The prevailing “knowledge” has long been that women can not lead action films, flying in the face of some of the most famous films of not only the genre, but also all time! The most recent DC addition, Wonder Woman (2017), has proven yet again that women can carry an action film AND gross just as much their male counterparts (looking at you BvS Yawn of Just-whatever). With more and more women showing up in leading roles, most memorably and recently in Star Wars The Force Awakens (2015) and Mad Max (2015), we now look back and honor the ladies who’ve helped pave the way through a sea of machismo towards an action-packed, equally representative future.
Aliens (1986): Following on the xenomorphic-heels of Riddley Scott’s Alien, James Cameron was not one to be outdone. Turning the slow-burn thriller by way of fever-dream space nightmare into a macho gun-heavy horror-action classic. Helmed by the incomparable Sigourney Weaver reprising her role as Ellen Ripley, our action heroine is tougher, stronger, more deadly than all the other space marines in her company, and even pilots the famous robot lifter to destroy the alien queen.
Terminator 2 (1991): Contrary to popular belief, the most dangerous character in the Terminator series is not the titular Arnold Schwarzenegger but the wrathful and protective Sarah Connor, played by Linda Hamilton. What image comes to mind when you hear action-heroine more than buff-as-hell black tank-top clad Sarah with AK-47 rested on her hip, black shades wearing, card carrying badass looking off into the distance? If I had to choose someone to protect me in an action movie, sorry guys but Sarah’s got the gig.
Crouching Tiger – Hidden Dragon (2000): CTHD is a wealth of riches when it comes to female action. With not one, not two, but THREE main female characters all caught up in the Oscar award-winning martial arts epic. The only non-english film on the list, CTHD showed that not only can women gracefully and viciously carry an action film, bring in the big bucks, and fight better than their male counterparts, but also show that the east kicks just as much ass as the west.
Kill Bill vol. I (2003): The Bride is one of the most famous women in a leading role let alone in action films. In Quentin Tarantino’s seminal series Kill Bill, the viewer follows Uma Thurman’s character as she hacks and slashes her way through various underlings of her old crime-boss. Both films in the (Bi-ology?) doubled their budget and quickly became household names. So how’s that for “women can’t lead action”?
Hunger Games (2012): In the hall-of-fame of on-screen archers, many of the slots belong to men. Katniss Everdeen, however, takes the first seat for the girls. A more human approach to the leading action-lady, Katniss does not slack in martial prowess with her Robin-hood like skills on and off the field, but she also wrestles with the same problems that many teenagers deal with and that helps us connect with her while not demeaning her or her accomplishments.
Special Shout outs to:
Hanna (2011): For showing us that young girls can be Jason Bourne too!
Resident Evil/Underworld (2002/3-Foreseeable Future): For showing us that women can be just as bad as men in schlocky b-rated dark action-horror!
Cleopatra Jones/Foxy Brown (1973-4): For showing that black women kick ass too!
Tomb Raider (2001): For showing that woman can be just as good as Indiana Jones…kinda!
Buffy (1997): I mean….come on….it’s pretty obvious.