15 movies with strong female protagonists to watch with your kids

Disney classic Mulan
Disney classic Mulan Photo: Disney

Throughout the history of the film industry, movies have lacked solid female protagonists. This issue is slowly being addressed, including in kids' movies; where traditional "damsel in distress" Disney princesses have given way to more female characters are complex, dynamic and empowered.

From Elsa and Hermione to Kiki and Wadjida, brave, spirited girls and women are finally getting the spotlight they deserve. Parents can find teaching moments in these cinematic gems by talking to kids about how women are portrayed in the media and what kinds of stereotypes they see. These discussions can counteract harmful messages kids get about body image, gender, and role models.

Elsa and Anna - Frozen

Call me Elsa: Alafair Korohina Wall, 4, is all about Elsa and Frozen.
Call me Elsa: Alafair Korohina Wall, 4, is all about Elsa and Frozen. 

This wintry Disney musical is fabulous celebration of sisterhood.

Recommended for ages 5+

Anna and Elsa are strong, unforgettable heroines. Anna is brave, kind, and loving. She doesn't give up on her sister, even when everyone else deems her a danger to the kingdom. Elsa, in turn, discovers that her power doesn't have to be destructive; it can bring joy, too.

Kiki - Kiki's Delivery Service

A mystical, positive take on girl's coming of age.

Recommended for ages 5+

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Kiki is a wonderful role model. She is selfless and always so generous with her time, willing to help her friends and customers, and she often refuses to be paid when she goes above the call of duty.

Mulan - Mulan

Disney-fied but dignified tale of Chinese warrior.

Still from the animation film Kiki's Delivery Service
Still from the animation film Kiki's Delivery Service  

Recommended for ages 5+

Why She Rocks: Based on the story of China's legendary girl warrior, Mulan is one-of-a-kind in the Disney princess canon. Brave and resourceful, she demonstrates perseverance, integrity, and courage. Some of the male characters in Mulan have old-fashioned ideas about what females are capable of, but Mulan shows them the error of their assumptions in the end.

Satsuki and Mei - My Neighbor Totoro

qdp100804.015.001 A3 pix-Image from page 9-Myazaki showcase book Still from Hayao Miyazaki animated film, My Neighbour Totoro
qdp100804.015.001 A3 pix-Image from page 9-Myazaki showcase book Still from Hayao Miyazaki animated film, My Neighbour Totoro Photo: Supplied

Beautifully animated film that can be enjoyed by people of all ages, addressing serious issues of family struggle through the eyes of two sisters who create a fantasy world together in an effort to escape a difficult reality. 

Recommended for ages 5+

Satsuki is a loving, responsible older sister who's willing to help and look out for her younger sister Mei, even when they don't get along. They are both strong, courageous, independent, and curious, and have a powerful sisterly bond.

Moana sets sail with trickster demigod Maui in Moana
Moana sets sail with trickster demigod Maui in Moana Photo: Disney

Moana - Moana

Great characters, memorable music, some monsters/scares.

Recommended for ages 6+

Hayley Mills in 1960's Pollyanna.
Hayley Mills in 1960's Pollyanna.  Photo: Supplied

Moana is a wonderful role model and a strong female character. Unlike many movie princesses, her focus isn't on winning a prince - instead, she's set on being a strong, successful leader for her people. She doesn't shy away from her responsibilities, but she also fearlessly follows her heart. She demonstrates curiosity and courage and inspires both in her fellow islanders, too.

Pollyanna - Pollyanna

Wonderful family film with excellent messages.

Anne Shirley, from Anne of Green Gables.
Anne Shirley, from Anne of Green Gables. 

Recommended for ages 6+

Pollyanna demonstrates empathy and gratitude and is best remembered for "the glad game," in which the challenge is to find something to be glad about, no matter how bleak the situation. But what really makes her special is the way that she expects the best from everyone, and the transforming effect it has on each person she meets.

Anne Shirley - Anne of Green Gables

Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series
Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series Photo: via www.slate.com

Faithful, sensitive take on classic novel is great for kids.

Recommended for ages 7+

 Anne's impulsiveness and enthusiasm lead her into scrapes of all kinds, but she usually means well and tries her best to learn from her mistakes. She's quick (in most cases) to make amends. She's also smart, imaginative, independent, hardworking, and creative; in other words, an excellent role model.

Keke Palmer plays Akeelah in 2006 film Akeelah and the Bee
Keke Palmer plays Akeelah in 2006 film Akeelah and the Bee Photo: Getty

Hermione Granger - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

First Potter movie is a magical ride but also intense.

Recommended for ages 7+

Merida the female protagonist in the Disney film Brave
Merida the female protagonist in the Disney film Brave Photo: Cindy Tran

Hermione is one of the most beloved heroines in contemporary kids' literature. Exceptionally bright, she keeps Harry on track academically, and her wit, intellect, and encyclopedic knowledge save the day time after time. Teamwork, courage, loyalty, compassion, generosity, and perseverance are just a few of the traits that make Hermione such a memorable and beloved character.

Akeelah - Akeelah and the Bee

Tweens will love this inspiring drama about a champion speller.

Wadjda
Wadjda 

Recommended for ages 8+

Through practice and competing for the spelling bee, Akeelah finds an inner strength to overcome her own misgivings about her intelligence, the difficulties she faces in growing up in a poor community in South Los Angeles, and learns to embrace her neighborhood and background as her family and community rally around her to help her win.

Princess Merida - Brave

Hidden figures tells the stories of female scientists in NASA
Hidden figures tells the stories of female scientists in NASA Photo: Hopper Stone

Mother-daughter princess tale has some very scary scenes.

Recommended for ages 8+

Merida isn't your typical princess. She would rather sling her arrows than learn the proper etiquette befitting a future queen. Strong-willed, stubborn, and smart, Merida wants to find her own way in the world, not be tied to a suitor for betrothal before she's ready for marriage.

The Miracle Worker depicts the relationship between Sullivan and Keller
The Miracle Worker depicts the relationship between Sullivan and Keller Photo: The Miracle Worker

Wadjida - Wadjda

Beautiful, nuanced tale of an independent Saudi girl.

Recommended for ages 9+

Betty & Coretta
Betty & Coretta 

Enterprising young Wadjda is a study in everyday female empowerment. She is a persistent, determined young girl who decides to learn how to ride a bicycle, even though it's not generally accepted for girls to ride bikes in her culture. She also has her own sense of style and is all about independent thinking, overcoming odds, and unconditional friendship.

Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson, and Katherine Johnson - Hidden Figures

Inspiring true story of African-American women at NASA.

Pia, from the New Zealand movie Whale Rider.
Pia, from the New Zealand movie Whale Rider. 

Recommended for ages 10+

Katherine, Mary, and Dorothy are wonderful role models. They all studied and worked hard and persevered in fields that few women - much less women of color - excelled in at the time. They're disciplined, intelligent women who think outside the box to brainstorm ideas and make themselves indispensable. They also shine as examples of pioneering working women who had families to take care of, too. And they don't let the obvious and overt racism they have to face stop them.

Anne Sullivan Macy - The Miracle Worker

Outstanding movie based on life of Helen Keller.

Recommended for ages 10+

Anne Sullivan Macy, Helen Keller's extraordinary teacher, shows the importance of language and perseverance, proving that despite seemingly insurmountable challenges we are all capable of succeeding. She encourages us to never give up.

Dr. Betty Shabazz and Coretta Scott King - Betty & Coretta

Moving tribute to two civil rights widows' legacies.

Recommended for ages 11 and older

Betty and Coretta are strong in their respective faiths and devoted to causes that advance humanity and peace. Both women become single parents when their husbands are killed, facing the compounded challenges of raising their kids and stepping into the spotlight to continue the men's activism. Each turns tragedy into personal motivation, which in turn inspires others to follow suit.

Paikaea Apirana - Whale Rider

Excellent, gorgeous drama with uplifting messages.

Recommended for ages 11+

Pai, a young girl of the Maori tribe of New Zealand, demonstrates extraordinary strength of character as she learns everything that the next leader of her people must learn. Pai's perceptiveness and quiet persistence are always evident, but when she finally speaks from her heart she is purely luminous.

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