory: I'm driving. You go first.
Harlan: No, you go first.
Harlan: You'll shut the f*ck up if I show you?
Bridget Gregory: I'm sure I'll be too stunned to speak.
Harlan: I don't believe this. You're crazy. Shit.
[he exposes himself]
Harlan: Okay, there, you happy?

Sarah Connor, played by Linda Hamilton, Terminator, 1984

Sarah Connor, played by Linda Hamilton, Terminator, 1984
Sarah Connor, played by Linda Hamilton, Terminator, 1984

Sarah Connor: Tell me about my son.
Kyle Reese: He's about my height. He has your eyes.
Sarah Connor: What's he like?
Kyle Reese: You trust him. He's got a strength. I'd die for John Connor.
Sarah Connor: Well... at least now I know what to name him. I don't suppose you know who the father is, so I won't tell him to get lost when I meet him?
Kyle Reese: John never said much about him. I know he dies before the war.
Sarah Connor: Wait. I don't want to know.

A little bit about Eve

Margo Channing: Lloyd, honey, be a playwright with guts. Write me one about a nice normal woman who just shoots her husband.

Thelma, played by Geena Davis and Louise, played by Susan Sarandon, Thelma & Louise, 1991

Thelma: You said you 'n' me was gonna get out of town and for once just really let our hair down. Well darlin', look out 'cause my hair is comin' down!

Louise: Come on, Thelma, murder 1 and armed robbery.
Thelma: Murder 1? We can't even say it was self defense?
Louise: Well it wasn't, we got away, we were walking away.
Thelma: Yeah but they don't know that, I'll tell them he raped me and you had to shoot him, that's almost the truth.
Louise: Won't work. There's no physical evidence, we can't prove he did it, we probably can't even prove by now that he touched you.
Thelma: Gosh, the law is some tricky stuff isn't it?
Louise: Besides, what're we going to say about the robbery? There's no such thing as justifiable robbery.
Thelma: Allright Louise... where'd you get this?
Louise: Stole it.

Intermission with Eve

Margo Channing: As it happens, there are particular aspects of my life to which I would like to maintain sole and exclusive rights and privileges.
Bill Sampson: For instance what?
Margo Channing: For instance: you!

Margo Channing: Heartburn? It's that Miss Caswell. I don't see why she hasn't given Addison heartburn.
Bill Sampson: No heart to burn!
Margo Channing: Everybody has a heart - except some people.

Scarlett O’Hara, played by Vivien Leigh, Gone With the Wind,1939

As God is my witness, as God is my witness, they're not going to lick me! I'm going to live through this, and when it's all over, I'll never be hungry again - no, nor any of my folks! If I have to lie, steal, cheat, or kill! As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again.

Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver, Aliens, 1979, 1986...

Burke: You know Ripley, I was hoping that you would be smarter than this.
Ripley: I'm happy to disappoint you.

Newt: My mommy always said there were no monsters - no real ones - but there are.
Ripley: Yes, there are, aren't there?
Newt: Why do they tell little kids that?
Ripley: Most of the time it's true.

Clarice Starling, played by Jodie Foster, Silence of the Lambs, 1991

You see a lot, Doctor. But are you strong enough to point that high-powered perception at yourself? What about it? Why don't you - why don't you look at yourself and write down what you see? Or maybe you're afraid to.

More about Eve

Margo Channing: Margo Channing is ageless - spoken like a press agent.
Lloyd Richards: I know what I'm talking about. After all, they're my plays.
Margo Channing: Spoken like an author. Lloyd, I'm not twenty-ish, I'm not thirty-ish. Three months ago I was forty years old. Forty. Four O. That slipped out. I hadn't quite made up my mind to admit it. Now I suddenly feel as if I've taken all my clothes off.

Maggie Fitzgerald, played by Hillary Swank, Million Dollar Baby, 2004

Maggie Fitzgerald: I'm 32, Mr. Dunn, and I'm here celebrating the fact that I spent another year scraping dishes and waitressing which is what I've been doing since 13, and according to you, I'll be 37 before I can even throw a decent punch, which I have to admit, after working on this speed bag for a month, may be the God's simple truth. Other truth is, my brother's in prison, my sister cheats on welfare by pretending one of her babies is still alive, my daddy's dead, and my momma weighs 312lbs. If I was thinking straight, I'd go back home, find a used trailer, buy a deep fryer and some oreos. Problem is, this the only thing I ever felt good doing. If I'm too old for this, then I got nothing. That enough truth to suit you?

Maggie Fitzgerald: I do have one favor to ask of you boss.
Frankie Dunn: Anything you want.
Maggie Fitzgerald: Remember what my daddy did for Axel?
Frankie Dunn: [long pause] Don't even think about that.
Maggie Fitzgerald: I can't be like this, Frankie. Not after what I've done. I've seen the world. People chanted my name. Well, not my name... some damn name you gave me. But they were chanting for me. I was in magazines. You think I ever dreamed that'd happen? I was born two pounds, one-and-a-half ounces. Daddy used to tell me I'd fight my way into this world, and I'd fight my way out. That's all I wanna do, Frankie. I just don't wanna fight you to do it. I got what I needed. I got it all. Don't let 'em keep taking it away from me. Don't let me lie here 'till I can't hear those people chanting no more.

Marie 'Slim' Browning, played by Lauren Bacall, To Have and Have Not, 1944

Slim: I'm hard to get, Steve. All you have to do is ask me.
Steve: You know what you're getting into. It's gonna be rough.

Slim: You know you don't have to act with me, Steve. You don't have to say anything, and you don't have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and... blow.

Tracy Lord, Played by Katherine Hepburn, The Philadelphia Story, 1940

Tracy Lord: The time to make up your mind about people is never.

Tracy Lord: Oh, we're going to talk about me again, are we? Goody.

Tracy Lord: You're too good for me, George. You're a hundred times too good. And I'd make you most unhappy, most. That is, I'd do my best to.

Margaret Lord: Oh, dear. Is there no such thing as privacy any more?
Tracy Lord: Only in bed, mother, and not always there.

C.K. Dexter Haven: Sometimes, for your own sake, Red, I think you should've stuck to me longer.
Tracy Lord: I thought it was for life, but the nice judge gave me a full pardon.
C.K. Dexter Haven: Aaah, that's the old redhead. No bitterness, no recrimination, just a good swift left to the jaw.

Margaret Lord: We both might face the facts that neither of us has proved to be a very great success as a wife.
Tracy Lord: We just picked the wrong first husband.

Tracy Lord: Dexter, would you mind doing something for me?
C.K. Dexter Haven: Anything. What?
Tracy Lord: Get the heck out of here.

Marquise de Merteuil, played by Glenn Close, Dangerous Liaisons, 1988

Here is a character that rivals Margo Channing in strength, sharp wit and presence, and rivals Patty Hewes in ruthlessness.
Here is a character that rivals Margo Channing in strength, sharp wit and presence, and rivals Patty Hewes in ruthlessness.

After Margo Channing in All About Eve, I personally believe this is one of the greatest women characters of all times. I'm not sure if it's the script, or the actress, or both, but the Merteuil-Close duet are as big as Margo-Bette in my mind.

Vicomte de Valmont: I often wonder how you manage to invent yourself.
Marquise de Merteuil: Well, I had no choice, did I? I'm a woman. Women are obliged to be far more skillful than men. You can ruin our reputation and our life with a few well-chosen words. So, of course, I had to invent, not only myself, but ways of escape no one has every thought of before. And I've succeeded because I've always known I was born to dominate your sex and avenge my own.

Marquise de Merteuil: When one woman strikes at the heart of another she seldom misses, and the wound is invariably fatal.

Marquise de Merteuil: You'll find the shame is like the pain, you only feel it once.

Marquise de Merteuil: When I came out into society I was 15. I already knew that the role I was condemned to, namely to keep quiet and do what I was told, gave me the perfect opportunity to listen and observe. Not to what people told me, which naturally was of no interest, but to whatever it was they were trying to hide. I practiced detachment. I learned how to look cheerful while under the table I stuck a fork into the back of my hand. I became a virtuoso of deceit. It wasn't pleasure I was afer, it was knowledge. I consulted the strictest moralists to learn how to appear, philosophers to find out what to think, and novelists to see what I could get away with, and in the end, I distilled everything to one wonderfully simple principle: win or die.

Let's give The End to Margo

Margo Channing, played by Bette Davis, All About Eve, 1950
Margo Channing, played by Bette Davis, All About Eve, 1950

Bill Sampson: You have every reason for happiness.
Margo Channing: Except happiness!

Margo Channing: Funny business, a woman's career - the things you drop on your way up the ladder so you can move faster. You forget you'll need them again when you get back to being a woman. That's one career all females have in common, whether we like it or not: being a woman. Sooner or later, we've got to work at it, no matter how many other careers we've had or wanted. And in the last analysis, nothing's any good unless you can look up just before dinner or turn around in bed, and there he is. Without that, you're not a woman. You're something with a French provincial office or a book full of clippings, but you're not a woman. Slow curtain, the end.

It's not really the end, is it? I know I've left out a good bunch of wonderful and powerful women characters, I just needed to draw the line somewhere here. As I said, maybe we'll see part dos in the saga. Enjoy!
It's not really the end, is it? I know I've left out a good bunch of wonderful and powerful women characters, I just needed to draw the line somewhere here. As I said, maybe we'll see part dos in the saga. Enjoy!

© 2010 Elena.


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