film Iconic Women's Movie Roles Originally Meant for Men

Lisa Waugh
683 votes 8.1k views 20 items Embed

List Rules Vote up the most badass female roles that you are glad were played by a woman instead of a man.

Let’s look at women's movie roles intended for men. Somewhere along the way in the development process, filmmakers have switched male roles to female, giving the world some of the most iconic screen characters of all time. Could you imagine Ripley in the Alien franchise as a man? How about Paula in the The 40-Year-Old Virgin
 
Sigourney Weaver has played three roles that were intended for men. Glenn Close insisted that her character in The Paper stay the same, including a fistfight with Michael Keaton’s character. Ron Moore’s Starbuck, from Battlestar Galactica is still a cigar-smoking, sexual predator fighter pilot, she’s just got ovaries. Game of Thrones chieftain, Karsi, showed us that Wildling leaders can be a woman or a man because it doesn’t matter when you’re facing off with white walkers.
 
Even back in 1940, director Howard Hawks made the bold choice of making a prominent character in the screen adaptation of The Paper a female. Now, we can’t imagine His Girl Friday without Rosalind Russell as Hildy Johnson.
 
Helen Mirren and Dame Judi Dench have taken on roles previously played by men. Mirren’s Hobson in the remake of Arthur was just as deadpan and engaging as Sir John Gielgud’s. Dench’s has M spanned seven Bond films.  
 
Women in film may face many challenges when it comes to pay, but hats off to the directors, writers, actors, and producers who create opportunities for women who are more qualified to play authority figures, villains, and tough characters rather than, say, a damsel in distress or run of the mill wife, girlfriend, or best friend.
 
What are your favorite male to female film roles? Upvote those you are most glad went to a female actress.

Ellen Ripley is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Iconic Women's Movie Roles Originally Meant for Men
Photo: user uploaded image
Weaver made Ripley one of the most iconic scifi characters to date. When Ridley Scott changed Ripley to a woman, he changed very little. Running from an acid-spitting alien pretty much takes wits, toughness, and knowing the ship corridors and hiding places by heart. Weaver added a whole new dimension to the character, which exponentially increased with each film.
 
Despite his sort of sexist comment on the way to creating Ripley, Scott said, “I just had a thought. What would you think if Ripley was a woman? She would be the last one you would think would survive—she’s beautiful.”

Also Ranked

#53 on The Best Movie Characters of All Time

#8 on The Greatest Female Characters in Film History

#11 on The Most Hardcore Big Screen Action Heroes

#40 on The Very Best Actress Performances, Ranked

see more on Ellen Ripley

M is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Iconic Women's Movie Roles Originally Meant for Men
Photo: user uploaded image
Dench played M in seven Bond films. Before Dench, M was played by Bernard Lee and then Robert Brown. Ralph Fiennes picked up where Dench left off.  
 
When she learned that her time in the role would wrap up with Skyfall, Dench wasn’t thrilled with the news. “They told me gently and I laughed through my tears. Seven films is a long time. But MI6 would have given her the push by now, don't you think?” Dench worked with a 24-year-old Sam Mendes in the theatre years before, and it was fitting that he be the director on her last Bond film. Still, Dench said she wasn’t ready to go. "Certainly not. No, certainly not. I could go on for years. Maybe I'll come back as a ghost. Now that would be Shakespearian." 
 
Dench’s Bond films as M:  
 
GoldenEye (1995) 
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) 
The World Is Not Enough (1999) 
Die Another Day (2002) 
Casino Royale (2006) 
Quantum of Solace (2008) 
Skyfall (2012)

Also Ranked

#5 on The Greatest Fictional Bosses

#2 on The Greatest Old Lady Characters in Film

see more on M

Evelyn Salt is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Iconic Women's Movie Roles Originally Meant for Men
Photo: user uploaded image
Edwin Salt became Evelyn Salt, though the role was created for Tom Cruise. Cruise passed and Jolie became the CIA agent, accused of being a Russian spy. Once Jolie got the part, she had to fight to keep the character from turning into a stereotype. 
 
Director Phillip Noyce caused a stink when he said that didn’t want the male characters to “castrated” by a female hero. Jolie got that point, saying, “When they write something on purpose for a woman, it's always about being a woman — using your femininity, all these kind of female obvious things. So we said let's just keep all the things about it that are tough, and it's about being what she is, it's about the journey. And if anything, we have to make it darker and we have to make it meaner than the boys."
see more on Evelyn Salt
4
+ - 33 9

Paula in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Played by Jane Lynch


Ranker Video v
Video: YouTube
Jane Lynch owes her role to Steve Carell’s wife. Comedian and actor Nancy Walls told Carell that there should be more women in the movie. So, the store manager was changed from male to female. The role wasn’t just handed to Lynch, though; she had to earn it. After improvising with the other actors, she nailed the part. She also added a new dimension to sexual harassment in the workplace.
see more on Paula
5
+ - 33 9

Murph in Interstellar, Played by Jessica Chastain, Ellen Burstyn, and Mackenzie Foy


Murph is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list Iconic Women's Movie Roles Originally Meant for Men
Photo: user uploaded image
Originally Cooper’s child Murph was a boy, but Nolan decided to switch, ”Maybe because my eldest child is a girl, I decided to change Murph into a girl. I found that came very naturally to me, writing that relationship between a father and a daughter."
see more on Murph
6
+ - 31 8

Karsi in Game of Thrones, Played by Birgitte Hjort Sørensen


Karsi in Game of Thrones, Play... is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list Iconic Women's Movie Roles Originally Meant for Men
Photo: user uploaded image
She only appeared in one episode in season five, but Karsi left an impression with viewers. In “Hardhome,” Sorensen’s clan chief and Wilding elder was tough and ready to kick white walker butt. Miguel Sapochnik, who directed the episode, said that Karsi was originally written as a man.   

They wanted to show another dimension to the Wildling plight as the dark forces closed in on the north. When the warrior and mother faces off with white walker children, the end result is powerful.

Starbuck is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list Iconic Women's Movie Roles Originally Meant for Men
Photo: user uploaded image
When Ron D. Moore resurrected Battlestar Galactica, he wanted to avoid any comparison of Starbuck to Han Solo. ”Making Starbuck a woman was a way of avoiding what I felt would be ’rogue pilot with a heart of gold’ cliche,” Moore said. He also wanted to update Kara Thrace and bring her into the modern world. “The whole notion of women in the military is a relatively new idea.” 
 
Starbuck was still a cigar smoker, highly sexual, hard drinking fighter pilot with blonde hair.
see more on Starbuck
8
+ - 23 7

Kyle Pratt in Flightplan, Played by Jodie Foster


Kyle Pratt is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list Iconic Women's Movie Roles Originally Meant for Men
Photo: user uploaded image
The role was originally written as a father looking for his missing daughter on a plane. Although Sean Penn was first considered for the role, director Robert Schwentke began to feel that the character needed to a mother to capitalize on the material instincts.  
 
“We sort of took one shot with an actor, and then we had the idea that this is maybe [the wrong story] to do with a man — maybe we need to do this with a mother. It’s much more archaic; the bond between a mother and daughter is a different one than the father and the daughter. Thinking along the lines of how we can make this the most emotionally impactful movie possible, we started thinking about Jodie and, thank God, she was interested in doing it,” Schwentke said
 
Foster agreed. ”I was just looking for things that were going," she said. "When I approached them and thought it was perfect to flip the gender, coincidentally the producers felt the same thing." 
 
They did keep the original name of the male character, though.
see more on Kyle Pratt