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50 Essential Movies About Exhilaratingly Bad Women

Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street is a three-hour epic featuring a number of debaucheries committed by the men who rule the country’s financial institutions. While the film has sparked debate over its depiction of drugs and sex, many critics have complained of its lack of a feminine perspective. If you’re looking for the chance to see female characters going head-to-head with their devious male counterparts, you’ll likely have to skip Scorsese’s latest picture. The good news, however, is that cinema has a long history of devious women and femmes fatales, as seen in these 50 movies. Here are some of the most notorious and downright thrilling bad women in movie history.

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

Russ Meyer’s most famous film, Faster, Pussycat! follows three wild women with a penchant for fast cars and murder. 

Heathers

High school comedies were never the same after teenage murder was introduced as a comic trope. I know the Heathers are the bad guys, but aren’t they kind of the best?

Citizen Ruth

Laura Dern stars in Alexander Payne’s first film as a paint-huffing homeless woman who finds herself pregnant (again) and at the center of the abortion debate. No woman looks more charming with a ring of spray paint around her nose.

Bad Teacher

Cameron Diaz plays the titular terrible educator in Jake Kasdan’s dark comedy, which already has a TV adaptation heading to the small screen this year.

Young Adult

Charlize Theron was robbed of an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Mavis Gary, a sociopathic icy blonde who returns to her Minnesota hometown to steal her high-school sweetheart from his wife and daughter. 

Death Becomes Her

Robert Zemeckis took the catfight to a new level with this dark comedy, in which Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn literally tear each other to pieces. 

Serial Mom

John Waters’ put the husky-voiced Kathleen Turner in one of the most deliciously perfect roles of her career: a serial-murdering suburbanite. 

Set It Off

Four friends, struggling to make ends meet, turn to bank robbery in this action film starring Jada Pinkett-Smith, Queen Latifah, and Vivica A. Fox. 

Bachelorette

On the eve of their high school frenemy’s wedding, three bridesmaids rip up the wedding dress, snort a mountain of cocaine, and find themselves in heaps of trouble in Leslye Headland’s biting feminist comedy. 

The Opposite of Sex

Christina Ricci plays the pregnant teenager from hell who steals her half-brother’s dimwitted boyfriend. Bonus: Lisa Kudrow plays a Plain Jane who steals the show with the most caustic lines. 

Addams Family Values

Christina Ricci turns up again as Wednesday Addams, burning down a repressively cheerful summer camp. Meanwhile, Joan Cusack delivers her greatest performance as gold-digging serial murderer.

She-Devil

Oscar winner Meryl Streep goes head-to-head against Rosanne. Enough said.

Foxfire

Five teenage girls form a bond after attacking the teacher who sexually harasses them in this drama starring Angelina Jolie and Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis. 

Jawbreaker

It’s like Heathers, but trashier, sexier, and more ’90s. Marilyn Manson and The Donnas show up, after all. 

Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS [NSFW]

Who doesn’t love a Holocaust exploitation film featuring a sadistic blonde Nazi? 

Kill Bill

Quentin Tarantino’s two-part epic stars a slew of badass women, although only one makes it to the end alive. 

Mommie Dearest

Faye Dunaway plays History’s Greatest Monster, Joan Crawford. I know she’s awful, but… isn’t she kinda great?

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls

Forget the melodramatic original: Russ Meyer and Roger Ebert co-wrote a pseudo-sequel / remake that no one really wanted, and it’s a delirious camp classic. 

The Witches of Eastwick

Long before Jessica Lange and company hexed around New Orleans, Cher, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Susan Sarandon were casting spells and sleeping with the devil (played by Jack Nicholson) in this dark comedy. 

101 Dalmatians

I never want to see animals hurt in movies, but Glenn Close nailed Cruella de Vil to the extent that I was a little sad that she didn’t get what she wanted. 

Misery

Kathy Bates’ obsessive fan takes a gleeful sledgehammer to James Caan’s poor, tired legs in Rob Reiner’s comic thriller based on the Stephen King novel.

The Devil Wears Prada

Sure, you have the disgustingly sweet and quirky Anne Hathway to deal with, but that’s balanced out by the one-two punch of Oscar nominees Meryl Streep and Emily Blunt playing mean-girl fashionistas to perfection.

Pink Flamingos

Divine eats shit and loves it. 

Notes on a Scandal

Oh, you’re looking for a female antihero? Here are two perfect examples. 

Gia

Angelina Jolie’s star-making role was as drug-addled beauty Gia Carangi in this HBO biopic.

Foxes

Jodie Foster and The Runaways’ Cherie Currie star in the original Spring Breakers (save for the handgun fellatio), as rebellious teenage girls in the San Fernando Valley. 

9 to 5

Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, and Dolly Parton ushered in an ’80s comedy trope — the spitfire working woman — in this comedy about three office workers who take revenge on their sexist boss. 

Ruthless People

Why on earth would anyone want to kill Bette Midler?

Bridesmaids

Kristen Wiig’s lovably miserable single lady acts out in a variety of socially unacceptable ways in this comedy, which earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

Thelma and Louise

Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis both earned Oscar nominations for Best Actress in this modern feminist classic that turns the typical buddy comedy / road-trip genre on its head.

Jackie Brown

In Quentin Tarantino’s plot-heavy caper, Pam Grier stars as the titular character determined to best a pair of feds and her gun-dealing boss. And don’t rule out Bridget Fonda, who knocks it out of the park as a hilariously cunning stoner. 

To Die For

Nicole Kidman stars as an ambitious woman who will stop at nothing to achieve success — not even having her husband murdered by her teenage lover. 

All About Eve

Bette Davis stars as a spiteful Broadway diva determined to prevent her backstabbing assistant and biggest fan, the titular Eve, from stealing her spotlight. 

Female Trouble

Could there possibly be a better line in a film than, “I wouldn’t suck your dick if I was suffocating and you had oxygen flowing from your balls”? I doubt it. 

The Women

George Cukor’s catty comedy classic is notable for its all-female cast, and a star-studded one at that. 

Drop Dead Gorgeous

This mockumentary features an all-star cast of women (Denise Richards, Kirsten Dunst, Amy Adams, to name a few) in a send-up of small-town beauty pageants with a murderous twist. 

For a Good Time, Call…

Ari Graynor and Lauren Miller star as two clever New York women who come up with an ingenious way to pay their rent: they start their own phone sex line from their home. 

The House of Yes

Parker Posey shines as the mentally disturbed yet unabashed Jackie O enthusiast with an unnatural affection for her twin brother in this creepy comedy.

Dangerous Liaisons

Glenn Close gives the performance of her career as one of literature’s most notorious villains, the cruel and cunning Marquise de Merteuil.

Working Girl

Melanie Griffith plays a sweet Staten Island gal working her way up the company ladder, but it’s Sigourney Weaver as a high-powered corporate bitch who steals the show.

Private Benjamin

Goldie Hawn plays a spoiled rich woman who joins the Army on a whim, only to be whipped into shape by Eileen Brennan’s domineering Army Captain.

Showgirls

One of the greatest, trashiest cinematic failures of all time, Showgirls is worth watching for Gina Gershon’s Crystal Connors alone. 

Tank Girl

Lori Petty stars as the titular renegade in a dystopian future in this film based on a wildly popular British comic book. 

The Grifters

Anjelica Houston and a young Annette Bening act laps around a befuddled John Cusack as two sexy and wicked con artists in Stephen Frears’ neo-noir.

Single White Female

Finding a roommate in New York is never ideal, especially when she steals your haircut and your boyfriend before trying to murder you.

Body Heat

Kathleen Turner is a sultry femme fatale in this neo-noir from director Lawrence Kasdan. 

Bound

The Wachowski siblings made their directorial debut with this erotic modern noir film starring Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon, known for its unabashedly graphic lesbian sex scenes choreographed by sex therapist and queer cinema critic Susie Bright.

The Last Seduction

This erotic thriller follows a woman who ropes her husband into a drug deal, steals the earnings, runs off to New York, and finds a new man she can dupe into getting rid of her husband once and for all. 

Basic Instinct

Sharon Stone’s murderous bisexual mystery author with a penchant for forgoing underwear is one of modern cinema’s most notorious femmes fatales. 

Mean Girls

What hath Heathers wrought? A ton of dark teen comedies, including this fan favorite that introduced us to Lizzy Caplan, Amanda Seyfried, and Rachel McAdams, offered a ton of quotable lines, and gave us the last great performance from Lindsay Lohan.