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The 100 greatest female characters in movies

50. Jessie (Toy Story 2)

The Character: Born to be the rootingest, tootingest of toys, Jessie suffers the most when she's abandoned by Emily. Andy gives her a second chance at happiness, but what happens if he leaves her, too?

The Actress: Joan Cusack, sister of John who's equally talented but less starrier, was ideally placed for Pixar's commitment to casting talent over stardom.

The Performance: Cusack nails Jessie's central dichotomy of a personality branded by manufacturers to be bubbly but driven by reality to be desperately sad.

49. Nurse Ratched (One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest)

The Actress: A protege of Robert Altman, Louise Fletcher was initially slated to appear in Nashville until a falling out made her available for One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest.

The Performance: As cold and cruel a portrayal of institutional brutality as has ever been depicted, largely because Fletcher keeps her hatred bubbling away under the false friendship of her thin-lipped smile.

48. Alex Forrest (Fatal Attraction)

The Character: Publishing editor whose affair with married Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) unleashes a Fatal Attraction of latent jealousy and homicidal rage against household pets. Poor bunny.

The Actress: Jagged Edge had pushed the acclaimed supporting actress into leading roles, setting her up nicely for a mainstream thriller requiring nuanced, realistic villainy.

The Performance: The film, especially in its reshot ending, wants to turn Alex into a monster. But Close is far more interesting in portraying scarily plausible mental illness.

47. Evelyn Mulwray (Chinatown)

The Character: Engineer's wife who becomes the centre of Chinatown's maelstrom of murder and perversion, after private eye Jake Gittes is hired to follow a woman who's pretending to be Evelyn.

The Actress: Good thing producer Robert Evans' wife Ali McGraw eloped with Steve McQueen. Her departure from the project brought in Faye Dunaway, who had the perfect porcelain looks for the 1930s period setting.

The Performance: As Evelyn Mulwray's composure unravels into hysteria, so too did Dunaway's under Roman Polanski's bullying. She eventually threw a cup of piss (allegedly Jack Nicholson's) into her director's face.

46. Blanche Dubois (A Streetcar Named Desire)

The Character: Fragile flower who makes the mistake of thinking old-world courtesy and grace can be found in the hulking menace of brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski. A stranger's just a friend you haven't met? Yeah, right.

The Actress: Elia Kazan's adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire retained the cast he'd used on Broadway...except Jessica Tandy, bypassed in favour of Hollywood's most famous screen Southener, (the British) Vivien Leigh.

The Performance: Faced both with the prospect of a cast parted from its star, and the radical Method acting of Marlon Brando, it's no wonder Leigh's Blanche looks genuinely unsettled.

45. Paikea Apirana (Whale Rider)

The Character: Technically next in line to inherit leadership of her Maori tribe, but hampered by her people's patronising attitude to her being a girl, she decides to prove herself as the Whale Rider anyway.

The Actress: This was Keisha Castle-Hughes' first film. Indeed, she'd never even been on a film set before shooting this. Didn't stop her becoming the youngest ever Best Actress Oscar nominee.

The Performance: Headstrong, flintily determined and tomboyish, Castle-Hughes lands the right side of the line divides moving drama and Free Willy.

44. Charlotte (Lost In Translation)

The Character: A newlywed graduate, virtually abandoned in a Tokyo hotel by her photographer husband and Lost In Translation, who strikes up an unlikely friendship with equally lonely movie star Bob Harris.

The Actress: Rising star Scarlett Johansen had already wowed the indie intelligentsia in films by Terry Zwigoff and the Coens - exactly the right level of hip for Sofia Coppola's on-screen alter-ego.

The Performance: Coppola's intimate mood piece coaxed real 'where is my life going?' thoughtfulness from Johansen. Some of her subsequent movie choices suggest she never quite figured out the answer.

43. Ofelia (Pan's Labyrinth)

The Character: Girl in wartorn Spain who must reluctantly live her sadistic stepfather, but is far more intrigued by the neighbouring Pan's Labyrinth.

The Actress: Guillermo Del Toro had intended to cast a younger actress until the arrival of ten-year-old Ivan Baquero forced him to tweak the screenplay to accommodate her.

The Performance: It's hard to find a young actress who can convincingly play against special effects, harder still to find one capable of conveying the tragedy of Ofelia's harsh reality. Baquero makes both look easy.

42. Margot Tenenbaum (The Royal Tenenbaums)

The Character: A child genius from The Royal Tenenbaums family of child geniuses, Margot became an award-winning playwright in her youth but has since succumbed to ennui and secret smoking.

The Actress: Gwyneth Paltrow's unexpected Oscar triumph in Shakespeare in Love allowed her to roam outside of obvious mainstream fare, so Wes Anderson was, in an odd way, a natural fit.

The Performance: Required to dress and move with the same studied poise as screen siblings Luke Wilson and Ben Stiller, it's nevertheless Paltrow who locates tragic glamour amidst the irony.

41. Holly Golightly (Breakfast At Tiffany's)

The Character: She plays hard and parties harder, but that's still no excuse for not looking fabulous. How else can she expect to enjoy Breakfast at Tiffany's?

The Actress: The novella's author Truman Capote insisted on Marilyn Monroe. Paramount went the other way and cast style icon Audrey Hepburn.

The Performance: Given that Hollywood bowdlerised Capote's creation (it's barely noticeable Holly's a prostitute), Audrey's effortless grace and charm are essential to selling the idea that she's simply floating through life.