My sister and I went to see Miss Representation a while back, and the documentary brought up an interesting point: how many movies can you think of that have strong female leads? Where the primary plot point isn't romance? And where's she's not just a "fighting sex-toy", either? (Catwoman and Lara Croft, I'm looking at you).
By "strong" character, I don't mean a character that can roundhouse kick in tight lycra or that can make a man cry with her sharp tongue. I mean a character that's got depth and is relatively stable mentally and emotionally. Who is active in the story, rather than someone who is acted upon. There are some movies that have strong female characters whose primary story isn't love or dating - for example, Batman. A Few Good Men. Bourne Supremacy/Ultimatum. How about Despicable Me? But the females here aren't the lead characters.
Lots of movies do have female leads. Name a chick flick? But how many have a female lead that doesn't put an emphasis on relationship status? They're pretty scarce, as if the only story worth telling about females are love stories. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing bad about love stories, I'm just disappointed that you can hardly find anything else. Still, I thought I'd try to make a compendium for people who would like to see women do and feel other things. Not that I'm a great movie connoisseur. Let me know if there's something major that I missed on this list, and I'll love you for giving me something else to watch.
The Blindside - I'm not a big fan of inspirational sports stories, and most of Sandra Bullock's characters seem the same to me - hard-nosed and outspoken, not terribly three-dimensional. But this movie still makes the list, if only because she's the one pulling the male out of the mire and not the other way around.
Million Dollar Baby - I didn't love this movie, again, solely because I'm mostly apathetic towards sports, but it does have a strong non-romantic female lead.
Sophie Scholl: The Final Days - based on a true story. Female lead. No romance. Actually, I find it interesting that Sophie is the most well-known member of the White Rose, seeing as it was her brother and his friend that actually did most of the work. Still, she's a very strong character.
Nim's Island - I actually don't remember much about this one, but I love Abigail Breslin and Jodie Foster. Romance enters the story, but it's hardly the point.
Flightplan - Speaking of Jodie Foster, the character here starts off in a tailspin due to her husband's death, but pulls herself out of it when something more important comes up.
Alice in Wonderland (Tim Burton) - Strong female lead and a definite lack of romance. In fact, it's so unromantic that we've got a declined marriage proposal. I suppose that Disney's Alice in Wonderland would probably make this list, too, but I'm not sure I've ever seen it.
Thirteen - Both the girl and the mom have major issues, and romance (or at least sex) is one of those major issues. No one could say that they're stable, but the whole point of the movie is that the mom finally realizes what happens, smartens up, and vows to do what it takes to help her daughter. And it looks like the daughter is willing to let herself be helped. No men galloping to the rescue, here.
Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium - a bit of a fairytale, but what's wrong with that? I love Mahoney.
And in the realm of animation:
Hoodwinked - Yes, it's a cartoon. And yes, it's based on an old fairytale. But Red isn't out searching for a guy. Granted, in the original story she gets eaten and then saved by a woodsman (damsel in distress, much?) but in the movie she's as active a character as the boys. If anyone saves her, it's her grandmother, which you really aren't likely to see anywhere else.
Mulan - Yes! I'm not sure why this is tagged a princess movie, because Mulan is neither a princess herself nor becomes one when she gets married (which she doesn't, in the first movie - she doesn't even get kissed!) In fact, this one's main question is, "Can a woman bring honour to her family without marrying?", which it answers with a resounding, "Yes!" And neither is she a fighting sex toy. That distinction falls to Li Shang, if anyone.
Honourable Mention: These movies failed to make my fairly stringent criteria, but still feature strong female leads, despite the romance.
Pride and Prejudice - It's definitely based on romance, but given the context of the story (eighteenth century England), it's about as feminist as you could hope to get. In addition to not being a silly flirt, Elizabeth turns down two offers of marriage before Darcy wins her over by being a genuinely decent guy (no "tricks" or "stealing her heart" involved).
The Village - The Village twists around, so it's hard to know whether Ivy is the lead or shares the lead, but she's definitely a strong character. She is in love, but the main point is that she's the only one with guts, not that she needs a husband. The romance is pretty much the means to frame the story, not the point of the story.
On the flipside, these movies have non-romantic female leads, but they're not necessarily strong characters:
The Interpreter - She starts off as a strong character, but kind of falls apart in the end and is only stopped from shattering altogether by the male. Still worthwhile to watch, because at least the stuff that makes her fall apart is actually serious and the male is only able to patch her together using her own rhetoric, since she helped him start pulling himself together first.
Lady in the Water - Another fairytale, with a theme of not letting other people define you and the dangers of stereotyping. But Story is way more passive than active, and though she's top billed, the action is all left to the man.
What else should make this list? Please add!
"Remember, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels." Faith Whittlesey