10 Movies that Will Empower Young Girls

Before having a daughter I envisioned what she would be like. I assumed she would be anti-princess, and have zero interest in all things glittery.  However? Not what happened.  Not at all, actually.  If you ask my daughter what her favorite color is, she will tell you “pink and purple.”  Also, to my dismay, she wants to be princess Jasmine, or maybe even (gasp!) Ariel for Halloween.  Don’t get me wrong — my daughter is awesome. She is articulate and funny, creative, assertive and brave … and completely girly.  When she was a baby I truly believed that she would escape the societal mold of a pink, frilly girlhood, but alas, she hasn’t.   She is fully entrenched in it.  It’s something I actually find myself struggling with.  To balance out her love of all things princess, I try to weave in other role models.   I have tried my best to open up a whole new world to her filled with terrific characters that will empower her.  Without further ado here are my top ten girl-power movies.

1. Penelope (2006)

I adore this film.    It starts out like your typical fairy-tale — girl is cursed, girl must find prince to reverse curse and rescue her.  Only instead of being rescued by a prince, Penelope saves herself.  Penelope learns to love who she is, pig nose and all, and decides she doesn’t care what other people think.  She takes charge of her life showing girls the importance of believing in one self.

2. Whale Rider (2002)

Whale Rider is the embodiment of what a children’s movie should be.  It embraces s the idea that a female can be a strong leader.   Paikea, the main character in this film,  in my opinion,  may be the greatest example of  young female strength depicted on the big screen.  This movie is for older kids, middle school and up.  And if you haven’t seen it yourself? You’re missing out.

3.  Girls Rock! (2007)

This movie is a must see.  It is a documentary that follows the lives of four budding female musicians as they make their way through a summer rock camp.  It is funny and touching and heartbreaking all at once.  I love the real-feel of it. It’s an accurate portrayal of the lives of girls and what it feels like to be an outcast, but gain acceptance within yourself.

4.  The Wizard of Oz (1939)

Dorothy is a bad ass.  Time and time again throughout the course of this film she stands up for herself and forces those around her to do the same.  This movie speaks volumes for itself.

5.  National Velvet (1944)

This film, starring a young Elizabeth Taylor, features a girl who has heart set on competing in the male only Grand National horse race.   Velvet, Taylor’s character, goes on to win the horse race. It’s film about courage and strength, and the ability of a girl to succeed in a male dominated sport.

6.  Mulan (1998)

One of the few Disney movies with a powerful female lead. While it has its flaws, it still sends a message to young girls that there is much, much more to being just a pretty face.

7.  Akeelah and the Bee (2006)

A super-hero, intelligent, self confident, spelling-goddess — what’s not to love?  My favorite quote among many from this film is when Akeelah quotes Marianne Williamson in saying:

Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate; our greatest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

8. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

This is probably my favorite movie adaption of a novel.  The content is heavy and suited for somewhat older children but it’s a must see.  It opens the door for discussions on race relations, gender stereotypes, morals, and relationships.  I adore Scout Finch.  Enough said.

9. The Labyrinth (1986)

Jennifer Connolly does an awesome job of playing the role of a teen-aged protagonist.  The most powerful line in the movie comes when she proclaims to the goblin king:

“You have no power over me!”

10. The Secret of Roan Inish (1994)

This is an oft-overlooked film that most people have never even heard of.  It’s a magical story that is both quaint and heartwarming, told from the perspective of main character, Fiona.  Through the course of the film, Fiona, the film’s hero, is able to bring her family and community back together.

Honorable mention: Alice in Wonderland, The Little Princess, Annie, Paper Moon (for the older set) , The Secret Garden, PollyAnna, Matilda, and Inkheart.

What movies have you guys seen that really scream ‘girl power?’ (Aside from that Spice Girls movie.  Because that so does not even count.)

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41 thoughts on “10 Movies that Will Empower Young Girls

  1. Don’t worry about your daughter being girly, in fact – I have a quote for you: “It must be very powerful to be a girl if everyone is taught not to be one.” – Eve Ensler. :) Food for thought, innit.

  2. I think Alice from Alice in Wonderland. She is one of the only, if not the only, Disney heroine that doesn’t need a man to save/rescue her. She uses her own intellect and survives on her own.

    Of course, there are arguments made about the original texts that argue that Alice is incredibly passive and a mere observer of the events going on around her; but I think Disney’s movie does Alice great justice.

  3. I wore tutus and desperately wanted to be Princess Jasmine. I’ve never seen any of the movies on the list though. I should watch Whale Rider, though. It sounds good.

  4. I really liked Whip It. I thought seeing women being strong and athletic in favor of being a beauty queen was empowering.

    • I did really enjoy Whip It, but it still overdid the losing the virginity aspect. Yeah, you knew he was going to be a jerk and it was going to be devastating to her no matter what, so why drag it out so?

  5. Powerful, confident women don’t worry about the gender stereotypes attached to color. I am a feminist. My favorite colors are purple, aqua and pink. I love glitter. I love things that are cute. I love Disney movies, especially the classics, though I do sometimes struggle with the negative messages in them. I grew up playing with Barbie Dolls and dressing up as a Disney Princess at every opportunity, but I still grew up with feminist values because I had a wonderful mother who talked to me about being a strong, confident woman.

    • I’ve always been bothered by Disney’s narrow-minded idea of what it means to be female (i.e. to be in the control of your father and then to be in the control of your husband, only a heterosexual breeding-centric relationships is acceptable, all girls no matter how smart need to find a guy by whatever means necessary (exceptionally disturbing with Ariel and Belle)). I grew up with the movies and I’ve seen probably every Disney movie out there with the exception of the Princess and the Frog. But I think this Princess craze is very disturbing and basically brainwashing young girls.

      I gave my niece a copy of Feminist Fairy Tales and my SIL won’t read it to her because she thinks it makes the girls seem too bossy and masculine.

      I’m teaching The Mouse That Roared: Disney and the End of Innocence by Henry Giroux this upcoming Fall Quarter and it opened my eyes to a lot of problematic issues that arise with Disney.

      • You absolutely need to see The Princess and the Frog. Disney finally addressed the exact complaints that you and many women have had about Disney princesses for years.

        In the Princess and the Frog, Tiana is a girl who is focused on her dreams. She has goals in life and knows that you have to do more than just wish on a star to get what you want. She makes it quite clear throughout the movie that following her dream is far more important than finding some prince charming. In the end Tiana does end up with prince charming, but not because she’s boy crazy or realizes that she has to have a man in her life. She ends up with him because she recognizes the value of love and partnership. Tiana is a wonderful example of a strong female character.

  6. I’d recommend the animated films of Hayao Miyazaki. There are plenty of spunky gals who endure soul shattering challenges–ghosts, magical creatures, sick or absent parents–and emerge stronger than ever.

    Ah, sorry to nitpick, but the 1986 film is called LABYRINTH not THE LABYRINTH.

    (first time commenter)

    • I wouldn’t show Pan’s Labyrinth to anyone under 15. The violence and brutality in that fill was hard for me to swallow even as an adult. Pan’s Labyrinth is a beautiful movie and the young girl in it is quite strong, but I think it is also a movie best left until adulthood.

      • I disagree. Most fairytales we tell our children have the same amount or more violence and brutality than “Pan’s Labyrinth”. Besides, it’s very important for children to learn that there are bad and unfair things and people out there – that way, they won’t end up depressed by their 20s because they have unrealistic expectations of world and life because they were raised on illogical stories where things always work out for the main character for utterly arbitrary reasons.

        • VEDRANA: If you have any kids I seriously feel sorry for them. ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ is absolutely ***NOT FOR KIDS***. I wouldn’t even recommend it for young teens.

          An innocent young man’s nose gets bashed into his his skull and he dies. This was a pretty horrific scene and I am used to watching a lot of action movies with violence. It’s about as bad as that sidewalk head bashing scene in American History X.

          There are also some very creepy images and creatures like the gruesome monster in the dining table who eats Pan’s fairy friend.

          Not to mention the soldier torture scene.

          *BIG SPOILER:*
          An innocent little girl – Pan – is murdered by her evil stepfather. And you see her bleeding to death from the gunshot wound.
          *BIG SPOILER:*

          You really need to use more logic before recommending this type of film to parents. I hope that you are not a parent yourself because you sound way too immature and reckless. And if you are, I pray to God that your husband has more sense than you.

          • Whoah… I am loving the discussion but an appreciating the public “getting up on parenting high horses” to judge others’ opinions a bit less.

            Pan’s Labyrinth is a fable and it has a particular context: civil war. I personally would definitely not show it to any young child or to any teenager I did not find mature enough to watch it (let us leave generalistic age group labels aside) if I watched and could cut out the torture and violent scenes.

            My daughter watched it against my will when she was 9. Our culture is Spanish and she related to all the content very well. When she spoke of the film a couple of months later to me, I was shocked to know she had watched it but she confessed to not remembering any violent scenes at all.

            I explained to her that the time of the plot is the Spanish Civil War. We had a long discussion over the meaning of the film, whether the little girl really died at the end or not, why, etc… and it is today (she is 14) one of her favorite movies.

            The little girl in that film wants to save her little brother, she builds a powerful escapist universe to be able to cope with atrocity (how many women in this planet have the privilege of never seeing any war or violence around them?) and fights against a stepfather that embodies evil. I find her resilience and righteousness to be highly empowering, but maybe more particularly for women than for younger or more impressionable girls. So I would suggest parents watch the film beforehand and choose whether they want to show it to their kids one day.

            No point in judging anybody’s parenting skills, I believe. :-)

  7. I always like “A League of Their Own,” but it’s for older children as it contains language that some parents wouldn’t find appropriate for their children.

    I also like “Now and Then.” Not so much empowering, but a good story of sisterhood and sticking together.

  8. Pingback: Teenage Role Models: Miley Cyrus Drunk, Stoned, and Losing Her Virginity – Zelda Lily, Feminism in a Bra

  9. Loved your article Siobhan. While I must admit to not seeing all of your picks, I feel compelled to spend some time with my grandaughters watching many of your choices. After all, what could be better than enjoying an afternoon with your grandchildren at the movies and receiving some ‘empowerment’ at the same time.

    Also; move over Kevin Maynard, Roger Ebert, Gene Shalit, Elvis Mitchell, Leonard Maltin, Harry Nels and Devon Ferraci. I can see your name up there with the best of them as Siobhan Braun, Film Critic.

  10. I loved “paper moon” but I object to being “the older set”…lol….
    May I suggest a few to add to honorable mentions (while not movies…but fit your feminist theme)
    “Talespin”….set in the 1930′s…centers around a female bearess who against all odds sucessfully runs a male-dominated business…..
    “The secret of NIMH”….single mama mouse fights for her son’s life….who ultimately saves the day by relying on mom’s inner strength

    “The african queen”…..katharine hepburn convinces a man to use his ship to fight the germans in ww one….and she’s the fearless leader here.

  11. Lol, I apologize for the older set comment. What I meant by that comment is that older kids, 13 and up, should watch it. I’m intrigued by Talespin. I’ll have to check it out.

  12. Tinkerbell and the Lost Treasure is pretty good for young ones too. She’s an inventor and adventurer who sets out to solve her own problems. Also, in a refreshing twist, the relationship w/ her best friend (male) is completely platonic.

  13. All of Miyazaki’s films: beautiful animation and strong brave girls as leads.

    ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ and ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’ where a girl rescues a boy in danger are two popular ones.

  14. This is a great list, thank you.

    Nim’s Island is great and the new animated movie “Rio” has an interesting twist where the main (male) character is rescued by a female who is feisty and confident. Their eventual relationship is one built on mutual trust and partnership. Other female characters are also confident in speaking their mind and getting things done, equality is largely taken for granted (as much as you’ll ever see in this current age!).

  15. My family (2 daughters 5 and 8) loves Nim’s Island (2008). This time the girl (who is independent and a reader) saves her dad! Jody Foster is in it too!

  16. Try “A Little Princess” and “Matilda”! Better to let her get it all out as a young child, my inner girlyness was repressed and now I’m an adult who basically acts like a seven year old :)

  17. Also awesome about Labyrinth: the payoff is that Sarah DOESN’T end up with the handsome Prince, but declares herself independent from him. And the stepmother isn’t wicked, she’s actually quite nice. In fact structurally it’s opposite from most princess movies.

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