The 43 Most Badass TV Heroines
A celebration of the ladies who empower us from the small screen, both past and present. In no particular order.
1. Murphy Brown, Murphy Brown
CBS / Via hilariousclinton.tumblr.com
Investigative journalist and news anchor Murphy Brown, played by Candice Bergen, has been fighting the patriarchy since the 1980s, proving her aptitude in a notorious boys’ club. She’s at the top of her game — smart and tough — and she was a pioneer in her pursuit of single motherhood.
2. Dr. Mindy Lahiri, The Mindy Project
FOX / Via sureguysure.tumblr.com
Mindy Kaling’s Dr. Lahiri is a beacon of hope for those who are killing it in one aspect of life, but struggling in others. She’s partner at her OB-GYN office but still kind of figuring out who she is and who she wants to be, but she’s truthful in and proud of that journey. She’s even willing to bear the unspoken secrets of womanhood — no shame in the maintenance of body hair.
3. Selina Meyer, Veep
Technically Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Selina is second in command, but everyone knows she’s running that shit. Working tirelessly and at times ruthlessly toward the next election, she’s bound to land what she really wants: the presidency.
4. Buffy Summers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Twentieth Century Fox / Via spaceslayer.tumblr.com
The obvious reasoning here is that Buffy, played by Sarah Michelle Gellar, is a vampire slayer. She kills vampires in her spare time, when she’s not busy with school or her friends or her dating life. But here’s the thing: She’d be on this list even if she didn’t kill monsters. She’s strong physically and emotionally, she refuses to be underestimated, she’s the protector of her friends and family (and also, the world), and she’s dedicated to her principles.
5. Clair Huxtable, The Cosby Show
When we were younger, Phylicia Rashad’s Clair was the ideal mother; now, she’s just the ideal woman. Brilliant, compassionate, strong-willed, and social-minded, this lawyer is the boss at home and on the job.
6. Lt. Abbie Mills, Sleepy Hollow
You don’t want to cross Nicole Beharie’s Abbie Mills, the real hero in Sleepy Hollow’s fight to save the world. It’s not that she’s fearless as she takes on the demons looking to bring the apocalypse; it’s that she shows remarkable strength in the face of that fear. And she’s got the best quips in town.
7. Agent Dana Scully, The X-Files
FOX / Via wilfulwilf.tumblr.com
Gillian Anderson’s Dana Scully approaches the world with healthy skepticism, never relinquishing her trust in her own mind even when facing things that challenge her beliefs (like, say, an alien abduction). She’s smart enough to know that there are things she doesn’t know, and she’s a loyal and capable partner to Mulder — who honestly probably owes his life to her.
8. Sun-Hwa Kwon, Lost
Sure, Kate has more screen time and that juicy love triangle, but Yunjin Kim’s Sun is so much more of a compelling hero. Her story begins with an attempt to get out of an unhappy marriage (during which she asserted her independence by secretly learning English on the side) and she comes into her own on the island, surviving and protecting those around her on her own terms.
9. Roseanne Conner, Roseanne
Roseanne Barr brought working-class family life to the mainstream through Roseanne, presenting a strong, loving, principled matriarch who’s a little rough around the edges. She always has her kids’ backs, even though she often demonstrates it with tough love, and she never sacrifices her own sense of self.
10. Lisa Simpson, The Simpsons
FOX / Via eye-fvck.tumblr.com
This young feminist, voiced by Yeardley Smith, is a girl we can all aspire to be, refusing to be pigeonholed and never ashamed of her more scholarly pursuits. Known to fight for the causes she believes in (which range from the political to the religious to the environmental), she isn’t afraid to challenge the world around her, and all at the tender, perpetual age of 8.
11. Bette Porter, The L Word
Showtime / Via ask-nier.tumblr.com
Bette, played by Jennifer Beals, is a big deal in the art world. She’s co-gallery owner and director of the California Arts Center, and uses that cred to push for visibility of feminist, queer art in more traditional galleries. She’s creative, perseverant, intimidatingly powerful.
12. Olivia Dunham, Fringe
FOX / Via celoewe.tumblr.com
FBI Special Agent Olivia Dunham, played by Anna Torv, follows in Dana Scully’s footsteps, delving into supernatural mysteries with determination and a brilliant mind. She’s used to standing up against the skeptics in the world, even when she’s a bit skeptical herself, which is helped by her innate sense of justice. It’s all just part of the job.
13. Peggy Olson, Mad Men
AMC / Via madison-avenue1964.tumblr.com
As the sole female copy chief in the male-run 1960s advertising industry, Elisabeth Moss’ Peggy has shattered the glass ceiling. She knows exactly what she wants from her career and demands it from herself and those around her, and now she gets to kick back and enjoy being a boss.
14. Veronica Mars, Veronica Mars
The CW / Via loganmars.tumblr.com
Veronica Mars, played by Kristen Bell, is similar to Buffy in that her accomplishments are made even more impressive for her age. The quick-witted teenage detective starts out searching for her best friend’s murderer but her talent leads her on a trail toward the darkest secrets of her hometown. She’s wise beyond her years but still undoubtedly a teen, with all of the crushes, school drama, and occasional naiveté that come with it.
15. C.J. Cregg, The West Wing
NBC / Via tumblr.ericjgeller.com
As the White House press secretary, Allison Janney’s C.J. is the best at putting the people (usually men) around her in their place. She never shies away from the blunt realities of the political world, and she’s adept at combating any and all sexist nonsense that comes with it.
16. Lana Winters, American Horror Story: Asylum
FX / Via horrorstorygifs.tumblr.com
She’s held captive in an evil asylum, tortured, and almost murdered, but still investigate journalist Lana Winters, played by Sarah Paulson, doesn’t give up the story. Ambitious, driven, obviously resilient, and ultimately successful, she follows through on her word to shut down the corrupt institution and she makes it out with hordes of fans.
17. Nyota Uhura, Star Trek
Paramount Pictures / Via startrekgifs.tumblr.com
Nichelle Nichols originated the role of Chief Communications Officer Uhura — groundbreaking for a black woman in 1966 — and continued to portray her through the first six Star Trek films (as seen above). She proves herself a canny and heroic leader, manning the helm when necessary, and rises through the ranks to ultimately become a commander.
18. Sarah Manning (and Co.), Orphan Black
BBC America / Via wilfulwilf.tumblr.com
Tatiana Maslany is a force to be reckoned with on Orphan Black, playing con-artist Sarah Manning as well as the nine clones she discovers in this sci-fi drama. Street-smart Sarah gets pulled into the world of illegal human cloning with her daughter and foster brother after witnessing the death of one of her clones. Originally looking out for only herself, she realizes her own compassion as she meets her other equally impressive clones: the police detective, the mom, the grad student, the assassin, and more.
19. Leslie Knope, Parks and Recreation
We’ve seen the highly motivated Leslie Knope, played by Amy Poehler, achieve her goals — both in her relationships and her career — and, more importantly, we’ve seen her jump back when she’s come up against failure. She’s an ally of all women everywhere, an incredibly loyal friend, and an overall unstoppable force.
20. Blanche Devereaux, The Golden Girls
NBC / Via the-goldengirls.tumblr.com
Rue McClanahan’s Blanche is ahead of the curve when it comes to sex positivity, celebrating her sexual appetite and refusing to be ashamed. She’s passionate, confident, open-minded, and the best friend a girl could have.
21. Dr. Callie Torres, Grey’s Anatomy
ABC / Via greysanatomy-seattlegrace.tumblr.com
Sara Ramirez has portrayed a heartbreaking (and heartwarming) journey of self-discovery in orthopedic surgeon Callie. She’s controversial, initially judged for her competitive drive and unwillingness to put up with anyone’s shit, but she’s respected by her peers for her undeniable talent. As she explores and embraces her sexuality, she proves herself to be a loving and loyal friend, wife, and colleague.
22. Mary Richards, The Mary Tyler Moore Show
CBS / Via fromthemotionpicture.tumblr.com
Where to begin? Mary Tyler Moore’s Mary Richards was a single, successful woman working as an associate producer for a news show in Minneapolis in the 1970s, and she would’ve been groundbreaking for any one of those details, but she was all of them. Any one of the female roles on this list can be traced back to her.
23. Jackie Peyton, Nurse Jackie
Showtime / Via mr-sali.tumblr.com
Nurse Jackie, played by Edie Falco, is supremely flawed. We meet her in the midst of a pill addiction, an extramarital affair, and something of a prolonged nervous breakdown. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t rooting for her. She’s in a constant negotiation with herself as a loving mother, a skillful nurse, and a human being who is perpetually annoyed by any incompetence around her.
24. Detective Olivia Benson, Law and Order: SVU
NBC / Via mariska-chris-olivia-elliot.tumblr.com
Detective Benson, played by Mariska Hargitay, is a voice for the victims and an advocate for women everywhere. She’s experienced her own trauma, and channels it into the often demoralizing fight to bring down criminals as a Special Victims officer. She’s brave, empathetic, resilient, and would make you feel safer than even her partner Stabler could.
25. Emily Fields, Pretty Little Liars
ABC Family / Via trippsonfire.tumblr.com
Shay Mitchell’s Emily is strong both physically (as a competitive swimmer) and emotionally (as an out lesbian in high school). She’s overcome more than her fair share of trauma, having suffered the death of her ex-girlfriend, but she comes out a survivor — proud, kind, and loyal.
26. Daenerys Targaryen, Game of Thrones
HBO / Via robbandkit.tumblr.com
Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys starts as a pawn in her brother’s power play, but she becomes irrepressible when she decides she that wants that power for herself. She proves herself a powerful, rebellious, yet compassionate leader with an army of thousands (and three very loyal dragons) behind her.
27. Jessica Pearson, Suits
USA / Via hangeyzoe.tumblr.com
Jessica, played by Gina Torres, is the boss, heading a law firm that’s in charge of some of the country’s most influential clients, and she runs the show with apparent ease. She’s quick-witted, cutthroat when she needs to be, and demands the best out of those around her.
28. Dr. Joan Watson, Elementary
CBS / Via filifeels.com
Some folks were in an uproar over the casting of a female Watson in this modern Sherlock Holmes reboot, but Lucy Liu more than rises to the task. The former surgeon isn’t just a companion; her expertise, emotional intelligence, and overall support are vital to the cases, and she keeps the detective on his toes.
29. Amy Jellicoe, Enlightened
HBO / Via mccalldana.tumblr.com
Laura Dern’s Amy Jellicoe takes the dangerous stereotype of the hysterical woman and turns it on its head, proving a woman can get angry and come out (mostly) unscathed. After a rehab stint following a public nervous breakdown, the idealistic and at times naive former executive is on a path to self-betterment. But it’s not enough that she alone is better; her whistle-blowing campaign proves she expects the best from the world around her too.
30. Donna Meagle, Parks and Recreation
NBC / Via yesknopemaybe.tumblr.com
Who doesn’t want to be Donna? Played by Retta, she is confidence embodied, casting an irresistible spell on everyone she meets. She’s smart, steadfast, more empathetic than she lets on, and she isn’t afraid to indulge in the occasional fine fur.
31. Abbi and Ilana, Broad City
These ladies, played by Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, come as a pair because their friendship is an intrinsic part of their empowerment. The show is a love letter to female friendships, and together they take on the world — flawed but capable, liberated, self-assured, and endlessly supportive of each other.
32. Sydney Bristow, Alias
ABC / Via wifflegif.com
Jennifer Garner’s Sydney is almost a machine — a highly trained, kickass spy machine. She’s a master of martial arts, can transform herself into any identity, speaks dozens of languages, and is a real danger to anyone dumb enough to be her enemy. But the best part is that she isn’t a machine. She’s a human being with real relationships, emotional depth, and relatable humanity.
33. Liz Lemon, 30 Rock
NBC / Via chardbodies.tumblr.com
Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon is a victory for the everywoman, showing that you don’t have to be a superhuman master of your career/love life/closet to be a badass boss. She struggles as creator and head writer of The Girlie Show, just as she struggles in her dating, but it hardly ever gets her down. She’s tenacious, sympathetic, hilarious, and — most important — ever unapologetic.