With all of the pulse pounding action and killer characters Hollywood has brought us over the years, some of the most memorable have been channeled through women who have not only enforced their own brand of justice with the best of them, but have looked good doing it.
From pistol-toting assassins to space traveling royalty, we’ve compiled ten of our personal favorites who have made their mark on the big screen.
Fox from Wanted
For moviegoers who love athletic types, Angelina Jolie’s portrayal of secret society assassin Fox, the tastefully tatted, gun-toting killer with salon quality hair, was equal parts bad-ass and babe in 2008’s Wanted. In one of Jolie’s hottest roles, perhaps the only thing more dangerous than Fox’s bullet bending ways was her mascara-outlined gaze when she stood in front of James McAvoy and ordered him to “Shoot the target.”
Fox killed in response to her father’s untimely death, as noble a reason as any to be a hired gun. And what’s more, she mentored Wesley (McAvoy), an anxiety-riddled office worker lacking anything close to game with the ladies, to become the world’s greatest assassin. And let’s be real, she was down to make out, in front of Wesley’s nagging girlfriend! Who doesn’t want to find someone who not only challenges and improves them, but effectively uses PDA? With stuntman driving skills, a fearless ability to lean out of moving vehicles, and yoga-like flexibility, Fox lives up to her name and more.
And for anyone who saw the movie (or even just the previews), the shot of Jolie’s tattoo’ed back in all its glistening glory pretty much defined bad-ass babe. “Curve the bullet?” As you wish, Miss Jolie, er, Fox.
Ripley from the Alien franchise
In space, no one can hear you scream — but if you’re Sigourney Weaver, they can see you whoop alien tail. Over four films, Weaver gave the Alien franchise its steely heart, bringing the fight to its loathsome intergalactic parasites wherever they were found. Heck, you want bad-ass? Not even hurling herself into a furnace was enough to get rid of Ripley; 200 years and one clone later, she was right back in the action.
Of course, if she’d been nothing more than a killing machine, Ripley wouldn’t have been interesting enough to carry the Alien movies — and let’s face it, she did carry them; not even the introduction of a second group of extraterrestrial baddies in the Alien vs. Predator movies could cover up for her absence. No, Ripley was a fascinating, complex character, particularly in the context of an effects-heavy, male-driven genre, and the Alien sequels she appeared in were as much about her story as they were about exterminating facehuggers, chestbursters, and Alien Queens.
Still, to dwell on Ripley’s multi-dimensionality would be to ignore the characteristic that made us all fall in love with her in the first place: Namely, her unyielding determination to fight her battles on her terms, whether they were against a faceless corporation that didn’t have her interests at heart or a slavering race of alien parasites. No matter the odds, Ripley never took any guff from anybody. What’s sexier than that?
Princess Mononoke from Princess Mononoke
It’s no secret that Hollywood has a tough time creating rich, complex female characters. And one that can also kick your ass? Forget about it. You gotta get a little creative, swallow a little pride, and head over to the monthly anime club at your local library to find a girl like that. There, you’ll find the one and only San, aka Princess Mononoke.
San is the titular character of Hayao Miyazaki’s 1997 magnum opus, a total manifestation of the director’s obsession with strong female characters and environmental pacifism. Characterized with attributes rarely seen in live-action, she’s primal and edgy, fierce and violent. Plus, she lives in the forest and probably knows how to make a cool tree fort. Her iconic image is her posing in front of a giant white wolf, holding a knife with blood smeared on her face. A giant white wolf! Not even the powers of the Internet combined could have created a cooler image.
So if you’re a kid of the current generation, growing up on Cartoon Network and random YouTube clips, Princess Mononoke‘s the one to pull you into an all-new kingdom of movies.
Foxy Brown from Foxy Brown
Movie posters are often hyperbolic. Once in awhile, however, they get it right, and such was the case for Foxy Brown‘s poster, which described her as “a whole lot of woman.”
As Foxy, Pam Grier was a marvel: smart, sassy, stunningly beautiful, and tough as nails. If the movie’s plot was relatively generic — woman seeks revenge after her secret agent boyfriend is killed by the mob — Grier still played her part with absolute conviction, and the result was a new kind of action heroine. At a time when African American thespians finally had the chance to rebut decades of stereotypical roles, Grier’s Foxy took things a step further: she was independent, feminist, and good with a firearm — a combination action fans continue to find irresistible.
Grier’s star unfortunately faded after the glory days of the blaxploitation era, but — as she ably demonstrated in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown — it’s impossible to keep a strong woman down.
Princess Leia from the Star Wars franchise
Okay, so you think Han Solo was the bad-ass of the Star Wars trilogy? That wielding a lightsaber somehow conferred cool on angsty farm brat Skywalker? Think again, fanboys. Without bagel-haired crack-shot Princess Leia there would be no Rebel Alliance, nothing even resembling a plan, and — let’s face it — Skywalker, Solo and that “big walking carpet” would all have been Bantha fodder had Alderaan’s feisty step-child not been there to save their skins.
When we first encounter Her Royal Badness, she’s smuggling the vital plans to the Death Star, throwing attitude in Darth Vader’s face and questioning Governor Tarkin’s personal hygiene — “I recognized your foul stench” is one of the series’ best lines — all while having to endure the obliteration of her entire planet and still keep her resolve. She then takes charge of the worst-organized rescue plan in galactic history, and gets to be perhaps the only person to outwit Han Solo (“I’d sooner kiss a Wookiee”, indeed). Oh, and then there’s the whole rescuing Luke from Cloud City, freeing Han from carbonite, killing Tatootine’s most objectifying gangster slug and brokering peace with the Ewoks. Plus, she had the Force — and was the best shot out of any of our heroes (the evidence is all there on screen).
And to think she did all that despite infamously having her breasts taped down by George Lucas. Now that’s girl power.
Inspector Yang from Supercop
Behind every good man is a good woman, or so the saying goes, and God knows inspector Ka-kui “Kevin” Chan (Jackie Chan) needed one behind him in the third installment of the Police Story franchise, known better in the US as Supercop. Enter Jessica Yang (Michelle Yeoh), China’s Interpol Director, who’s tasked with backing Chan as he attempts to infiltrate and dismantle a drug ring from within.
Now, if the “Interpol Director” title itself doesn’t impress you right off the bat, that’s understandable; for all you know, Yang’s a glorified pencil-pusher, and the stuffy uniform she sports early on doesn’t help. But hold on… What’s this? Did she just singlehandedly take down four cops with some fierce foot-to-the-face in order to free Chan and preserve his undercover status? Did she just kick that woman in the babymaker and leap from an exploding building? Did she really dodge that bus with the skill of a gymnast and jump that dirt bike onto a moving train? Oh yes, yes she did.
The truth of the matter is, if it hadn’t been for Inspector Yang, Chan would never have succeeded in bringing down his target, and Hong Kong would have been plagued by a dope industry even Pablo Escobar would envy. In fact, Yang was so impressive that she even got her own spinoff movie (Project S aka Supercop 2), with plenty more beatdowns to go around.
Sarah Connor from the Terminator franchise
“You’re terminated.” With those two little words (plus one expletive) — and the judicious use of a metal-crushing press — the erstwhile hairspray waitress cemented her place as one of cinema’s most bad-ass babes.
Really though, the transformation comes earlier, when, compelled into action by a crazy dude who claims to be a soldier of the future, Sarah is forced to dress a wound in the heat of the chase. “On your feet, soldier,” she urges Kyle Reese, the man charged with protecting her from Schwarzenegger’s hell-bent cyborg killing machine, and the mother of mankind’s savior is officially born.
Of course, Terminator 2 is a whole other story, and the reason Sarah will forever be synonymous with bad-ass femininity. After escaping from the mental asylum where she’s been locked up (by biting and beating her way out through sleazy orderlies, no less), mother-protector reconnects with her son, John Connor — and an underground desert cache of weapons that would shame the army of a small country.
But it’s not just Sarah’s way with a machine gun, ripped biceps or ability to pull off a military cap with style that defines her awesomeness: it’s the character’s humanity, the way how, amongst all the tension and violence, she will be wracked by dreams and fears for the future. Sarah’s breakdown as she threatens to kill the guy responsible for implementing Skynet remains a scene ripe with that kind of empathy.
The Bride from the Kill Bill franchise
Beatrix Kiddo (Uma Thurman) was a ruthless assassin (is there any other kind?) who extinguished her targets with deadly precision – that is, until she discovered she was pregnant. When she decided to go straight and get married, her handler, the eponymous Bill (David Carradine), did not approve; his wedding gift to her was the brutal assassination of everyone in the chapel, including Beatrix, who was more or less ready to burst with child.
Unfortunately for Bill, “The Bride” survives her bullet to the noggin, and after slumbering through a four-year coma, she awakes to find orderlies have been treating her limp body like a blow-up doll. Not a pleasant way to start your day, but you know, if you’re a trained killer, it’s probably worse for anyone who pisses you off; the rest of the two Kill Bill films illustrates this point in bright, bloody red.
Beatrix proceeds to make a list and hunt down everyone involved in her wedding massacre, exacting her vengeance in a variety of ways. Knife fight with a blade expert? Check. Bloodbath with 88 masked crazies wielding samurai swords? Check. Trailer park brawl with a cycloptic snake-handler? Check. And finally, of course, the showdown with Bill himself. It’s a long road, and Beatrix experiences her share of setbacks along the way – getting buried alive, for instance – but we’re always on her side, no matter how sadistic and violent her compulsions are. Plus, whether it’s a pair of tight jeans or a Game of Death tracksuit, The Bride avenges in style. Hard not to love that.
Charlie’s Angels from the Charlie’s Angels franchise
You want bad-ass babes? Look no further: The Charlie’s Angels franchise offers a jiggly trifecta of well-dressed action heroines who can save the world without batting a mascaraed eyelash. Natalie Cook (Cameron Diaz), Dylan Sanders (Drew Barrymore), and Alex Munday (Lucy Liu) were always runway-ready, but they didn’t let that stop them from putting the hurt on the bad guys, like the Creepy Thin Man (Crispin Glover) — or even risking a cat fight or two with villainous women like the rogue Angel Madison Lee (Demi Moore).
As good as they were at fighting evil, the Angels didn’t let their dangerous occupation keep them from having a good time; no matter how important the mission, their adventures always made room for the truly important things in life, like glamor, wisecracks, and dancing around in one’s underwear. And as an added bonus, they tended to have crappy enough taste in guys that any average schmo watching in the theater could imagine himself having a shot.
Seriously, Tom Green?
Joan of Arc from The Passion of Joan of Arc
If you plan on seeing only a handful of silent films, Carl Theodore Dreyer’s haunting masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc should be near the top of your list.
In her only starring role, Renee Maria Falconetti gives one of cinema’s most mesmerizing performances as the doomed saint. By leading the siege of Orléans and then, while on trial, scaring the daylights out of her inquisitors with her unyielding faith and strength of character, Joan is one gal you don’t want to mess with.
As for the babe factor, she looks like that girl who always seems to be lurking in your local coffee shop — the one in the faded Ramones t-shirt with the short hair and lilting eyes who seems way too cool for you to even try to get her cell number.
P.S. Protect yourself from the coming data-powered panopticon by getting a VPN.