5 Must-See Movies With Female Protagonists

14 min read

From Zendaya’s powerful performance in Challengers to Anya Taylor-Joy’s adventures in a dystopian universe, female characters are leading the charge in cinema

Gone are the days of shoe-horning female characters into male-centric tales as women in cinema are finally being given the opportunity to take over entire narratives — be it in the form of dystopian warriors or tennis protégés. The year has seen quite a few fantastic films already and if you’re in the mood to watch a woman in the lead, we’ve picked out the crème de la crème of recent releases.


With Zendaya capturing attention across all things cinema and fashion, it isn’t surprising that Challengers tops the list of must-see films.

Featuring Josh O’Connor and Mike Faist alongside Zendaya in the leading role, the riveting sports drama follows three tennis players during their formative years and their journey through love and competition. A tennis player turned coach, strong-headed Tashi Duncan embodies an athlete’s ardent passion and perseverance that remains throughout their life. Tashi coaches her husband as he takes on his former best friend and wife’s ex-boyfriend in the court. The nuanced portrayal and coming-of-age angle is par for the course with Luca Guadagnino, director of Call Me By Your Name, behind the camera. Challengers shines as a meticulous sports film, capturing the intricate details of the game without compromising on entertainment, complete with love triangles and the catharsis of human emotions.

Looking beyond the plotline, Zendaya’s portrayal of Tashi is a fashion statement in itself as none other than LOEWE creative director Jonathan Anderson serves as the film’s costume director. She commands attention while nailing Hamptons chic in Chanel espadrilles and timeless Cartier timepieces. From on-court action to stylish sidelines, the film is a visual treat. Whether you seek a story of strength or a celebration of courtside fashion, Challengers is a must-see for your next movie night.

Poor Things

Bizzare and peculiar, the characters in Poor Things are just as theatrical as one would expect in an absurdist play. The plot, leaning heavily on the gist of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, is about Bella Baxter, a woman who is brought back to life by unorthodox scientist Dr. Godwin Baxter. With the brain of a child and a body of an adult woman, Bella’s fantastical evolution is the focus of the entire narrative.

Winning the Oscar for her stellar performance in the movie, Emma Stone carries the weight of the movie as she portrays Bella. Accompanying the lauded acting, the Victorian setting and semi-punk influences in the film ensure an exciting, aesthetic experience for cinema-goers. While the oddity of this “young” woman’s tale is its selling point, it has been known to leave a few uncomfortable – with a child’s brain, Bella ventures into the world, forging her path and learning about herself in the process.

This isn’t a film for the faint of heart. Bella’s journey, both hilarious and disturbing, confronts the complexities of identity and desire. Yet, for those with a taste for the macabre and a penchant for the unconventional, Poor Things offers a uniquely captivating experience.

Laapata Ladies

Female agency is the crux of the plot in Laapata Ladies, an Indian film exploring the lives of two new brides as they make their way to their marital homes. The brides, Phool Kumari, played by Nitanshi Goel, and Jaya, played by Pratibha Ranta, are accidentally swapped on a train as they are mistaken for one another thanks to similar wedding dresses and identity-concealing veils.

The story unravels as the two lost women find their way back to their initial destination, and simultaneously find their way back to themselves, through delightful self-discoveries courtesy of their new surroundings.

Set in rural India, the movie offers an interesting portrayal of Indian culture and an interpretation of what the patriarchy looks like with its grappling hold on the female community. Light-hearted while challenging the norms of traditional society, the movie manages to convey an important message with the right amount of comedy lacing its plot points. While Phool learns a trade, Jaya enrols herself in college as this comical mishap allows them to operate outside their “designated” societal role. If a laid-back, feel-good movie is your choice for whiling away the day, settling in with Laapata Ladies is a no-brainer.

Back To Black

Fantastic lives lead to fantastic stories — Amy Winehouse’s biopic Back to Black is one of the very few films that manages to capture the ups and downs of the music industry and musicians with ease. Told from the perspective of Winehouse, the plot follows her rise to fame after the release of her acclaimed album, Back to Black.

Marisa Abela plays Winehouse and does it tremendously well, gaining her all the praise she can gather. Back to Black does not venture into every aspect of the singer’s life, however, it manages to depict her music and marriage respectfully and in a detailed manner within the scope of the movie. Straying away from the typical tone of a documentary, the loosely based plot requires hardcore Amy Winehouse fans to watch with an open mind.

An ideal watch for those that would like to be privy to the lives of celebrities, Back to Black satisfies every curiosity.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga

Set to release in the UAE on 23 May, Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga is the much-anticipated prequel from the Mad Max universe. The story revolves around Furiosa, Mad Max: Fury Roads lead female character, who is played by Anya Taylor-Joy.

Taking place in a post-apocalyptic hellscape, the cinematography is expected to be nothing short of thrilling in the franchise’s latest offering. The film will follow Furiosa as she journeys through the magnificent world of Mad Max, bringing the audience along on her adventure as she explores the intricacies and (often life-threatening) corners of the functional world in order to find where she belongs.

Femininity takes many forms on the silver screen today, abandoning the typical trope of damsels in distress. Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga offers a refreshing take, as it chronicles the rise of a female warrior, a woman forging her own destiny amidst the dystopian chaos.

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  • Words by Amia Hasheel