There are a lot of cheerleader characters out there in movies and television, but some I like more than others. Here are my top five fictional cheerleaders, and what exactly makes them better than others in my eyes.

5. Payton Sawyer (One Tree Hill)

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My best friend, AKA my B. Davis, became friends talking about One Tree Hill in our high school AP English class. Wednesday was One Tree Hill day, and we would talk the entire class about last night’s episode. Now seeing the show as an adult, it was exactly what you would expect from a teenage drama:  friends, fights, parties, and, of course, tons of DRAMA.

As a teenager, I could completely relate to Payton Sawyer–she was a complex character on the show. She wasn’t your stereotypical cheerleader. Yes, she was blonde, sort of popular, and dated the captain of the basketball team, but she was also more complex. She had a drool-worthy record collection and a website/webcam before it was cool; she used art to express her emotions and was often plagued by depression. She was adopted, and had to deal with the death of not only her adopted mother, but later her biological mother and also a father who was not always around.

The show is a teenage drama, and the character of Payton has trials and tribulations with her relationship, but she does come out on top with the help of her best friend, and later, her longtime boyfriend/husband. I love Payton because she is such a relatable character, especially to a high school girl. She is going through a lot, trying to learn who she is, and how to fit in a world that she really doesn’t want to be in. Her character struggles with her identity, and tries to find creative outlets to figure herself out.

4. Gene Belcher (Bob’s Burgers)

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I know you might be thinking–when was Gene Belcher a cheerleader? Well, it was one episode, and it was AMAZING! The reason Gene is on the list is because he is unforgivably himself. He does not let gender norms control him: he knows who is, and is admirably confident. What other people may say or think about him does not even touch him. He did not even set out to be a cheerleader, but he loves making up cheers and rhymes that the team wanted him! Gene is creative, and has an oddball sense of humor. He is the middle child with two sisters, which explains a little why he is loud and proud. Being a middle child, you can sometimes get lost in the mess, but with Gene, you would never know it.

The reason Gene is on this list is because of his unwavering confidence. And, really, why do we feel like we need to apologize for who we are? We are all awesome and uniquely our own. He also does not let stereotypical gender roles hold him back. Society tells us all the time that because you are a boy or girl, you have to act a certain way, but Gene does what he wants. If he wants to cheer, he will cheer! If he want to start an all-girls singing group, he will do it. Create a Die Hard one-man show, DONE!  Gene is such an inspiration to remind us all to be confident in everything that we do, and to never hold yourself back from doing something you want to do.

3. Megan (But, I’m a Cheerleader)

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This movie is rated “R” and contains sexually explicit content, so if you are under the age of 18, ask your parents before watching this movie.

Having said that, if you are over 18 and have not seen the movie But, I’m a Cheerleader–watch it! Stop reading this, and watch it right now. Not only is it completely hilarious, but RuPaul is in it, so you cannot go wrong there.

Megan is a naïve teenager who comes from an overprotective family. Her family and friends suspect she might be gay, and they send her off to a conversion camp. Megan does not think she is gay, but as she works through the program and is introduced to others within the gay community, she starts to realize that she might, indeed, be a lesbian.

So, why is Megan on my list? What I really like about Megan is that she is just your typical average high school teenage cheerleader. At the beginning of the movie, Megan is questioning things about herself she never considered before that was dictated to her by others. In time, Megan learns how to stand up for herself and to really see the world, not just this sheltered version that she was in before. She learns even though she is different, she does not need to act a certain way. She loves cheerleading, and uses cheer to express her true feelings in a way to help her be brave and become who she really is as a person.

2. Isis (Bring it On)

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Every time I see a list about top cheerleaders in movies, they–without a doubt–will include, Torrance Shipman from Bring It On. Is she a great captain? Sure, she is. Is she the best captain in the movie? I don’t think so. I think it is about time Isis gets the respect she deserves. Isis is the team captain of the other team in the movie, who has watched her team’s routines get stolen and used to win championships for years. Nothing is worse than someone else receiving credit for all the hard work that you have done, and be powerless to do anything about it. As you learn in the movie, all the other captains never did anything to try and change the situation. Not Isis.

When Isis earned her right to be captain of the Compton Clovers, she took a stand. She confronted her rival team, and let them know that stealing will not be tolerated. She found a way to raise money to be able to finally compete in the championship, which they could never afford to go to before. Not only did she do all of this, but also ran a cheer team and was a high school student. I don’t know if you remember high school, but I don’t remember one high school student who was that driven and motivated from my experience. She not only got her team to the championship–they won! I know Bring It On is really about the Toros and overcoming obstacles, but by the end of the movie, we tend to forget how many obstacles the Clovers went through for years to finally win. Not only was Isis a gracious winner, she was a true team player and was able to forgive Torrance (even though Torrance never know about the cheating), and Isis showed true leadership by noticing how Torrance turned her team around and gained respect as she learned to understand what it means to be a captain.

1. Buffy Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

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Not only is Buffy the Vampire Slayer one of, if not my top favorite show of all time, it is also one of my favorite movies! Buffy the TV series came out when I was in middle school, and I 100% know that this show contributed to me being an empowered woman. In middle school and high school, there is a lot of pressure on young girls to act and be a certain way. Then, you add in hormones and a changing body, things get really complicated really quickly. Growing up watching a show like Buffy made me feel strong, and like I am able to accomplish anything. There were many times in my life that people told me just because I was a girl, I wasn’t strong enough or I couldn’t do something purely based on the fact that I am a woman. I was told that I was too emotionally, mentally, and physically weak to do certain things.

The character of Buffy Summers is just an average everyday girl. She worries about fitting into a new school, passing her classes, is a bit boy crazy. She loves clothes, makeup, and, especially in the movie, cheerleading. She is just your normal everyday girl who has this unbelievable strength as she carries the weight of the world on her shoulders. She keeps this tremendous secret, fighting demons and vampires, all the while trying to navigate everyday normal activities. Buffy struggles often with her fate, and even rebels at times. She is much like any other woman in the world. I love that her character was strong, yet equally flawed and completely relatable. Why is she Buffy on my list? First off, she is hilarious and witty.  Even though demons and vampires constantly underestimated her, she prevailed. She also showed me–in a time that I needed it most–that just because she is a young woman, that does not mean she is incapable of doing amazing things.

I think a lot of the time, people forget how much pressure there is in middle school and high school. Teenagers are constantly being told ‘no’, or that they cannot do something by everyone. Buffy made me realize that even when the world throws you these impossible situations or challenges, my ability to stay strong, brave, and driven gives me faith that I will be able to accomplish more than I ever knew was possible.

Who is your favorite cheerleader characters in pop culture? Share your fave cheerleaders in the comments!