Viola Davis And 18 Other Women Who've Led Blockbuster Movies With Amazing Performances

Viola Davis as General Nanisca in The Woman King
(Image credit: Sony Pictures Releasing)

Let me tell you something that truly changed my life as a young girl – women in movies. There are so many blockbuster films that I watched as a kid and fell in love with because of not only the content I was viewing, but the badass actresses I was watching on the screen. From sci-fi horror movies to dystopian young adult films, I have and will always be in love with these amazing actresses who put their all into leading these blockbuster movies to success – or having standout roles that I truly can’t forget. Here are some of my favorites, from Viola Davis to Sigourney Weaver.

Viola Davis in The Woman King

(Image credit: Sony Pictures Entertainment)

Viola Davis (The Woman King)

Obviously, we need to start this list with a killer performance from 2022, Viola Davis in The Woman King cast. She's had plenty of awesome roles before that you might recognize her from, but her portrayal of General Nanisca, of the real-life warrior women, the Agojie, did something to me and wow, I’ve never been terrified of Viola Davis kicking my butt, but here we are. If you haven’t had the chance to watch her in this fantastic Black-led film, please do so.

Charlize Theron as Furiosa in Fury Road

(Image credit: Village Roadshow Pictures)

Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road) 

The Mad Max: Fury Road cast was filled with stars who have gone on do plenty, but everyone always talks about Charlize Theron, who portrayed Furiosa in the critically acclaimed post-apocalyptic action film. There’s a reason why there’s a prequel film coming out about her character – she was badass, a killer, and I would watch her over and over again if I could. 

Shuri and her mother in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Letitia Wright And Angela Bassett (Black Panther: Wakanda Forever)

After the tragic passing of Chadwick Boseman in 2020, the Marvel Cinematic Universe took a different turn in the world Black Panther, putting T’Challa’s sister, Shuri, and his mother played by Letitia Wright and Angela Bassett, at the forefront. Through their strong performances in a story about Wakanda post-T’Challa, and their journey through grief, they gave compelling performances. Bassett was even nominated for an Academy Award for her role in the film. 

Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods in Legally Blonde.

(Image credit: Twentieth Century Fox)

Reese Witherspoon (Legally Blonde)

If you want to talk about one of the most iconic college films of all time, Legally Blonde needs to be on that list. The story is of a former fashion student, played by the lovely Reese Witherspoon, who goes to Harvard in order to win her boyfriend back. Elle Woods is the picture perfect example of when you put your mind into something and being able to achieve it – and she did that and more once she got into that school. Witherspoon's Elle was the perfect casting. 

Zoe Saldana in Avatar.

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

Zoe Saldana (Avatar Films)

Let’s be honest – when it comes to the Avatar films, we all remember Neytiri more than Jake. He’s cool and all, but Neytiri. 

Avatar: The Way Of Water Review: James Cameron Strikes Gold Again With A Gorgeous, Thrilling Return To Pandora

Na'vi and whale in Avatar: The Way of Water

(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

Check out our review for Avatar: The Way of Water.

In both Avatar and Avatar: The Way of Water, Zoe Saldana gave an incredible performance as Neytiri, not only as a warrior but as a mother in the sequel, showing amazing emotions through a motion capture performance. 

While Zoe Saldana is known for many other amazing roles (like playing Gamora in the Guardians of the Galaxy series, and Uhura in the Star Trek franchise), showing just how much of a badass she is, there's really nothing quite as amazing as her role in these films.  

She’s right up there with Andy Serkis with these incredible motion-capture roles. You can’t help but love her. 

Michelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All at Once

(Image credit: A24)

Michelle Yeoh (Everything Everywhere All At Once)

If you haven’t had the chance to watch the Best Picture winner, Everything, Everywhere, All at Once, I’d highly suggest watching it, if not just for Michelle Yeoh’s incredible performance. Winning the Oscar for Best Actress, Yeoh is electric in her starring role as the matriarch of this movie’s family, and displays an impressive range of emotions and badass martial arts that makes this film fantastic. Trust me when I say every bit of time viewing this movie is worth it. 

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss doing three finger salute in The Hunger Games

(Image credit: Lionsgate)

Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games Series)

Jennifer Lawrence was someone that I grew up watching in The Hunger Games franchise, and while I am excited for the prequel film that will star another great young actress (Rachel Zegler), no one can defeat the powerful performance that Lawrence gave through all four movies. A revolutionary like Katniss, living in a world that is overcome with chaos and unfairness, and leading a war for freedom is the perfect example of what a reluctant leader is, even though she rocked her responsibilities at the same time. 

Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow)

You want to hear a fun story? When I saw Marvel’s Avengers with my dad, way back in 2012, when I was thirteen years old, I knew nothing about superheroes, only that most of the popular ones were male. Then I saw Black Widow (played by Scarlett Johansson) and looked up at my dad and said, “she’s a girl.”

Ever since then, my love of superheroes blossomed, but it always started with me seeing someone like me on the big screen. While I personally believe Black Widow should have happened sooner in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there’s no denying that Johansson delivers a stellar final performance playing the role that made me love Marvel in the first place. 

Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman walking into No Man's Land

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman)

Let’s talk about another female superhero – one I did know way back when, Wonder Woman, and how Gal Gadot is literally the perfect person to play the iconic role, both in Wonder Woman and its sequel. She had the beauty of the famous character, but was able to bring a fierceness I had never seen, a bravery that made me want to go out and be as strong as her. I’ll always be upset that the chances of her continuing to play her are low now, but I enjoyed her as the hero for the time that we got her. 

Uma Thurman in Kill Bill Vol. 1

(Image credit: Miramax)

Uma Thurman (Kill Bill Vol. 1 And 2)

God, do I love a vengeful woman. There’s something about watching a girl be a complete badass and take down her enemies that I adore, and both Kill Bill movies, starring Uma Thurman, are just that. While she has been in plenty of other amazing films, her as the Bride was utter perfection and I would, hands down, dress up as her for Halloween if I could. Definitely one of Quentin Tarantino’s best – and yes, I still want to see a sequel years later. 

Sigourney Weaver in Alien

(Image credit: Twentieth Century Fox)

Sigourney Weaver (Alien)

An icon among icons; you can’t have a list like this and not bring up Sigourney Weaver. Famous for her role in the sci-fi horror film, Alien, she is the blueprint for badass female action stars. Ellen Ripley is an iconic character in every shape and form, but she could only become as historic as she is now thanks to Weaver’s portrayal. She was even nominated for an Academy Award for her performance. 

Angelina Jolie in Maleficent

(Image credit: Disney)

Angelina Jolie (Maleficent)

Disney villains sometimes get a bad rap, but let me tell you, I never thought I would feel bad for Maleficent, who seemed to be the pure portrayal of evil in Sleeping Beauty – that was until the live-action Maleficent, where she was portrayed by Angelina Jolie. 

I swear, anything Jolie touches ends up turning to gold, but her as Maleficent did something to me. She was able to still accurately portray that viciousness that made her such a good villain in the first place, but add so much heart to the character I never thought possible, including a backstory that truly shook me. In terms of live-action Disney villain movies, you can’t get better than this.  

Sandra Bullock in Gravity

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

Sandra Bullock (Gravity)

Fun fact – Gravity is one of the only films in my life that I ever felt sort of sick while watching – because who wants to imagine spinning around in space for hours. But that doesn’t mean Sandra Bullock’s performance wasn’t amazing. Featuring the story of astronauts who are stranded in space after their shuttle is destroyed, Bullock truly shows what terror is like with her performance, and made me quite scared of space. She even got an Academy Award nomination for it. 

Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in Star Wars.

(Image credit: Lucasfilm)

Carrie Fisher (The Star Wars Movies)

While we can talk about iconic Star Wars characters like Luke Skywalker or Han Solo, let’s be honest – they wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without Princess Leia, played by Carrie Fisher. Featuring an iconic performance in all three original films, as well as the sequels later on, Carrie Fisher made young girls want to travel the galaxy and be just as brave as her, as she did for me. While Natalie Portman and Daisy Ridley also brought us iconic characters like Padme and Rey, there’s no one quite like Leia. 

Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.

(Image credit: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution)

Julia Roberts (Pretty Woman)

Julia Roberts is a queen of rom-coms and has truly helped create some of the best movies, and one of my favorites from her is Pretty Woman. An iconic film about a sex worker getting to live a life of luxury after being hired and falling in love with a rich man, Roberts gave the performance of a lifetime and made us all believe in love – also receiving several nominations and awards for her performance in the film. 

Neve Campbell in Scream.

(Image credit: Dimension Films)

Neve Campbell (Scream)

Scream is probably one of the most iconic horror franchises of all time and certainly one of the best horror movies ever, but what is Scream without its final girl, Sidney Prescott? Portrayed by Neve Campbell, the actress brought the character to life for five Scream films before ultimately not coming back to the role for Scream VI. However, she became many people's favorite final girl with how she always made it out alive – with a gun in her hands. 

Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried in Mamma Mia!

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Meryl Streep And Amanda Seyfried (Mamma Mia!)

Last but not least, we need to talk about Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried, both of whom are just amazing in Mamma Mia! Admittedly one of my favorite movies, these two actresses perfectly capture the relationship between a mother and daughter, while also having their own compelling storylines of finding love on a remote Greek island. You really can’t get better than them. 

These are just few performances from blockbuster movies that are led by women, and I’m sure there are some I'm missing, but if you choose to watch any of these films for any reason, you won’t be wasting your time. Every single one of them is absolutely amazing. 

Alexandra Ramos
Content Producer

A self-proclaimed nerd and lover of Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire, Alexandra Ramos is a Content Producer at CinemaBlend. She first started off working in December 2020 as a Freelance Writer after graduating from the Pennsylvania State University with a degree in Journalism and a minor in English. She primarily works in features for movies, TV, and sometimes video games. (Please don't debate her on The Last of Us 2, it was amazing!) She is also the main person who runs both our daily newsletter, The CinemaBlend Daily, and our ReelBlend newsletter.