The 18 Most Bad Ass Working Women On Screen

Inspirations, each and every one of them.

Sadly, career gals haven’t exactly set Hollywood alight over the years, but it’s getting better – and as Vicki Notaro says, we always have these boss ladies to look up to.

Nora Ephron’s characters

One of the most famous female writers of the 20th century, when she became a screenwriter, Nora Ephron’s feminism couldn’t help but inspire her work. Whatever else is going on in her character’s lives, what they do is a big part of it – whether that’s journalism in Heartburn and Sleepless in Seattle, owning a small business like in You’ve Got Mail, or your job absolutely doing your head in like in Julie and Julia and Silkwood. Yes, they’re rom coms, but they’re also about the importance of following your professional passions, even when thwarted.

Lieutenant Olivia Benson

Law and Order: SVU would be nothing without its lead, played wonderfully by Mariska Hargitay, who now helms the show solo after years with co-star Christopher Meloni. She has been through more than your average special unit copper, but she does it with style, panache, and fantastic one-liners. Plus, she knows her way around a gun. Special snaps for many of the crime shows on TV – all the iterations of CSI and Criminal Minds have strong, career-focused women on the case, and even saving the day.

Baby Boom

JC (Diane Keaton) is a bit of a New York yuppie (well, it was the 80s) until she inherits a relative’s child and her work starts to suffer (read: she’s usurped by man.) She moves to the country to lick her wounds, but while there manages to invent an absolutely fabulous baby food, because you just can’t keep a good gal down! A timeless classic, in my opinion.

Elle Woods

The heroine of Legally Blonde might start out as a bit of a stalker, following her ex to Harvard Law School in order to win him back. But girlfriend soon realises her own potential, and that she doesn’t need a dweeb that holds her back. Not only is she a fabulous lawyer, she’s just plain fabulous – even more so in the sequel.

Sue Ellen from Don’t Tell Mom, The Babysitter’s Dead

If the line “I’m right on top of that, Rose!” means nothing to you, you need to watch this classic movie, STAT. Christina Applegate (in one of two appearances on this list, go gal!) plays a teenager who fantasises about being a fashion designer, and accidentally blags herself a top job when she needs to earn a crust one summer (all to do with the aforementioned babysitter being dead.) It’s a cult classic, trust me and watch it now!

The ladies of Shonda’s shows

TV is a lot better at repping the working woman than movieland, especially Shonda Rhimes’ shows. From Grey’s Anatomy and its medical professionals to How To Get Away With Murder and its bad-ass criminal law lecturer lead, and of course Scandal with Olivia Pope the crisis management mastermind, ladies with super careers are front and centre. Of course, they have their share of hardships (and murders, and Presidential affairs), but such is life, and this is television!

Margaret from The Proposal

Sandra Bullock is a book editor and a bit of a bitch. Faced with deportation to Canada, she needs to get married in order to stay in the States and continue at her high-powered job, so she somehow talks her assistant Ryan Reynolds into it. Of course, she falls in love with him. But this is a film about how career is so important to a woman, she’ll do anything to keep it – and that’s a rarity in Hollywood!

Lorelai Gilmore

Despite being raised with a silver spoon in her mouth, the elder Gilmore girl left home when she got pregnant at 16 and got a job at an inn, one she later went on to run before owning her very own B&B. Throughout the series, she encourages brainy daughter Rory to aspire to be everything she’s ever dreamed of – and hustles to help her get there. Refreshing, to say the least.

The ladies of 9 To 5

Is Dolly Parton’s iconic song ringing in your head? I hope so. The trifecta of Dolly, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin was something else, especially when they decided they wanted more from their job and their misogynistic manager. Now, we don’t recommend taking their route and kidnapping the boss man, but taking a stand is always advised.

The Hidden Figures

This 2017 flick about the African American women who helped put men on the moon drew wide acclaim, and for good reason. It likely couldn’t have been done without them, and they were marginalised for so long because of their gender and the colour of their skin. It’s an inspiring and often infuriating watch, but absolutely satisfying when they get their dues…. eventually.

Miranda Priestly

Allegedly based on magazine queen Anna Wintour, Meryl Streep’s Priestly is initially presented as a bit of a witch – or more accurately, the devil that wears Prada. But we soon see the woman behind the frightening facade, the quest for perfection and the insistence on fighting becoming obsolete in the fashion world. Look, she’s still a bitch, but she’s a damn successful one. And sure wouldn’t we just call a man in her position “challenging”?!

The Crown’s star, QEII

We can’t talk about bosses and not talk about the Queen, right? After all, the Netflix show is entirely about Elizabeth’s profession and how it makes her, and the other people in her life, feel. Being Queen is her job, and one she does with dignity. Oh, and leading actress Claire Foy still got paid less than her male co- star, just FYI.

Veronica Corningstone

Anchorman’s female lead wanted one thing – a seat at the lads’ table. A feminist icon, she might have loved Ron Burgundy (for her sins), but she didn’t let that dent her ambition. Girlfriend was fighting a long battle, but she was particularly excellent at handling the old boys’ club.

Maria from Maid In Manhattan

Jennifer Lopez plays Maria, a hotel maid who longs to be a manager, but hasn’t got the confidence to follow her career goals. A powerful maid kinda gets in the way for a while, but in the end this love story is very much about a woman who has dreams but is too scared to follow them – until she’s not. And Maria ends up hashtag having it all, in her very own way.

Erin Brockovich

A single mother with a slight chip on her shoulder, Erin starts out the movie bloody tired of how she’s been treated, and how life seems to be one big struggle. Having convinced a local lawyer to take a chance on her, she soon discovers there’s something suspicious in the water, and goes out of her way to get to the bottom of it. An Oscar-winning turn from Julia Roberts, it’s a fantastic film about perseverance, following your nose, and doing what’s right.

Tess McGill

Possibly the first serious (and hugely successful) film made about women in the corporate world, Working Girl tells the story of ambitious secretary Tess, who spies an opportunity when her boss is laid off, and um, takes over her job. Look, it’s not the best way to go about it, but hey, the 80s were tough for us gals at work! Tess has to trade in her trendy hair and eccentric wardrobe in order to fit in, but she’s nothing if not determined – and the high she gets from success is admirable.

The women of Sex And The City

Say what you want about SATC, for most of the characters, career comes first. Miranda and Samantha are perhaps the most work-focused, sometimes even to their detriment, but Carrie’s entire life is tied up in her profession as a writer. Yes, it is entirely unrealistic that she could live her fabulous NYC life on a weekly columnist’s wage, and yes, she does think about giving it all up for The Russian, but she sees the error of her ways eventually. Charlotte, well, she’s a pretty privileged gal, so she’s a different kettle of fish entirely.

Kris Jenner

Reality television’s finest momager, KJ is a born hustler with incredible selling abilities and staying power. We wouldn’t know who any of her daughters are without her, and her talent for leveraging scandals into dollars is totally admirable – the show’s longevity is testament to that. And look, pretty much all of her daughters are now examples of moguls on the telly – Kourtney in mothering, Kylie in beauty, Khloe in denim, Kendall in modelling and Kim in pretty much everything.


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