For too long, action movies have centered almost exclusively on men. But there are some truly badass women out there, and Hollywood is finally making movies that reflect this. Whether this is a result of studio executives figuring out how to profit from women or the result of actual positive change can be debated, but there is no arguing with the popularity of these awesome action films with strong women in the lead.
From superheroes to super spies, these women kick butt, take names, and deliver stunning performances. Here are ten action movies starring badass women.
10 Atomic Blonde (2017)
Atomic Blonde is a post-punk espionage thriller set in Berlin just before the wall came crashing down. At its core, this is a Bond movie, except it is so much better. In short, it is what Bond films tried to be.
The protagonist, Lorraine, is a tough-as-nails MI6 agent as skilled in combat as the subtleties of spycraft. The lighting, sound design, and little background details bring the world of East Berlin to life, reveling in its punk scene as much as in the sordid brutalities of Stasi operatives.
9 Underworld (2003)
This gothic action piece injected a shot of adrenaline into the bloody romances of the Anne Rice vampire tradition. The events of the movie follow the last days of a centuries’ old war between vampires and lycanthropes. The Lycans have found a human whose genetics allow him to simultaneously be turned into both a Lycan and a vampire, which they hope will bring an end to the war.
Selene, a vampire woman, tries to rescue the human from the Lycans, but soon finds herself fighting against her own kind too. Fighting with sword and guns, Selene embodies the badassery and aesthetics celebrated by the third wave goth movement of the early 00s in a supernatural thriller that has aged surprisingly well.
8 Wonder Woman (2017)
This movie generated a lot of press when it came out for its amazing action scene in the trenches and its strong performances, as well as for being one of the rare superhero movies to star a woman. DC beat Marvel to the punch by putting Diana of Themyscira in her own movie years before Marvel’s Disney execs had deemed the world ready for a superhero film starring a female lead–and to date, this remains the best of the DCEU movies so far.
Comic fans know just how awesome Wonder Woman is and older fans of the 70s TV show have been waiting for a modern movie to shine the Olympian spotlight on this epic heroine. Audiences were not disappointed.
7 Tank Girl (1995)
This cult classic is based on Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett’s comic of the same name and actually does a very good job of paying homage to the source material. The movie is loved by many fans for its strong-willed smart-mouthed protagonist and its unapologetic feminist themes.
Few people would call Tank Girl a good movie but it is one of those films that is self-aware enough to be enjoyably bad. Also, watching the heroine, Rebecca, overcome every attempt to beat her is just a pure delight.
6 Kill Bill (2003)
Director Quentin Tarantino pushed his art in a new direction with Kill Bill vol 1 and 2. While much of the plot is a straightforward story of vengeance, there is a lot of nuance to the narrative, which incorporates anime, a black and white sword fight, and a monologue referencing Umberto Eco’s essay on the nature Superman.
It also has some of the best sword fights in any Hollywood movie. Uma Thurman’s character wields a katana like one of the legendary sword-saints of Japanese history, showering in the arterial spray of her defeated enemies. Other strong women of note in the film include the yakuza boss O-Ren Ishii, murderous schoolgirl Gogo Yubari, and the one-eyed assassin Elle Driver.
5 Captain Marvel (2019)
The most powerful superhero in the MCU is Carol Danvers, the current incarnation of Captain Marvel, who soared to new heights in her titular film. A few years before the film’s release, writer Kelly Sue DeConnick had revamped Carol, retconning her origin so that she used time travel to empower and save herself.
The final act of this movie climaxed in an explosion of cosmic power as Carol devastated the Kree, refusing to let anyone try to control or limit her. In fact, she was so strong, the Russo brothers had to write her out of Avengers: Endgame to keep her from doing everything on her own.
4 Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)
This early 2000s action thriller used to be cited as one of the only good movies based on a video game. Angelina Jolie did her own stunts in her role as the archaeologist adventurer Lara Croft.
The movie has not aged well (and indeed, even had some problems at the time it came out) but it was a great representation of what video game movies could hope to be. The 2018 reboot film is better by today’s standards, but Angelina Jolie deserves credit for paving the way.
3 Catwoman (2004)
In the wake of the first X-Men film and the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie, Hollywood became flooded with a series of bad superhero movies trying to capitalize on the success of the genre. Some of these movies tried to be too close to the comics, but most actually failed for refusing to celebrate the source material.
Catwoman was a strange departure from the comics, to be sure, putting Halle Berry in the lead role as Patience Phillips, AKA the titular hero Catwoman (who is not the same as DC’s Selina Kyle). It won four Golden Raspberry Awards, including the Awards for Worst Picture and Worst Screenplay. That said, at a time when all the superhero films were bad knockoffs, this movie had the guts to try something different and to put Halle Berry in the lead.
2 Ghost in the Shell (1995)
While the live-action remake of this movie is controversial for whitewashing and for actress Scarlett Johansson’s less than sensitive remarks on the topic, the original Ghost in the Shell is one of the all-time great anime films ever made.
The main character, the Major, is a cyborg woman who uses her post-human body to confront a terrorist threat. Complex psychological and philosophical ideas about the nature of consciousness are explored here, but it is Major Kusanagi’s badass fighting that makes this cyberpunk thriller such a delight.
1 Hanna (2011)
The titular hero of Hanna is a girl raised in Finland by her father, a former CIA operative who trained her from an early age in combat, espionage, and assassination techniques. Hanna’s father made her into a weapon. When the two agree she is ready, they reveal their position to the CIA.
Hanna is captured but immediately breaks free, proving herself far more capable than her jailers. This complex film subverts many of the tropes of the spy genre while introducing one of the toughest women in cinema. She has since gone onto receive a TV adaptation on Amazon Prime.
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