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Jan 18, 2013
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Hollywood is obsessed with powerful female characters. That much we know. Gone are the days when women were merely bit players to the raring male protagonists who conquered the silver screen, capturing the bad guy, saving the day, and eventually bedding the rescued damsel in distress.

This isn’t new news.

We no longer move in a world where characters [female or otherwise] that are vehicles for storytelling are boxed into archetypes and stereotypes as old as The Bard. Leads can be complex, damaged, villainous even. And nowadays, it seems, the fairer of the sexes is getting the juicier, more interesting roles worthy of praise and the price of a movie ticket. Tinsel Town in particular just can’t get enough of ladies with punch: Singular, central female figures who steer plots, provoke catharsis, and elicit positive reactions from critics and the movie-going audience.

Director Kathryn Bigelow's (who herself can make a case for stalwart women behind the camera instead of in front of it) new ouvre, Zero Dark Thirty, a film about the events that lead up to the capture of al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden and the female CIA agent at the center of it all, is a thought-provoking, oft-tense drama that focuses on the characters that we wouldn’t normally see on the front page of a broadsheet or in the evening news. It is a character-driven story, with a fine example of a modern-day heroine. A woman who is all at once attractive, determined, and flawed.

Actress Jessica Chastain, who has already earned a best actress Golden Globe for her work in the movie and who is a strong contender for Oscar gold, plays Maya, the stubborn, cunning, no-bullshit agent, whose leads in the manhunt direct the US government to the compound where Bin Laden is actually hiding.

To celebrate the take-charge women of film, here’s a list of past Best Actress Oscar winners who represent women whom we would never want to get in the way of.