8 Movies That Showcase "Different," Strong Female Characters Going Against The Odds

February 11, 2022

The feminine can take many forms and express itself in various ways. Beyond the more often than not toxic and unrealistic depictions of women throughout and across history, space and time, there is a profound, colorful, lush and unique explosion of feminine energy within each one of us. There are a few people who manage to recognize this and then successfully illustrate it, usually in the form of art.

I would like to take a moment and appreciate the ones who were brave enough to not only see the multifaceted beauty and potential of women, but also to express this through inspiring and eye-opening stories. Although there are quite a few creations that showcase girl power in all its glory, this time around I’ll focus on the following undeniably distinct female leads who teach us the power and wisdom of being an oddball.

Birds of Prey (2020)

The adorably crazy Harley Quinn creates an all-women squad by teaming up with a former detective who was ignored and failed by the system, a singer who is gifted in more than one way, and a skillful vigilante with a dark past. This movie is packed with fabulous action scenes, tons of humor and badass women. I think Harley’s nuttiness is what almost got her killed and what helped her escape so many times. She’s charming and dangerously refreshing, to say the least.

woman with magic lights

Brave (2012)

As somewhat of a rebel myself during earlier years, I empathized a lot with Merida. I admire the courage and ease with which she defies traditions and societal expectations. In retrospect, her limited patience and understanding led to some questionable actions, but it was also an opportunity to make herself heard and deepen the relationship with her family. When you’re a princess who is comfortable with having a “bad hair day” every day, you are clearly the exact change that kingdom needs.

Encanto (2021)

Mirabel is the perfect example of an “outsider” through no fault of her own or any type of trauma. Despite being a great daughter and having good intentions, she is judged and blamed just because she is different. However, that is exactly what allows her to have a holistic view of the situation, which leads her to find another outcast of the family who helps her find the truth. Sometimes a perceived disastrous event is needed for some people to understand that no magic can heal a broken family or make a house into a home.

Moana (2016)

Moana is probably a distant cousin of Merida, as she also challenges tradition and the wishes of her parents, but she does so with a wise ally by her side. She has a special relationship with the sea and she feels called to explore it, but her parents’ fears hold her back. She eventually follows her heart and sets sail in an attempt to save the island. I particularly like the pure and feminine connection that appears between her and Te Fiti, which becomes the key to everyone’s salvation.

Mona Lisa Smile (2003)

This movie is a sad yet inspiring glimpse into the lives and mentality surrounding women in the 1950s. Julia Roberts does an amazing job at living by her own rules in a time when women were thought to only exist for men. She’s an inspirational icon within an uptight institution and society, who changes the lives of dozens of girls by showing them how to “look beyond the paint” and see that something is not true just because someone says it is. A fabulous example of women stepping into their own power and not accepting less than they deserve, this story reminds us that we are stronger than we appear and ultimately in control of our own lives.

powerful woman with flowers in her hair

Mulan (2020)

I don’t think I often felt so empowered as a woman, as I did while watching the Disney live-action adaptation of Mulan. It’s an extraordinary story focused on a daughter whose strong life energy has to be hidden to avoid dishonoring her family. Because she wanted more from life than to be someone’s arranged wife and also wanted to protect her father, the warrior in her finds its way into the emperor’s army and ends up saving the entire country. It is a moving illustration of the struggles ‘different’ people go through just because a majority believes blindly what they are told while judging and comparing everything instead of letting it be.

Split (2016)

On a darker note, this movie illustrates the hidden and twisted ‘upside’ of having gone through trauma and being the awkward quiet girl, which is having more experience and knowledge about how to stay alive. Anya Taylor-Joy’s performance is fantastic and covers a wide range of emotions, situations and interactions in a mind-bending way. Her disturbing experience is what gave her the ability to empathize with and understand (to some degree) the antagonist, remain alive and look for a way out, all at the same time. This idea is reinforced in the movie by the line “You are different from the rest. […] The broken are the more evolved.”, which refers to a part of the reason she gets to live.

The Divergent Series (2014, 2015, 2016)

As in all the movies set in the future that I’ve seen so far, this one is another dystopia where things are not even remotely better. Tris discovers she is divergent, so she doesn’t fit into any one of the groups that make up the enclosed society of Chicago. Left almost alone in the world and hunted for being different, she finds hope in a few others like her, with whom she joins forces in order to find the truth and save everyone. I appreciate that, despite undergoing a brutal and accelerated maturing process, she becomes surprisingly resilient and maintains her integrity and strength throughout the series.

Also by Anca: Thinking About Changing Careers? Here’s How & Why I Did It

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Photo: Rhett Wesley via Unsplash; Jennifer Marquez via Unsplash

Anca Apetrei
Anca is a vegan veterinarian with additional experience in a few other fields, currently exploring alternative "career" angles and working towards finding or creating her ideal life situation. She is interested in personal development, emotional intelligence, spiritual enlightenment and self-education. She finds joy in dancing, cuddling furry souls, traveling, good music, fitness, meditation, sunny days, soap bubbles and fluffy blankets. You can find her on Twitter @juewu_seeds.

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