Top 10 Roles Originally Written for Men, but Portrayed by Women

Whether the character is a globe-trotting, ass-kicking secret agent or a single parent trapped on an airplane, gender switching in popular TV shows and movies is a lot easier – and sometimes more necessary – than you ever would have thought.

10. Joan Watson in Elementary (2012 -) played by Lucy Liu

Perhaps one of the most widely portrayed characters in history, Sherlock Holmes’ trusty sidekick John Watson is played by Lucy Liu in the hit television series Elementary. Creator of the show Robert Doherty said he intended for Watson and Sherlock’s relationship to be portrayed as a bro-mance – but with one of them just happening to be a woman. However, he made clear that he never intended for them to develop a sexual relationship. Despite an initial backlash against Liu’s casting, the series has been well received with over 12 million viewers tuning in.

9. Hildy Johnson in His Girl Friday (1940) played by Rosalind Russell

Iconic screwball comedy His Girl Friday is an adaptation of the broadway comedy The Front Page which is about two tabloid newspaper reporters on the beat. Produced and directed by Howard Hawks, he originally intended for the movie to be a straight adaptation. However, during the audition process Hawk’s secretary read the lines of Johnson. Liking the way it sounded, he decided to cast an actress in the part.


8. Hobson in Arthur (2011) played by Helen Mirren

In the remake of the 1981 Oscar winning film of the same name, Arthur follows the story of irresponsible playboy Arthur Bach who has always relied on two things to keep him out of real trouble: his great wealth and the advice of his lifelong nanny, Hobson. However, Arthur is forced to grow up when he is forced to choose between an arranged marriage that will keep him in the money or a more-modest life with the only woman he has ever loved. The only difference between the two adaptations is that in the classic Hobson is Arthur’s butler portrayed by John Gielgud, whilst the remake showcases Helen Mirren as the nanny in charge.

7. Paula in 40 Year Old Virgin (2005) played by Jane Lynch

40-year-old Andy spends his free time playing video games and curating his action-figure collection. Despite his age, Andy has never had sex, so his new workplace friends push him towards losing his virginity. In the original script, Andy’s manager was written as a man but the character was later changed to Paula and played by scene-stealer Jane Lynch.

6. Kyle Pratt in Flightplan (2005) played by Jodie Foster

For paranoid action thriller Flightplan they didn’t even bother to change the name of the once-male character. Airplane engineer Kyle Pratt is heading home from Germany to New York on a double-decker plane to bury her husband. However, three hours into the flight she awakens to find her young daughter missing and the entire flight crew claiming that the child was never on board. Determined to find her daughter, Kyle searches the limited space of the plane, all the while trying to maintain her sanity. A very interesting change, Jodie Foster brings a mother/daughter connection to the film that makes the struggle and mystery all the more intense.

5. Major Anderson in Ender’s Game (2013) played by Viola Davis

When hostile aliens called the Formics attack Earth, the legendary heroics of one man helps our planet find victory. To prepare for the next attack, Col. Hyrum Graff and his cohorts initiate a military program to find the next saviour. Recruit Ender Wiggin exhibits an unusual gift for the training, easily mastering all of the challenges thrown at him. Oscar Scott Card wrote both the screenplay and the 1985 novel, with the main difference between the two being the change of gender for Major Anderson. Originally written as a male, the part was later changed to a female and played by the very talented Viola Davis.

4. Zula in Conan the Destroyer (1984) played by Grace Jones

In the sequel to Conan the Barbarian, the warrior journeys with a rag-tag band of adventurers to find a magical crystal before the evil sorcerer Thoth Amon whilst also rescuing a princess from the treacherous Queen Taramis. Zula was originally a Darfurian warrior who fought for his freedom after being sold into slavery. Instead, he was rewritten as a female warrior played by the fearsome Grace Jones.

3. Evelyn Salt in Salt (2010) played by Angelina Jolie

When a defector accuses CIA agent Evelyn Salt of being a Russian spy, she must use every skill gained from years of training and experience to evade capture and prove her innocence. Originally written as a male part and set to star Tom Cruise in the title role, the A-lister actually ended up turning the movie down. The script simply switched genders and cast Angelina Jolie instead. The development actually helped make the lacklustre action flick stand out from other similar espionage films at the time and Jolie is onboard for a sequel.

2. Starbuck in Battlestar Galactica (2004 – 2009) played by Katee Sackhoff

In this reimagining of the original 70s sci-fi show, Lieutenant Starbuck, originally played by Dirk Benedict, got an upgrade when Katee Sackhoff came onboard to play the brash warrior. There was considerable outrage by fans about the change in gender, with even Benedict joining the bandwagon against her casting. However, she quickly became a fan-favourite and one of the show’s most popular characters. For her portrayal, Sackhoff won a Saturn Award for Best Actress.

1. Ellen Ripley in Alien (1979) Sigourney Weaver

Early drafts of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi horror originally had Ripley written as a man. However, this soon changed and Sigourney Weaver was cast as the warrant officer aboard the Nostromo who becomes the only survivor after the deadly xenomorph terrorised the crew. For her role in the franchise, Weaver nabbed an academy Academy Award nomination (a rare occurrence for a sci-fi horror) and is considered one of the best female protagonists of all time. In fact, it’s very likely that we would never have saw the success of the franchise without the gender change.