25 Bravest Leading Ladies and Real-Life Heroines

Posted by on July 18, 2012

Pixar just celebrated the release of its newest film, Brave, starring its first-ever female lead. With female empowerment at an all-time high in recent decades, gutsy role models have been appearing onscreen, in books, and in real life. It’s a bit surprising that Pixar didn’t have a female star sooner. Although Princess Merida does seem pretty hardcore, there have been plenty of women in fiction and throughout history who rival her when it comes to being brave. To prove it, here are the 25 bravest leading ladies and real-life heroines in recent memory.


Amelia Earhart

Adventurous aviation pioneer and author Amelia Earhart won the U.S. Distinguished Flying Cross for being the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Although she disappeared in 1937 while attempting to fly around the world, she still serves as an intrepid role model for girls to this day.


Jane Eyre

Perhaps literature’s earliest feminist heroines, Charlotte Bronte’s enduring character remained honorable and unwavering despite the many hardships she faced.


Rosa Parks

Ms. Parks stood up for her rights by remaining seated, and in doing so, sparked a movement that led to long-overdue equal rights for African Americans.


Hermione Granger

Let’s face it—neither Harry nor Ron would’ve survived their first year at Hogwarts without clever, resourceful Hermione. Even the most frightening situations, she always had a solution.


Lisa Ling

This fearless journalist travels around the world and back to deliver news coverage on controversial international and domestic issues.


Lisbeth Salander

Don’t let her outward appearance scare you. This plucky protagonist fights on the side of good. Her photographic memory, computer skills, and excellent sense of observation make her terrific at bringing corrupt individuals to justice.


Queen Elizabeth I

It must’ve been tough being a female monarch in patriarchal sixteenth century England, but Queen Elizabeth I successfully ruled for 44 years. Her reign became known as a “golden age” because drama, music, literature, architecture, and exploration flourished during that time.


Scarlett O’Hara

Transforming from a Southern belle into a strong, independent plantation owner took chutzpah. Left with nothing, she picked herself up, dusted herself off, and reminded us all that tomorrow is a new day


Mindy Macready

Forget Bratz dolls and ponies—this 11-year-old fictional crime fighter prefers butterfly knives. Any other kid would probably be afraid to fight just one hardcore criminal, but Hit Girl takes on several at a time and makes it look easy.


Joan of Arc

As an adolescent peasant girl in fifteenth century France, Joan of Arc was the ultimate underdog. But even in the face of adversity, her determination and audacity helped her lead her army to victory during the Battle of Orleans.


Lyra Belacqua

When her friend was abducted by a mysterious organization, Lyra Belacqua set out to help find him and other missing children even though she risked being captured herself.


Mulan Fa

She disguised herself as a man so she could get down to business and defeat the Huns. In doing so, she saved China at a time when women were greatly underestimated.


Yevdokiya Nikolayevna Zavaliy

When this 17-year-old WWII nurse was mistaken for a man on the field, she didn’t protest. Instead, she fought in several battles and was appointed as the leader of a reconnaissance squad. Even after being wounded four times and her gender was discovered, her platoon continued to fight. She received more than 40 medals of Honor for her act of valor.


Jo March

As the spunky heroine of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Jo had the courage to defy social conventions of her day, not care about others’ assessments of her, and still manage to be a lady.


Harriet Tubman

This heroic abolitionist escaped from slavery herself at the age of 29 and helped others obtain their freedom by leading 13 Underground Railroad missions. She was later employed by the Union Army, becoming the first woman to lead an armed expedition in the war and liberating more than 700 slaves in South Carolina.