Reel Girl’s List of Kids’ Movies Centered on Awesome Female Characters

This is a list of girl centered movies with strong girls. That sentence may seem redundant but sadly, it’s not. Many girl centered movies feature a girl who is a princess in distress or a cheerleader trying to keep a boyfriend or Barbie worrying about how to dress for the prom.

Or, if Hollywood allows a strong girl to appear in a movie that is not about a typical, cookie cutter “feminine” dilemma, her screen time is limited; her role is supporting: she is there to help the boy on his quest.

To clarify: the following is a list of movies with strong female main characters where the narrative is based on her brave quest.

This is not a list of HHH (triple Heroine) movies. Some movies may be included on this list such as a Barbie adventure or Kim Possible that would not get a HHH because of the main character’s plastic looks or typical princessy dilemma, but the movie is listed here because, in spite of that stereotype, it is still centered on a brave female hero who has cool adventures.

A few movies are not included on this list even though they are centered on a girl and her brave quest because the movie is simply too awful, meaning boring. “Judy Moody,” unfortunately, fits that category.

Wow, this is why it has been so hard for Reel Girl to recommend, but here we go.

These movies are for young kids. My three daughters are ages 2 – 8.

Remember, these are movies to take your sons to as well as your daughters.

This is a list in progress. Please send in your suggestions.

Spirited Away HHH

My Neighbor Totoro HHH

Kiki’s Delivery Service HHH

Ponyo HHH

Mulan HH

Alice In Wonderland HHH

The Golden Compass HHH

Barbie Fairytopia: Mermaidia HH

The Powerpuff Girls HH

Wonder Woman HH (2009)

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind HHH

Coraline HHH

The Wizard of Oz HHH

Mary Poppins HH

Pippi Longstocking HH

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe HHH

The Last Unicorn HH

The Secret World of Arrietty HHH

Avalon High HHH

Wrinkle in Time HHH

Labyrinth HH

The Last Mimzy HHH

Frozen HHH

Epic HH

The Croods HH

Fly Away Home HHH

Movies suggested to me that I have not seen (I am adding this b/c getting so many I need to see, this is my must see list)


Nim’s Island

The Secret Garden

Anne of Green Gables

Tinker Bell

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Nancy Drew

National Velvet

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl

Samantha: An American Girl Holiday

The Fox and the Child

See Reel Girl’s list of awesome female characters in kids’ films.

71 thoughts on “Reel Girl’s List of Kids’ Movies Centered on Awesome Female Characters

  1. Thank you for this list! I didn’t see the awesome Disney movie “Brave” about an independent and strong Scottish princess that breaks tradition and finds a deep connection with her mother. Highly recommended! Another great movie (available on Netflix on streaming) is “Escape from Witch Mountain”: the main characters are a sister and brother with special powers, but the girls’ powers are stronger and she is the leader of the two.

  2. There’s Lilo and Stitch, Home on the Range, Chicken Run, and Secret of NIMH for family films with female protagonists. How would they rate?

  3. The Last Unicorn?! Pleeease! Here are some image from that one: The pure white unicorn with a long flowing mane, running through a tunnel, chased by a huge red bull, with flaming nostrils. And at the end of the Tunnel? The ocean, waves crashing on the shore around her. Or: Evil birds swooping down on the lead male–with three breast each. Or: the trees that smother the same young man between their “tree breasts.” I have worried about the little kids in those audiences since I mistakenly took my girls when it opened. What has been the subconscious effect on all those kids? Nothing good for women in that one.

    How about The Journey of Natty Gann. Fabulous–for kids over 6 or 8.

    • Yes!! The journey of natty gann! I used to watch this one with my sister and mum when I was younger, a very good movie. But yeah probably made for kids 8 to 10 ( because of the drunker trying to touch and kiss her). But that’s just me. Thank you for reminding me about that one!

  4. The Journey of Natty Gann has an adventuresome, confident female lead. And I loved Whale Rider – a girl who believes it’s her destiny to change a centuries old tradition. Both have a pre-teen female lead and, depending on the child watching, may be a bit much for a young child.

  5. Speaking of Barbie, have you seen the latest movie, the second “Mermaid Tale”? I have to say that, asides from their plastic look, it is a great movie for girls.

    There is absolutely no mention about the main character (or any other character) being pretty or cute. There is no “romantic goal”. The movie is about friendship, and working together, and the characters work together as a team and are brave and smart.

    I also liked Barbie Three Musketeers, although there are some “girly” traits in some of the characters (not the main one, though) such as obsession with clothes, that I didn’t like that much. And it was way too centered on how Barbie couldn’t become a musketeer, since she was a girl!

  6. You may also want to check out “The Girl who leapt through Time” it’s a Japanese animated film about a girl who finds a strange device that allows her to travel to the past. Personally I love this movie, it has amazing music and a pretty awesome story.
    It is for slightly bigger kids. I would say from 10 up, but you would have to be the judge of that.
    Here’s the trailer

  7. Thank you for this list! And all the other suggestions in the comments — I am always looking for something appropriate for my daughter, who seems to be getting really sucked into the princesses and importance of pretty.

  8. The Golden Compass movie destroyed the Lyra character for me. They took an amazing, strong, brave little girl and made her whiny and needy. I hated it.

  9. Quest for Camelot
    The Secret of NIMH
    Triplets of Belleville
    the Lilo and Stitch movies
    The Last Unicorn
    Enchanted turns a few tropes on their ears

    • Hi FangedFairie,

      This is a list of movies centered on female characters, females in the lead, not ensemble, Out of the ones you listed, I think only The Last Unicorn fits the criteria? I did like The Last Unicorn. The famale unicorn in the center of the movie, right? Is she strong? I”m trying to remember

      Enchanted is good for turning the Fairy tale on its head, but its still firmly grounded in the fairy tale scenario.

  10. Have you seen “The Fox and the Child”? Little girl spends most of her time alone in the French alps befriending a wild fox and enjoying nature. A quiet movie with tons of gorgeous cinematography, little dialogue, lots of voice over narration of the girl’s thoughts. I loved it and my kids did too, though some scenes might upset some children, including the fox’s seemingly fatal fall and animals fighting. Our kids coped with it just fine at 3 and 4 years old.

  11. The Secret Garden was one of my absolute favourite movies as a kid. I remember renting and re-renting that film from the local library repeatedly over the years. Now that I’m an adult, I’ve since bought both the movie and the soundtrack. I would definitely recommend it as a kid’s movie with a strong female as the main character. 🙂

    Anne of Green Gables is another childhood favourite as well. I remember when the TV movies were aired on TV, I loved them – the first movie is as old as I am!

    Another Ghibli/Miyazaki film with a strong female main character that I really like is Howl’s Moving Castle, but because it takes place during war time and there are some scenes of war (air raids, bombing, etc), I would recommend it only for older kids. For more information:

    Same with Whisper of the Heart, another Ghibli/Miyazaki film – I’d recommend it for older kids, though in this case because the main characters are in middle school. There is a male character who becomes one of the main characters, and he pushes the main female character (Shizuku) to find out more about herself, but I think that Shizuku’s character strengths are enough to balance out the supporting male character. You can read about the film here:

  12. Borrow ‘Beezus and Ramona’ (2010), the Beverly Cleary-sanctioned film adaptation of her Ramona Quimby books. Sad that Ramona didn’t get top billing in the title, the way she does in the book title ‘Ramona and Beezus’ — she certainly is the focus and star of the picture, with elder sister Beezus playing second string. All I can figure out is that Beezus got top billing in the title in order to draw attention to actress Selena Gomez’s appearance in the film, whereas Joey King (Ramona) was a newcomer — and excellent in a role where generations of readers have high expectations for the beloved younger Quimby sister.

  13. Happy to see Miyazaki’s films at the top of the list. Not only are they worthy of a GGG rating, but are also some of the few movies that I can stand to watch over and over with my son.

    You may have already done a list for adult movies, but if you haven’t, I’d love to see one.

  14. What about the Harry Potter movies? Yes, the main character is a male but Hermione is an incredibly smart, brave, strong, and kind female character. I just watched the final instalment last night and her character impressed me more than any other in the entire movie. Mostly because she plays a regular gal who wants to do what’s right – and this is what brings out all her strengths (supernatural and human). She’s the kind of character that I think every parent would want their daughters and sons exposed to more often.

    • Hi Dbileski,

      Hermione is on the awesome characters list. Please recommend other female characters to add to the list from the movie if you’d like. Harry Potter does not qualify as a movie centered on a girl because, though strong girls are featured and help Harry along, he is the most important character. The books/ movie are all about his quest, his destiny. I love Hermione and it is because of characters like her that I created the awesome female character list.


  15. Nim’s Island! (for Nim, not so much for Alex Rover – her character is actually much stronger in the book. We LOVE the book!)
    The Secret of Roan Innish!
    Fly Away Home!

    These are our three favorite, favorite, favorite strong-girl movies.

    I’d also say Disney’s “Tangled”, since Rapunzel rescues the guy as much as he rescues her. (thoughts?)

    I hear what you’re saying about “Beauty and the Beast.” I think it probably does belong on this list (JMHO) – I think she’s a strong character. She overcomes a lot. I, too, identified with her – being a major book-lover myself.

    Oh, what do you folks think about “Ever After – A Cinderella Story”? I think she’s a much stronger Cinderella than Disney.

    The Secret Garden

    Finally, though not really for children, I have to put (even though it’s a TV series) Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Talk about strong female roles! There is one episode that’s a musical, and not so dark-scary as the other episodes (it’s campy), that’s ok for kids IMO.

    • Suzanne,

      Thanks for these suggestions. I think I’m going to add suggestions for girl centered movies. I have not seen any of your first three.

      Tangled, I cannot do. It’s too princessy for me, girl stuck in a tower. I agree that within the princess genre, she’s brave, but that hair! and when its brown, she loses her magic power, ugh (says the brown haired girl who likes Belle.)

      SPeaking of Belle, I am leaving her off. I am not willing to fight for her and that says something.

      I love Ever After! Will add for Drew Barrymore’s Cinderella character. I dont think I will put it on movies without seeing it again, but I will rent.

      The Secret Garden I love the book, have not seen the movie, is there one?

      Buffy, I love but she’s TV an dtoo old for this list.


      • Rapunzel’s *hair* loses its magic power, but the switch they pulled was to show that *she* doesn’t. Remember her tear saves the boy, after her hair is gone? Not that I’m mounting a major defence of the movie, it was Disney’s shot at Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but I did like this way of showing that the blonde/magic thing wasn’t why the guy wanted to be with her.

        And I second “The Secret of Roan Inish”, it’s adorable. They took a legend from the Hebrides region and grafted it on to Ireland.

  16. I know it’s not really a movie, but Dora the Explorer is a great role model for little girls, in my opinion. She’s strong, she’s a leader and she helps others! I also like the “Eloise” movies. Eloise is independent and outgoing and loves to take charge!

    I have a hard time seeing a Barbie movie on the list. Even if she is getting a little more progressive, the Barbie theme is inherently all about beauty.

    Also- what about Tiana from the Princess and the Frog? Her dream is to own her own restaurant. I think the movie does a good job keeping that goal in focus. Her falling in love with the prince is sort of a sub-plot, in my opinion.

    • Hi annesort

      I’ll add Dora but are there any specific movies you recommend? I know she turns into a princess in several and Diego has kind of taken over, but I agree she shoudl be on the cool character list.

      The Barbie movie is really, really good. Honestly. I was shocked. My daughter wanted to rent it when we were in Hawaii and I finally caved b/c I thought not to allow it would make her want it more. The look of the characters is horrible, but other than their apprearance, they are brave, smart, work together, and rescue a guy. Its that good. I really recommend for kids.

      Tiana I have not seen but I can put it on the charcater suggestions.

      Thanks for visiting Reel Girl.


      • Thanks! Also- definitely check out the “Eloise” films if you can. There’s a Halloween one that’s great- she actually takes charge of a masculine ghost!

        I know Dora turns into a princess in some of the episodes, but her her turning into a princess is still always revolved around helping others.

        Also- have you seen the Horseland series?

        • Sorry, forgot to comment Eloise. Here’s my issue– I like her, I love how she lives in the Plaza, but she’s kind of a brat. I have not seen the films though, I am speaking about the books. She actually makes me think– and this is typical of me when I’m trying to be all positive– of putting together a worst ever girl characters in movies. Eloise would not qualify. I absolutely loath Amelia Bedilia, but I don’t think there is a movie about her. Anyway, as I wrote, I like Eloise but she’s kind of annoying.


          • ha- I totally think that Eloise is annoying too 🙂 But she really is an atypical “girly girl” character- and although she’s a little bratty- she makes good choices in the end. And I love that she doesn’t let any boys boss her around!

            BUT- I guess we need to ask ourselves- why do we think she’s annoying/bratty? Because she’s “bossy?” (This sort of gets into the topic of why are so many women in positions of authority often labeled bi#%y?)

            Eloise may not be sweet and totally likable by everyone- but she certainly thinks for herself and is definitely goal oriented!

          • Agree, only girls are ever called bossy. Part of the problem with Eloise’s brattiness, I think, is a class issue. She’s living in the Plaza interacting with her nanny, cook, elevator operator etc.


          • yeah- that’s true. But check out the Halloween movie if you can. It’s available on Netflix if you can access it that way. She lives with the cook and hotel staff but they’re also her best friends- she doesn’t treat them like servants- if you know what I mean.

            What are your thoughts on the Strawberry Shortcake movies/ tv show?

          • Not a fan of Strawberry Shortcake, those names! those colors! that hair! And the dolls, the smell! I have not seen a movie great enough for me t g et past all that, all the movies I’ve seen are sickeningly sweet, about “friendship” in the nost saccarhine way..

  17. Anne of Green Gables ought not be forgotten, nor any of the other associated films of the works of Lucy Maude Mongomery. (The Avonlea series, and all the Anne films.)

    Same holds true for the Little House on the Prairie series, which isn’t a movie, but is good media with strong, smart girls.

      • I think you should definitely do a TV list! There are SOOO many girl focused shows on now- especially the Disney ones. I’d love to hear people’s opinions on “My Babysister’s a Vampire”!

  18. What a wonderful list! Though I also have a fondness for Beauty and the Beast, I too believe it should be taken off the list. The Beast loves Beauty for what she looks like, and she allows herself to be treated badly…but he has riches and servants, so it’s okay..?

    Thanks for compiling this list — it’s a wonderful endeavor and I will make great use of it! Always looking for good movies to show my two daughters (ages 6 and 8).

    Patricia Ellis Herr

      • When your girls get a little older, try Robin McKinley’s two treatments of Beauty & the Beast: Beauty & Rose Daughter, written 20 years apart. Both books are great & Beauty is nothing like Disney’s version. McKinley has several fabulous girl leads, though nothing is a movie since she doesn’t want to give up her rights.

  19. i like that tinkerbell holds her own and has a temper! not the sacharine sweet or male dominated -opressed other females of walt disney-also no mention or ambition of marraige/ getting male attention/approval..barbie mermadia is nauseating, all about ‘fashion’ as always the token person of colour, but no fatties whatsover! lol

    • Melea,

      I put Tinker Bell on the list of awesome girl characters. I have not created a list of movies I haven’t seen because it seems to important to recommend a movie with out seeing it, but I will rent Tinker Bell. What about her outfit though? And the coy look?


      • There was one moment in Tinkerbell that just ruined it for me (although, I am not certain my 4yo daughter picked up on it). When Tink came down dressed in her (ahem) tailored green fairy outfit, the boy tinkers gave her a very overt up and down and had eyes bugging out of their heads.

        • Laura,

          UGH the animated males are always doing stuff like that…I cannot stand Tink’s outfit or her coy look or her origin Wendy hatred story BUT people tell me the movie is good, I’ll have to see it.


  20. Pippi Longstocking, the Swedish ones from the 70’s. Kids are strong and smart in that one.

    The Secret of Kells is good.

    Kit Kittredge–strong girl, tries to solve a mystery, not afraid to say she wants to be a reporter in the 30’s.

  21. Another vote for the Tinkerbell movies here. The Disney fairies Tinkerbell doesn’t seem to be related at all to the jealous Tinkerbell in Peter Pan. Interestingly, I think these films have all been direct to video releases, I guess because they didn’t expect them to attract boys, but my 4 year old boy loves them as much as my 5 year old girl.

    In the first one Tinkerbell has to come to terms with her true talent of tinkering, fixing and making things. The other tinkerers seem to be mostly male, and while reasons other than gender bias make Tinkerbell want to be something else at first, she does embrace her talent in the end. I haven’t seen #2 enough to summarize it, but #3, The Great Fairy Rescue, has Tinkerbell and a human child named Lizzie whose scientist father isn’t interested in her research on fairies. At the end she gets him to listen to her and take her seriously. Not a bad message.

    There is a brand new 30 min. show called Pixie Hollow Games. We just saw it on TV. Tinkerbell is a side character in this one which focuses on typically feminine Rosetta, who is a garden fairy who hates to get dirty and is very concerned about her appearance. Much to her dismay, she is picked at random to represent the garden fairies in what looks like the fairy Olympics. Her teammate is new and sporty and wants the garden fairies to win for the first time ever, and when the other fairies make fun of Rosetta, she loyally defends her (turning the catty female stereotype on its head.) Rosetta soon begins to compete in earnest. A mean and egotistical boy fairy mocks them, telling them to go home and be pretty since that’s all they are good at, but Rosetta, who has just discovered how much more she is than a pretty face, becomes the one who encourages her teammate to keep fighting, She engineers pinecones into traction wheels on their racer so they can climb up the muddy mountain to win the race. She has the courage to put her concern with her looks aside and really get dirty and we see her really enjoy herself. The same mean boy fairy finishes first by cheating, but his female teammate who is sick of his ego refuses to cross the finish line, so the garden fairies win. I liked this one a lot.

  22. Possibly the Narnia movies? (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader) Not for a two-year-old, but for the top side of your range. Although the gender roles are stereotypical, Lucy is strong and Susan holds her own as well.

  23. I’m disturbed about Beauty and the Beast being on there. Beauty basically is emotionally, if not physically abused, and then continues to stay with her abuser to “fix” him. To me, that’s a horrible message to send to young girls!

    • Hi Libby,

      I put Belle on here because she is smart, loves to read, doesn’t like the asshole guy everyone does.

      But maybe you’re right– she sings a song about how she wants to travel the world and ends up with abusive guy on the outside of town.


      • Stockholm syndrome with trainer wheels. Hey ladies! Your abusive, controlling boyfriend will be a Prince, if you can manage to be flawlessly sweet enough!

  24. My daughter suggested one the other day…I’m kicking myself for not remembering!

    Think think think…ugh. I’ll have to ask her when I pick her up from school. It was an awesome suggestion, though. One I haven’t seen mentioned before.

    • Danielle,

      that’s 2 for taking out Beauty. I’m trying to figure out why I’m resistant. I think I relate to her– I like how she has brown hair and brown eyes and likes to read. But I hear you. THinking…

      Nancy Drew, I don’t know. I read all the books as a kid. She is so prissy. With her boyfriend Ned and being such a perfect daughter. And then I think of how Pamel Sue Martin posed for Playboy. Are you talking about the movie with Emma Roberts? I can add to suggestion list.


  25. Not so sure Mulan counts, she had to be a man to be allowed power. But then, there’s awesome strength in her being able to do so.
    How about Tinkerbell (the movie, not the oversexualized and schixophrenic companion to Peter) ?

    • MJ,

      totally agree about Mulan! I had to explain sexism to my 4 year old for her to even ‘get’ why Mulan had to pretend to be a boy. That’s why I only gave 2 Gs. This is hard!

      I’ll add Tinkerbell, you’re the second commenter who wrote her in. I have not see the movie but I hate her outfit and her coy expression.


      • I think the thing about Mulan – it’s set in a historical context, and women really didn’t have power at that time. So to show a girl even daring to dress as a boy to then get power, shows an added strength considering the setting – I think it takes even more courage for the character to buck the system under those circumstances.

          • MM,

            Perhaps. I guess for little kids, I’d just explain briefly how back in that time period, some people foolishly thought girls couldn’t do some things, but we know better now. If you didn’t even want to get into that, though, one way might be to say, “she would have gotten in trouble if they knew it was her, so she put on different clothes [or ‘a costume’] so people would think she was someone different.”

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