Women have played important roles in DC comics for many years, but the film industry has historically been far more skeptical when it comes to prominently featuring female characters in their major properties. Even compared to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, DC movies have suffered from a notable lack of strong women, and female characters that can stand alongside iconic heroes like Batman and Superman are relatively uncommon.
Despite the limited roster of characters to choose from, DC films have spawned a host of compelling and powerful female heroes (or anti-heroes) over the years, with some like Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman standing the test of several decades. With more recent films like Wonder Woman and Birds of Prey it’s possible women will continue to be a bigger part of DC movies than ever before. Here are our top ten female characters in all of DC filmdom.
10) Dinah Lance/Black Canary – Jurnee Smollett, Birds of Prey
Birds of Prey is the only DC film to feature an entirely female team of superheroes, led by Harley Quinn. The film also brings one of DC’s most beloved characters, Black Canary to the big screen for the first time, and Jurnee Smollet does the character justice with her standout performance.
Dinah Lance is a singer who doubles as a heavy in a club owned by Roman Sionis or the Black Mask. She works from inside Sionis’ crime organization and works with Harley, Huntress, Renee Montoya, and Cassandra Cain to bring the Black Mask down once and for all.
9) Laurie Juspeczyk/Silk Spectre – Malin Ackerman, Watchmen
Across two generations of masked vigilantes in Zack Snyder’s Watchmen, the Silk Spectre is the only female hero to fight alongside the Minutemen. Laurie Juspeczyk is the daughter of the original Silk Spectre, Sally Jupiter. At Sally’s behest, Laurie follows in her mother’s footsteps to become a costumed hero, even though she personally never took much interest. While Laurie is a skilled fighter and takes a successful turn as the Silk Spectre, she’s content to retire the costume after the Keene Act makes costumed heroes illegal.
For her entire life leading up to the events of Watchmen, Laurie believes her real father is Hooded Justice, another member of the original Minutemen. Over the course of the investigation into the murders of costumed heroes that drives the film’s plot, Laurie comes to the earth-shattering realization that she was actually conceived when the Comedian raped her mother.
Malin Ackerman plays Laurie in the 2009 film and an older, more seasoned version of the character appears in HBO’s 2019 Watchmen series played by Jean Smart.
8) Evey Hammond – Natalie Portman, V For Vendetta
While we can’t deny that Natalie Portman’s British accent can be shaky and that the forced romance with V is weak, Evey from Alan Moore adaptation V For Vendetta is still a fascinating character.
As with the ambiguity over the nature of V (is he a superhero or a deluded terrorist?), Evey Hammond is similarly hard to work out. Is she given a new lease of life by V or is she brainwashed and conditioned into thinking the same way as him through imprisonment and prolonged torture? In fact, when put like that, there’s a parallel between her relationship with V and that of Harley Quinn and the Joker.
She’s something of an adjunct to V’s story, then, but Evey’s character arc across the film is still a lot fuller than the average love interest in a comic book movie,
7) Lois Lane – Margot Kidder, Superman – Superman: The Quest for Peace
Lois Lane holds the record for the most portrayed DC female character. On the big screen alone she has been played by the likes of Phyllis Coates, Kate Bosworth and Amy Adams. The definitive version of the character, however, remains Margot Kidder’s Lois from the original Superman movies.
While subsequent actresses have had to try and reinvent the character, Kidder nails the classic version of Lois – a feisty reporter obsessed with Superman but oblivious to her clutzy co-worker Clark Kent. The films themselves might be dated by today’s standards, but Kidder’s performance (in the 1978 movie, in particular) is still just as charming as ever and her chemistry with Christopher Reeve is, well, super.
Just like Reeve’s shadow still lingers over Henry Cavill and all modern Supermen, Kidder’s Lois Lane is so iconic that it will take a while for her to be completely detached from the character in the public consciousness.
6) Catwoman – Anne Hathaway, The Dark Knight Rises
Someone else who has been portrayed a number of times on film is Batman’s love interest on the wrong side of the law: Catwoman. While there is something to be said for the purrfectly sultry Lee Meriwether from 1966’s Batman: The Movie is in order, the Catwoman who gets the top prize here is Anne Hathaway.
Playing a Christopher Nolan-ized version of the character for 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises, this Selina Kyle is never actually called Catwoman – although her capacity for catburglary and cat ear-like goggles heavily hint at her comic book identity. Hathaway is terrific as the highly capable Ms. Kyle, whose dislike for Gotham’s elite somewhat mirrors Bruce Wayne’s own belief in a fair Gotham.
It might have been a controversial choice to apparently let Bruce and Selina have a happily ever after at the climax of the movie, but you can see why these two characters were the perfect match.
5) Andrea Beaumont – Dana Delany, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Certainly the most forgotten great female character from a DC movie is Andrea Beaumont from 1995’s Batman: Mask of the Phantasm – an animated film so good that Warner Bros. decided to give it a limited cinema release rather than putting it straight to video as planned. Though ostensibly just another one-off love interest for Bruce Wayne, Andrea is – ironically, considering the medium – one of the most three-dimensional women in the Batman franchise.
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Brought to life by a brilliant voice performance from Dana Delany, Andrea is the object of Bruce’s affections just as he’s starting his career as Batman – similar to Batman Begins’ Rachel Dawes. Unlike Rachel, however, Andrea actually has her own agency and is not a damsel in distress. In fact – spoilers ahead – she turns out to be the murderous vigilante of the title. Batman really does have a thing for criminal women, doesn’t he?
4) Amanda Waller – Viola Davis, Suicide Squad
Cara Delevingne’s Enchantress might have been the villain of Suicide Squad on the surface level, but surely the real main antagonist of Suicide Squad is Amanda Waller. The head of secret service organization ARGUS, Waller is scarily good at her job even without superpowers and she can manipulate anyone into doing her bidding. Her allegiances vary, but she is generally on the side of protecting American interests. Thanks to a steely, unblinking performance from Viola Davis, she’s a terrifying creation.
When she inexplicably fails to be blown up at one stage in the movie, it doesn’t feel like a plot hole but is totally in keeping with the character. Amanda Waller might be just a regular human, but she’s just as unstoppable in her own way – much like Superman.
Davis reprises her role as Waller in 2021’s The Suicide Squad (directed by James Gunn) and demonstrates a firm resolve in her commitment to the mission and willingness to make any sacrifice necessary to get the job done.
3) Wonder Woman – Gal Gadot, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice
Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman has appeared across a total of four DC films to date including Batman V Superman, Wonder Woman, Justice League, and Wonder Woman 84. Despite only a fleeting appearance in Batman V Superman, the character has left an important mark on DC’s cinematic universe, proving that a real market exists for female-led superhero films.
In the midst of all the gloom of Batman V Superman, seeing Wonder Woman team up with Bats and Supes in the finale is one of the film’s best moments. In that scene, plus those featuring an out-of-costume Diana Prince, Gadot gave off a suitable mix of grace and grit in her portrayal of the warrior princess of Themyscira.
The first Wonder Woman film is among the best films DC has on offer, and the character is a highlight of Justice League, particularly in the Snyder Cut which really gives Gadot the space to shine and show off Wonder Woman’s power and agency.
2) Catwoman – Michelle Pfeiffer, Batman Returns
Nearly a quarter of a century since its release, 1992’s Batman Returns still divides Batfans. Is it a gothic masterpiece from Tim Burton, or an indulgent mess from a director clearly more interested in the villains than Batman himself? Whatever your feelings on the film, it’s hard to deny that the star of the show is Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman.
As the movie is obsessed with the psychological nature of masks, this Selina Kyle is somewhat like Bruce would be if he went off the deep end. Losing herself between her everyday persona as a lowly secretary and her nightlife as a criminal cat, Selina is similar to Hathaway’s version in that she is a perfect match for Batman. However, this Catwoman is just too enthralled by the mask to ever achieve happiness with the hero.
It’s a career best performance from Pfeiffer, as a character with an unusual amount of layers for a superhero film. For a long time, she was the best DC movie female character ever – up until very recently…
1) Harley Quinn – Margot Robbie, Suicide Squad/Birds of Prey
Margot Robbie got a rough start as Harley Quinn in the original Suicide Squad, but the character was a highlight of an otherwise forgettable film and managed to drum up enough popularity to lead a team of badass women in her standalone film Birds of Prey, and be part of her old team once again in James Gunn’s 2021 The Suicide Squad which has atoned for the sins of the 2016 film in the eyes of many fans.
There are some issues with the presentation of Harley in 2016’s Suicide Squad, but the important thing is that Robbie nails the character’s charisma and understands exactly what makes Harley so popular – she’s wild, foolishly in love with a madman. and trying to make her own choices. Robbie brings comparable performances to both of the subsequent DC films she’s starred in, demonstrating a deep understanding of Harley and her motivations while outshining her costars in her best moments.