Nothing warms the heart like a good romantic comedy. If you like to end a movie feeling as light-hearted as the main character who just found true love, you have certainly come across a common element that has been in a great deal of rom-coms since the very beginning: a strong female lead.
To be fair, there are a lot of great movies with tedious main characters, but who would want to follow the life of somebody they don’t like? By betting on presenting an iconic main girl to the story, it will probably come with the “rewatchability” factor – that hard-to-define thing that gives us the need to come back to that movie every now and then as if it was the first time. What makes us feel that way can go from a unique fashion sense to a distinguished personality trait, but don’t worry: when you see it, you will know it. If you like chasing that feeling, let’s remember some iconic girls in romantic comedies that you certainly haven’t forgotten, but are always great to look back at.
- Cher Horowitz – Clueless (1995)
If there is a character who is remembered and adored by multiple generations, is Cher Horowitz, from Clueless. While the movie is based on Jane Austen’s Emma, the main character played by Alicia Silverstone is as unique as can be – just like her iconic yellow outfit.
Raised among the elite of Beverly Hills, Cher is simply oblivious to the world outside her high-society high school bubble. The beautiful rich girl does have a kind spirit, but since her nightmare scenario involves bad outfits and single friends, her fulfillment comes from doing makeovers and being a matchmaker for those around her. Her arrival to the screens was a cultural reset. Not only is she clueless, but Cher is also timeless.
- Kat Stratford – 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
In this modern version of Shakespeare’s “The taming of the Shrew”, Julia Stiles is Katarina Stratford, a rebellious teenage girl who is so difficult to deal with. To keep both his daughters from dating, her father imposes a new rule: Bianca, her younger sister, can only date when Kat does – which she doesn’t plan on doing so soon.
In attempt to break this rule, a scheme is made by some of the many boys who fall at Bianca’s feet, with one single problem: who could be brave enough to get close to Kat? The tough outside is effective in keeping everyone away, and the rule she lives by is to never do anything just because other people are doing it. Deep down, Kat is afraid of getting hurt, and just as much as the irritated parts of her, the sensitive side she hides resonates with everyone who follows her story – one that is hard to forget.
- Regina George – Mean Girls (2004)
The Leader of The Plastics, – the trio formed by the most popular girls in school – Regina George is the villain of Mean Girls. Played by Rachel McAdams in the 2004 cinematographic production and later portrayed on Broadway in a musical version, Regina is not the main character, but has a strong presence that is even on the movie title: she is the meanest of mean girls.
If she has a vulnerable side, no one has ever seen it. Even Regina’s friends are pressured to keep up with her standards and have their own rules to follow – which gave us the famous quote “On Wednesdays we wear pink”. The meanest thing about Regina, though, is that she has something bad to say about everyone, but always does so with a smile on her face, seeming to have no consciousness of her actions at all. When Cady (Lindsay Lohan) decides to get close to her to destroy The Plastics from the inside, the display of power begins and we realize the good girl doesn’t always win.
- Rachel Chu – Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
If there is a movie that can be called a cultural reset, that is Crazy Rich Asians. As one can realize by simply taking a glance at this list, most romantic comedies are portrayed by white people, which does not happen in this book adaptation, recognized as the first major Hollywood studio feature to have Asian actors as the majority of the cast in a modern-day setting since 1993.
Rachel Chu, the main character, is a strong woman who was raised by a single mom and worked hard to become an economics professor at NYU. When her boyfriend invites her to meet his family in Singapore, Rachel has no idea of the challenges she is about to face but does not give up on proving her worth. In the most gracious way possible, Rachel shows it is conceivable to be assertive without coming off as disrespectful or letting go of what you want.
- Poppy Moore – Wild Child (2008)
Poppy Moore is a spoiled Beverly Hills teen who drives her dad over the line and gets sent to a boarding school in England. From Los Angeles to her worst nightmare, Poppy sees her luxurious lifestyle threatened by the new rules she must follow; the only solution is to get herself expelled by doing what she does best: being a wild child.
Played by Emma Roberts, Poppy Moore is one more rebellious girl who only acts this way to hide her emotional side. From her shopping addiction to the way she talks, Poppy falls into a lot of stereotypes, but her story is full of twists and turns that make her more than a childish American girl alone in Britain.
- Holly Golightly – Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
If you are into classics, you have certainly heard of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Starring Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard, the movie shows the notorious Holly Golightly, a New York socialite who doesn’t have any money and aspires to marry somebody who does.
Holly is easygoing and says everything that comes to mind – including a moving speech about how the only place where she feels like nothing can hurt her is at Tiffany’s. She is incredibly funny and so afraid of commitment that her own cat does not have a name, because, according to her, “they don’t belong to each other”. After 60 years of different romantic comedies being produced, no combination of casting and backstory has ever created someone quite like Holly Golightly, one of the most remarkable characters in the history of rom-coms.
- Elle Woods – Legally Blonde (2001)
Elle Woods is simply an icon – and not just in fashion. Portrayed by Reese Witherspoon, this iconic character spent her life being seen as someone vain because she fell into the stereotype of a sorority girl who cares about her looks. You can imagine everyone’s surprise when she got into Harvard Law to follow her boyfriend’s steps and showed that Elle Woods was not just a pretty face in a pink outfit.
It is always nice to see an arrogant guy get dumped by a smart woman who just realized her self-worth, but Elle did not stop there. Despite struggling in the beginning, she never gave up and she worked hard to be acknowledged as a true professional. Watching Elle’s story unfold while she proves herself over and over shows one can never judge a book by its cover.
- Andie Anderson – How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003)
Andie Anderson (Kate Hudson) aspires to write about politics and economics but works at a magazine where she is just a how-to girl. When the chance comes to turn the situation around, she is willing to do whatever it takes, even if it means being a nightmare of a girlfriend to an incredibly nice guy.
She is headstrong and independent, but differently than the stereotype, Andie knows how to have fun, and that is exactly what she does when she is assigned an article on “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days”. With an opponent who is just as persistent, Andie’s creativity is put to the test, and the borderline-crazy clingy girlfriend part becomes harder to play with every passing day.
- Olive Penderghast – Easy A (2010)
What do you do when untrue rumors are spread about you? Well, most people would be concerned and quickly try to fix the situation, but not Olive Pernderghast. Inspired by the famous novel The Scarlett Letter, this hilarious story begins when Olive’s virginity starts to be questioned by the entire school, and she sees an opportunity to make a social advance – as well as a financial one.
Aware of all the attention focused on her, Olive decides to turn her personality around to match her new reputation – or at least that is what everyone else sees. While she is as bold as can be, this high school student is quite an intelligent, funny, and sensitive person, whose lies come from a place of empathy and trying to help the ones around her. If you describe yourself as being so afraid to hurt people you just can’t bring yourself to say no, Olive is the perfect hard-to-forget character to show how dangerous that can be.
- Donna Sheridan – Mamma Mia! (2008)
In both Mamma Mia! movies – the 2008 original story and the sequel Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again –, Donna Sheridan is a character to remember. In Meryl Streep’s version, we see a grown woman who, through ABBA’s best songs, remembers her youth, which, in 2018, is presented by Lily James.
Donna Sheridan is who every naturally fearful person aspires to be: a dreamer, a free-spirited girl that charms everyone around her. ABBA’s songs are the background to this chaotic story that shows a beautiful mother-daughter relationship that brings out laughter and tears. Even with all her emotional pain and years of working hard on her hotel while being a single mother, Donna never lost her young and adventurous essence, and will always be remembered as the ultimate Dancing Queen.
- Mia Thermopolis – The Princess Diaries (2001)
Mia Thermopolis is an incredibly shy teenager who lives in San Francisco with her mother and plans on going through high school completely unnoticed. However, when her dead father’s mother comes to visit, Mia has the most surprising revelation she could ever have: she is a princess and the heir to govern a small country named Genovia.
What would be everyone else’s dream is Mia’s personal nightmare and the last thing she wants is for people to find out and make her the center of attention. Even if she plans on refusing the crown, Mia needs to be taught how to behave like royalty – an incredibly hard task for her grandmother, who will be her teacher. Through both movies that show Mia’s life, we get to watch her evolve, make mistakes, and grow into something she never thought she could ever be: a princess.
- Sara Melas – Hitch (2005)
Played by the beautiful Eva Mendes, Sara Melas is a career-driven journalist whose life revolves around writing about the gossip surrounding New York’s elite. Her work is always her priority and nothing ever comes before that.
Alex Hitchens (Will Smith), however, is a dating expert – who gives out advice that shouldn’t always be followed in real life – who knows exactly what to do to sweep her off her feet – or does he? The last thing on Sara’s mind is to find herself a boyfriend. The strong-willed journalist is someone who naturally hunts for the truth, and even at the risk of falling in love, she will not dismiss her priorities.
- Vivian Ward – Pretty Woman (1990)
Played by Julia Roberts at her prime, Vivian Ward is the character who opened the most doors for this incredible actress. The spirited pretty woman is, in fact, a prostitute who never apologizes for who she is and is always willing to stand up for herself.
Vivian is honest and aspires to have a better life, but her feisty exterior hides low self-esteem and fear that she will never be loved for who she is. Her only rule when it comes to clients is that she could never kiss any of them on the lips – it is just too personal. Like most roles played by Roberts, Vivian makes us cry and laugh in ways no one thought was possible. Filled with depth, that is what makes her such a remarkable character.
- Jenna Rink – 13 Going on 30 (2004)
What would you do if you could sneak a peek at your future life? For the 13-year-old Jenna Rink, the idea was more exciting than the actual thing, but no one can accuse her of not having fun with it. The movie starred by Jennifer Gardner and Mark Ruffalo is one that most certainly made everyone wonder what they would do in that situation.
Jenna is a fun, sensitive teenager who dreams of being popular and can’t wait to grow up. When she accidentally does, turning into a 30-year-old, her life is nothing like she had imagined. Turns out, she is a shallow workaholic who doesn’t care about the people around her. Along with the audience, this sweet innocent girl realizes the importance of valuing what you have and never forgetting to nourish your inner child.
- BONUS: Miranda Priestley- The Devil Wears Prada (2007)
While The Devil Wears Prada is not exactly classified as a romantic comedy, Miranda Priestley simply could not be left out when talking about iconic female characters. Editor of a prestigious fashion magazine, her presence is felt wherever she goes, and working for her seems like the hardest job in the world. Miranda’s harsh words are never screamed, but her calmness while making her point and assigning impossible tasks is exactly what makes her so terrifying. Miranda would do anything for her job, and her employees would do anything for Miranda.
The article above was edited by Rafaela Bertolini.
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