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Top 10 Iconic Movie Heroines of the 1980s

VO: Emily Brayton WRITTEN BY: Laura Keating
We owe these ladies so much. For this list, we’re taking a look at the women who showed the most agency in their various films, and were truly heroes in their own stories – not mere plot devices or love interests. The characters here are all from ‘80s films, but it doesn’t have to be the heroine’s first appearance in a franchise. Furthermore, only live action heroines will be seen here. Our list includes Wendy Torrance, Dian Fossey, Marion Ravenwood, Sarah Connor, Ellen Ripley, and more! Join MsMojo as we count down our picks for the Top 10 Movie Heroines of the 1980s.
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Top 10 Iconic Movie Heroines of the 1980s


We owe these ladies so much. Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Movie Heroines of the 1980s.

For this list, we’re taking a look at the women who showed the most agency in their various films, and were truly heroes in their own stories – not mere plot devices or love interests. The characters here are all from ‘80s films, but it doesn’t have to be the heroine’s first appearance in a franchise. Furthermore, only live action heroines will be seen here.

#10: Wendy Torrance
“The Shining” (1980)


Wendy Torrance is a much overlooked and realistic heroine who deserves her due. Her screams might be famous, but it was her level-headedness that saved her and her son. Also, before Jack Torrance decided that all work and no play was the recipe for a murderous rampage, Wendy was the only one actually doing the work he was assigned to do (taking care of the Hotel), and the only one looking after their son. Yes, she freaks out when her husband chases her with an axe and ghosts begin to manifest all around her, but who wouldn’t!? Despite her terror, she saves herself and Danny. Hero in our books.

#9: Dian Fossey
“Gorillas in the Mist” (1988)


Based on the real life and death events of gorilla researcher, primatologist, and conservationist Dian Fossey, Dian is committed to protecting the gorillas she studies. Smart, and resourceful, she won’t be stopped even as poachers begin to close in on her and the great apes. Organizing a defense league to protect the animals to which she has developed a real emotional bond, her methods are often controversial, and not without consequence. However, despite the increased peril – that would sadly also lead to her untimely downfall – she remained committed to her cause.

#8: Beth Horman
“Missing” (1982)


Based on the real-life Joyce Horman, the character Beth is in Chile following her husband’s kidnapping during the 1973 Chilean coup d'état. Meeting resistance at every turn, she is determined to discover the whereabouts, or at least what happened to her journalist husband. Between the lies of politicians, and the national upheaval, Beth and her father-in-law must work together to find the truth. A social organizer and activist, she is passionate in her beliefs and about the people she loves. Energetic and feisty, she fights the good fight till the bitter end.

#7: Zula
“Conan the Destroyer” (1984)


Played by the incomparable Grace Jones, Zula is a mighty bandit warrior. After Conan intervenes in her torment at the hands of angry villagers, she joins his team and assists them in their adventure. Battling foes elbow to elbow with none-other than the “Governator” himself, she is right at home behind a spear or sword. Her bravery is later rewarded when she becomes the new captain of the guard to a newly crowned Queen Jehnna. Zula is the living breathing embodiment of “I got this,” and exactly the sort of lady you’d want to have your back in a fight.

#6: Nancy Thompson
“A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984)


It’s not easy being a teenager, it’s even worse when you and your friends are being picked off one-by-one by a supernatural killer. The impulse to hide under the covers won’t help, not when you know that the next time you fall asleep, you could be next. Rather than break down in an insomniac and nervous wreck, Nancy takes action. First figuring out who the killer is, she later takes steps to drag the frightening Freddy Krueger back into the real world so she can finish him off for good. Brave and resourceful, she could teach Kevin McCallister a thing or two about boobytrapping a house.

#5: Tess McGill
“Working Girl” (1988)


Hardworking but frequently taken advantage of, Tess learns not to be too trusting with a good idea. After learning that her new boss has plans to take Tess’ ideas and pass them off as her own, she finally decides to take her career into her own hands. While her boldness frequently gets her into trouble, her charm and quick thinking are apt to get her out again. She’s the sort of gal you root for the whole way through. She makes you believe that hard work and perseverance really do pay off.

#4: Marion Ravenwood
“Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981)


This character’s backstory could – perhaps should – be a movie all its own. Daughter of Dr. Abner Ravenwood, Indiana’s mentor and former professor, she is the owner of a tavern in the snowy mountains of Nepal. Able to drink grown men under the table, she has a few choice words about their earlier fling when she is reunited with the rakish Indiana Jones,. Despite their tempestuous past, she insists on joining him on his adventure, where her nose for trouble leads the two of them in and out of danger. Even when she is abducted, she applies her own wily methods of escape, proving she can handle problems like she handles alcohol: with gusto.

#3: Sarah Connor
“The Terminator” (1984)


While not yet the hard-as-nails warrior she will become on Judgement Day, the younger, more naïve Sarah is certainly up for the challenge. Honestly, when told an insane story that she will be the mother of a future resistance leader in a battle against cyborgs, she takes the news really, really well – especially considering it is in mid-flight from one of the very robots her son will fight (oh, chronological paradoxes). Frightened and running for her life, she draws on reserves of strength she never knew she had. We can see how she could stir a rebellion; we already feel inspired!

#2: Ellen Ripley
“Aliens” (1986)


After surviving the attack that wiped out her crew on the Nostromo, Ripley joins a team of marines to investigate the disappearance of the colonists of Hadley’s Hope on exomoon LV-426 – the very planet upon which her ship set down, and picked up their alien passenger. Fearing that the colonists might have disturbed the very nest her crew encountered, she offers her expertise as a consultant. As you can imagine, things go horribly wrong. Coolheaded, resilient, unbelievably brave, and the very definition of a leader, Ripley has become an icon of female badassery, not because she ever wanted to be a hero, but because she had to. She serves as a heroine standard against which all others are judged to this day.

Before we reveal our number one pick, here are a few honorable mentions:

Sarah Williams
“Labyrinth” (1986)

Chris Parker
“Adventures in Babysitting” (1987)

#1: Princess Leia
“Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) & “Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi” (1983)


Whoever said Princesses were helpless? Don’t let her large innocent eyes fool you, this lady has got Skywalker blood and she won’t let anyone get in her way. Ready to take charge at a moment’s notice, and strangle the life out of anyone who tries to hold her down, she is the leader the rebellion deserves. A literal “force” for good, even with all the heartache and hardship she’s faced in her young life, the Dark Side can’t touch her. Whether it’s keeping the computers running, taking off after storm troopers, saving the man she loves, or leading an army of rebels, cracking skulls and winning hearts are all in a day’s work for Leia Organa.
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