Out of Total Film’s list of the 100 Greatest Female Characters in movies…
Only 79 have full names, and only 73 are listed by their full name.
6 are not human women, and 3 are not humanoid.
38 are a character in someone else’s story. 25 of those are primarily a love interest.
Approximately 1/5 do not survive their film.
Almost 1/2 are victimized or imperiled in their films, and 1/3 are victims of rape, sexual assault, family or intimate partner violence.
There are four women of color. Two of these women (the only adult women of color and the only black characters) are portrayed by the same actor, Pam Grier.
three four [correction based on help from commenters. Thanks, commenters!] characters identifiable as bisexual and one character identifiable as a lesbian.
More than half the characters are approximately 20–35 years of age.
22 appear in films at least co-written by women. Only 5* appear in films directed by women.
[*Correction: this statistic originally read as 4, because I relied on Wikipedia which still lists the directors of The Matrix as Andy and Larry Wachowski instead of Andy and Lana Wachowski. I regret the error and thank Bitch Flicks for alerting me to my mistake.]
Discussion (some film spoilers ahead)
Coding this list was harder than I thought it would be, mostly because I’ve only personally seen 73 of the films. For the films I haven’t seen or couldn’t completely remember, I turned to Wikipedia and IMDb plot summaries, but it is entirely possible I coded incorrectly.
For “full name” I relied on how the character is credited if I couldn’t remember the character’s name from the film, which probably produced errors.
“Is it her story?” is, admittedly, a somewhat subjective value judgment. One in particular I struggled with was Clementine from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I originally coded her as a “no,” but after seeing I did give a yes to Charlotte in Lost in Translation I changed my mind. While I think that Joel is the central character of Eternal Sunshine, Clementine is distinct from say, Summer in (500) Days of Summer, who might as well not breathe air if she doesn’t do it in front of Tom. So Clementine is one of 23 characters I coded as having her story told and being a love interest.
The numbers might be slightly off for the victimization figures, especially where the victimization didn’t make it into the Wikipedia plot summary. Straight-up victims include the villain characters who are killed in the film (e.g. Annie Wilkes from Misery), which is part of the reason I added the second column to find out how many of these characters were, in the Law & Order parlance, “special victims.”
20 characters undeniably die within their film, three more are characters in a series of films who die before the last installment. Three characters’ fates are ambiguous or vary depending on the cut of the film.
One question I wanted to explore, but ended up throwing out because I could not come up with a consistent standard, was “Is the character hyper-sexualized?” I basically wanted to see how many Jessica Rabbits there are on the list (note: at least one). But I found myself wanting to click “yes” for every character who is at all defined by the male gaze, and that risked obscuring female desire AND injecting more academia than I can handle.
The demographic coding was probably the hardest, because as interested as I was to see how representative this list is, I felt oogy imposing identities on people, even fictional people.
- So many of the characters are children or otherwise not expressed in a sexual enough way for me to have any guess as to their sexuality. Just to be clear: there are four characters who explicitly desire and/or have consensual sex with women. This doesn’t mean that 96 of the characters on the list are straight. Just one example of not knowing how to code here is Sugar Kane from Some Like It Hot, she ostensibly falls in love with Joe while believing he is a woman.
- In the 4 characters of color, I am including Chihiro from Spirited Away because her character is Japanese in nationality and was originally voiced by a Japanese actress, even though her animated appearance doesn’t clearly indicate her race and her English-dub voice actor is white. I am not including Audrey 2 from Little Shop of Horrors even though her voice actor is a black man, because she’s not human or humanoid. Similarly, I didn’t code Lady or Dory as white, irrespective of their voice actors, because assigning a race to a dog and a fish gave me a headache.
- I drew somewhat arbitrary lines for the age groups: child is age 12 or younger, teen is 13-20, young is 20-35, middle is 35-60, and no character is older than that. I had to guess A LOT, sometimes relying on the actor’s age when they played the part.
- As such, I lack confidence about all of these statistics, and I welcome comments suggesting changes.
I wanted to explore the demographics on this list along other dimensions of the kyriarchy, but gave up.
- Determining the class of characters in movies I haven’t seen, especially those set in societies I am unfamiliar with, was too hard for me. I hope someone else takes that up.
- None of the characters are explicitly trans.
- None of the characters are physically disabled at the start of their films.
- I didn’t have enough information to sort out how many characters have mental disabilities. Again, I’m very curious how this would play out.
Conclusion: Probably the most surprising thing I learned from this exercise is how many women screenwriters were active in the Golden Age of Hollywood. As for the lack of diversity in the list, the high number of characters who are merely lovers or helpers to male protagonists, and the high number of characters who are victims, I’m sadly unsurprised. While Total Film is not blameless (I could, and maybe will, do a separate post excerpting all the sexist language that appears in the write-ups for the characters), we shouldn’t forget that some (maybe a lot) of the blame falls on the movies themselves. Here’s hoping that the next 100 years of cinema produce so many full, rich women characters that no one needs to turn to killer plants to round out their list.
Showing my work: Master spreadsheet (Google Document) (Many film spoilers within)