Move over, Sherlock Holmes ― the girl geniuses have arrived. These days, some of the smartest characters from kids’ movies, TV shows and books are female. And with research ― published in 2017 ― indicating that girls start underestimating their own intelligence by the age of 6, it’s clear that brainy media role models matter. A lot.
Despite high-IQ heroines such as Princess Leia and Lisa Simpson, female characters are overwhelmingly focused on looks and appearance and often more concerned with love and romance than academic or career goals. Studies have demonstrated the significant ways that TV, movies and other media influence body image and gender stereotypes, as do the high percentage of hypersexualized female characters in kids’ media ― even in cartoons. Thankfully, though, there are so many awesome female characters out there charting a new path.
We’ve compiled this list of some of the brightest and brainiest female characters from movies, TV and books. These 13 gals are great examples of positive media role models for girls ― and for boys, too. After all, where would Harry Potter be without Hermione? No matter their gender, kids will love watching and reading about these female brainiacs. And when they’re done, they can check out some of our other favorite female role models from movies, TV and books.
Mulan. Strong, smart and strategic, this Disney “princess” never lets the boys ― or the bad guys ― underestimate her. Mulan uses her resourcefulness and ingenuity to stand out in an army full of men and to solve seemingly impossible problems, such as saving all of China from invading forces.
Calpurnia Tate. Even as she struggles with the limited roles available to her as a girl growing up in 1899, 12-year-old Callie demonstrates exceptional curiosity for science and the natural world. She rescues animals and aspires to be a veterinarian in two book series aimed at middle-grade as well as younger readers.
Hermione Granger. It’s impossible to imagine the Harry Potter books and movies without this intelligent young witch who knows all the answers (or hits the library to figure them out). The ultimate smart girl, Hermione uses her brains and her books to help defeat Voldemort and ace her classes while she’s at it.
Leia Organa. Otherwise known as Princess Leia, this Resistance general uses her strategic mind and unfaltering sense of justice to bring peace back to a galaxy far, far away. She’s as comfortable leading a mission to destroy the Death Star as she is repairing a spaceship. And not to mention, her leadership helped inspire a few other smart Star Wars women: Rey and Jyn Erso.
Akeelah Anderson. At only 11 years old, Akeelah studies, works hard and overcomes personal challenges to reach her goal of being a spelling bee champion in Akeelah and the Bee. Not only is she a gifted speller, Akeelah also learns to embrace her talents and passion instead of hiding her intelligence to fit in.
Meg Murry. The daughter of two brilliant scientists, A Wrinkle in Time’s Meg Murry has an innate knack for math and science, even though her grades don’t always show it. She even helps her younger brother with his homework. On top of that, it’s her strong mind that eventually allows her to save her father from the clutches of the evil IT.
Annabeth Chase. It’s no surprise that the daughter of Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, would be a genius. Annabeth is clever, brave, and analytical, with a wide variety of skills ranging from designing buildings to weaving. A master strategist, she frequently uses her intelligence to help her friends in the Percy Jackson book series and movies.
Violet Baudelaire. This mechanically minded 14-year-old uses her sharp intellect to get herself and her siblings out of a number of sticky spots in A Series of Unfortunate Events, a book series that has been made into a movie and a Netflix series. Violet is also a natural inventor who creates grappling hooks, lock picks, signaling devices, and more from seemingly random parts.
Elizabeth Bennet. Accomplished and well-read, Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennet uses her knowledge and wit to win people over in a society where relationships are everything. She’s perceptive, self-assured, and, most surprisingly, willing to accept when she’s wrong, proving that she’s more interested in knowledge and truth than in being right.
Lisa Simpson. As sharp as her pointy hair, Lisa is much smarter than the average second-grader, though it certainly helps that she’s been the same age for nearly 30 years while The Simpsons has been on the air. Though she’s just a kid, her sophisticated views on social issues and world affairs, prodigious talent on the saxophone, and intellectual nature set her apart.
Elle Woods. This sorority girl turned law student rejects the stereotype that being smart and being feminine are mutually exclusive. It’s not only her optimism that gets Elle into Harvard Law in Legally Blonde. She’s also a bright, tenacious student who refuses to change who she is to fit in, and she uses her skills and wit to help others.
Betty Suarez. With an impressive work ethic and loads of self-confidence, “Ugly Betty” is a strong, smart role model who stays true to herself no matter the situation. Betty’s ambition and career as a journalist are all due to her intelligence, passion, and dedication.
Leslie Knope. As ambitious as she is kind, Leslie Knope turns a minor job in a small-town Parks and Rec department into an impressive political career. She’s intelligent, determined and fiercely organized, and she refuses to stop working until she’s achieved her goal, no matter how many elaborately detailed binders it takes.