While Olivia Pope, Peggy Olson and Daenerys Targaryen might not be real, the power they wield in their fictional worlds is.
Possessing both intellectual and supernatural faculties, television’s leading ladies and their complex personalities are slowly but surely dominating their individual universes. Loosely (note: very loosely) using Fortune‘s Most Powerful Women metrics — the size and importance of the woman’s business, the health and direction of the business, the arc of the woman’s career, and her social and cultural influence — we’ve ranked the most prominent women currently gracing the small screen.
Additional reporting by Anne VanderMey, Christopher Tkaczyk and Heather Muse.
1. Khaleesi Daenerys Targaryen
As the last living Targaryen, Daenerys fiercely believes it’s her birthright to control the Seven Kingdoms, formerly ruled by her late father. Surviving the loss of her family and her king husband, she’s grown from a timid girl into a dragon-wielding woman. Daenerys is building a massive swarm of fighters to help her regain the Iron Throne, winning over the warriors with her firm but caring demeanor. She’s the ultimate CEO — a chief who inspires her followers. And should naysayers interfere with her grand strategy? One whisper of “dracarys” and they’ll be toast.
2. Olivia Pope
After successfully helping Fitz Grant win his campaign for President of the United States, Olivia launched her crisis management consultancy Olivia Pope & Associates. She’s become the go-to gal for D.C. politicians and public figures in crisis. We can only imagine the retainers Olivia deservedly collects. (I mean, just look at that wardrobe!) Olivia has no qualms bending the rules to help her clients. She sees the world in gray, rather than black and white, leading to more sympathetic relationships with her clients — and a moral flexibility that satisfyingly entertains. Her team proudly owns their role as “gladiators in suits,” loyally following their white-hatted leader.
3. Selina Meyer
Currently second-in-command of a world superpower, Selina’s eyes are focused on bigger fish. The oft clueless but undeniably ambitious politician will hit the campaign trail in the next few months when she runs for President of the United States.
4. Jessica Pearson
Jessica navigates the cutthroat legal world with both grace and guile, which is why her firm’s clients include some of the world’s largest and most influential companies. Jessica’s relationship savvy rarely fails, though the firm faced serious challenges in the past two years — and continues to wobble as it regains its bearings. With star attorney Harvey Specter by her side, she should be able to trump the multi-layered issues threatening Pearson Darby Specter.
5. Leona Lansing
The sharp-tongued exec fights fiercely for the Atlantis Cable Network’s news team and its vision, despite the ACN’s financial woes. A doctored interview and a wrongful termination suit sway ACN director Charlie Skinner, anchor Will McAvoy, and executive producer MacKenzie McHale to resign — they feel they’ve lost the public’s trust — but Leona refuses to accept their white flags. She puts the decision in the hands of ACN president (and her son) Reese: A leadership challenge for him, and a trust case study for her company’s top talent.
6. Fiona Goode
Murder, manipulation, mayhem. Fiona Goode will stop at nothing to maintain her power and position as the head-witch-in-charge of New Orleans. While on a quest for anti-aging potion, she digs up 200-year old Madame LaLaurie (Kathy Bates) and wages war with voodoo nemesis Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett). Often called upon to clean up messes caused by the younger generation in the coven (Fiona has the power to bring the dead back to life), she will also selfishly kill anyone threatening to get in her way — all while delivering campy bon mots: “Don’t make me drop a house on you.”
7. Diane Lockhart
This power player (she has a photo of her and Hillary Clinton on her desk) was vetted for a seat on the Illinois Supreme Court until Gov. Peter Florrick changed his mind; Lockhart handled the disappointment masterfully, rejoining law firm Lockhart/Gardner with a renewed sense of purpose: She’s out to squash a group of former colleagues who’ve left to start their own firm. Her energies are directed, in particular, at Alicia Florrick (the governor’s wife and No. 15), whom Lockhart personally mentored.
8. Claire Underwood
Mild spoiler alert: In the second episode of House of Cards, Claire Underwood fires half of the staff of her nonprofit without so much as misplacing a strand of her perfectly coiffed pixie cut. Underwood handles her work — and her marriage — with an icy intensity that is as terrifying as it is mesmerizing. Wife to the show’s antihero, the spectacularly conniving Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), it’s clear that Claire is every bit the Washington operator he is.
9. Joan Holloway
As the office manager for Sterling Cooper, Holloway spent a lot of time in the proximity of power — and used it to her advantage. She managed the secretarial pool with aplomb, and knew when to flirt with and flatter clients. She made her way to partner in an uncomfortable manner (sleeping with Jaguar’s Herb Rennick to salvage the account), but Holloway still has the savvy and know-how to command respect in the boardroom.
10. Rayna Jaymes and 11. Tandy Wyatt
Raised by a power-playing dad, the sisters’ individual successes have earned them spots in Nashville’s upper echelons. A failed attempt to stage a coup against her father for his company left Tandy in a position of weakness, until she stumbled upon unsavory information and used it — as well as her knowledge of Wyatt Industries’ financials — to right the past. Rayna struggles to remain relevant as younger, bubblegum stars crowd EdgeHill Records — and she butts heads with the label’s top exec — but her determination and loyal fan base help her maintain her “Queen of Country” title.
12. Carrie Mathison
Her emotions often fog her judgment — and her affinity for vino and unhealthy relationships probably doesn’t help — but Carrie’s brilliance is undeniable. She follows leads with an obsessive compulsion and won’t quit until she’s certain all questions have been answered and all corners have been searched. Despite her unpredictability and her struggles with bipolar disorder, Carrie remains CIA acting director Saul Berenson’s (Mandy Patinkin) most trusted (and used) asset.
13. Peggy Olson
Olson has shattered the glass ceiling over the course of the critically acclaimed series, moving her way up from the Sterling Cooper secretarial pool to copy writer to eventual copy chief at Sterling Cooper & Partners (a brief detour at Cutler, Gleason, and Chaough allowed her to assume a leadership position at her old firm). Despite ranking lower than No. 9 Joan, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Peggy usurps SC&P’s female partner as Mad Men‘s most powerful woman. Persistence has paid off for her so far.
14. Temperance Brennan
Considered the leading authority in her field, Brennan’s quirky and concise approach toward her work solves many a crime. She now works directly with her husband, Special Agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz), though the two have worked side-by-side for many years. Brennan’s leadership inspires a close-knit and collaborative environment among her team.
15. Alicia Florrick
Florrick showed her risk-taking side by starting her own law firm with colleague Cary Agos. In so doing, she turned her back on Lockhart & Gardner, the firm that hired her after her husband, then state’s attorney of Illinois’ most populous county, was embroiled in a sex scandal. Despite a 15-year absence from the working world, Florrick proved herself a star and worked on cases with ties to the firm’s important players — all while juggling ongoing media scrutiny about her marriage and the demands of raising two tech-savvy teenagers. Florrick engaged in some scandalous behavior of her own, starting an affair with named partner Will Gardner.
16. Victoria Grayson
Victoria may have married her way into power, wedding Conrad Grayson decades ago, but she’s here to stay. Her diamonds and Herve Leger dresses perfectly mask the icy mother-of-
two three’s cunning. “You can spend your life being controlled by powerful men, or you can learn how to control them,” she recently said. Victoria’s every word, move, and relationship is calculated — and her intentions are always questionable. The past doused Victoria and Conrad’s hands in blood, and she’s now working to re-frame her life without him. Victoria recently took over one of the Hamptons’ most successful art galleries — by blackmailing its previous owner. Guess old habits really do die hard.
17. Leslie Knope
Leslie’s unwavering optimism helped land the Pawnee, Ind., native her newest role as City Councilor — another step toward achieving her ultimate goal of becoming President of the United States. She has recently suffered a setback, as she lost her recall election and will soon be out of a job, but chances are she’ll find her way back to the Pawnee’s Parks and Recreation department.
18. Cristina Yang
She’s not the highest-ranking woman at Seattle Grace Mercy West Hospital. But let’s face it — she’s the most badass. Never one to shy away from a challenge, Cristina self-defines as a shark and happily chases her prey: innovative and cutting-edge surgeries. During Grey’s Anatomy‘s 10 seasons, she’s grown professionally and emotionally. As a current board member and part-owner of the hospital, she wields more influence than ever before.
19. Violet Crawley
Her rapier wit is the stuff of legend — and Internet memes. The Dowager Countess’s withering zingers are so cutting, and so hilarious, that they’ve inspired multiple Twitter feeds, Pinterest boards, and Tumblrs. Violet Crawley, mother or Lord Grantham, isn’t exactly in charge of the Downton estate, but she might as well be. A stickler for tradition with a passion for pretension (albeit with a secret soft side), when she tousles with other characters she usually wins. A Dowager Countess maxim: “Don’t be defeatist, dear, it’s very middle class.”
20. Virginia Johnson
A country-singer-turned-journalist-turned-secretary-turned-research-assistant, Virginia found a non-traditional path to success through Dr. William Masters, one of gynecology’s leading physicians. What she lacks in pedigree — Virginia is still working on getting her college degree — she makes up for in panache. She and Masters’ 1960s-era study will soon revolutionize the way the world understands sex.
21. Amy Farrah Fowler
Neuroscientist Amy’s smarts often challenge — and trump — Caltech physicist (and her boyfriend) Sheldon Cooper’s during their intellectual battles. Details about her professional accomplishments are scarce, but we’re sure they’re impressive.
22. Mindy Lahiri
Unfortunately for OB/GYN Mindy, her professional life’s success hasn’t trickled into her personal life. Her dating trials and tribulations are engrossing, as are her relationships with her colleagues and patients.
As a prisoner, Red’s power is a bit restricted. Yet the thick-accented Russian expat manages to bend both inmates and guards to her will — for most of the season, anyway (we expect a comeback). She has minions catering to her every whim, even shaving her legs — and toes. As reigning prison matriarch, Red commands both fear and fierce loyalty, which she returns with kindness and maybe a little booze. Just don’t insult the food.
24. Dora Marquez
Even if you don’t watch children’s television, you know who Dora the Explorer is. Full name Dora Marquez, the heroine of the wildly popular show is a bilingual 7-year-old who charts her way across rugged terrain with the help of her trusty talking backpack and singing map. She’s the ultimate entrepreneur, scrapping her way through adventure after adventure and always overcoming the obstacles blocking her path. Dora’s spunky (nonsexualized) image is ubiquitous, and she’s been hailed as one of woefully few positive female role models for young girls.
25. The Behind-the-Scenes Hero
These ladies aren’t at the top yet, but they’re still rockstars. Their bosses couldn’t succeed without them — and we’re sure these women will get big promotions over the next few seasons.
Our top three picks for the next generation of TV power? Veep‘s Chief of Staff Amy Brookheimer (Anna Chlumsky), Justified‘s Deputy U.S. Marshal Rachel Brooks (Erica Tazel), and Homeland‘s CIA analyst Fara Sherazi (Nazanin Boniadi). Brooks is pictured above.
Did we miss any powerful fictional women? Let us know in the comments section.