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The 100 greatest female characters in movies

20. Mia Wallace (Pulp Fiction)

The Character: Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction dream girl has a eye for fashion, an ear for a tune, and a nose for cocaine... That's not cocaine. Oh.

The Actress: Miramax wanted an A-lister; Meg Ryan was mentioned. Tarantino wanted to create an A-lister, and cast Uma Thurman. Disco.

The Performance: Sardonic and sexy in a very 1990s way, Thurman moves so effortlessly it takes a hypodermic to the heart to remind you Mia is fictional.

19. Clarice Starling (Silence Of The Lambs)

The Character: The FBI Academy's hottest prospect is also a yokel-made-good plagued by The Silence of the Lambs. One of those qualities is going to her noticed by Hannibal Lecter... but which?

The Actress: Thomas Harris' nerve-shredding novel proved to much for Michelle Pfeiffer. But Jodie Foster had proved in The Accused that she was willing to embrace the extreme and jumped in... although sequel Hannibal proved too much for even her.

The Performance: Clarice attracts undue attention as a woman in a man's world, and builds a frosty exterior to cloak her femininity. Foster, having made her name playing a teenage prostitute and inspired an Presidential assassination attempt by the age of 20, totally gets it.

18. Laurie Strode (Halloween)

The Character: Virginal babysitter who survives Michael Myers' Halloween bloodbath only to get trapped by a deadlier foe: sequels.

The Actress: Though already acting on telly, Jamie Lee Curtis hadn't made a film. Then again, her mother Janet Leigh had made one that made Jamie perfect casting as a scream queen.

The Performance: Curtis' willingness to play things straight was instrumental in turning potential shlock into genre art. By her return in Halloween H20, she's effectively become the Ellen Ripley of slasher movies.

17. Carrie White (Carrie)

The Character: Sure, all teens are troubled, but when your religious crank of a mother hasn't explained puberty, the school bully has targeted you for punishment and you have telekinetic powers, something's got to give.

The Actress: Badlands sensation Sissy Spacek was alerted to the role by her husband, art director Jack Fisk. She wanted it so much she turned up at audition a la Carrie: unwashed and dressed in clothes from her childhood.

The Performance: Spacek anchors Brian De Palma's extravagant visuals with a startling blend of insecurity and intolerance, with probably the greatest death stare in cinema history.

16. Bridget Gregory (The Last Seduction)

The Character: The Last Seduction's unscrupulous femme fatale has more balls than any of the men in her life. She's a post-feminist icon for a post-modern noir.

The Actress: Character actress Linda Fiorentino might have been working for years (including with Scorsese in After Hours) but The Last Seduction proved the very definition of an overnight success.

The Performance: The famous unguarded Fiorentino has lambasted Hollywood conformity so often it's clear she relishes the opportunity to play an out-and-out, totally uncompromised bitch. It's a shame she was ineligible for Oscar consideration, thanks to the film's premiere being on HBO.

15. Catwoman (Batman Returns)

The Character: Spinsterish secretary Selina Kyle unleashes her inner sex kitten after a near-death experience. But, for the sake of this article, it's all about the catsuit.

The Actress: Tim Burton was apparently unfamiliar with Michelle Pfeiffer's work when first choice Annette Bening dropped out due to pregnancy. If Burton had seen The Fabulous Baker Boys, Pfeiffer would have been the first choice.

The Performance: Pfeiffer takes such delight in prowling through the film you have to wonder if she's acting out some private fantasy. If only Halle Berry had done the same. C'mon, Hathaway, make it two out of three.

14. Matilda (Leon)

The Character: Ordinarily, Leon the milk-drinking hitman would be the coolest character in his film. But not when there's a 12-year-old girl who wants to be a hitwoman.

The Actress: Luc Besson cast promising acting talent Natalie Hershag, necessitating a swift name-change to adopt her grandmother's maiden name, Portman. What happened next? See entry #26.

The Performance: Portman's was the most gobsmacking child performance since Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver. Wise enough beyond her years to mix unsettling coquettish charm with single-minded intensity, she instantly marked Mathilda - and Portman - as one to watch.

13. Lisbeth Salander (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo)

The Character: The literary sensation of recent years, Stieg Larsson's pierced punk avenger - The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo herself - overcomes the most appalling of odds to bust heads in the name of justice.

The Actress: Already acclaimed in her native Sweden, the Millennium trilogy made Noomi Rapace a global art-house star who's now on the Hollywood A-list in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and Prometheus.

The Performance: Rapace's perfectly calibrated blend of rage and vulnerability has transformed a cool character on the page into an on-screen phenomenon. Rooney Mara has her work cut out.

12. Jackie Brown

The Character: Middle-aged air hostess and drug mule who gets a chance to kick back against the system and, perhaps, find a new love in her life.

The Actress: Tailor-made as a career comeback for one-time blaxploitation icon Pam Grier, to the point Tarantino changed the ethnicity of Elmore Leonard's original character.

The Performance: Grier's still got that no-nonsense Foxy Brown vibe. But she teases out the unspoken years of drudgery in Jackie's story to underpin her triumph with a core of plaintive emotion.

11. Eli (Let The Right One In)

The Character: A 12-year-old with a bit of a Goth thing going on... or a 200-year-old vampire damned by her addictive craving for blood?

The Actress: Open casting brought Lina Leandersson to Let The Right One In director Tomas Alfredson's attention. But he overdubbed her with deeper-voiced actress Elif Ceylan to underscore the disconnect between Eli's appearance and her actual age.

The Performance: Forget the voice. Leandersson's unnervingly still performance is what mesmerises: at once a confident old-timer and yet still somehow a child when it comes to forging human relationships.