The Most Powerful Female Leads in a Television Show

By Jason Collins | Published


2023 is the year of the ladies, as 108 shows released thus far feature women in leading roles, which is an all-time high for women in leading roles—a 45.5% increase compared to 2021. More than 50% of all major characters on streamer-owned television shows are women, and the numbers are somewhat similar to broadcast networks.

As the media plays a key role in spreading awareness to women regarding their potential and role in society, we’re here to introduce you to the most powerful female leads on television.

Olivia Pope – Scandal

Olivia Pope, portrayed by the stunning Kerry Washington, is the lead character and a crisis management expert running her own company in the Scandal television show—a political drama that ran from 2012 to 2018.

Kerry Washington’s portrayal of Olivia is that of intelligence and strength, focusing mostly on Olivia’s ability to fix high-stakes political and personal crises for her clients, hence the show’s name. The character of Olivia Pope became an iconic figure in the world of television, and Kerry Washington received critical acclaim for her performance.

Claire Underwood – House of Cards

If you like political dramas with strong female leads, you’ll love House of Cards. Claire Underwood, the wife of the show’s protagonist, Francis Underwood, is portrayed by an award-winning actress Robin Wright. Claire Underwood is a key character in the series, and she’s known for her intelligence, cunning, and her own political ambitions.

Robin Wright’s portrayal of Claire Underwood also received critical acclaim, and the actress won the Gold Derby Award for Best Actress in Drama Series and both Satellite Awards and Golden Globe Awards for Best Actress in Television Drama Series for her performance on House of Cards.

Jessica Jones – Jessica Jones
Krysten Ritter

While the show functionally isn’t canon in the MCU, Jessica Jones, portrayed by Krysten Ritter, remains our heroine. As a private investigator with superhuman strength, Jessica Jones navigates the world of trauma and moral ambiguity while also displaying resilience and unwillingness to conform to the traditional superhero stereotypes of being a goody-two-shoes.

Krysten Ritter’s performance and her sharp, dry humor significantly contributed to the success and critical acclaim of the series, which delves into themes of trauma, recovery, and female empowerment. The Defenders, on the other hand, was a total miss.

Daenerys Targaryen – Game of Thrones

The role that made Emilia Clarke super-famous is one of profound depth and character development. Daenerys, though initially frail, later becomes known for her unwavering sense of justice, her compassion for the oppressed, and her unyielding and relentless pursuit of reclaiming the Iron Throne.

Clarke’s portrayal of Daenerys earned her critical acclaim and made the character one of the most memorable female leads in television history. Daenerys’ iconic “Dracarys” command even became a meme and a new way to say “cheers” when you’re out drinking.

Annalise Keating – How to Get Away with Murder

Annalise Keating, portrayed by Viola Davis, is a confident African-American law educator whose strong build makes her look more threatening. She’s portrayed as clever, manipulative, and heartless, but she’s actually quite deep and complex as a character who’s forced to put up a front to get by in her difficult career.

Viola Davis’s portrayal of Annalise is truly remarkable and made history as she became the first African American woman to win an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series.

Leslie Knope – Parks and Recreation

Like many other shows, Parks and Rec is full of joy and optimism, and Leslie Knope is one of the foremost sources of that optimism in the series. She’s a tremendously likable character who’s loyal to her friends, has great problem-solving abilities, and bursts with resiliency.

Amy Poehler’s performance made this unrelenting and sometimes annoying character a beloved figure in the world of television, and her portrayal earned her a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in Television Series, Musical, or Comedy.

Buffy Summers – Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Perhaps the most iconic female lead ever to take the forces of evil head-on, Buffy Summers completely defies traditional gender roles and expectations. Portrayed by Sarah Michelle Gellar, Buffy is the legendary Slayer, chosen to battle vampires, demons, and all sorts of supernatural forces hellbent on world domination and human suffering.

The job description demands someone who’s powerful, fearless, resilient, and intelligent, and Buffy perfectly embodies those traits. Sarah Michelle Gellar’s performance earned her widespread recognition while also contributing to the cult following the show amassed in the past two decades.

Carrie Mathison — Homeland

Carrie Mathison, portrayed by Claire Danes, is the protagonist of the American drama series Homeland, which ran from 2011 to 2020, centering on a CIA officer dedicated to counterterrorism. However, Carrie’s unconventional methods often lead her into morally murky territories, which is why she ended up with a desk job at Langley.

Danes’ performance of an intelligent and determined character struggling with bipolar disorder earned her several awards and accolades, including the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Drama.

Selina Meyer — Veep

For the uninitiated, Veep is an American political satire comedy series that ran from 2012 to 2019, with Selina Meyer, portrayed by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, as the show’s protagonist. Known for her sharp and often politically incorrect humor and her desire for power, Selina eventually becomes President of the United States, after which she loses the position and slowly crawls back to power in the White House.

Louis-Dreyfus’ performance won her six consecutive Primetime Emmy Awards, three Screen Actors Guild Awards, two Critics’ Choice Television Awards, a Television Critics Association Award, and five consecutive Golden Globe nominations.

Grace Hanson — Grace and Frankie

Grace Hanson, portrayed by Jane Fonda in Netflix’s Grace and Frankie, is a no-nonsense cosmetics mogul who likes to drink and come up with clever comments and insults.

She’s a sophisticated and successful woman facing the challenges and transitions of her husband, who reveals that he’s gay and leaves her for Frankie’s husband, Sol Bergstein. Jane Fonda received an OFTA Award for Best Actress in a Comedy Series for her portrayal of Grace Hanson, praising her performance for its depth and authenticity.