Finally, some girls in pop culture with grit

badass-girls_320.jpg I think one of the things that I love most about the Hunger Games series–Suzanne Collins’ riveting dystopian trilogy that everyone seems to have either read and loved or is currently reading and loving–is that it stars a girl. Not just any girl, mind you. It stars Katniss Everdeen–as resilient and competent and scrappy and flawed as any hero in pop culture that I can remember. She’s 16 years old. She’s not silly nor love struck nor a hand-wringer when it comes to boys or her appearance. She is a fighter, without ever seeming cartoonish.

“It’s an amazing character for a girl,” says Hunger Games producer Nina Jacobson. I asked Jacobson if she could name any other girls in pop culture with Katniss’ mettle and she paused for a minute. “Lisbeth Salander,” she finally said, referring to Stieg Larsson’s marvelously resourceful and spectacularly whack hacker heroine in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. “And I think that’s the only one you can really point to and it’s not YA literature. So she’s much more scary than Katniss. She’s more damaged than Katniss. She’s a really dark character, and she’s the backbone of that book as well. But other than those two characters it’s a very short list.”

I’d like to add two more  to what remains an inexcusably short list: First, there’s Ree from Daniel Woodrell’s 2006 novel and then the breathtakingly good movie adaptation of Winter’s Bone. It’s a classic quest story, though in a neat twist the hero at the center of said quest is a girl. As played by stunning newcomer Jennifer Lawrence, Ree is the tough, flat-mouthed big sister trying to hold her family together in a meth-soaked Ozark mountain town. She stares down some dead-eyed villains without sacrificing her core of strength and goodness.

And then there’s stoic, no-nonsense, quick-tongued Mattie Ross from True Grit, played by a similarly delightful find Hailee Steinfeld. Mattie is a girl intent on avenging her father’s death; she’s the truest and bravest of the posse that sets out to find his killer. I found it fascinating that in the end her character never marries. In the brief flash we saw of Mattie as a grown woman, she struck me as deeply funny and unfussy and practical—a blend of who I’ve always imagined Allison Janney and Cherry Jones to be, two women I’d want in my life boat by the way.

Steinfeld and Lawrence have a shot at Oscars in a week’s time. The Hunger Games goes into production this spring, though which actress—and she better be good and tough if she’s going to represent District 12—will play Katniss remains a mystery. Rooney Mara is going to put her own spin on Noomi Rapace’s blistering turn as Lisbeth Salander in the David Fincher adaptation of Dragon Tattoo. So many interesting young women to root for and wish well. They offer some sweet relief in a culture where every hour-long crime drama opens with the shot of a mutilated woman and every tabloid salivates over a starlet gone wrong. More please. More of these girls who would make Clarice Starling proud.

Well PopWatchers, who am I leaving off the list? Is this the sign of something new and exciting or just a lucky run of interesting characters? What do you think of either Hailee Steinfeld or Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss?

Comments (284 total) Add your comment
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  • Erica

    Would Hit Girl be a painfully obvious response? She does tend to be cartoonish sometimes, but that’s the nature of Kick-Ass as a whole. She’s got the moxie and vulnerability of a real little girl, but she’s also unbelievably badass.

    • Emma

      No. HitGirl is a ridiculously cartoonish fanboy-salivated fantasy, concocted by a man who happens to have no idea how the female mind-young or old- works. HitGirl is the typical guy with boobs image…a female who can kick ass with the best of them, in that impersonal, dettached, omnipotent way that only comic book characters can. The good thing about the females mentioned in the article is their strength, of character, of spirit, of humanity. Thank God the crappy cartoon of Hit Girl was left off the list.

      • LOL

        Emma fears Hit-Girl.

      • thin

        She may fear Hit Girl, but she’s right.

      • Me

        I completely agree with Emma. Hit-Girl isn’t the type of character that belongs on a list like this. She is very much like the stereotypical child badass in a fighting anime. Not a real type of person. You may go in life and meet a Katniss Everdeen, Lisbeth Salander, Ree or Mattie Ross in your life. And that’s what makes them more admirable. But, a Hit-Girl character is pure fictional 1-D entertainment.

      • ellen

        Yeah, Emma is right, even though I love Hit Girl.

      • Cris

        I dunno. I found Hit Girl to be a far more realistic character than Lisbeth Salander.

      • therealeverton

        I’m curious as to why you think Mark Millar has no idea how the female mind works Anyless so than anyone else who isn’t a female?

      • tweetybenbo

        bang on analysis! *gives thanks for sense*

      • Jawz13

        This response is terribly silly. Hit Girl is not a sex symbol, she’s just a bad-ass…I mean she’s like 12. Anyone who thinks that is hot rather than kickass should be put in jail!

      • harry

        Hit Girl FTW!!!

      • Jim

        hit girl is a cartoonish character but at the same time still awesome and NOT in a sex symbol way…she was 121!! OK that being said, Hit Girl wouldn’t be playing the part of Katniss, but rather the actress Chloe Moretz, who is a fine young actress. although I do think she is too young, maybe she could be prim. if you wantto see some good actresses do a youtube search for hunger games videos and look for the one that is called Katniis and Rue, its a short film of the scene where rue dies, the actresses are very good, professional actresses but not well known

      • Shannon

        dude… in the comic hit girl is like… 8yrs old… and totally warped as a child, so i dont really think they were trying to accurately portray a little girl… it was just pure comic-book antihero old school.

    • Liz Lemon

      Someone else whose unbelievably bada*s = Sydney Bristow.

      • Heidi

        I was thinking that as well – just remember that sweetheart cutie Jenn Garner was Sydney Bristow. You don’t need to look for a tough girl. In fact its even cooler when you get a dimpled adorable actress who learns to be tough. Cute girls are strong too :)

      • Peter

        HELL yes, Sydney Bristow!

    • J. Davis

      I don’t believe Hit-Girl works for this list but the comic book version of her embodies the qualities @Erica listed.

    • DiMi

      I’m a feminist, and I agree with Erica and disagree with Emma. I think Emma’s interpretation of Hit Girl is too extreme and shallow. Yes, Hit Girl is problematic, but she is also interesting, complex, and compelling. She is not merely cartoonish, although she is somewhat cartoonish because she is in a cartoon-style film. (We see many cartoonish images of women in non-cartoon genres) However, Hit Girl is also both fierce and vulnerable, which I think makes her an interesting role model for girls. In the scene when she beats up everybody to rescue her dad and then says something like, “Show’s over M-F-s!” and then shoots out the camera, I believe she is making a hilarious feminist critique of objectification. I find her interesting, and I don’t think she should be dismissed with such a shallow critique.

  • bgw

    The Sucker Punch movie shows promise…

    • tipsy

      Lol. Cartoonish size 0 skimpy-clad chicks as gritty fighters. So passe.

      Tarantino ladies and Cameron ladies all deserve to be on the girls with a grit list.

      • Wha’ever

        As if. Tarantino ladies are as cartoonish as the Sucker Punch girls probably are. Maybe not in every movie (Melanie Laurent’s character in Inglourious Basterds is half-believable for instance) but you’ll never meet the Kill Bill chicks in real life.

      • Terry

        Well, she’s not a girl, but Tarantino’s Jackie Brown was one tough woman. And after seeing it I can’t think of anyone but Pam Grier in that role.

      • Woot

        Jackie Brown, Beatrix Kiddo, Shosanna Dreyfus, all the women from Pulp Fiction. I think Tarantino writes great roles for women.

      • bootsycolumbia

        Jackie Brown doesn’t count as a Tarantino woman. She’s a character from an Elmore Leonard novel.

      • Becca

        Shoshanna the girl from Inglorious Basterds was totally badass. Her performance was chilling. The movie screen performance was ruthless. Even if the Basterds hadn’t blown up the theatre she would have single handedly killed Hitler and ended WWII. What’s more bada** than that?

    • thin

      I don’t think it really does show promise, at least not on this topic. An abused girl gets sent to an institution, where her solution for a hard life there is to retreat in her mind to a fantasy world. Maybe the movie will play out differently, but I don’t see a lot of female character empowerment set up in the trailer. It seems kind of entirely the opposite to me.

  • Maeve

    I’m sorry but I read the Hunger Games and the last book was so horrible that now I hate them.

    • Lauren

      I don’t get why everyone hated the last book so much. I mean it wasn’t amazing, but I didn’t have a problem with it.

      • Holly

        I was disappointed with the last book because I thought it was much too rushed. I think the author realized halfway through that she hand enough material to cover four books, but it was called a trilogy so she had to get it in. Too much was vague and little to no explanation, plot threads were left hanging, and too many questions remained. I enjoyed the series very much, but I was very disappointed in Mocking Jay.

    • Amy

      I thought the last book to The Hunger Games was a great ending for that series. I do think the first book was the best but the last one was fantastic.

      • Maeve

        I don’t want to give anything away to anyone who hasn’t read the series, but I feel like the last book was just way too dark and depressing. And don’t get me started on the morphling and hiding in closets.

      • Torey

        Maeve – Actually, her responses, especially the hiding in closets, are reasonably consistent with someone who has sustained such physical, mental, and emotional trauma. She’s what, eighteen years old in that book?
        I don’t know about you, but I would be deeply traumatized by those experiences, and I’m generally pretty tough-minded.

      • Carrie Ann

        I thought the last one was fantastic, too. It was actually my favorite…What was the problem with the morphling? She wasn’t addicted to it. They gave it to her after her terrible injuries, while she was recovering. Johanna was the one who became addicted. They’d both been through hell, twice.

      • thin

        Torey, I think that’s kind of the point. It was all very realistic, and it was all the more depressing for it. I can’t find any fault with how it was written, but I sure was down after finishing it.

      • Cris

        Anyone who thought the series was going to end with sunshine and lollipops was seriously deluding themselves. The books were very realistic and very dark, and as someone else mentioned above, Katniss’ actions and reactions were very consistent for someone who had been as traumatized as she had been throughout the series.
        The series ended on as happy a note as it possibly could. While it wasn’t my favorite of the three, I still ripped through it in two nights and thoroughly enjoyed it.

      • Mocha

        I loved the first book, enjoyed the second, and completely adored the third. Even though it was darker than the first two, it was essentially a book about war. Did I feel a little depressed after reading it? Yes, but since it was written so realistically, as Thin said, that was kind of the point. It’s hard to read a well-written book with that subject matter and not feel sad.

    • MKR

      I loved the whole trilogy, including the last book. Was it dark? Sure. But for me, anything else would have been dishonest to the world she created and the story Collins was telling.

    • Mel

      I HATE hearing this response from people. I’m sorry, but COME ON! It’s a book about war not a romance novella. It’s hard and frustrating and confusing. Katniss is suffering from PTS and is being forced to lead people twice her age. Through all of that she NEVER backed down or dissolved her core of inner strength. It didn’t wrap up with the good guys winning and the bad guys getting their due. War isn’t like that.

      I loved the last book. It was the perfect ending.

      • Rio

        you are absolutely on target – I thought the whole thing was perfect

  • Lauren

    Hailee Steinfeld is the only known actress I want to play Katniss. If not her, then I hope it’s an unknown. And I want the guys to be unknowns too.

    • HC

      yea I would love to see Hailee Steinfeld play Katniss. But Jennifer Lawrence would be an awesome choice too. Both are wonderful actors so either way you can’t lose.

      • Kris

        Kaya Scodelario is my choice. She’s exactly what I pictured in terms of appearance and she’s already played a deeply damaged character in Skins’ Effy Stonem so I know she can pull it off. No offense to Lyndsy Fonseca cause I love her and Alex is very damaged [on Nikita] as well, but dramatic scenes aren’t her strong suit (she’s very good at comedy). I hope she doesn’t get it.

      • Deanna

        I agree about Kaya for Katniss. She showed amazing range as Effy.

    • eralane

      other than Hailee I’d like to see madeline carroll get the part. she was great in flipped.

    • Heidi

      What about Katie Stevens from the movie FISH TANK? She was incredible, and it was her first role. She’s still relatively unknown but was critically acclaimed as a breakout star after the film was released.

      • Heidi

        sorry is it Katie Stevens or Katie Jacobs…can’t remember.

    • JT

      Hailee would be great but I think she’s just too young. She turned 14 just a couple months ago. Katniss was 16 in the first book which isn’t a huge difference, but the part requires a level of physicality and intimacy that I just don’t think Hailee’s ready for yet. If this movie was made 2-3 years down the road she’d be perfect.

  • Katy

    I would say any female character from “Avatar: The Last Airbender”, although particularly Toph. I’m referencing the tv show here, the movie cut out most of the female heroes and watered Katara down into a simpering idiot, but in the show there is not a single female character that is not a well rounded force to be reckoned with.

    • bamalam

      I loved Katara…but they really “gave up” on her in the 3rd season. We all knew it was going to be a showdown between Zuko and Azula, and only them, so when Katara was paired up with Zuko in the final battle, she was useless. But she was awesome in season 2!

      • therealeverton

        How was she useless, Zuko set it all up but who was it that finally defeated Azulla?

        And Blood bending!

    • MajorWhoaButWhy

      Toph is a good one, but Suki was my favorite. She was tough and a leader, but also knew how to have fun and her whole being wasn’t able to be described as “the tough girl”- she was well rounded.

    • Sara

      True, true. For that matter, let’s look at some of the source material and throw in some of the heroines from Chinese martial arts dramas, like the women of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

  • Alice

    Hailee Steinfeld as Katniss the whole way! After her performance in True Grit she was made for that part.

  • Ellen O’Neal

    I would like to add Katsa from “Graceling” to the list. She’s a very strong female character who is a skilled fighter. She is also in the YA fiction world.

    • Kimberly

      I just finished that book and I totally agree. It’s refreshing to see girls in young adult literature who are so independent, even though she’s a little clueless on how guys feel about her. But, aren’t most girls confused by guys?

      • lza

        Totally agree. And Fire from Fire, the next in the series as well.

    • YA Reader

      thank you Ellen! I was going to suggest this as well. Excellent book with a strong and gutsy female protagonist.

    • Meloukesm

      I was just going to post Katsa!! Definitely a strong female character!! One of my favorites.

      A couple others: Lyra from Golden Compass series, Liesel from the Book Thief, Hari from Blue Sword by Robin McKinley, DJ from the Dairy Queen series, Frankie from The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, Attolia from the Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner…okay I will stop now. Katniss is by far my favorite, but there are a lot of great strong female characters in YA literature!!

      • E

        I can’t believe no one has made a film adaptation of The Blue Sword. Now that would make an amazing movie. Producers should look that way!

    • Jenn

      And how great was that book? So beautifully written.

    • E

      Yay, Katsa! Graceling is a fantastic book, and she certainly shares a kinship with Katniss.

  • bamalam

    Does Hermione from Harry Potter count? I mean, she had boy problems but they were never really front and center or anything and she totally kicked ass in the final book, getting everyone out of trouble countless times.

    • Katja

      I’d agree with Hermione as a girl with some grit. She saved the day so many times – she was awesome. As for other badass females, I recently read and enjoyed Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy, which follows a number of characters but primarily focuses on a teenage girl who is gifted with great power and wields it with a vengeance (while also enjoying the very occasional ball). My husband and I have actually talked about how we’d like to make sure our future kids read these books for the example of an ass-kicking girl who can take care of herself in a tough world.

      • Cat

        Brandon Sanderson is very good at writing strong female characters. Sarene from Elantris and the two princesses from Warbreaker are also very good examples.

    • chris

      I did miss Hermione from this list.She might not be the in-your-face type of badass, but she is bad-ass with her intelligence and cool thinking. As Ron said in the movie “They would not last two days without her.”

    • LadyTiger

      Yes! Hermione is a great female character – smart, brave, and willing to stand up for her beliefs and her friends.

    • fireflystare221

      For sure! I was shocked when Hermione was off ths list. She is brave, intelligent, loyal, and has a great heart. Ron was totally right, him and Harry would not have lasted without her. She was the brains fo their operation which makes her badass for me. Also, she isn’t a young character but Molly Weasley deserves a shout out for “NOT MY DAUGHTER YOU B*TCH!” Hahah.

      • mcf

        Highly support adding Hermione Granger to the list. In addition to her brains and resilience, let’s not forget she clocked Draco Malfoy. No one would cross her when she had a wand handy.

    • Liz Lemon

      Hermione definitely counts. Not only is she brave, strong, and a bada*s but the girl is intelligent. Gotta love her! :D

    • Jenny

      I’m with you that Hermione is a great example of a strong female character. She was the brains of the operation and Ron and Harry would be completely lost without her. And I think, one of the great things about her was that she had romances. Being a strong female character doesn’t mean no intimate relationships, it means not defining yourself by those relationships which Hermione never did. She was her own person with or without Ron (or Krum :) ). BUT I don’t know if she qualifies for this list since she’s not the main character of the books- that was Harry.

  • Cate

    My favorite female characters (especially considering they are YA) have always been Tally Youngblood and Shay from Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies trilogy. These girls are ferocious, and while they do have issues over boys, they don’t let said boys take over their lives. I seem to remember Uglies being slated to be made into a movie, but haven’t heard anything about it in some time. Anyone who hasn’t read these books is missing out!

    • kmb

      I love Uglies!!!

  • Patrick


  • V

    About 10 years ago there was a series called “Fearless”. They were by Francine Pascal who wrote the Sweet Valley Series. Anyone remember this?

    • Sally

      I do! I loved the character of Gaia

    • KC

      Yes! I was just taking about Gaia w/ my sister the other day when discussing past/present YA Fiction. We both read those back in the day. Good books and definitely an a**-kicking female character.

    • Gael


      im way amped that someone else remembers this series. it was my favorite back in hs and i still think about it sometimes

  • Madison

    This may not be a good one, but my sisters love the Galigher Girl series by Ally Carter and the Uglies series. Are there boy issues? Yes. But do the girls kick butt and are they totally independent. Heck yes.

  • rob

    does it have to be recent? because ive been rewatching buffy thye vampire slayer on DVD and buffy summers would eat these girls for breakfast. (too be fair i havent read the hunger games, but i doubt her charachter could beat buffy).

    • Torey

      In a straight physical confrontation, probably Buffy. But Katniss specializes in ranged weapons, so she’d try to pick Buffy off from a hiding spot.

      • Meredith

        But then Buffy would use her Slayer senses to deflect the attack, yeah? Plus she can attack something she can’t see – I’m recalling the training scene where she threw a ball at Giles while blindfolded and nailed him in the head. She also kicked a$s when she temporarily lost her powers in season 3.

      • rob

        i thought this katmiss charachter was a fighter in futuristic gladiator rings? are the stadiums really big? usually in those situations you have 1 on 1 melee fights. if it was anything 100 yards buffy would probably sense the attack like meredith said. i dont know how long range “long range” is though. if buffy was sniped from like a thousand feet her slayer senses might not work. but that would be kinda cheap. wow im such a nerd. i should probably check out the books.

      • googliezoo

        Rob, they call it an arena in the book, but it’s really acres of any sort of environment. Could be desert, forest, mountains. In Katniss’ case it happens to be forrest with a lake as well. It’s not really like the Gladiator’s in that there is more strategy. You must survive for weeks having to feed yourself and find a way to either attack and kill or avoid your foes.

    • Petunia

      I knew at some point this would devolve into who would kick who’s a**……

  • Carrie Ann

    I loved Katniss Everdeen and Mattie Ross. In fact, I’m hoping Hailee Steinfeld will play Katniss in the upcoming “Hunger Games” movie. I think she would be perfect.

  • Torey

    Hermione Granger is pretty awesome. Or you could go with Hermione-lite Annabeth Chase, who seemed to know her weaponry.

    • Maeve

      Agree with both — although movie Annabeth isn’t quite as impressive as book Annabeth.

      • Meloukesm

        Annabeth from the movie was terrible.

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