TV shows and Movies with Strong Female Leads

An article by Sylvester Barzey

The apocalypse is a strange mistress. The end of the world creates a set of wild new rules within this genre, but somehow the rule of men running the world still didn’t change. Most apocalyptic movies and shows surround a tough White male leading a group of survivors throughout a broken world… but it’s 2021, so the age of Superman is dead, now is the time of Wonder Woman! Here is a list of TV Shows and Movies that aren’t like your Daddy’s old Apocalyptic entertainment, because this list is filled with beauties who are also beast… they’re saving themselves and everyone else.

TV Shows:

The 100 (2014-2020):

Did you ever wonder what the Native Americans had to deal with when the settlers showed up randomly but through the eyes of teens and with space stuff? Well, The CW has you covered because that is more or less The 100! Set 97 years after a nuclear fallout, a spaceship with the last of the worlds survivors, sends a group of juvenile delinquents down to see if Earth can be re-populated (Because when the fate of the world is on the line, you always need teenagers with attitudes.) What the group of teens find out is that not everyone on earth died and the survivors have created new tribes and societies. It becomes a Us vs. Them type thing, but the show really evolves as the seasons go on and becomes a magnificent series for LGBTQ representation.

Now This show has many female badasses to pick from, Raven, Octavia, Emori and Indra, but we’re going to focus on the mother and daughter duo (friends/enemies) of Clarke and Abigail Griffin. Both women lead their own team of sky people (The people that had enough money and power to jump ship and live in space when the world blew up) Are they outstanding leaders? No, but they are doing their best to make sure their people make it out of this hell alive. Clarke is the focus of the show, with her feuds and romances, but my favorite character is Raven. She’s the smart ass mechanic with a heart of gold. If you’re on the fence with this show, check it out for Raven.

Van Helsing (2016-):

SYFY has a thing for strong female leads, and I have a thing for SYFY. One of the two enters from SYFY on this list is Van Helsing. They base the show in a post-apocalyptic world covered by a fog that blocks out the rays of the sun, which made earth a playground for an age old mythical threat… Vampires, In this wild blood sucking world is Vanessa Helsing the distant relative of the famous (not so fictional) vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing. Vanessa and her daughter get attacked the day of the vampire uprising, and she’s put into a coma. When she wakes up four years later, the world is taken over by vampires and Vanessa’s daughter is missing. With the help of a group of survivors and a military troop that was tasked to keep Vanessa alive, she fights her way through this unknown world in search of her daughter.

Vanessa is an unstoppable killing machine with a heart, you get pulled into her quest to find her daughter and watch as she grows and becomes a motherly savior to every person she comes across. If you’re into vampires, a Sarah Connor type motherly love and a lot of “will they won’t they” sexual tension, then you’ll love Van Helsing.

Revolution (2012-2014):

Here is a brief blast from the not so distant past. Do any of you remember Revolution? The show about what would happen to the world if all the power went out? If you thought we would all just come together and rebuild the nation, you are sorely wrong. In the world of Revolution the nation is divided up and there is a US Government but they can’t be trusted, because well duh, they’re the US Government. The show didn’t last long, but it had Billy Burke and Giancario Esposito which is reason enough to watch it.

Now the badass mother and daughter team is the real magic of the show. Charlie and Rachel Matheson are two women trying to hold their family together after the world lost power and they lost their father/husband. This show is full of questions and the deeper you get the more questions you have, but I really enjoyed seeing the world de-evolve into a wild west/military thrill ride.

Z-Nation (2014-2018):

One of my personal favorites from SYFY is The Walking Dead alternative known as Z-Nation. While TWD is a dramatic realistic depiction of the zombie apocalypse (lead by a strong male leader) Z-Nation is more of a zombie dark comedy told in episodic format allowing for different stories to be told every episode all while still pushing the main narrative. The show takes place 4-6 years after the start of the apocalypse and a prison inmate is the only hope to end the apocalypse, so an Army reserve LT and her group of survivors have to travel from the east coast to the west hoping to deliver this human cure and save the world.

If there was a list of zombie killing bad asses (other than this one) than LT Roberta Warren would be high on that list, with her military background and her take no shit attitude, she is shoulder to shoulder as good of a leader in the apocalypse as Rick Grimes. The best thing about Warren is she remembers the end goal, no matter how dark everything gets, or how good, she knows her mission and she’s ready to carry it out at all costs.

Black Summer (2019-)

If you’re like me, you’re still waiting for season two of this dark zombie beauty! Black Summer from my understanding is a prequel to Z-Nation, without the comedy (So the reverse of what Evil Dead did) but that depends on who you ask. Some cast don’t believe it was that, but it’s made by the same people, so I have high hopes that it is. The show takes place during the early days of the zombie outbreak, when everyone thinks the military will help them, and then they see the soldiers shooting their neighbors in the street. They break the show down into three stories at first:

Rose’s story: A mother separated from her daughter when the military comes.

Kyungsun’s story: An Asian American who doesn’t speak English.

Spear’s story: A crook who is about to be killed in a deal gone wrong.

The stories all come together but while Rose is more or less our major character, the genuine star of the show is Christine Lee who plays Kyungsun, her story is some compelling and nail biting. Just when you think things can’t get worse for her, they do. Also to see her deal with the panic, mistrust, and violence of the apocalypse when no one speaks her language is amazing. I found myself really just wanting to follow her.


Bird Box (2018):

Remember Bird Box… it was like a prequel to 2020 but you were blind folded instead of wearing a mask. Okay, this movie takes place during different points of the apocalypse. A mother has to battle an unseen force that can make you go mad and kill yourself and others if you see it. So the best way to get around is with your eyes closed or blindfolded. In the present day of the storyline you are following Malorie and her two kids, Boy and Girl, as they make their way down to the river to an unknown destination.

If her kids’ names don’t give it away, Malorie is not the mother of the year, but I’m going to give it to her. She dealt with a lot of shit and still found the time to keep these kids alive. She even got them to listen to her about keeping their blindfolds on, I can’t even get my son to keep his underpants on sometimes. Malorie is your everyday run of the mill pregnant woman who gets tossed into a crazy apocalypse and has to do everything she can to survive, even cut off a part of herself from the world.

The Domestics (2018):

This was another 2018 gem that got little fanfare, not sure why. The Domestics is about a husband and wife who go on a road trip in a post-apocalyptic America that is divided up into factions of different survivors, in order to make it to their parents’ house. The movie focuses on the interaction with these wild factions and the rocky state of the couple’s relationship. It’s like when a couple wants to call it quits but they decide to go on one last vacation to see if they can make it work, but instead of fun and make up sex, there are cannibals and killer Amazon clans out to get them.

Nina West and her somewhat guardian angel Betsy are the female badass duo you didn’t know you wanted. Mostly Betsy, if we’re going to be honest. She follows the couple and ensures that Nina is safe… Nina bugged me, but like any good final girl, she comes into her own when the shit hits the fan.

Night of The Comet (1984):

The entire world turned into zombies but you were getting lucky (Pun intended) so you missed the radioactive meteor that turned them and now you have to battle the living dead with your little sister. That is the concept of Night of The Comet, one of my favorite zombie movies, about two Valley sisters who take on zombies and a crazy group of scientists. This movie is pure 80s gold with a music driven mall montage and everything. I know many people like it, but I feel like it’s not brought up in the conversation of strong female led movies often enough. I mean, can anyone really beat Kelli Maroney’s character Samantha dressed as a cheerleader with a machine gun?

Regina and Samantha Belmont make a great team in the apocalypse, even when they can’t seem to get along. I enjoyed watching the back-and-forth sibling rivalry that they had going on, right until the very end. The two were different in so many ways, but they both had to push past those differences to overcome the horrors of their new zombie infested world.

28 Days Later (2002):

If I have to explain why 28 Days Later is on this list, then we can’t be friends. This was the movie that gave new life to the zombie genre, without 28 Days Later, I don’t think there would be a Walking Dead. I guess if you have been living under a rock, I can fill you in. 28 Days Later takes place four weeks after a virus has spread all throughout the UK and a man (Jim) wakes up from a coma to a new horrible world (coma wake ups seem to be the thing in the post-apocalypse genre) Jim has to team up with a group of survivors and learn this new way of life before his first day back becomes his last.

The breakout star of this movie is Naomie Harris’ character Selena, who is equal parts “take no shit badass” and “risk it all for a kiss” love interest. Selena is very important to the zombie genre because before her there was no real Black female representation and the overall Black representation of the genre was slowly ending. So having this serious ass kicking female who didn’t think twice about chopping her ex-partner to death, was an iconic moment to women and the Black community. If you ever read this Ms. Harris, you are a gift to horror and we all would like to thank you.

Resident Evil Series (2002-2016):

Alice… that’s the complete section. What more do you need? Resident Evil is a box office monster that is inspired by the hit zombie game of the same name (Really? If you don’t know this… shame on you) The franchise has six movies, one reboot to come out sometime this year, and a series that may or may not be produced for Netflix. It is the Queen of zombie franchises, led by the amazing Milla Jovovich who plays Alice, a character created for the films. Alice starts out as an amnesia riddled enigma in a decoy mansion above the entrance to a high-tech bio-weapons lab owned by the evil Umbrella Corp.

Alice’s journey throughout the movies, allows her to meet all our Resident Evil video game favorites like Jill Valentine, Leon and Albert Wesker and while all those people were more than able to hold a set of movies on their back, Alice placed the franchise on her back and took it to the moon. Some people have an issue with the movies, I’m not sure what that issue might be, because I don’t talk to people like that… I don’t enjoy negative energy around me. 2002 gave us an epic year for zombies and badass women, and I for one don’t believe you can ever have a conversation about zombie killers without saying Alice’s name. She is the Queen of the apocalypse.

So that’s my list. Which ones did you agree with? Which ones did you hate? Are there any you would add? Let me know in the comments or email me your thoughts at author@sylvesterbarzey.com


Sylvester Barzey is a best-selling horror and fantasy author who grew up in Bronx, NY and was later transplanted to Lawrence, GA. A military veteran with an addiction to all things spooky, Sylvester’s goal is to shine a spotlight on BIPOC characters within the horror/fantasy genre. Follow Sylvester on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Amazon.
Visit Sylvester Barzey’s, Books for Survivor’s for more information!

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