TV & Movies

10 Movies and Shows To Watch With Badass Female Leads

written by FARRAH PENN
Source: HBO Max, BBC Studios, and Warner Bros.
Source: HBO Max, BBC Studios, and Warner Bros.

If there’s one thing I wouldn’t ever mind seeing more of, it’s stories featuring badass women. And I use badass in a broad sense of the word—not necessarily the aviator-wearing, gun-wielding archetype. In my personal opinion, there are many different ways women can be badass, whether you’re going through a period of messy self-discovery and transformation, standing up for what you believe in, creating something innovative, or fighting the fight for those who don’t have a voice. 

There’s always room for a little more female empowerment in our lives, which is why I’ve compiled a list of the best female lead movies and shows for you to watch. Each one features remarkable main players whose stories are sure to move you.


1. The Sex Lives of College Girls

When I first started university, officially on my own and parent-free, I found a kind of reckless freedom in feeling like an adult for the first time. And oh boy, did I make some not-so-great decisions. Sex Lives of College Girls takes four headstrong women and allows them to be messy, giving the show an authentic and relatable feel. If you miss the empowering camaraderie and ensemble cast of The Bold Type, then you’ll want to check out the first two seasons on HBOif you haven’t already, that is. 

What it’s about: Created by Mindy Kaling and Justin Noble, this show follows four girls throughout their first year at New England’s Essex College. Kimberly, Bela, Whitney, and Leighton are roomed together and become unlikely friends as they navigate campus culture, sexual identity, and relationships. The show speaks to the messiness and mistakes of hookups, romances, and first loves during a time of parental freedom. Each girl has her own agency and unique desires, which makes it a really fun watch. And if you, like me, enjoy half-hour sitcoms with hilarious banter and endless shenanigans, then you’re definitely in for a good time. 

Where to Watch: HBO


2.  Daisy Jones and the Six

I don’t need to explain to fans of Taylor Jenkin Reid’s bestseller why Daisy Jones is a badass lead, but Prime Video did just release the first few episodes in the series with plans to wrap up the show at the end of March. Basically, Daisy doesn’t put up with bullshit—especially from entitled men. She’s empathetic, caring, and creative, and her ambition and drive are inspiring. She’s flawed, of course, but who isn’t? I’ve certainly made mistakes in friendships and relationships, but the growth that comes from those experiences is what made me stronger in the end. 

What it’s about: Set in the mid-to-late ‘70s in Los Angeles, Daisy Jones and the Six follows both Billy Dunne and his band as well as Daisy Jones, musical artists who are destined to make it big. The series begins by informing the audiences that the band’s show in Chicago would be the last time they ever performed together, then we jump back in time to the very beginning to gain an understanding of why and how everything fell apart. It’s a dramatic, compelling, and captivating story of passion and music, and it’s well worth watching weekly as it airs this month. 

Where to Watch: Prime Video


3.  Abbott Elementary 

I’d been craving a new comedic mockumentary series since Parks & Recreation wrapped up, and Abbott Elementary has fully delivered. When it comes to filling the gap left by the one and only Leslie Knope, Quinta Brunson has brought her A-game to this series. What’s more badass than teachers who truly care about empowering and educating young minds? If you ask me, we certainly need more Janine Teagues in this world. 

What it’s about: Set in Philadelphia in an underfunded, predominately black public elementary school, Janine Teagues, a passionate and optimistic new-ish teacher, navigates the challenging politics and policies of her district while striving to make the school a better place. But with a zany and uninvested principal helming the ship, it makes things a bit difficult. Luckily she has her fellow teachers to lean on—including one who might even be a love interest. 

Where to Watch: Hulu


4.  Disclosure

One of my favorite genres is documentary, so if you’re looking for a great entry point, be sure to check out Disclosure. The film reveals the impact of trans stories in American culture in an educational and enlightening way, shining a light on the importance of trans representation in media. 

What it’s about: Featuring well-known stars in Hollywood such as Laverne Cox, Alexandra Grey, and Jamie Clayton, this illuminating documentary highlights trans history in film, creating crucial and necessary conversation surrounding the ways negative stereotyping ultimately causes harm. 

Where to Watch: Netflix


5.  Fleabag

Have you ever watched a show so perfect that you find yourself revisiting it every so often just to revel in the utter brilliance it offers? That’s how I feel about Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, which has been out for a few years now. But I want to highlight it in case it’s new to you, because it’s certainly worth a watch. I’ll never stop raving about how incredible it is to see messy, flawed, and strong female leads, but what makes the character Fleabag so badass is that she breaks the fourth wall to include cheeky commentary to you, the audience, allowing you in on the joke or conversation from her perspective. Trust me, you won’t regret giving it a shot.  

What it’s about: Fleabag is a half-hour comedy drama set in London. The main character—who is named Fleabag and portrayed by Waller-Bridge—navigates the challenging situation of saving the café she started with her best friend from financial ruin. I don’t want to give too much away about the plot, since it all unveils in such a beautiful way, but the show does tackle themes of grief, love, family, and mental health. 

Where to Watch: Prime Video


6.  Easy A

Okay, sure, Easy A has been out for over a decade now, but I cannot highlight badass female characters without mentioning Emma Stone’s portrayal of Olive, a headstrong, no-nonsense, lovable lead who doesn’t take shit from anyone at her high school. I love rewatching movies, and this one is definitely a comfort-favorite. 

What it’s about: Set in Ojai, California and inspired by Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Olive’s classmates turn on her after a rumor of her “slutty behavior” escalates. The problem? It’s not true. But Olive begins to pretend to sleep with her male classmates in exchange for gift cards in order to help boost their reputation while hers continues to deteriorate. However, in the end Olive takes control over her narrative by sharing her side of the story—the truth. 

Where you can watch: Netflix


7.  He Named Me Malala

I’m not sure Malala needs an introduction, but if you’re unfamiliar with the young activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, then this film is an absolute must-watch. Inspiring, moving, and utterly brilliant, Malala’s story is profound and unforgettable. 

What it’s about: Malala Yousafzai, born in the Swat Valley in Pakistan, was shot in the face at the age of 15 by a Taliban gunman after publicly advocating for girls’ rights to an education. This documentary chronicles her life story, her recovery, and her continued activism. 

Where to Watch: Prime Video


8.  Becoming

Perhaps you’re an avid reader like myself? If that’s the case, you may have already read Michelle Obama’s book Becoming when it was first released in 2018. But trust me, you don’t want to miss the documentary, which is filled with messages of hope, perseverance, passion, and kindness. 

What it’s about: Director Nadira Hallgren followed former FLOTUS throughout her book tour to not only highlight her travels, but to showcase the history of her life thus far. Michelle is an empowering role model, and much of this film focuses on uplifting young voices and sharing the importance of telling your story. 

Where to Watch: Netflix


9.  Sisters With Transistors 

Listen, I told you I love documentaries, and I think this one in particular is severely underrated. In an industry that was and still tends to be predominately male, Sisters with Transistors sheds light on the women in the electronic music industry. 

What it’s about: This documentary, which debuted in 2021, focuses on the women who created electronic music, amplifying their previously untold stories through testimonies and archive footage and showcasing how they had an important hand in transforming how we consume and produce music today. 

Where you can watch: Paramount+


10.  Women Talking 

Who else is excited for this year’s Oscars? I know I can’t wait. Women Talking is nominated for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, and it’s certainly worth renting this month if you’re looking for a compelling film to watch. (Content warning for sexual assault below.)    

What it’s about: Based on Miriam Toews’ bestselling novel, which was inspired by real-life events, the story is set in 2010 and focuses on an isolated Mennonite community in Bolivia. After the women of the community discover that men have been using cow tranquilizer to subdue and rape them, the men are imprisoned, leaving the women to vote on what should be done. It’s a powerful, unforgettable film. 

Where to Watch: Prime Video