En español | One of the biggest movies to hit screens (and Disney+) this summer is Black Widow, the latest Marvel superhero blockbuster, which stars Scarlett Johansson in the take-no-prisoners leading role. Following hits like Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman and the miniseries WandaVision, you might think we're in the middle of a female superheroine renaissance, but women are still woefully underrepresented in the genre. While we wait for the universe to catch up on gender parity, here are the 12 most heroic women in movies and TV, counting up to number 1, who are breaking boundaries as they're saving the world.
12. Batgirl/Barbara Gordon
Notable portrayals: Yvonne Craig in Batman (1967-68)
Who is she?: The third season of ABC's campy Batman series introduced Barbara Gordon, the librarian daughter of the Gotham City police commissioner. TV's first regular superheroine may be best remembered for her yellow cape and purple motorcycle with white lace trim, but she was a quietly revolutionary feminist icon. In the comic books, Gordon successfully runs for Congress; in real life, Craig reprised her most famous role in a 1974 PSA about equal pay for women.
11. Wasp/Hope van Dyne
Notable portrayals: Evangeline Lilly in Ant-Man (2015) and Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
Who is she?: Proving the maxim “Good things come in small packages,” Hope van Dyne packs a tiny but very powerful punch as the Wasp — a superhero identity she inherited from her scientist mother, played in the Marvel films by Michelle Pfeiffer, 63. With the help of a special suit, she can shrink down to the size of an insect and fly around using artificial wings, but she retains her full-size strength even when she's as big as a bug.
Notable portrayals: Zoe Saldana in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 (2017)
Who is she?: A green-skinned alien orphan, Gamora is trained as an assassin by supervillain Thanos (played by Josh Brolin, 53) after he wipes out half of her race in his attempt to save the universe's resources. To turn her into the ultimate living weapon, Thanos gives her surgical modifications, such as a cybernetic skeleton and ocular implants, and she earns a reputation for being the deadliest woman in the galaxy — especially lethal with her retractable sword. All those skills come in handy to the Guardians of the Galaxy, a ragtag group of heroes whom she joins on her quest for redemption.
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9. Jessica Jones
Notable portrayals: Krysten Ritter in Jessica Jones (2015-19) and The Defenders (2017)
Who is she?: If you're expecting a superheroine in a cape and mask, think again. In Netflix's gritty New York City neo-noir, Breaking Bad actress Krysten Ritter stars as the leather-jacket-clad superhero-turned-detective, who has quit the world-saving game after a mind-controlling villain (played by Doctor Who's David Tennant, 50) uses her to kill someone. Despite some impressive powers, including the ability to fly and heal rapidly, she still deals with some very human issues, such as PTSD and a drinking problem.
TriStar Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection; Warner Brothers Television/Courtesy Everett Collection; Robert Voets/CBS via Getty Images
8. Supergirl/Kara Zor-El/Kara Danvers
Notable portrayals: Helen Slater (now 57) in Supergirl (1984), Laura Vandervoort in Smallville (2007-11), Melissa Benoist in Supergirl (2015-)
Who is she?: In the critically maligned 1984 film, Slater starred as the Kryptonian cousin of Superman, who travels to Earth to recover the city-powering Omegahedron. While the character later appeared on the show Smallville, she really gets her due on the CW's Supergirl. Glee and Broadway star Melissa Benoist plays the reimagined Kara, who — like her cousin — works as a reporter and boasts a handy array of superpowers, including accelerated healing, flight, heat vision, invulnerability and superhuman senses.
Notable portrayals: Letitia Wright in Black Panther (2018)
Who is she?: Talk about a role model for girls who want to pursue STEM! The Wakandan princess and little sister of T'Challa (or Black Panther) is a supremely intelligent master inventor who harnesses the power of Vibranium to revolutionize their African kingdom. She creates Black Panther's energy-absorbing suit, her own energy blast gauntlets and even Wakanda's high-speed magnetic levitation train. Following the untimely death of actor Chadwick Boseman last August, Wright is expected to step into a bigger role in the 2022 sequel Black Panther: Wakanda Forever — might she even become Black Panther?
Watch it: Black Panther, on Disney+
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6. Jean Grey
Notable portrayals: Famke Janssen, 56, in X-Men (2000) and its sequels (2003-14); Sophie Turner in X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) and Dark Phoenix (2019)
Who is she?: Born with the powers of telepathy and telekinesis, Jean Grey works as a doctor at Professor Xavier's School for the Gifted and advocates for mutant rights. But despite her altruistic nature, she possesses a dark alter ego inside, called the Phoenix, who operates purely on instinct and can prove destructive and malevolent. Sophie Turner — whom you might know as Sansa Stark from Game of Thrones — picked up the role in the 2016 prequel.
Watch it: The X-Men movies are available on Disney+'s Marvel channel
5. Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers
Notable portrayals: Brie Larson in Captain Marvel (2019)
Her backstory and superpowers: The Marvel Cinematic Universe's first female-led film stars Oscar winner Brie Larson as a superheroine with a very complicated history. She lives her life as Vers, a warrior member of the militaristic Kree alien race — but flashes in her memory suggest there may be more to her story. Later, she learns that (spoiler alert!) she had been a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot who gained superpowers after absorbing the energy from an exploding engine, and a blood transfusion turned her into a human-Kree hybrid.
Where to watch: Captain Marvel, on Disney+
4. Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff
Notable portrayals: Elizabeth Olsen in WandaVision (2021)
Who is she?: Along with her twin brother, Pietro (aka Quicksilver), the refugee from the fictional country of Sokovia joins the villainous HYDRA organization to defeat Iron Man after a Stark-brand missile kills their parents, but they eventually switch sides and become Avengers. And it's a good thing, because you really don't want Wanda mad at you: She has the powers of telekinesis, energy manipulation, telepathy and more. This year, she stepped out from the shadows of the other Avengers with her own hit Disney+ show, in which she and her husband (Vision, an advanced android played by Paul Bettany, 50) move through decades of sitcom history.
Watch it: WandaVision, on Disney+
3. Storm/Ororo Munroe
Notable portrayals: Halle Berry, 54, in X-Men (2000) and its sequels (2003-14); Alexandra Shipp in X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) and its sequels (2018-19)
Who is she?: As her name implies, this literal force of nature can control the weather, sending lightning bolts crashing toward her enemies and brewing up mighty wind storms. According to the comics, Storm descends from a line of white-haired Kenyan priestesses and got her start as a pickpocket in Cairo until she was recruited by Professor Charles Xavier to join the X-Men.
Watch it: The X-Men movies are available on Disney+'s Marvel channel
2. Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff
Notable portrayals: Scarlet Johansson in Black Widow (2021)
Who is she?: Trained in hand-to-hand combat as a KGB spy and assassin, Romanoff later joins the counterterrorism agency S.H.I.E.L.D. and then goes on to become an Avenger. Sure, she's armed with her Widow's Bite — a pair of bracelets that deliver a powerful electroshock — but what makes Natasha truly stand out are her very human skills: She's a master of disguise, an acrobat, an assassin, a polyglot and one of the smartest Avengers.
Watch it: Black Widow, on Disney+ Premier Access
Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Photo Archives/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images; Clay Enos/DC Comics
1. Wonder Woman/Diana Prince
Notable portrayals: Lynda Carter, 69, in Wonder Woman (1975-79), Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman (2017) and Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)
Who is she?: The original series may be best remembered for some kitschy elements, such as Wonder Woman's spinning transformation move, golden lasso of truth and invisible airplane — but that didn't stop the Amazonian princess from fighting the Nazis as a Navy yeoman and later joining the fictional Inter-Agency Defense Command. In the 2017 reboot film, the future Justice League member is recast as a full-fledged demigoddess (the daughter of Zeus!), played by former Israeli soldier Gal Gadot.
Nicholas DeRenzo is a contributing writer who covers entertainment and travel. Previously he was executive editor of United Airlines’ Hemispheres magazine and his work has appeared in The New York Times, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Sunset and New York magazine.