Iconic Female Roles That Were Originally Meant To Be Played By Men 

Lisa Waugh
Updated April 1, 2019 10.9k votes 2.3k voters 88.8k views 17 items

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. Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica is still a sexual, cigar-smoking fighter pilot, she’s just got ovaries. Game of Thrones chieftain Karsi showed us that Wildling leaders can be female or male 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 his screen adaptation of The Front Page 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 M appeared in 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, damsels in distress or run-of-the-mill wives, girlfriends, or best friends.

What are your favorite male-to-female film roles? Upvote those you are most glad went to a female actress.

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Ellen Ripley is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Iconic Female Roles That Were Originally Meant To Be Played By Men
Photo:  Alien/20th Century Fox

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.

This is all despite Scott's sort of sexist comment on his creating Ripley: “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.”


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M is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Iconic Female Roles That Were Originally Meant To Be Played By Men
Photo:  Skyfall/Sony Pictures Releasing

Dench has played M in eight 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 after Skyfall (she then made a cameo in Spectre), Dench wasn’t thrilled. “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’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)

Spectre (2015)


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Paula In 'The 40-Year-Old Virgin,' Played By Jane Lynch
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Video: YouTube

Jane Lynch owes this 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.

While improvising with the other actors, she nailed the part. She also added a new dimension to sexual harassment in the workplace.

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Evelyn Salt is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Iconic Female Roles That Were Originally Meant To Be Played By Men
Photo:  Salt/Columbia Pictures

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 he didn’t want the male characters to be “castrated” by a female hero. Jolie said: “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."


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