The 100 greatest female characters in movies

80. Catherine Tramell (Basic Instinct)

The Character: Best-selling writer of crime novels like Basic Instinct whose inventive kills are being borrowed by a killer. Unless, of course, she's the killer.

The Actress: After muddling through the 1980s, Sharon Stone's break came as Arnie's wife in Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall. So when every other actress passed on playing Catherine, Verhoeven set up a rematch.

The Performance: Unavoidable. Stone knew she'd get noticed for this, and didn't hold back, although it's her slinky intelligence as much as the nudity which makes her so watchable.

79. Phyllis Dietrichson (Double Indemnity)

The Character: The archetypal femme fatale, who seduces a haplessly horny fool in order to get him to murder her husband for the Double Indemnity insurance money.

The Actress: Billy Wilder wanted to shock. What better choice than Barbara Stanwyck, famed as a comedienne and the highest paid actress in Hollywood?

The Performance: Stanwyck adapts her confident comedic timing into a sexual predator who gets what she wants: a new kind of role model.

78. Bess McNeill (Breaking The Waves)

The Character: Mentally disturbed Scotswoman in Breaking The Waves, whose life spirals into promiscuity and degradation after her oil rig worker husband is paralysed in an accident.

The Actress: The loss of Helena Bonham Carter - who bailed last-minute, aghast at the subject matter - became the gain of screen debutant Emily Watson, who had no such qualms.

The Performance: Watson's raw, fearless presence turns Lars Von Trier's potentially pretentious yarn into a visceral tragedy.

77. Thelma Dickinson (Thelma And Louise)

The Character: Downtrodden housewife who's given on the road training in self-assertiveness by pal Louise when the killing of a would-be rapist sees them become scofflaws.

The Actress: Professional kook Geena Davis had impressed in leftfield roles (The Fly, Beetlejuice). Working with Ridley Scott provided the opportunity to crash the A-list.

The Performance: The yin to Susan Sarandon's yang, Davis gets the bigger character arc and better audience identification, learning to loosen up and getting to shag Brad Pitt.

76. Alabama Whitman (True Romance)

The Character: Call girl whose liaison with film geek Clarence Worley kickstarts a True Romance that will see her escape her pimp, be chased by the Mob and become a drug dealer.

The Actress: Hitherto regarded, if at all, as Rosanna's younger sister, Patricia Arquette donned blue bra and shades to leapfrog her sis in audience love.

The Performance: The first great Tarantino heroine, Alabama sets the standard with unabashed sexuality and some mean fighting moves.

75. Coraline (Coraline)

The Character: Young girl who feels neglected by her parents, but soon learns that the grass isn't greener when she finds an 'Other Mother' who wants to sew buttons where her eyes are.

The Actress: Stop-motion animated by the great Henry Selick, but voiced by Dakota Fanning, an expert in memorable girl acting after Man on Fire and War of the Worlds.

The Performance: A typically sparky Fanning performance aids the film's success in navigating the perils of becoming either an anodyne kids' movie or a outright horror flick.

74. Annie Porter (Speed)

The Character: L.A. passenger unwittingly forced to keep her bus driving above a Speed of 50mpm. Which is ironic, considered she's only on the bus after being banned from driving for speeding.

The Actress: Sandra Bullock was really on the radar of genre buffs after supporting turns in The Vanishing and Demolition Man. But Speed was unignorable.

The Performance: Bullock's refreshing normality made her a contender for action's unlikeliest ever heroine, which of course is why she's so perfect in the role.

73. Kate 'Ma' Barker (Bloody Mama)

The Character: Real-life Bloody Mama who presided over the cutthroat Barker family of public enemies in the 1930s.

The Actress: Double Oscar-winner Shelley Winters, an irrepressible force of personality and a major coup for Roger Corman's drive-in riff on Bonnie and Clyde.

The Performance: Winters was never unafraid to let rip with her acting, and here sails way over the top to essay a vicious matriarch for whom family comes first.

72. Marge Gunderson (Fargo)

The Character: Jovial (and heavily pregnant) police chief of Brainerd - not Fargo - whose maternity leave gets put on hold when a faked kidnapping spirals into murder.

The Actress: Frances McDormand had first got noticed in the Coen Brothers debut and stuck close to them since. In fact, she married Joel.

The Performance: McDormand's chipper personality anchors the bloody chaos with affectionate humanity, and brought a new level of maturity to the Coens' ironic worldview.

71. Elisabet Vogler (Persona)

The Character: Famous stage actress in a mute meltdown in Persona, who's sent to an island to recuperate with only chatty nurse Alman (Bibi Andersson) for company. Until the two kinda, sorta merge into one.

The Actress: Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann is indeliby linked with Ingmar Berman, appearing in nine films. It all started with Persona.

The Performance: Ullmann's serene impassivity takes on troubling hints of vampirism, as if she's feeding on Alma's stories. She's unsettling doing very little at all.