Action movies tend to be the domain of men – actors like Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Will Smith and Tom Cruise have prevailed at the box office for decades with their various brands of action movie hero. But here at Peanut Butter and Julie, women rule the day. Here is a list of some of the most badass female characters in action movie history.
- Sigourney Weaver (Alien series)
Ellen Ripley is one of the most badass movie characters of any gender. The only survivor of the events of Alien (along with the ship’s cat, Jones), Ripley proceeds to outlast every marine but one in Aliens. After being impregnated by an alien queen embryo in Alien 3, Ripley sacrifices herself, but Sigourney Weaver nevertheless returns for Alien Resurrection as a Ripley clone. There aren’t many line readings more badass than this one:
- Linda Hamilton (Terminator series)
Sarah Connor is a reluctant movie hero, pulled unwittingly into the events of the first Terminator film – a cyborg is sent back in time to kill Sarah, whose son John will someday save humanity from the machines. John sends soldier Kyle Reese back too, to protect his mom, who isn’t even pregnant yet (hint hint: Kyle’s the daddy – we may get into the time paradox thing later, but for now just go with it). In the second film, Judgment Day, a buff and badass Sarah, now institutionalized for her (supposedly) paranoid delusions about humanity’s future, is visited by an updated Terminator model, the T-1000, AND the T-800 model from the original film; this time, the T-800 is her ally. Linda Hamilton, who sat out the three previous films in the franchise, returned in 2019 for the sixth film, Dark Fate. She’s sixty-four years old and as badass as ever.
- Carrie Fisher and Daisy Ridley (Star Wars)
Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), member of the Imperial Senate, soldier in the Rebel Alliance and founder and General of the Resistance, is a feminist icon and all-around badass. Leia is anything but the damsel-in-distress sexpot (although she is hot as hell) and she proves you can be “one of the boys” without ever sacrificing your femininity. In the sequel trilogy, Leia’s successor Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, becomes a Jedi apprentice under Leia’s brother Luke and a leading figure in the Resistance movement. Skilled as a fighter, resourceful and brave, Rey is a survivor – and a total badass.
- Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road)
I could have selected any number of Charlize Theron movies for this list – Hancock, Atomic Blonde and The Old Guard come to mind – but for my money, no Theron character is more badass than Imperator Furiosa. Although Max is the title character, the movie undeniably belongs to Furiosa, a war captain who is charged by antagonist Immortan Joe with ferrying oil back to the Citadel using the “war rig”, but instead uses the war rig to smuggle the Five Wives (Joe’s concubines) out of the Citadel. Although Joe sends his war boys after her, Furiosa uses her intelligence (and her mechanical arm) to best them and slay Joe, freeing herself, the Five Wives, Max and all of the Citadel’s citizens in the process. Apparently a stand-alone Furiosa prequel is in the works, with Anya Taylor-Joy in the role.
- Scarlett Johansson (Avengers)
Natasha Romanoff, AKA Black Widow, is a Russian spy and expert in hand-to-hand combat who eventually defected to the United States and became a member of S.H.I.E.L.D. The lone woman on the otherwise all-male Avengers team, Romanoff is a very human superhero, using her fighting skills and her wits to defend her team, and doing it all in a badass black leather catsuit. More than ten years after her first appearance in 2010’s Iron Man 2, Black Widow will finally get her own stand-alone movie this year. Fun fact: Emily Blunt was originally tapped to play the role, but she had already committed to Gulliver’s Travels; Scarlett Johansson has more than made the part her own.
- Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman)
Gal Gadot’s version of Wonder Woman made her first appearance in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. She got her stand-alone film the following year. Wonder Woman is the alias of Diana, the daughter of Queen Hippolyta and Zeus, and an immortal Amazon warrior. She is strong and brave, and she believes in justice and the goodness of humankind. She battles Ares for the future of humanity, and of course she prevails. Gadot is such a badass that she did reshoots for the movie while five months pregnant; they used green screen technology to cover up her baby bump!
- Kate Beckinsale (Underworld series)
Kate Beckinsale plays Selene, a Death Dealer (a member of an elite group of vampire assassins) who is determined to destroy the Lycans who murdered her family. She also becomes the protector of a human named Michael, who is a descendant of both the vampires and the Lycans; both groups desire Michael for his unique gene which would allow him to become a vampire-Lycan hybrid. In keeping Michael safe, Selene is estranged from her vampire coven and places herself in the middle of the vampire-Lycan war. And of course, she does it all while wearing a skin-tight black leather suit.
- Jennifer Lawrence (Hunger Games series)
Like a lot of the women on this list, Katniss Everdeen is a survivor and a reluctant hero. Her exceptional archery skills allow Katniss to be the primary provider for her family. She volunteers for the 74th Hunger Games in the first film when her younger sister Prim’s name is drawn for the annual competition. Her subsequent win sparks a rebellion against the Capitol and its fascist President, Coriolanus Snow. By the third film, Katniss has become the symbol of the rebellion, the Mockingjay. Jennifer Lawrence depicts all of Katniss’s conflicting emotions perfectly, and makes Katniss one of the most endearing movie heroines of the 21st century.
- Uma Thurman (Kill Bill: Volume 1 and 2)
The Bride, as Beatrix Kiddo is known, was shot in the head and left for dead on her wedding day. After awakening from a four year coma, she vows revenge on the people responsible – her former cohorts in the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad and its leader (and her former lover) Bill. Using her sword-fighting skills, martial arts and the infamous Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique, the Bride dispatches them one by one, unflinching in her quest for retribution.
- Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow)
Sergeant Rita Vrataski of the United Defense Force is charged with training US Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), a PR guy with no combat experience, to be battle-ready in the war against the Mimics, a race of aliens intent on conquering Earth. She has her work cut out for her. Emily Blunt trained for three months prior to shooting, including aerial wire work and Krav Maga, and wore the heavy metal suits required for combat scenes. She even did reshoots while pregnant with her first child. In the process, she stole the show, no easy feat when Cruise is the star.
- Noomi Rapace, Rooney Mara and Claire Foy (Millennium series)
Lisbeth Salander, the androgynous, anti-social, tattooed computer hacker, is one of the most compelling fictional characters of the 21st century. A survivor of both childhood and adult trauma, Salander has her own code of ethics that guide her behavior, and she is fiercely protective of the people in her small social circle. Played by Noomi Rapace in the Swedish series and Rooney Mara in the US version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (sadly, David Fincher’s planned trilogy became a stand-alone movie when the box office receipts fell short of expectations), the character was revived in 2018’s The Girl in the Spider’s Web, in which she was portrayed by The Crown‘s Claire Foy. All three actors conveyed Salander’s badass-ness (Rapace was nominated for a BAFTA and Mara for an Oscar for their performances).
- Pam Grier (Jackie Brown)
Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) is a flight attendant who makes ends meet by smuggling money into the US for gun-runner Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson). She negotiates a deal with Ordell to smuggle enough money for him to retire, but double crosses him by keeping the money for herself. Adapted from Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch, and inspired by the 1970s blaxploitation film Foxy Brown (starring Grier), the film changed Jackie’s ethnicity and last name, but kept her badassery in full.
- Michelle Yeoh and Ziyi Zhang (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)
One of the most honored films of 2000, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon features female warriors struggling to shed the societal expectations placed on them by their gender. The title is a Chinese idiom that refers to people having hidden abilities and talents; it encourages us to look beneath the surface. These women are martial arts masters, strong and fierce, but still feminine. They are a good reminder that women can be whatever they want to be, while still being fully women.
- Jodie Foster (Panic Room)
Meg Altman is recently divorced and looking for a home for herself and her daughter Sarah. She finds a beautiful brownstone on the Upper West Side. The house’s previous owner, a reclusive millionaire, installed a panic room and an extensive security system to protect himself from intruders. On Meg and Sarah’s first night in their new home, three men (led by the millionaire’s grandson) break in, looking for the bearer bonds hidden in a safe in the panic room. What they haven’t accounted for is the new occupant’s ferocious determination to protect herself and her child. Nicole Kidman was originally supposed to play a version of Meg that was more helpless, making her an easier mark for the burglars. When Kidman had to drop out due to a knee injury, Meg was rewritten because let’s face it, no one was going to buy Jodie Foster as a defenseless victim.
- Franka Potente (Run Lola Run)
Lola’s boyfriend is a bagman responsible for delivering $100,000 Deutschmarks to his boss. After inadvertently leaving the money on the train, he calls Lola in a panic; he has twenty minutes to come up with the cash or his boss will kill him. The film then replays the next twenty minutes three different times, each time showing how tiny variations in Lola’s interactions with others change the outcome. A pre-Bourne Identity Franka Potente is dazzling – and totally badass – as the flame-haired Lola.