Anti-heroes have long reigned among the best characters in movie history. Names that come to mind? Travis Bickle, Michael Corleone, Max Rockatansky, Patrick Bateman, John McClane, and more.
Anti-heroes are extremely flawed people, yet we follow their journeys and regard them as the “heroes” of their own stories. They’re non-traditional people with non-traditional stories.
But for a long time, movie anti-heroes have always been men. It wasn’t until recently that women leads really took hold in cinema, let alone women anti-heroes. Fortunately, there’s been a growing wave of movies that shine a light on female anti-heroes.
And they are as cunning, dangerous, and deceptive as their male counterparts. Possibly more! From killer pupils to serial killers, you won’t want to mess with them. Here are our picks for the best female anti-heroes in movies.
10. Cassie Thomas (Promising Young Woman)
Cassie Thomas is a 30-year-old woman traumatized by a rape that she and her classmate faced while in medical school.
Frustrated that no inquiry was pursued by the school or the law, Cassie takes matters into her own hands—and hunts down her perpetrators in one revenge scheme after another.
Played by a career-best Carey Mulligan, Cassie is a victim of an oppressed system. It’s no wonder she took the vengeful path of luring predatory men and making them learn bloody lessons. While her fate is sealed, Cassie willingly takes that road to win justice for her friend.
9. Harley Quinn (The Suicide Squad)
Harley Quinn was already a fan favorite of DC fans before her live-action debut in 2016’s Suicide Squad. Margot Robbie’s portrayal of the anti-heroine stays loyal to her roots, but with her own quirks.
For starters, she begins as The Joker’s psychiatrist but transforms to be his partner-in-crime. After they break up though, Harley finds her own misadventures, whether it be tagging along with a group of female vigilantes or reuniting with her squad.
She always stands out with her kooky schemes, her trigger-happy fighting skills, and her hunger for breaking norms. She’s also appeared in Birds of Prey and The Suicide Squad.
8. Mallory Wilson Knox (Natural Born Killers)
Natural Born Killers is one of the most controversial movies of its time, mainly because its main characters—the Knoxes—go on a crime spree. Mallory is a product of a disturbed childhood, an abusive household, and a manipulative partner with equally harmful tendencies.
Mallory Knox has anything but a moral backbone. She perceives any crime as a means to feel satisfied—and it gets scarier when her trauma triggers her violent tendencies.
In the end, she and Mickey become cautionary tales of how criminals came to be. But in their minds? They are heroes.
7. Lisbeth Salander (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo)
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Lisbeth Salander is an expert hacker and freelance investigator for Milton Security. Her exploits as a vigilante start when journalist Mikael Blomkvist hires her to solve the mystery of the disappearance of heiress Harriet Vanger.
Ever since, Salander becomes intent on stopping criminal activities by powerful figures to seedy syndicates. Who could blame her? Like many others on this list, she was abused in her past, which propels her to throw those immoral acts right back at criminals and abusers.
6. Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Batman Returns)
There have been several portrayals of Catwoman, but none stands out more than Michelle Pfeiffer’s Selina Kyle. Kyle starts as an awkward secretary for Max Shreck but gets resurrected after he tries to kill her. Donning a new alter ego, she aims to exact revenge on him.
Catwoman is basically the femme fatale of Batman Returns. Batman is smitten by her presence, and their connection complicates matters as they attempt to stop an evil plot brewing over Gotham.
Nevertheless, with her seductive charms, flexible strength, and surprising wit, Catwoman gets the job done with finesse.
5. Veronica Sawyer (Heathers)
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Veronica Sawyer belongs to a popular high school clique called The Heathers. While she feels satisfied in her popularity, she longs for a more normal state.
That longing becomes more apparent when one of the Heathers swears revenge on Veronica. This prompts her to go on a revenge streak with her newfound friend J.D.
Heathers is a coming-of-age tale of how bullying can twist a person’s mind. Veronica lets her virtues be challenged by her murderous revenge plot—and she pays the price for it. Nevertheless, we can all relate to Veronica’s plight over the growing pains of childhood.
4. Tracy Flick (Election)
Tracy Flick is a “Type A” student: ambitious, smart, and willing to seize every opportunity to benefit herself as a student. Her motivations to run for school election set her on a course where she does everything to be the winner—even the most malicious acts are fair game.
The character of Flick is the archetypal no-nonsense manipulative student. Her lofty plans are just a tiny part of her long-term plans for power and influence. And seeing Flick’s cunning tendencies, you can see some real-life parallels in politics.
3. Bonnie Parker (Bonnie and Clyde)
The “better” half of Bonnie and Clyde, Bonnie Parker started with a simple-yet-mundane life. That is, until she met Clyde Barrow, who attempts to steal her mother’s car.
Enamored by his rebellious nature, she follows him… and they fall in love, literally becoming partners in crime.
The personality of Bonnie Parker has been glamorized as a stunning take of an outlaw, and she has many admirers who think of her and Clyde as folk heroes. But make no mistake: Bonnie turned to a life of crime, viewing it as her own act of heroism.
2. Thelma Yvonne Dickinson and Louise Elizabeth Sawyer (Thelma & Louise)
Thelma Dickinson and Louise Sawyer are inseparable best friends who decide to take their problems to the road.
However, as they go on the run for a crime inadvertently set by Thelma, more problems arise. Soon enough, they’re pursued by the authorities. But what matters is that friendship remains strong.
Many see Thelma & Louise as a groundbreaking female empowerment road movie of its time, and it’s easy to see why. While they’re truly caustic and unsound, they own up to their flaws and manage to overpower the men around them. Is that not anti-hero in a nutshell?
1. Beatrix “The Bride” Kiddo (Kill Bill: Vols 1 & 2)
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Finally, we have The Bride from Kill Bill to finish off this list of awesome female anti-heroes in movies.
Beatrix Kiddo was a member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad. When she discovered that she was pregnant, she decided to abandon the group—but her boss Bill ruined her chances at a normal life, which set her on a path of vengeance against her old squad.
The Bride holds no bars when it comes to the Deadly Vipers attempting to murder her and her unborn child. She does everything in her ability to seek justice, having no remorse when killing her perpetrators.
Seeing her journey and her exploits, you will understand why she’s considered “the deadliest woman in the world.”