by John Bucher (@johnkbucher)
Hollywood has rightly been making necessary strides toward greater inclusion. One of the most significant areas has been in roles for women on both sides of the camera. While there is still a long way to go, writer’s rooms have been staffing women in higher numbers than ever before and theaters will be full of films with women in the lead role this month.
While it is thrilling to see women get greater opportunities, the trends won’t continue unless these projects do well at the box office. Here are ten women to go visit (and as students of character, learn from) at your local theater this holiday season.
Mary Stuart in Mary Queen of Scots
Based on the real-life story of Mary Stuart’s attempt to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I, who was also her cousin, this film features not one but two of Hollywood’s strongest female talents – Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie. Anyone familiar with history will know that things don’t turn out well for Mary, but the fascinating execution of a character who knows her fate is sealed is worthy of study for any writer.
Queen Anne in The Favourite
If Mary Queen of Scots leaves you longing for more royal mischief and two great female leads just aren’t enough, The Favourite is not only written by a woman (Deborah Davis) but also stars three incredible actresses – Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, and Emma Stone. While the tone and story may be unlike anything you’ve experienced before, the characters also offer something unique that we rarely see as writers – they are not focused on competing for a man.
Celeste in Vox Lux
This year we saw a pop star become an actor in A Star is Born. In Vox Lux, we see an actor (Natalie Portman) become a pop star. Writers can watch for something we rarely see executed in this story: longevity. The life of a woman over a period of 18 years.
Holly Burns in Ben is Back
While the film’s title suggests this is a story about a young man, it is actually about the journey of his mother. Ben, who has continually struggled with drug addiction, pops back into her life on Christmas Eve. In Holly’s character we find a woman dealing with the complexity that lies between what feels like love and what is actually love.
Clara in Clara’s Ghost
Not only did Bridey Elliott write and direct this film, but she stars in it alongside her real-life sister, father, and mother (who plays Clara). The story of an arrogant showbiz family that constantly pokes fun at the matriarch, Clara finds connection with a supernatural force. Writers often fall into stereotypes when it comes to tales of women aided by the otherworldly. This script challenges us with a very different take.
Hester Shaw in Mortal Engines
Scripted by two women, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, and starring two women, Hera Hilmar and Jihae, Mortal Engines is the story of a renegade with a price on her head. In a position we usually see filled by a man, Hester Shaw leads a rebellion with inspiration and swagger, expanding our ideas about what women can do on screen in genre films.
Mary Poppins in Mary Poppins Returns
Mary Poppins is a much-needed example of kindness, strength, and magic for our culture. She is an illustration of how a well-written character can transcend the archetypal nanny. She holds the rare ability to teach us something while having fun – a difficult task for writers to craft.
Maya in Second Act
Co-written by Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, this is the story of Maya, a woman looking for a second chance, as the title suggests. She finds it in a comical fashion that ends up being a ticking time bomb. More importantly, she reminds us that not every on-screen female character needs to be a woman in her 20s.
Erin Bell in Destroyer
The story of a police detective reconnecting with characters from her past as an undercover agent, Destroyer is directed by the Karyn Kusama, who has also helmed projects as diverse as Girlfight and Aeon Flux. While the film is a tour de force of acting by Bell’s character, played by Nicole Kidman, we would also do well to remember that deep inner journeys of peace have not often been roles written for women.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg in On the Basis of Sex
When Mimi Leder dropped out of directing Wonder Woman, many questioned where she would find another story that dealt as directly with empowerment for women. Clearly, she found it in On the Basis of Sex. Based on the true story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s road of trials on the way to being appointed to the United States Supreme Court, Ginsburg’s character deals with patriarchy both in the subtext and head on. Writers often struggle to show how a character’s inner journey plays out through her external narrative arc. This is a story that shows how it can be accomplished well.
John Bucher is a writer, speaker, and story consultant based out of Los Angeles. He is the author of several books including The Inside Out Story and the upcoming Secrets of Short Visual Storytelling. He has written for entities ranging from HBO to International Ambassadors. He teaches in the Joseph Campbell Writers Room at Studio School LA and at The LA Film Studies Center. John has also conducted story seminars on five continents. He can be reached on Twitter @johnkbucher and through his blog, welcometothesideshow.org.