18 of TV’s most badass female characters

The NWN staff bands together to list eighteen of televisions most badass female characters. (We're not saying there can't be more. Please don't yell at us.)

The television landscape is comprised of countless male leads from bumbling idiot to suave and smooth, and sometimes even undeniable badass, but more often than not they all have one thing in common: the damsel in distress as their love interest. Even after all the progress we have made as a society, and how it may have been showcased onscreen, female characters are arguably still written unquestionably one-dimensional. However, every once in a while, series write female characters that match up to their male counterparts (and sometimes even upstage them).

Perhaps they kick ass and take names or maybe they’re just independent and confident — either way, there’s no arguing that the following ladies in our list are perfect examples of badasses. Without further adieu, here are just eighteen badass females that have graced our television sets (in alphabetical order):

Cassie Blake, The Secret Circle

Okay maybe it was because she was the only person who could do magic by herself during the short-lived Secret Circle, but every time she used her solo “dark” magic, it was awesome. From throwing bleachers at her maybe-boyfriend Adam’s dad to digging herself out of her own grave to joining forces to kill her own father, every moment Cassie used her dark magic was just so badass. Plus, she saved her circle multiple times a week…and never even heard a “thank you.”

Temperance Brennan, Bones

Although her primary weapon is her remarkable intelligence, Brennan has also proven herself to be a feisty and fearless heroine. She never backs down in the face of danger (as much as Booth may want her to), and she has been known to punch powerful politicians, gang leaders, and serial killers rather than let them intimidate her. And she just became a mother, to boot.

Sydney Bristow, Alias

Sydney became the benchmark for every badass woman that came after her. And Jennifer Garner played her so well; we became obsessed with Garner because of this show. She went through hell — and was even presumed dead at one time — but she still kicked ass and saved the world from the bad guys. And even got a happy ending. Now that’s what we call badass.

Lisa Cuddy, House

This might be a strange choice, but we’re huge fans of Lisa Cuddy on House. It’s easy for people like Buffy or Sydney to come to mind, but those aren’t women who are exactly relatable. Cuddy is a great example of an extraordinary and badass woman who serves as a realistic role model to young women. She was one of the top students in her medical school. She’s Dean of Medicine, which puts her in charge of the entire hospital. Her troubles balancing her role as a single mother and her duties at work are ones real women face everyday. There’s actually a great episode (season 6, episode 14) where you see a day in her life and all the things she has to handle. We admire the amount of discipline and effort it takes to be someone in her position. She’s tough and she’s worked hard for everything she has and that makes her badass to us.

Olivia Dunham, Fringe

We’re not saying this because of all the powers she got recently. She’s just simply badass. She was an FBI agent, a job that is already hard to handle, and she was good at it. And then it all came down in the pilot, where all kinds of shit hit the fan: she discovered a whole new kind of science, her secret boyfriend/partner almost died, she went across the world to find a guy who could help her save him by releasing his father from a mental institution, found out her boyfriend was a traitor, which was all in vain because he died in her arms, and then she finally joins Fringe Division. And that is just one day at work. Not to mention what she had to go through when she found out about the Cortexiphan trials. But she can handle it; she’s strong, fierce, independent…and a badass.

Caroline Forbes, Bonnie Bennett, Katherine Pierce, The Vampire Diaries

Okay, so this is more of a three for one deal. Maybe that’s cheating; we’re sorry. Caroline started out an insecure neurotic cheerleader but then she became a vampire and transformed to a strong-willed and passionate about everything — about life. Caroline’s transformation from self-centered to the undead heartbeat of the Mystic Falls gang is supernatural in its impact. She saved herself and her friends multiple times, always staying loyal to them. And she helped Tyler embrace his curse when he couldn’t. And she’s not the only one; Bonnie has helped all of her friends survive as well. Hell, if it weren’t for Bonnie, no one in Mystic Falls would even be alive (let’s just be honest about that one). And when it comes to the show’s ultimate badass, that’s no one else than Katherine — pithy, bossy, and all around awesome. Multiple lenses exist to view The Vampire Diaries through — epic romance, multigenerational family drama, and eulogy for the departed and those living on the brink of death. But the one we recognize most often are the different routes to female empowerment embarked by these kick-ass women.

Captain Kathryn Janeway, Star Trek Voyager

Commander of a ship stuck halfway across a galaxy from home, leader of a patchwork crew consisting of traditional by-the-book officers, less than enthusiastic rebels, the occasional hitchhiking alien, and a holographic doctor, and lover of coffee, Captain Janeway rose above the the naysayers and proved that a woman can be as strong, powerful, and badass, as any of her male counterparts in the Star Trek universe. Over seven seasons, Janeway and her crew were thrown into impossible situations and threatened by the most dangerous aliens and villains Star Trek ever produced, while trying to find their way home. Her love for her crew, transformed them from a ragtag group of characters into a well-oiled family who respected and appreciated each other. Her compassion for her crew is one of her most admirable qualities, but her love did not make her weak. In fact, it was her love for these friends that drove her to be strong. She was not afraid of making hard decisions, punishing people for disobeying her orders, and was more than once willing to sacrifice herself and her ship for the greater good of the universe. She didn’t need to be motivated by romantic love, nor did she constantly need the men around her validating her decisions. Captain Janeway went against the Borg Queen face to face and won, saved various alien species, Voyager, Earth, and the whole of the Alpha Quadrant from annihilation, got her ship and crew across 75,000 light years of space to home, and upon their return, was made a Starfleet admiral. And she did all of this through intelligence, confidence, compassion, bravery, and good old determination. If this isn’t a badass woman, than we don’t know what is.

Lois Lane, Smallvile

She was sassy and witty, and yet she was the perfect woman for Superman because she was in fact a superwoman. She may have gotten herself in a few fights every once in a while, but we consider her a badass because she stood by her man and supported him and fought alongside him. Clark Kent couldn’t have become Superman without her.

Veronica Mars, Veronica Mars

She’s smart, sassy, determined, and relatable. That’s why Veronica is the perfect candidate, because everything she did was an act of badassery! After being ousted from an entire town, Veronica rose from the ashes and began to demand respect, rather than ask for it. And she did it all by herself, wielding smarts and personality as her weapons of choice — and winning out practically every, single time. Has there been a better role model from young women in the past decade? We think not!

Nikita Mears, Nikita

Nikita, from The CW’s Nikita, has only beat a drug addiction and stayed sober, escaped a black ops division of the government (pretentiously called Division), partnered up and infiltrated Division, took them down, killed their fearless leader, all while being captured and tortured and saving countless lives numerous times — and she’s now running the place. All in a day’s work. Not only is Nikita still emotionally intact, even though we’ve seen the depths of her darkness at times, but she’s still got a lot of fight left in her. Now that’s badass.

Peggy Olsen, Mad Men

Peggy Olsen on Mad Men is absolutely incredible. Unlike almost every other woman on the show, she doesn’t try to exploit or even emphasize her great looks. Her rise from secretary to copywriter made her the only woman on par with any man in the Sterling Cooper office. She works hard to keep up with her fellow male copywriters, letting her talent speak for itself. She’s ambitious and she’s not afraid to be assertive, qualities that were not expected of women in the ‘60s. Peggy Olsen is a badass ahead of her time.

Olivia Pope, Scandal

Kerry Washington’s Olivia Pope is the woman everyone, even the United States government, goes to whenever there’s a crisis that needs damage control — and only the best kind of damage control. That’s because, while she may not always have everything together internally, Olivia Pope is one helluva badass and knows exactly how to handle every situation. There’s no question about it.

Buffy Summers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy is the epitome of badass. Sarah Michelle Gellar was born to play that role. We think we speak for many people when we say Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of those shows that came way before its time (hint, hint: TV’s newfound obsession with vampires and witches and things that go “boo!” in the dark). There’s no doubt about it that Buffy kicked some serious ass on a daily basis — sometimes twice, three times even. The girl saved the world from perishing how many times? She died twice for goodness sake and when she was brought back to life…post digging herself out of her own grave…she kept on fighting. Face it: Buffy’s a badass.

Emily Thorne (Amanda Clarke), Revenge

Revenge is sweet but no one quite serves it up as well as Emily Thorne, real name Amanda Clarke, does on ABC’s Revenge. After being separated from her father from a young age, who was framed for a terrorist attack, and then hearing of his death, Emily didn’t just get mad — she decided to get even. She spent years training, planning, and plotting to finally get the chance to exact her schemes on anyone who had anything to do with framing her father, and she’s kept a stoic, brave face while doing it too. There’s no stopping Emily, and we like that in our female characters.

Cara “Starbuck” Thrace, Battlestar Galactica

Honestly, we would love to nominate all the women of Battlestar Galactica since it is such an amazing gender-inclusive universe (a female president, admiral, ass-kicking robots, and so on), but since we can only choose one, it has to be Starbuck. Starbuck is the no-nonsense, tough as nails, top of her class Viper pilot. She always speaks her mind and doesn’t put up with anyone’s crap. She’s fiercely loyal to the people she cares about (in a non-romantic way…her relationships are another story). It is well known that she can out-fly any other pilot in the fleet.

Sarah Walker, Chuck

Strictly speaking, if looks could kill, then Chuck’s Sarah Walker would be deadly. But even though they can’t, Sarah is still a force to be reckoned with. She’s trained in over 200 ways to kill, is a pilot of many aviation ships, is a master of weaponry, and saved the lives of plenty together with Team Bartowski on a weekly basis. She may have been cold and stoic, but over the course of five seasons began to open up and become malleable (all thanks to falling in love with lead male Chuck). And Yvonne Strahovski played her beautifully — no one else could perfect the balance between super sexy spy, emotional wreck, and absolutely dangerous like she did, creating one of the most dynamic characters on TV as of late.

Those are just a few of our noted badass females on television. Which are some of your favorites?

Reporting by the entire NWN team. This article was originally printed in Swaave Magazine.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Categories: Features
About the author: NoWhiteNoise Team
NoWhiteNoise Team
Posts with the byline as "NoWhiteNoise Team" are articles written in collaboration by the entire staff here at NoWhiteNoise.

Posts from around the web:
  • xrnzaaas

    Renee Walker from 24 is missing from the list. :) I’d also add Bo from Lost Girl, Debra Morgan from Dexter and Aeryn Sun from Farscape.

  • InvestedInYourFuture

    VERY good list.

    It DOES have the wrong Nikita in it though(since I find the whole “conflict for identity and for retaining who you are” Nikita of original La femme Nikita tv show far superior to the teen-version CW spat out) and the list DOES for some reason have TVD characters not named Caroline(and there’s nothing empowering or badass about other female characters on TVD, due to immense sexism), not to mention Elena2 known as Cassie(Uhhh), but otherwise GREAT list.

    If anyone, Veronica and Buffy 100% deserve to be in this list.That’s two characters who are at the top of my favorite character list and they are some of the MOST badass characters ever created, at the same time remaining VERY human, very fallible and very natural.

    Buffy went through horrible horrible tragedies in her life and yet still went forward. There was a sense of frailty and gray-morality behind her face and not every decision was stalwart, true and heroic, but that only made her far more interesting, badass and relatable. She was someone who WOULD save people and want to save people, but at the same time was not some messiah, was not beyond feeling hate or wanting to hurt someone or just being drunk on her own power. She was very human and very fallible deconstruction of a usual hero stereotype and that made her one of the most badass characters ever created.

    There’s a lot one could say about Veronica, but all I can think of is that if Buffy lived in completely normal world, her name would be Veronica Mars. I infinitely love her character and there was not even a moment where she did not shine in her full snarky, witty, manipulative angry ice-queen style.

    TV shows need more characters like Buffy and Veronica and less Elenas.

    • http://twitter.com/FlightlessbirdG Guinevere DR

      I think there is a huge difference between Cassie and Elena. Cassie was proactive and actually did something. Elena does nothing but whine and being vulnerable.

      • Eric Pharand

        True, but Cassie was still Boring Everygirl with Boy Drama 90% of the time.

      • InvestedInYourFuture

        Being proactive is not enough to be badass.

        Elena was “proactive” in Season Three. Look how “well” that went. Cassie still lacked the very basic needs of characterization. Why should we care what she does? Why does she do what she does? Can she do something without shifting into romance angst seconds latter?

        Cassie was Elena and Bonnie(two of my most disliked TVD females) put into one – a boring under-developed everyday girl(hence elena), who also happens to be a convenient plot device and nothing more(hence bonnie)

  • Eric Pharand

    Bonnie is the opposite of a badass.

  • QMargo

    Sorry, but to call Bonnie a badass is like to say that Matt is more awesome then Klaus…but overall, yeah good list.

  • cacherr1

    Since people want to beat up my girl, Bonnie, I am going to a whack at fan favorite Caroline who I would describe as being more conveniently awesome than badass particularly if we are describing season 3 Caroline, as spent majority of her time not doing anything and from going to being able to beat up an older Damon (for some reason in season 3, the whole age rule went out the window, like Damon should not be able to beat up Kol either) to being kidnapped tortured more often than Elena has been. Than she caught that Elena amnesia. I also feel need to point out her transformation did come about in one episode, they discussed she had heightened insecurities and then that went away by the nest episode. Don’t get me wrong I believe Caroline is Bonnie’s only real friend but she not a badass.
    Bonnie is one because at least she get stuff done and affects the plot (something Caroline doesn’t do) but I do think season 3, the writers really effed her personality as she was docile for most part instead of her normal badassery.

  • eternalvoyageur

    Love that Starbuck is included! I think I s Kara though, not Cara.

    • InvestedInYourFuture

      The female characters of BSG are overall grossly underestimated in popular culture. You would hardly find someone as badass as Rosslin or Starbuck nowadays on tv. ;]

      • cacherr1

        I kind felt as the series went Kara somewhat lost her badassness because of that love square b.s. from hell. I also think the show kept trying to force Kara and Lee to happen ruined her a bit. That and she went too crazy. I would pick Athena and Caprica Six (and well duh Roslin) over her.

        • http://twitter.com/jennyad Jen Dickson

          I thought she was a badass to the end, despite her period of crazy. If the show made a mistake with Kara and Lee it was never letting them really be together I think, except I didn’t really mind that because in the end you were left with this sort of tragic feeling about them, like they always loved each other but could never get the timing right. I actually prefer Athena and Roslin as characters, but when it comes to just pure, unadulterated badassery, I feel like Starbuck is kind of the definition of the word. Oh, except for the speech during the mutiny when Zarek tells Roslin that Adama is dead. Holy frak.

          • cacherr1

            I like Kara in late season 4 but it had to do with the writers totally back pedalling on the Kara and Lee thing because in the end at least for me while they did love each other, they weren’t right for each other, Lee never fully got her and accepted her, because of the Zak thing, I don’t think Kara would ever really make herself love Lee (which is why I thought Anders and Dee were better partners). Kara was just crazy in season 3 (understandable but she really regressed), which I do not associate with being a bad ass all the time, and like I said the love square made her look the weakest out everyone, did you know the running joke was it would be easy to kill Starbuck in season 3 because people were getting annoyed by her. And in the first half of season 4, while yes she coming off as crazy return of the dead, everyone ran her were being more bad ass than her. Once Starbuck got her cool back she bad ass back. I think the Lee/Kara romance really detract from the show and brought nothing other than stupidity, it made both Kara and Lee unlikable (they both lost me when they resulted to hitting one another) and as much a Kara would want to commit, I don’t think she could do for Lee.

          • http://twitter.com/jennyad Jen Dickson

            I tend to have really unpopular opinions when it comes to BSG. :) Easily for me her worst moments were when she came back from the dead and she was all obsessed with finding earth. The love triangle didn’t bother me and I actually thought Lee and Kara were both better when they were interacting with each other. Lee became this kind of cynical and douchey Politician Lee and his best moments were being Kara’s best friend and when they would team up to fight together because they worked together so well. I loved the boxing episode, I loved when they beat the shit out of each other and then forgave each other. Lee settled for Dee which was unfair to her and I literally applauded when she finally left him. I loved Sam and Kara together but they were honestly no better for each other than Kara and Lee. The fact is that Kara doesn’t do commitment well at all, she’s volatile and uncontrollable and a screw up. I love that about BSG though, that none of the characters are without their flaws. There are moments when you’re frustrated with every person on that show at some point and they all have their high points too. I’m not saying that Starbuck had more badass moments in the last couple of seasons at all, more just that her personality totally personifies badassness (in my opinion). :)

          • cacherr1

            I get the unpopular opinion thing except Lee/Kara thing wasn’t unpopular among fans, I am just one of the few who didn’t like them as romantic partners. I really did like Lee/Dee and I found it unfair the writers didn’t develop the relationship further but her death imo had bigger impact than Kara’s did as everyone seem to fall apart because Dee was the quiet strength. I do think in the end Dee/Lee were suppose to be together and in most of my post BSG canon on earth Lee settles down with someone more like Dee. I agree personality wise she, did but her personality got screwed when season 3 happen is all saying and Roslin, Athena, and Caprica Six were consistently badass in personality and actions.

          • http://twitter.com/jennyad Jen Dickson

            I LOVED Dee and her death totally devastated me. I agree that it’s sad their relationship didn’t get more development. Honestly I think she deserved someone better and more loyal than Lee. Someone like the Chief who once he was committed to Callie, for example, never looked back or thought twice about it. I even agree that she was good for Lee, but I still don’t think he ever loved her the way she deserved to be loved and I therefore I didn’t like them together. Anyway, I definitely see where you’re coming from. :)

  • cacherr1

    I am so happy Voyager made the list, I have recently decided to rewatch the series (and it is my favorite), You have Janeway, Seven of 9, and B’Elenna, awesomeness and badasses.

    BTW thanks for love towards Olivia Pope, Scandal needs more love.

  • cacherr1

    This list is better than the one on wetpaint because they actually wrote Elena was kickass. that was a great joke.

  • http://twitter.com/jennyad Jen Dickson

    I love this so much.

  • http://twitter.com/bronzia88 Shaden Dada

    KATE. BECKETT. That is all.

    • Sarah Wang

      Amen to that.

  • http://twitter.com/jennyad Jen Dickson

    You know who I forgot about but should totally be on this list? Zoe Washburne, Firefly. She is the greatest.

    • Monika Alem

      We made this list before I had seen Firefly or I would have definitely nominated Zoe as well! :( Totally agree with you!

  • dramakween91

    how is it that Xena didn’t make the list? lol

  • http://twitter.com/erinnwhoaxo sᴛᴀʏ sᴛʀᴏɴɢ ♥

    Buffy PWNS all.

  • Gemma

    You forgot Deb from Dexter, River Song from Doctor Who, Juliet O’Hara from
    Psych, and–strangely enough–Blair Waldorf (shallow? Yes. But has any teenage girl been through so much trauma and emerged so victorious, ALL while being the most terrifying female on the Upper East Side? I dunno bout you, but I sure as hell wouldn’t cross Queen B!).

  • him

    Daenerys Stormborn Targaryen

  • Sarah Wang

    Kate Beckett from Castle and Kono Kalakaua from Hawaii Five 0!

  • Elo

    For Smallville, I have to go with Chloe Sullivan, I can’t go for Lois Lane I’m one of the few people on Earth who hate SV Lois Lane and don’t think she was that badass at all. Maybe only in the first season she was in.
    I agree with Kara in BSG even if I think the drama with Lee kind of ruined her a little but gosh she kicked ass. Sharon and Dee were great too, no matter what people think they were badass in their own ways.
    Cassie Blake…lol, I can’t take that one seriously.
    I agree for Veronica Mars, Emily Thorne, Katherine Pierce and Bonnie Bennett.