If you’re the eldest daughter in your family, you know that it can be a struggle. We oldest girls tend to be good leaders, driven to achieve our goals, and kind to others due to caring for our younger siblings, but there’s a downside. The pressure to set a good example and always be there for your younger siblings (especially if you have little sisters) can be overwhelming and cause anxiety, and the tendency to want to keep peace among the family often leads to chronic people-pleasing. This experience is so common among eldest daughters that it’s all over TikTok.
It’s a complex role in a family structure that can be hard to explain to those who haven’t been there, but there are plenty of examples of oldest sisters in movies who do a fantastic job of portraying both the beauty and the difficulty of this experience.
Spoilers for some of these movies are ahead.
1. Kat from 10 Things I Hate About You
This ‘90s classic may be a retelling of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, but Kat Stafford (Julia Stiles) is iconic on her own. She and her younger sister, Bianca (Larisa Oleynik), are complete opposites, with Kat being bookish and rebellious while Bianca wants nothing more than to fit in at high school. When Bianca wants to date Joey (Andrew Keegan), their father decides that she can only go on a date if Kat does. Wanting to pursue Bianca, Cameron (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) tries to recruit bad boy Patrick (Heath Ledger) to date Kat so he can date Bianca, but Joey beats him to it.
Though Patrick starts pursuing Kat because Joey is paying him to, he falls for her and realizes how kind she is. Despite the hard exterior she shows the world, Kat deeply cares for Bianca. She shows this by trying to protect Bianca from Joey (who is obviously a jerk) and is willing to let her guard down if it allows her sister to be happy. She’s a great example of a protective older sister, which is why she’ll always be a fan-favorite character.
2. Meg from Little Women
Louisa May Alcott’s timeless novel Little Women is a beautiful story about coming of age and sisterhood. All four sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March, have different personalities and interests but know how to bring the best out in each other. As the eldest sister, Meg is not only a leader but keeps the peace among the sisters and encourages all of them to be themselves.
While there are countless film adaptations of the novel, Greta Gerwig’s 2019 adaptation does an incredible job of painting Meg (Emma Watson) as a caring leader who wants what’s best for her sisters. In a famous scene, Jo (Saoirse Ronan) tries to convince Meg to run away from her wedding because she believes Meg can accomplish her dreams without a husband. Meg not only assures Jo that she loves John and wants to marry him but says, “Just because my dreams are different from yours doesn’t mean they’re not important.” But she also reassures her sister that their love and connection will continue after Meg’s wedding.
3. Jane from Pride and Prejudice
Elizabeth Bennet is the protagonist of Pride and Prejudice, but the story follows the romantic lives of all five Bennet sisters. The eldest, Jane, takes an immediate interest in Mr. Bingley, but Elizabeth, the second eldest, fears that he will break her heart. Jane and Elizabeth’s sisterly relationship takes a backseat to the romantic ones as far as screentime goes, but it’s clear that the sisters love each other. In fact, Jane’s broken heart is one of the reasons Elizabeth rejects Mr. Darcy’s proposal with such vehemence.
Elizabeth may take more of a leadership role in the family, but she admires Jane for her kindness, amiability, and selflessness, as well as her disposition to think well of people (something Elizabeth struggles with). Jane not only inspires Elizabeth to be a better person but also sets a positive example for all of her sisters.
4. Elsa from Frozen
The relationship between royal sisters Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell) is at the center of Frozen and Frozen II, and it’s as beautiful as it’s wholesome. When Elsa first discovers her ice powers, she uses them to play with her little sister, Anna, but stops when she realizes that it’s not only difficult to control but can hurt Anna.
After their parents die and Elsa is set to become queen, she accidentally unleashes her powers and then embraces them. Unfortunately, her biggest fears come true when she discovers that she accidentally hurt Anna, almost fatally. Fortunately, their love for each other saves both of them. While Frozen II has a different plot, the love the sisters have for each other is at the center of the story and proves to be what will save them from disaster.
5. Winifred from Hocus Pocus
Are the Sanderson sisters of Hocus Pocus evil? Yes, but they’re also funny and clearly love each other. The first movie shows how the sisters bond and are a perfect comedic group, but the sequel (spoiler warning if you haven’t seen Hocus Pocus 2 yet) goes deeper into their family dynamic. When Winnie was a teenager, she was left to take care of her sisters after their father died. Winnie is banished from Salem when she defies the church’s authority by refusing to marry a man she doesn’t love, but regrets her decision when she realizes her sisters will face the same punishment. The three sisters run off to the woods to start their own coven, vowing that they’ll never leave each other.
Winnie wants to become the most powerful witch in the world, so much so that she doesn’t read the fine print of the spell: The price of power will take what she values the most. Since she values her sisters above all else, the spell takes them away from her. This causes her to break down in tears and helps her realize that though they often drive her crazy, she’s nothing without them. In the end, she gives up her power to be reunited with her sisters.
6. Katniss from The Hunger Games
While The Hunger Games series is a complex story, the love Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) has for her younger sister, Prim (Willow Shields), is the catalyst of the story. Her desire to protect Prim is what compels her to volunteer as a tribute for the Hunger Games. This gives her the drive to win, come home to Prim, and give her family a better life, but it also propels her to fight for her country, Panem.
Katniss becomes the symbol of a revolution against the Capitol after defying President Snow. It’s clear that Katniss wants Panem to be a better place for all citizens, but the fear of Prim possibly being chosen again also drives her to change the system. Katniss risked everything to save Prim, and she doesn’t want her or anyone else to have to endure the trauma of the Hunger Games ever again. She’s the epitome of the selfless older sister archetype, and we love her for it.
7. Nani from Lilo & Stitch
After their parents die, Nani becomes the guardian of her younger sister, Lilo. Lilo’s rambunctious personality makes the already tough situation even more difficult, leaving Nani to struggle to keep food on the table, a roof over their heads, and social services away from Lilo. When Nani decides to get Lilo a dog to help with her loneliness and social anxiety, Lilo accidentally bonds with an alien named Stitch.
Despite Stitch causing nothing but chaos in their lives, Nani lets Lilo keep him because she sees how much she cares for him. Lilo believes that Nani doesn’t understand her, which is how many young girls feel about their mothers; meanwhile, Nani struggles with juggling her parental role and remaining Lilo’s older sister. Chaos aside, it’s clear that the two sisters love each other and that Nani will do anything (including letting an alien live in their house) to make Lilo happy and protect her from social services.
8. Rose from Meet Me in St. Louis
Meet Me in St. Louis tells the story of the Smith family in the months leading up to the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition World’s Fair. The brother, Lon (Harry H. Daniels Jr.), may be the oldest child, and Esther (Judy Garland), the second oldest sister, may be the main character, but the oldest sister, Rose (Lucille Bremer), plays a massive role in the family. One of the most memorable scenes is when the family believes that Rose will be proposed to over the phone, and they all rally around her to support her when it doesn’t happen.
Rose sets a good example for her youngest sisters, Agnes (Joan Carroll) and Tootie (Margaret O’Brien), by being a strong, kind, and elegant woman, but doesn’t push them to be something they're not. She might not be an outspoken leader, but the way she loves her sisters (and the way they love her back) speaks for itself.
9. Liesl from The Sound of Music
Liesl (Charmian Carr) is the eldest of the seven Von Trapp children, and she possesses a strength that sets her apart from the others. The loss of her mother made her grow up fast, essentially becoming a protective figure for her six siblings. Yet, like every teenage girl on the cusp of womanhood, she wants to break away and have a life of her own.
She’s the first of the Von Trapp children to warm up to Maria (Julie Andrews) after receiving Maria’s kindness in helping hide her romantic rendezvous from Captain Von Trapp, and her acceptance of Maria inspires her siblings to be open to their new governess as well. As the story progresses, she realizes how much she and her siblings need Maria not only as a governess but as a mother figure.
10. Elinor from Sense and Sensibility
Similar to Pride and Prejudice, this Jane Austen adaptation tells the tale of romance and sisterhood. Elinor (Emma Thompson) is the oldest of the Dashwood sisters, who are left poor after their father dies and their half-brother refuses to help them. The sisters are forced to leave their home, and Elinor leaves Edward (Hugh Grant), the man she’s starting to fall in love with. Elinor is the backbone of the family, urging them to live within their income and to make the best of their situation.
After they move to their new home, the sweet and idealistic Marianne (Kate Winslet) falls for the dashing John Willoughby (Greg Wise), only for him to break her heart. Elinor is wildly protective of Marianne’s heart, so she’s furious at Willoughby’s betrayal. As the story progresses, Elinor teaches Marianne to think more with her head than her heart, leading her to the arms of the kind and loyal Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman). Marianne also encourages Elinor to think more with her heart than her head, leading her to marry Edward. While both of the sisters help each other grow, Elinor is the more mature, sensible half of this iconic sister duo.
11. Dottie from A League of Their Own
This classic takes place in 1943, when the Chicago Cubs bankrolled a women’s softball league to stay afloat until the end of World War II. Kit Keller (Lori Petty) wants to try out and tries to convince her uninterested but more talented older sister, Dottie (Geena Davis), to come with her. Dottie agrees for her sister’s sake, as Kit desperately wants to make something of herself. Both women end up joining the Rockford Peaches.
In short order, Dottie becomes the on-field leader, the star player, and the face of the league, which angers Kit because Dottie wasn’t initially interested in playing. Kit is traded to another team, and the sisters face each other in the World Series, where Kit runs into home base, knocking the ball from Dottie’s hand to win it all – or did Dottie drop it on purpose for her sister’s sake?
From the kind and gentle Jane Bennet to the selflessness and bravery of Katniss Everdeen, these fictional women accurately portray the highs and lows of being the oldest sister. They show the beauty in both the positive and the negative, touching the heart of every woman who can relate.
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