We Can Do It!1 of 12
A recent report showed that leading film roles for women and people of color were more prominent in 2019 than at any time in the 13 years prior - and with blockbusters such as Captain Marvel leading Disney to a $4.7 billion take from female-led movies alone (not even counting ensembles), women are front and center at the box office too.
And, with Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) about to mark DC's first all-female super team on the big screen on February 7, the trend is only growing.
Adding all that up, we're flashing back to the comic book roots of the cinematic superheroines - counting down the greatest superhero women of all time.
Supergirl2 of 12
Supergirl may have started out as a spin-off character from Superman, but for many fans, she’s become so much more than that. DC’s Maid of Might represents a certain element of femininity that is often glossed over in fiction – the balance of girlish glee and emotional exploration with confidence and physical power.
Too often female characters must be one or the other, ultra-feminine or super-powerful, but Supergirl - who possesses all the strength of her cousin Superman while facing all the issues of a young woman - is at her best when writers strike a true balance between both sides of that coin, letting her be a real Supergirl.
That dynamic plays an important role in the CW’s Supergirl, a show that places a slightly older Kara in the central role and embraces her femininity without shying away from her ability to kick ass.
Black Widow3 of 12
Black Widow has been around as a character since the 1960’s, but it’s only recently that she’s become a particularly prominent heroine in the Marvel Universe, thanks in large part to her role as a founding member of the cinematic Avengers.
But the fact that her recent success has mostly been due to her onscreen adventures doesn’t discount her role in comic books, either. Though she started out as a villain, it wasn’t long before Black Widow became an Avenger, a career she’s balanced with her black ops work alongside S.H.I.E.L.D. and on her own, even leading the team for a time.
Black Widow is finally getting her own solo film in the MCU as well, scheduled for a May 1 theatrical release.
She-Hulk4 of 12
To some, She-Hulk is the ultimate expression of feminine power. She’s indestructible, super-strong, and without inhibition – all of this with the mind of a high-powered attorney wrapped inside those unparalleled green muscles.
And while she may seem like a typical spin-off character (obviously riffing on her somewhat more famous cousin Bruce Banner), She-Hulk takes the concept of a gamma-irradiated hero to a totally different level, embracing her alter ego and living life to the fullest.
In some ways, She-Hulk also broke other boundaries – her John Byrne-penned ongoing series introduced an indestructible, fourth-wall-breaking hero with a sense of humor years before Deadpool grew a similar schtick.
She-Hulk was Deadpool before there even was a Deadpool.
She-Hulk is now a core member of the recently relaunched Avengers, and she's getting her own MCU show on Disney+.
Wasp5 of 12
Janet Van Dyne was not only the first female Avenger, and a founder, but also the hero who named the team when they first formed. Though she started out as something of a sidekick to her on-again-off-again (currently off-again) paramour Hank Pym, Janet quickly became a hero in her own right, leading the Avengers several times, and often acting as the team’s moral center.
When crafting this list, it came down to putting either Wasp or Captain Marvel in this spot. And while Captain Marvel may be more prominent now, her trajectory has been spotty, taking her from being a damsel in distress, to a perpetual victim, to leading the Avengers and her own intergalactic defense team, while Wasp’s arc has been far more consistent. Add to that her historical significance, and it’s easy to see why she’s one of the greatest female heroes ever to grace the printed page.
And while viewers got a glimpse of Janet Van Dyne in action in Ant-Man, she took on a much larger role in the sequel Ant-Man and the Wasp - in which her MCU daughter Hope Van Dyne took on the mantle of the winsome Wasp.
Jean Grey6 of 12
Jean Grey was the first X-Woman, and even bore the name of her publishing company as Marvel Girl before transitioning to her Phoenix identity in the 1970’s. But she’s more than just the first female mutant superhero – she’s also emblematic of the entire X-Men franchise, and one of the most complex, well-developed characters in comic books.
She may have started out in the typical Marvel superheroine model, but later adventures saw Jean develop a level of depth that many ensemble cast members never achieve. Between her ever developing relationship with Scott Summers, her vast and terrifying power levels, her descent into madness as the Dark Phoenix, and her penchant for self-sacrifice and redemption, Jean experienced more in her tenure as a hero than almost anyone.
Of course, the Phoenix always rises from the ashes, and the resurrected Jean is a key character in the current "Dawn of X" X-Men era.
Batgirl7 of 12
Barbara Gordon is unique among female heroes, and superheroes in general, for having not one but two vastly different and very successful superhero careers.
Barbara started out as Batgirl, using her wits, her incredible intelligence, and her physical capabilities to earn Batman’s trust as an ally and protégé. However, after years of fighting crime on the streets of Gotham, a violent encounter with the Joker left her paralyzed – but not deterred.
Now using a wheelchair, Barbara turned to her intelligence to make a difference (while maintaining a peak physical condition to boot). Taking on the mantle of Oracle, Barbara became the information hub for Batman’s entire network and lead the all-female superhero team the Birds of Prey.
These days, she’s back in action as Batgirl, her spinal injuries having been healed as part of the "New 52" reboot. She's remained in her reprised role as Batgirl for nearly a decade now.
Captain Marvel8 of 12
Carol Danvers is just about the most powerful woman in the Marvel Universe, and is arguably the publisher's top female hero.
With cosmic powers, a background as a fighter pilot, a high profile movie, and that crucial Avengers membership, she's everything great about superheroes wrapped up in one sleek package.
It's no wonder the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will likely put Carol front and center, as one of the pillars of the most popular superhero brand in the world.
Storm9 of 12
Storm started as the X-Men’s ingénue, a young heroine who was one of the rookie mutants recruited when the original team went missing. Alongside other X-Men mainstays like Wolverine, Nightcrawler, and Colossus, Storm rose through the ranks becoming not just a seasoned hero, but a mentor to her fellow mutants, and now serves as the Headmistress of Xavier’s school, and the leader of the X-Men.
Storm is also the first major female hero of color – a distinction that shouldn’t be overlooked, especially considering how important she’s remained in both X-Men and Marvel lore.
Invisible Woman10 of 12
Marvel’s first superheroine may not have the highest profile of the characters on this list, but Sue Storm set the pace for modern female heroes – and still occupies a fairly unique place in comic books.
While its true that early stories didn’t exactly serve Sue particularly well, she developed into the heart and soul of the Fantastic Four, serving as Marvel’s first family’s de facto – and literal – mother. And that may be one of the most crucial aspects of her character.
While Sue Storm is powerful in her own right – many writers have said she’s got the most raw power of anyone on the FF – she also represents an important aspect of womanhood that many female heroes have sacrificed or had used against them – motherhood.
That Sue can serve as one of the most respected heroes in the Marvel Universe (and it’s first female hero) while simultaneously raising two children and shepherding the growth of many more through the Future Foundation can’t be understated.
Plus, it takes a pretty amazing woman to stand up to a blowhard like Reed Richards.
Wonder Woman11 of 12
Diana of Themiscyra represents the best of mankind, and of womanhood. Strong, compassionate, fearless, and independent, as Wonder Woman Diana is a pillar of the Justice League and one of the greatest heroes and warriors in the entire DC Universe.
And though her real world origins are complex, William Moulton Marston and his collaborators Elizabeth Holloway Marston and Olive Byrne created an equally complex character who would grow to become a feminist icon and the character that almost anyone in the world thinks of when you say “female superhero."
She's got a sequel to her blockbuster 2017 film scheduled for a June 4 theatrical release.
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