While women protagonists are not necessarily unheard of in psychological thrillers, if you look at any of the top movies in the genre, you will definitely see more male leads than female. In typical Hollywood form, when a woman does make an appearance in a leading or supporting role, she is often times emotionally unstable, nagging and whiny, or downright evil. But times are a-changin', and the trend of seeing mostly male main characters in thrillers is going by the wayside.

Films such as Dark Places and Gone Girl, both adapted from novels by bestselling author Gillian Flynn, put the spotlight on female leads who are clever, tough, and able to carry the story on their own, without the necessity of a male character to empower their role.

In Dark Places (available on DirecTV VOD now, and in theaters August 7th), Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road) plays Libby Day, a sullen, closed-off middle-aged woman who witnessed the brutal murder of nearly her entire family, 28 years ago. Since then she has coasted through life on the kindness and charity of strangers while she hid from the world in her anger and her pain. But all of that changes when Libby finds out the money has run out and she needs help to survive. In comes the "Kill Club," a group of amateur detectives that think the brother she helped put away for the murder of her mother and two older sisters is actually innocent. They offer her money for her assistance with making their case, and she accepts because she has no choice. It isn't long before Libby finds herself drawn into the mystery surrounding the night of the murders, her brother's actual involvement in the killings, and the darker secrets that her family was hiding.

While not a great film (many of the characters are two dimensional and seem almost pointless, there's too much exposition and not enough organic storytelling, and the ending feels very contrived), Dark Places does do, at least, one thing very well. It gives viewers two impressive female leads in Charlize Theron's Libby Day and Christina Hendricks (of Mad Men) as Patty Day (a woman with four children to raise, a failing farm, a no-good ex out for money, and a problem with severe, if unacknowledged, depression, who makes an extreme choice to save her family).

Libby Day is not particularly likable or heroic. She's been damaged for decades and she responds to the world and people around her in a nasty and aggressive manner. She is no one's idea of a proper protagonist. But it is in her imperfections that you can see how realistic and human she is. She has lived through the worst thing possible and has been alone and miserable for so long, she doesn't even remember what happiness looks like. She is dragged almost kicking and screaming back into the night of her family's murder, but it is something else that makes her stick it out and solve the mystery. She may not be a 'good' person in most people's definition, but deep down she is good enough to find out the truth and set an innocent man free.

Female characters in thrillers such as Libby Day are important because they show that someone does not have to be perfect to be a protagonist. They can be damaged, angry and afraid. And they can still save the day in the end. They might need a little (or a lot) of urging to get there, but they can still do it. Other great thrillers, from Copycat (1991) starring Sigourney Weaver as a victimized psychologist, and Holly Hunter as a tough cop, to Silence of the Lambs( 1991) starring Jodie Foster as an FBI agent on the trail of a sadistic killer, to The Cell (2000) starring Jennifer Lopez as a psychologist diving into the mind of serial killer, to Hard Candy (2005) starring Ellen Page as a girl out for revenge on a pedophile, previously laid the groundwork for female-driven psychological thrillers. Now films such as Dark Places and Gone Girl are doing their best to carry on that legacy.