Like Dr. Ellie Arroway, Louise Banks is no superhero, at least not in terms of fanciful powers or talking animal sidekicks. However, she’s such a strong character that this list would be absolutely incomplete without including her.
Banks (played by Amy Adams) is the main character in Arrival, a cerebral 2016 film that received nearly universal acclaim. She starts off as a linguist teaching at an unnamed university, but her world changes drastically when she’s contacted by the United States Army. She soon learns that twelve mysterious spacecraft have appeared across the globe.
With that small set of information, Banks travels to Montana to enter one of the crafts. Along with physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and Colonel G.T. Weber (Forest Whitaker), she encounters the “heptapods”. These seven-limbed aliens obviously don’t speak English or any other human language, so Banks must use her linguistic skills to establish meaningful contact.
Naturally, a mistranslation of a word as “weapon” (rather than, perhaps more accurately, “tool”) gets the humans all riled up. Meanwhile, Banks is slowly experiencing visions that have something to do with the future, the past, and the present all at once.
Arrival has classic elements of science fiction, yet is also one of the more complex and cerebral films to grace the genre in recent years. It’s even better that the movie is helmed by a female protagonist known for her intelligence. Banks also demonstrates a moral and emotional strength that ultimately saves humanity from itself and starts our species on a strange and powerful new path.