The Women of Nerdist Celebrate Our Favorite Complex Fictional Ladies

Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day often celebrate the wonderful ladies of the world who effect positive yet radical change. Their accomplishments and groundbreaking contributions to society deserve all the praise. However, the women of Nerdist know that there is power in living a life outside of what society deems to be “good” or the norm for us. In fact, a lot of the women that the collective consider to be pious, righteous, or resolute pushed back against the status quo to propel women forward.

And, some women who are perceived as evil/wrong are simply those who do not subscribe to traditional heteronormative ideals. This understanding is exactly why, in honor of International Women’s Day, we are celebrating women antagonists (we use that word loosely…sometimes) and “outsiders” in genre. They embody traits we desire, live a life that speaks to our yearning for authentic freedom, stand fiercely for what they believe in, or are simply baddies who channel our inner rebellious nature. While there are many women characters who fall into this category, here are a few of our fave gals who refuse to play by the rules.

Margo (The Magicians)
photo of Margo from the magicians

All hail High King Margo. The Magicians‘ Margo Hanson does not give a sh*t. She will tell you exactly what she’s thinking at all times. I respect her and wish I could channel her confidence. Many people put forward a tough exterior shell because they have a soft, gooey center. Not Margo.

A creative and talented magician with the brains and leadership to help run the kingdom of Fillory, Margo repeatedly acted for herself (and for her BFF Eliot) and made no apologies. She taught me that being proud of yourself and recognizing your potential is not a bad quality. Margo may not give hero vibes, but she lives loudly and I wish I could be more like her. – Amy Ratcliffe

Yzma (The Emperor’s New Groove)
yzma from emperors new groove wears purple feathers around her neck and smiles

I identify with Yzma’s “if you want it done right, do it yourself” attitude, brought on by living in a rich man’s world. A bratty teenager unceremoniously fires her from a job she’s held for decades, while also spewing ageist insults. An emperor’s advisor dealing with everyday duties while he choreographs dance numbers… that’s basically the job description! Kuzco plans to raze a village to build his pool, so don’t tell me her people skills are lacking!

Despite all the effort she puts into her fierce lewk, she is the constant target of rude jokes about her age and appearance. Her retaliation goes too far (attempted murder), but it’s a legit villain origin story. Yzma is a genius, concocting flawless transfiguration potions. The only thing I can ding her for is poorly-labeled vials. Every scientist knows to keep diligent records. I’m not sure she has it that bad at the end, stuck as a cat forever. We all know Eartha Kitt makes a good cat(woman)! – Melissa Miller

Missy (Doctor Who)
michelle gomez as missy doctor who

Years before Jodie Whittaker fell to Earth on Doctor Who, Michelle Gomez burst into the series as the gender upgraded version of the Doctor’s greatest frenemy, the Master. While Peter Capaldi’s Doctor evolved into the empathetic rocker grandpa, Gomez’s Missy was the troublemaker aunt your parents warn you not to consider a role model. Missy certainly had her unhinged moments; however, Gomez’s demented Mary Poppins persona made way to one of the most nuanced performances of the iconic antagonist since Roger Delgado originated the role in the ’70s.

In between chewing scenery, improvising song parodies about her name, and disintegrating people who didn’t say something nice, Missy longed to be better, and it mattered to her that the Doctor saw her trying. It’s easy to aspire to be the hero the Doctor is, but Missy seeing herself as flawed, as guilty, and wanting to change, was deeply relatable. – Riley Silverman

Faora-Ul (Man of Steel)
photo of faora from man of steel standing in front of trees
Warner Bros. Pictures

Supervillains are often misunderstood, but not Man of Steel’s Faora-Ul. Sub-Commander Faora-Ul, part of the warrior class of Krypton, is very clear about her intentions: she fights for her planet and people. That’s it. What I love about Faora is that she’s straightforward and her goals unequivocal; the story doesn’t attempt to give her a change of heart.

That doesn’t mean Faora is completely devoid of emotions or personality, though. Her tears for her home planet are very real and prove that she does what she believes is right. I might not ever want to fight Faora, but I would absolutely want her on my side. – Kelly Knox

Rose the Hat (Doctor Sleep
Rebecca Ferguson as Rose The Hat in Mike Flanagan's Doctors Sleep
Warner Bros. Pictures

I wasn’t in love with Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep when I first read the book back in 2013—but I was certainly enamored with its villain. Rose the Hat is a beguiling character; both vampiric and ghostlike, looming in the margins of the story’s nightmarish tendencies. The Shining sequel has its ups and downs, but Rose was always a highlight. The character’s intrigue multiplied in the hands of Mike Flanagan, whose cinematic take on Doctor Sleep proves he’s the master of the horror adaptation. Rebecca Ferguson plays the role with a disarming tenderness.

She looks like a lady you’d see in yoga class; a lithe hippie chick in a beaded skirt and vintage tee. But her ethereal aura is a rouse; this is a female villain who will murder a child and suck out his soul like she’s vaping on Delta 8. She whispers and purrs her way into your subconscious, then cuts your throat so she can live a thousand more years. She’s the best kind of antagonist, because you secretly want to be her, with her covetable #vanlife aesthetic and excellent hair. Her childless, spinster life is full of delicacies; she’s seen the world in ways any travel blogger envies. I find myself replaying her scenes just to watch her move, that’s how hypnotic she is. That’s a villainess for the ages. – Lindsey Romain

Agatha Harkness (WandaVision)
Kathryn Hahn as Agatha Harkness on WandaVision.

Agatha Harkness may be one of 2021’s most deliciously exciting new villains. (Not to take away from the fact that Wanda is certainly a villain in her own story.) The MCU’s official TV fare started off with a bang in January, as WandaVision explored its titular characters’ curious life after Endgame through sitcoms. As a whole, the concept was extremely compelling. But it was the perfect showcase for Kathryn Hahn, one of the steadiest comedic powerhouses currently working.

She shines at every turn as Agnes, Wanda’s one-liner ready nosy neighbor, and especially when she shows her witchy true form as Agatha Harkness. With an iconic villainess bop, no less. The show’s ambitious story faltered a little bit towards the finale. But Hahn remains consistent throughout, bringing one of the most delightful new characters into Marvel’s canon. And, frankly, I cannot wait to see her return for more. – Meaghan Kirby

Mystique (X-Men franchise)
jennifer lawrence as mystique
20th Century Fox

As cliché as it is, as a young, closeted trans kid, a character who could alter their appearance at will like Mystique had obvious appeal to me. However, as I grew older, my love of the character grew more with my understanding of her complexities. With mutants in the Marvel universe always standing as a metaphor for marginalized groups in our real world, I began seeing myself in them as a symbol of queer identity.

As such, Mystique’s position as a mutant whose power could easily grant her the privilege of “passing” in human society, makes her decision to reject social normativity in favor of proudly owning her identity, and fighting for the rights of others who do not have that privilege, something hard not to admire. While her methods may not always be good, what she represents undoubtedly is. She’s a constant reminder to be mutant and proud. – Alison Mattingly

Misty (Yellowjackets)
christina ricci as misty from yellowjackets wearing blue scrubs and a hair net
Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME

Love her or hate her, the one thing everyone can agree on is that Yellowjackets’ Misty Quigley is an excellent character. By turns lovable, loath-able, pitiable, and admirable, Misty definitely comes closest to an “antagonist” on Yellowjackets. (Especially since she did, in fact, kind of get her team stranded in the wilderness for 18 months.) But the truth is Misty gets to play a character allowed to few women before her, but to many men.

Misty inhabits the archetype of a lovable psychopath, one who plays in blurry moral grounds and thinks selfishly, often callously, and yet somehow still earns applause from the audience. On a man, this character is old hat. But on a woman, it truly breaks ground we deserve to see on our screens. Misty doesn’t care what you think. She doesn’t care how you feel. Society and its niceties, conventions, and, on occasion, legalities simply cannot stop this gal from doing it her way. I’m not suggesting we all fully follow in the steps of one Misty Quigley. But on occasion, we could do well to try her oversized spectacles on for size. – Ro Rusak

Norma Desmond (Sunset Boulevard
photo of norma desmond staring into camera sunset boulevard
Paramount Pictures

“We had faces then.” Norma Desmond tells this to down-on-his-luck screenwriter Joe Gillis, and what a face she had. Played by silent screen siren Gloria Swanson, Desmond is a forgotten star of the silver screen. A recluse, discarded by the industry she helped build. Technically she is the antagonist of Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard. Jealousy and insecurity does lead her to kill a man.

But long before Joe found his way into her sprawling manor and unfortunately into her twisted heart, she was a woman who aged out of traditional “desirability” and therefore out of commercial commodification within the entertainment industry. The way Norma was treated reflects all the worst aspects of Hollywood. This cruelty was there at its nascence, and the film and Swanson’s performance still resonate today because we know at its heart that cruelty remains. – Marya E. Gates

Jill Roberts (Scream 4)
Emma Robers as Jill Roberts in Scream 4
Dimension Films

There’s nothing like a truly “mad woman.” Hollywood has been playing with the often problematic trope for years, but in Scream 4, Emma Roberts gives us an unhinged villain for the ages. Playing the younger estranged cousin of Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), Roberts seems like she’s destined for the new Final Girl crown, and of course that’s the point.

Her hunger for fame and desperation to step out of Sidney’s shadow inspire her to resurrect Ghostface once again for another blood ride. An early anti-girlboss, anti-fame screed that delivers solely based on how much fun Roberts is having, she’s still my fave Ghostface. – Rosie Knight

Ganja (Ganja & Hess)
marlene clark as ganja stares into screen with candles around her
Kelly-Jordan Enterprises

Ganja does not fit into the stereotypical bounds of an antagonist, as there isn’t a clear one in this stylish vampiric love story. However, her overall aura screams bad b*tch who crafts her own destiny. Ganja is a brilliant, rich, and at times deliciously caustic person. She’s an enviable beauty draped in fine garments who never once minces words nor masks her fiery emotions, whether it is spitting anger or flashes of unadulterated joy. Her background of heartbreaking rejection fuels her relentless desire to always put herself first.

This pushes against what many Black women like me are taught: place everyone’s desires and needs before your own. And she gets what she wants, embarking on a torrid love affair with a handsome and rich vampire. Her days consist of languishing in his sweeping abode and doing whatever the hell she feels like doing. In the end, Ganja chooses her own path, rejecting Hess’ desires to atone for his sins, and continues to live a bloodthirsty life with a new man. The final shot of her standing in the window with a smirk gives me a rush of satisfaction each time. – Tai Gooden

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