The film industry has been a male-dominated realm for too long and have proven time and again how men do not know how to write believable women. They have always inherently sexualised female characters or presented them as mere love interests that perish under the searing male gaze.
With the advent of increased female representation, both behind and in front of the camera, gender roles and stereotypes have been subverted. Women have reclaimed their agency and managed to work in collaboration with men to write female characters who are complex, layered, strong yet vulnerable.
Silent or loud, strong both emotionally and physically, these female characters often go through brilliant transformations. They are no longer demure representations of the Victorian Angels in the House. They are fierce and funny, with a hint of chaotic madness. Often wavering between lines of moral and immoral, they represent a great deal of diversity and revel in the glory and euphoria of their complex characteristics.
These characters leave a considerable impact on the audience and often gather a cult-like following. Across cinematic history, femme fatales have been showered with love and appreciation but these new badass female characters add a twist to that trope with their every-(wo)-man-like characteristics.
Ahead of International Women’s Day, take a look at the ten most badass female characters on Netflix that you must watch out for:
The 10 badass female characters on Netflix to watch out for
Eleven – Stranger Things
Millie Bobby Brown does a spectacular job of portraying the elusive Eleven with her laconic dialogues and powers of psychokinesis. A victim of human experimentation and severe abuse at the hands of a doctor, Eleven battles severe trauma and claustrophobia. However, she battles with her inner demons to help her friends.
In all her glory and vicarious love for Eggos and Mike Wheeler, eleven is one of the strongest characters in the show. While it is heartwrenching to see her being rejected by her mother, she finally finds solace in the affectionate arms of her adoptive father, Jim Hopper. Selfless yet brimming with dignity and self-respect, Eleven is a force to reckon with.
Kang Sae-byeok – Squid Game
One of the most badass and brilliant characters on the show, Jung Ho Yeon’s Kang Sae-byeok is well-known for her resilience and perseverance in the show. She participates in the game to rescue her brother but dies in a tragic turn of events at the hands of a desperate fellow participant.
Despite being constantly intimidated by the stronger bullies in the game, her determination and courage are unwavering. Behind her tough facade lies tragic vulnerability and fear regarding her family’s safety. Her death becomes a focal point in the series and Ho Yeon manages to make the character equally emotional and bold.
Maeve Wiley – Sex Education
Emma Mackey portrays this ultimate badass feminist icon with the right amount of poise, sass and strength. Unabashed, unapologetic, courageous and a massive Sylvia Plath fan, Wiley thrives with her ultimate “bad girl” reputation in the school. Having grown up in a broken home, Maeve is unbelievably resilient and strong and one of the most empowering and empathetic characters on the show.
Headstrong and bold, her struggle subverts various stereotypes regarding female characters and champions her agency over her body and mind, especially when she clashes with pro-life activists over her choice to get an abortion. While viewers root for her and Otis’ will-they-won’t-they romantic angle, Maeve Wiley is glorified for managing to prevail as one of the strongest and most inspiring characters on the show. Despite being an unfortunate survivor of various atrocities meted out to people, Maeve’s self-awareness and lack of feminine glee humanise her and makes her sail through life with unwavering courage and determination.
Beth Harmon – The Queen’s Gambit
Anya Taylor-Joy received unbridled praise and accolades for her brilliant and moving performance as Beth Harmon in the show. The series revolves around her perilous journey in the male-dominated realm of chess as a chess prodigy while battling emotional and psychological turmoil, substance abuse and increasing alcoholism.
Taylor-Joy won a SAG award and a Golden Globe for her brilliant portrayal of Harmon who managed to stay afloat in the patriarchal world of chess. The actress helped deal with the issue of addiction quite delicately and even spoke up about the dichotomy in the reception of a male alcoholic and a female alcoholic where the former is a tortured male genius while the latter is seen as a bad role model. Adding vulnerability and complexity to her character, Anya Taylor-Joy managed to subvert the stereotypes associated with female characters and rose above them to bust myths and make Harmon as human and realistic as possible.
Claire Underwood – House of Cards
Scheming, pragmatic and calculative, Robin Wright’s Claire Underwood is the human embodiment of Lady Macbeth and her ambitions. Even viler than her husband, portrayed by Kevin Spacey, Underwood becomes the 47th President of the United States and holds an unbridled sense of dominance and authority.
Ruthless and cunning, Underwood loves achieving her self-interests more than everything else. Sinister and ambitious, Wright adds a compelling aura of sinister sensibility to the character who is nothing short of a charming and enigmatic Machiavellian villain.
Freydis Errikson – Vikings: Valhalla
Frida Gustavsson quit her modelling job to star as Freydis Erriskon in the latest Netflix spinoff series. When Freydis arrives at the Viking abode of Kattegat, she is seen seething with rage to seek vengeance for an act of sexual aggression. As a child, she was raped and “converted” by a Christian Viking who carved a cross on her back. While Freydis seeks her revenge in a very cathartic turn of events in the first episode itself, she becomes an integral character in the show.
While her brother fights alongside her love interest, Freydis wages wars of her own and becomes a transformed marauder. A strong female lead and an underdog, she is the embodiment of Viking courage and glory and prevails as one of the most fascinating characters in the show.
Polly Gray – Peaky Blinders
The late Helen McCrory portrayed the badass Polly Gray in Peaky Blinders, becoming an icon alongside Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy and others. While she did a brilliant job as her character, McCrory tragically passed away in 2021 during a silent battle with cancer, leaving a massive hole in the heart of the series and her co-actors, especially Murphy. The aunt of Murphy’s character, Thomas Shelby, Polly Gray is one of the strongest female characters on the show who was the unofficial head of the Shelby family during the Second World War, acting as her nephews’ coveted advisor.
A feared matriarch with her iconic style, the show bid adieu to Gray’s character by showing her demise at the hands of the IRA in retaliation to her nephews’ attempted assassination of Oswald Mosley. The show bid a bittersweet farewell to McCrory’s character who remains alive in the iconic portrayal of her character.
Latrice Butler – Seven Seconds
While the crime thriller series was never renewed for a second season, Regina King’s performance as Latrice Butler won her critical acclaim and recognition. Based on Yuri Bykov’s film The Major, the series saw Butler’s 15-year-old son as the victim of a hit and run accident with a white police officer.
In her heartwrenching battle with grief and justice, Regina King adds a layer of empathy and compassion to her character as a grieving mother. She fights racial injustice amidst the tense socio-political climate to seek justice for her dead son in this grim and fearless portrayal of the same. The character won Regina King an Emmy.
Annie Landsberg – Maniac
Emma Stone portrayed the character of Landsberg in this 2018 miniseries with Jonah Hill. battling with borderline personality disorder, Annie has troubled relationships with her late sister and her manipulative and pathologically lying other. Depressed, disillusioned and disoriented, Lansberg is a painfully realistic and human character with all her flaws, demons and vulnerable emotions.
Stone does a brilliant job of making her character tense, believable and extremely rooted in realism as she ponders over past relationships. A brilliant actress, she effortlessly mingles into the roles bestowed on her in her conscious and subconscious and upholds a heartbreaking portrait of her character’s situation.
Nola Darling – She’s Gotta Have It
Based on his 1986 film of the same name, Spike Lee ventures into the world of the Brooklyn-based artist, Nola Darling as she tries to navigate life, career, relationships and friendships. Portrayed by DeWanda Wise, Nola Darling is fascinating, complex, unapologetically sexual, flawed and human. A “sex-positive polyamorous pansexual”, Darling is vocal and proud. She is quick to say that she is neither a “freak” nor a “sex addict”.
Defying the stereotypes and gender roles, she refuses to be guided by a man and says that she is “nobody’s property”. Ambitious, mature and perhaps one of the most self-actualising characters in the history of Netflix female leads, Nola is a survivor whose perseverance and determination keeps her going, besides her unwavering passion for art.