Tilda Swindon as Orlando - Orlando (1992)
Based on Virgina Woolf's story, this wonderful adaptation by Sally Potter explores gender identities. Orlando is brilliantly portrayed by the fabulously talented Tilda.
Shirley Maclaine as Martha Dobie - The Children's Hour (1961)
A heartbreaking portrayal of unrequited love set against a homophobic society, with a harrowing performance by Shirley Maclaine. Hepburn plays the sensitive love interest.
Cher as Florence "Rusty" Dennis - Mask (1985)
A strong and unwavering performance from Cher, who challenges society's perceptions of those deemed different.
Hertha Thiele as Manuela von Meinhardis - Mädchen in Uniform (1931)
One of the earliest depictions of same-sex desire, bravely expressed against the impending Nazism that shattered so many people's lives and perceptions.
Meryl Streep as Karen Silkwood - Silkwood (1983)
One woman up against an evil corporation, beautifully conveyed through the eyes of Streep, and, once more, Cher.
Imelda Staunton as Vera Drake - Vera Drake (2004)
A powerful story about backstreet abortions before the procedure was legalised. The title character goes out of her way to enable poor women to have a choice over their bodies.
Joan Crawford as Vienna - Johnny Guitar (1954)
An early depiction of gender role reversals. Crawford plays her part with relish. The beauty of this film lies in Nicholas Ray showing a supposedly 'older woman' who is in control of her life, both mentally and sexually - something we are sadly short of even in 2012.
Ruth Gordon as Maude - Harold and Maude (1971)
Maude is an inspirational, 80 something free-spirited woman, who lives the life that she wants and doesn't care about people's opinions and attitudes towards her. We all need a Maude in our lives, or else adopt her 'don't give a fuck' philosophy.
Christine Noonan as The Girl - if…. (1968)
Although nameless, The Girl is central in challenging an androcentric education system. Up on a rooftop, armed and certainly dangerous, how far can you push the downtrodden? If.... probes class and gender, blurring the boundaries of reality and fiction.
Tatum O'Neil as Addie Loggins - Paper Moon (1973)
Addie is a breath of fresh air, a confident girl who understands the world far better than the adults she encounters.The message I got from Addie is to listen to children, give them respect. We have so much to learn from her.
Hillary Swank as Brandon Teena - Boys Don't Cry (1999)
The harrowing true story of Brandon Teena, a transgendered youth who was raped and murdered in Nebraska, at the age of 21. Hilary Swank gives an incredibly sad and painful central performance.
Katrin Saß as Christiane Kerner - Goodbye Lenin! (2003)
The sensitive depiction of Christiane, a woman who embraces her Marxist political beliefs with a devotion equally matched by her son's love for her.
Fatoumata Coulibaly as Collé - Moolaadé (2004)
Collé saves other young women from FGM (female genital mutilation), as her character challenges tradition and violation of women's bodies.
Chiara Mastroianni (voice) as Marjane - Persepolis (2007)
Marjane challenges society's perception of girls, fighting political injustice and sexism with wit and a warm heart.
Bibi Andersson as Alma the nurse - Persona (1966)
There are many interpretations of this film. But for me it's a psychological journey for the characters and the audience. All the angst and self-doubt of what constitues reality and illusions are superbly expressed by Alma. Without doubt, Bergman's masterpiece.
Brigitte Mira as Emmi - Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974)
One of the few films to have a 60-year-old female lead. Emmi wonderfully conveys that sexual feelings and desire are not solely for the young, but for all women, regardless of age.
Elizabeth Taylor as Martha - Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
What a sassy character... a fighter who gives as good as she gets. Liz Taylor, sorely missed.
Marlene Dietrich as Amy Jolly - Morocco (1930)
One of the earliest films to portray ambiguous/blurring of gender boundaries
Gena Rowlands as Gloria - Gloria (1980)
Up against the mob, Gloria goes out of her way to survive. A fearless woman willing to fight for what she believes in. Rowlands' depiction of a strong but flawed character shows she's human and not a one dimensional caricature. Gloria's complexity is much neeeded and appreciated.
Raimunda is a strong single parent who survives with her daughter following the brutal actions of her partner. An understated film that questions violence against women, with Almodovar's dark humour resonating throughout the scenes.
Zhou Xun as Little Seamstress - Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (2002)
Amazing performance by Zhou Xun as a girl who explore her sexuality and her parochial world. As her realtionships unfold, the Little Seamstress becomes restless, yearning for another world she has yet to discover.