From 'Working Girl' to 'The Devil Wears Prada': The Best Career Women in Movies

From Melanie Griffith to Anne Hathaway, there have been countless women in movies taking on strong career roles. A look back at some of our favorite career women

Throughout movie history, men had long been the focus when it came to strong film roles in the career world. But once the 1970s hit, women onscreen began to put down the apron and take on high-powered jobs of their own.

In honor of Career Week, we look back at some of the best female characters working their way up the corporate ladder. From lawyers to writers, fashion to business, these ladies knew how to get the job done.

Sally Kellerman as Major Margaret Houlihan (MASH, 1970)

Career Women in Movies

The Kobal Collection / 20th Century Fox

Serving on a male-dominated medical team during the Korean War, Major Houlihan’s duty as head nurse on the battle line put her front and center in a role that before had been strongly geared toward the opposite sex. Being surrounded by a group of rowdy guys isn't easy -- she soon earns the nickname "Hot Lips" after an embarrassing incident that is broadcast over the P.A. system.

Margot Kidder as Lois Lane (Superman, 1978)

Career Women in Film


Young girls around the world took interest in what a career in journalism could be like after watching Lois show off her reporter skills at the Daily Planet. After being rescued from a helicopter accident by the caped hero, she develops a bit of a crush and wonders who he could be. But her investigation skills might need some work -- how can she not see Superman (Christopher Reeve) hiding behind Clark Kent’s dorky glasses?

Sally Field as Norma Rae (Norma Rae, 1979)

Career Women in Film

20th Century Fox / The Kobal Collection

A factory worker at a cotton mill in a small town, Norma had to deal with a husband who wanted her at home more while trying to take on the big bosses and get a union contract for her fellow workers. Due to sticking to her guns and not giving up, this character became a role model for equal rights and for being someone who was strong enough to fight the big fight.

Dolly Parton as Doralee Rhodes, Lily Tomlin as Violet Newstead, Jane Fonda as Judy Bearny (9 to 5, 1980)

Career Women in Films


Don't mess with this group of ladies! After they suffer constant sexual harassment by their boss, Mr. Hart (Dabney Coleman), and are passed over for promotions, these gals have fantasies of killing him -- and then actually think they poisoned him (by accident, of course)! When their boss finds out and tries to blackmail them, the ladies are forced to take action and kidnap him -- but in the meantime, they take over the business to great success!

Diane Keaton as J.C. Wiatt (Baby Boom, 1987)

Career Women in Film


J.C. was all about the business world. No marriage, no kids -- that wasn’t in her plan. But when her cousin dies and J.C. -- the last living relative -- has baby Elizabeth dropped into her lap, she is forced to choose between the business world or her new daughter. As it turns out, sometimes tough decisions are the best ones to make!

Melanie Griffith as Tess McGill (Working Girl, 1988)

Career Women in Films

source copy

No one will ever forget Tess and her rides on the Staten Island Ferry to what she had hoped would be a better life in Manhattan (her big hair is pretty unforgettable, too). But after too many dead-end jobs, she decides that she is sick of being treated like a lowly receptionist and takes it upon herself to climb that corporate ladder -- with or without the help of the execs (Harrison Ford and Sigourney Weaver).

Christina Applegate as Sue Ellen Crandell (Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead, 1991)

Career Women in Film

Outlaw/Hbo/Mercury-Douglas / The Kobal Collection

With her mom taking off for Australia, high-schooler Sue Ellen was looking forward to a relaxing summer. But things start to go downhill when an insulted Sue Ellen and her siblings are left with a babysitter; it gets even worse when the old woman dies! Rather than get the authorities (and mom!) involved, the kids keep the death a secret while Sue Ellen gets a job to support the family. She does all she can to convince the fashion world that she knows what she is doing and that she isn't just some teenager.

Whoopi Goldberg as Laurel Ayres (The Associate, 1996)

Career Women in Film

The Kobal Collection / Polygram

Investment banker Laurel is dumbfounded when she is passed over for a big promotion because she is a woman. She is determined to prove herself and starts her own company on Wall Street -- but is met by the same obstacles. So Laurel decides to invent a fake, white male partner to start winning clients. It all goes well -- until they want to meet him!

Julia Roberts as Erin Brockovich (Erin Brockovich, 2000)

Career Women in Film

Universal / The Kobal Collection / Marshak, Bob

When an unemployed single mom with three kids needs to find a way to make ends meet after losing a personal injury case, she persuades her lawyer to hire her as a file clerk. Erin is shocked when she discovers that all the people in her town are getting sick, so she takes matters into her own hands and brings her findings to her boss -- which leads to a career and a path that Erin never quite envisioned for herself.

Cameron Diaz as Natalie Cook, Drew Barrymore as Dylan Sanders and Lucy Liu as Alex Munday (Charlie's Angels, 2000)

Career Women in Films

The Kobal Collection / Columbia

In the 1970s, everyone knew Farrah Fawcett and Kate Jackson as "angels," women working as private investigators for their mystery boss, Charlie. But it was these modern-day ladies and their spy skills that brought this trio back to the forefront. Who wouldn’t want to go out on missions to save the world from criminals and villains?

Reese Witherspoon as Elle Woods (Legally Blonde, 2001)

Career Women in Films


For Elle, life so far has been pretty easy. She is rich, she is president of her sorority, she is a fashion queen and she is in love with boyfriend Warren. But when Warren dumps her for a more “serious” girl as he heads off to Harvard, Elle knows what she has to do to win him back: Get into Harvard, too! But once Elle begins studying law, she realizes that her love life has actually brought her to her true calling.

Jennifer Lopez as Mary Fiore (The Wedding Planner, 2001)

Career Women in Films


Mary’s job as a wedding planner takes precedence over everything else in her life. She works hard, produces successful nuptials, and then goes home to her quiet apartment with a TV dinner. But would she ever get to plan a wedding of her own? And when a potential Mr. Right enters her life in the form of Matthew McConaughey, is she willing to risk her career to go after him?

Anne Hathaway as Andy Sachs (The Devil Wears Prada, 2006)

Career Women in Films


Andy moved to New York City with one goal in mind: Becoming a successful writer in the greatest city in the world. But she has no idea what she is in for when she takes a job as Miranda Priestley’s assistant at Runway Magazine. Her life soon completely changes -- starting with a complete makeover, both inside and out.

Sarah Jessica Parker as Carrie Bradshaw, Kristin Davis as Charlotte York, Kim Cattrall as Samantha Jones and Cynthia Nixon as Miranda Hobbes (Sex and the City, 2008)

Career Women in Film


The film continues the story of the fabulously successful and fashionable SATC women as they take on the world. Charlotte is focusing on the charity world now that she's married to Harry, Carrie rises up the charts with best-selling books, and Samantha and Miranda don't let their love lives slow down their busy careers in publicity and law. But most importantly, nothing stops this foursome from remaining tight.

Sandra Bullock as Margaret Tate (The Proposal, 2009)

Career Women in Films


Business is business, and that is how it had always been for Margaret. But after treating her assistant, played by Ryan Reynolds, like crap for years, she suddenly needs him for more than a coffee run. When her visa isn’t renewed, she convinces him to “marry” her -- in exchange for a promotion (and 108 minutes of romantic comedy hijinks).

Rana Meyer is the Associate Entertainment Editor for iVillage. Find her on Google+.

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