LOS ANGELES -- From the murderous Laura in "Logan" to the mysterious Eleven in "Stranger Things" to the audacious determination of Mija in "Okja," opening Wednesday, powerful young girls are starring in mainstream action fare like never before.
Though Nancy Drew was solving mysteries in the 1930s and Buffy slayed vampires all through high school in the late 1990s, young girls are rarely shown as heroes in programs aimed at general audiences, said Mary Celeste Kearney, director of gender studies and a professor of film, television and theater at University of Notre Dame.
"Girls have seen these figures ... but when they've looked to mainstream stuff and what their brothers and their dads and boys are watching, those girls are never there," Kearney said. "And now they are, and that's huge."
It means girls don't have to look to grown up heroes like Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games" or Rey in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens." Like 10-year-old Elliot on the flying bicycle in "E.T. the Extraterrestrial," now girls are having awesome genre adventures as powerful young kids onscreen.
The Duffer Brothers said gender was never a question when it came to creating the super-powered star character in their Netflix series "Stranger Things." Eleven, played by 13-year-old Millie Bobby Brown, can move things with her mind and is the fascinating secret friend of a group of pre-teen boys in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana.
"Eleven was always a girl. I don't even remember when or why we made that decision except that was always the case," Matt Duffer said in a recent interview. "Eleven was the centerpiece of the show for us always and was always going to be this girl who escaped the lab ... I think we liked the idea because it wasn't something we had seen before."
A second little girl is joining the cast for the show's second season, which premieres Oct. 31.
Writer-director Bong Joon Ho intentionally made his central human character a girl in "Okja," an international adventure film named for the genetically engineered six-ton "super pig" at its heart.
Played by 13-year-old An Seo Hyun, Mija has grown up with Okja, and risks everything to protect the massive creature when the corporation that sponsored the super-pig program comes to claim its product.
One thing that's missing from "Okja" and the other projects is a stereotypical little girl who needs saving.
"Logan" writer-director James Mangold can't take credit for creating the young female mutant Laura -- he mined the character from "X-Men" history. But Mangold cast an exceptional actress, 11-year-old Dafne Keen, and successfully brought a killer female character to the ultra-male world of big-screen superheroes.
He chose to make Laura a child rather than the teenager she is in the comics because of the bond it would allow with Hugh Jackman's character and the shock it might elicit when Laura draws her claws.
Like Hit-Girl in 2010's "Kick-Ass," Laura is a character created in her father's image. She's Wolverine's daughter and has just as much flesh-shredding power as her dad.
"I did think the shocking nature of Laura's ability to kill savagely would be all the more shocking, in a really wonderful way, that it was a girl and not a boy, that that lethalness would be exhibited by this little girl," Mangold said.
"I wondered whether we could pull it off, whether the audience would truly believe this level of violence and intensity trapped inside an 11-year-old body. To me that made it even more exciting to put it on the screen."