Although action films have traditionally been a man-centric genre, women have progressively demonstrated recently that they can kick butt with the best of them. Inspiring and engaging fans while serving as a constant reminder to audiences that femininity and strength are synonymous, a plethora of memorable and thrilling female-driven films have been making their way to the silver screen for decades. Women have said goodbye to playing the hapless damsels in distress and instead shattered the glass barrier of cinema by saving themselves and looking great while doing it.
Whether you want to watch Uma Thurman deftly dispatch lethal assassins in Quentin Tarantino’s blockbuster Kill Bill: Volume 1 or a movie about an amnesiac security guard battling a horde of the undead like Resident Evil, there are perfect action films just waiting for you to binge. With Sigourney Weaver from the Alien film series leading the pack and setting the standard for future portrayals, and actresses like Margot Robbie taking up the proverbial baton as the wild and fierce Harley Quinn in Birds of Prey, some of Hollywood’s most dynamic and impressive performers have emerged as badass heroines. These action films with female leads are some of the greatest.
Table Of Content
- 1 Aliens (1986)
- 2 Alita: Battle Angel (2019)
- 3 Atomic Blonde (2017)
- 4 Birds of Prey (2020)
- 5 Captain Marvel (2019)
- 6 Charlie’s Angels (2000)
- 7 Haywire (2011)
- 8 Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003)
- 9 Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)
- 10 Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
- 11 Resident Evil (2002)
- 12 Salt (2010)
- 13 Underworld (2003)
- 14 Wonder Woman (2017)
Ellen Ripley, who awakens from her hypersleep 57 years after surviving an apocalyptic attack aboard her spacecraft, sets out to warn a deep space salvage team that ruthless space creatures are still a terrifying threat. The iconic 1986 sci-fi action classic Aliens was directed by the esteemed James Cameron. Cameron took over directing duties from Ridley Scott for the sensational film, and Sigourney Weaver returned to her previous role. The filmmaker believed that having a strong female heroine would set his projects apart from other Hollywood action films, and he wrote the screenplay while looking at a photo of Weaver on his desk.
The performer received nominations for the Oscar and Golden Globe Awards in addition to winning the Saturn Award for Best Actress for her dominating performance. Sigourney Weaver is simply great, and when she puts on her weaponry to fight the aliens, she makes Sylvester Stallone look like a pipsqueak, according to the Associated Press’ laudatory appraisal of her performance.
Alita: Battle Angel (2019)
Alita: Battle Angel stands out as a standout debut in the field of female-led action flicks because of its stunning aesthetics. The main character of the story is Alita, an abandoned cyborg with a secret past who is brought to life by Rosa Salazar’s riveting acting. Alita’s portrayal on screen, which combines motion capture and live action, is characterised by intense emotion and affection, which amplifies the movie’s sympathetic impact.
Alita’s fight scenes, set in a lavishly imagined cyberpunk universe, exhibit both grace and savagery, with her mechanical body seamlessly adjusting to varied fighting scenarios. Character growth for Alita is equally significant. Alita exhibits fear, wrath, and happiness, not invulnerability or a lack of emotion like most action heroines do. Her transformation from an innocent child to an experienced fighter, led by her innate sense of justice, gives her character depth and elevates this movie among female-centric action movies.
Atomic Blonde (2017)
The 2017 action thriller Atomic Blonde, based on the graphic novel The Coldest City, stars the incomparable Charlize Theron. It follows top-level MI6 field agent Lorraine Broughton as she searches for a list of double agents that are being smuggled into the West on the eve of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
In a statement to Variety, Theron said, “I think we would be remiss not to acknowledge Sigourney Weaver and Linda Hamilton. The high-octane film was a passion project for me, and I fought hard to get it made as both the star and producer.” We’ve seen instances where women truly show off their talents and shatter glass ceilings. The actress engaged eight personal trainers to prepare for the gruelling role, and even sparred with Keanu Reeves, who was getting ready for his part in John Wick: Chapter 2. Both with audiences and reviews, the thriller was an overwhelming success.
Birds of Prey (2020)
With the 2020 female-led superhero film Birds of Prey, the DC Extended Universe handed the candy-colored and rambunctious Harley Quinn her very own film. The movie follows the delightfully insane heroine after she breaks up with the Joker and finds herself being pursued by Gotham City crime boss Roman Sionis. To protect a little girl from the unstable crime leader, Quinn reluctantly joins forces with the superheroines Black Canary, the vigilante Huntress, and the investigator Renee Montoya.
The actress was adamant that Birds of Prey have a female director, ultimately choosing Cathy Yan to helm the project; the filmmaker pitched for the job as “wanting to smash the patriarchy.” Margot Robbie originally pitched the idea to Warner Bros. as “an R-rated girl gang film including Harley because I was like, ‘Harley needs friends.’ Harley loves interacting with people, so don’t ever make her do a standalone film.”
Captain Marvel (2019)
The Marvel Cinematic Universe made its first foray into female-led films in 2019 with the release of Captain Marvel. Brie Larson flawlessly captures Carol Danvers, who is at the centre of the cosmos’s maelstrom, with grace and resoluteness. As a previous U.S. Danvers, an Air Force pilot who is propelled into becoming one of the most powerful superheroes in the universe, exemplifies a persona who is as emotionally complex as she is physically strong, offering a constant exploration of her journey to make peace with her past and grab her future.
Intricate layers in Larson’s performance show Danvers’ tenacity and resiliency as well as her problems with memory and identity. As the first standalone female Marvel movie, Captain Marvel had a big impact on how women are portrayed in superhero movies, shattering conventions and setting new standards for later films.
Charlie’s Angels (2000)
The 2000 action comedy Charlie’s Angels, a remake of the cult hit show from the 1970s, starred Hollywood heavyweights Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu as three distinctive and extraordinary women who work at a private detective agency in Los Angeles. The trio of skilled private investigators set out in the lighthearted comedy to stop a cunning mastermind from damaging people’s privacy with the aid of their adorable sidekick Bosley (Bill Murray).
Barrymore stipulated that, in contrast to most action films where the ‘bad guys’ use guns, the Angels would execute their combat scenes without them. She did this by purchasing the screen rights to the popular programme before the movie was shot. The actress said to The Morning Call, “She said, ‘It will be girls jumping out of helicopters, driving fast boats, doing Kung Fu, and wearing tonnes of hot clothes.’ And I said, ‘Sign me up.'” Charlie’s Angels was a blockbuster hit and inspired the 2003 sequel Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.
Gina Carano established herself as Mallory Kane, a highly skilled government agent, in Haywire. The Steven Soderbergh-directed movie raises the bar for action pictures with a strong female focus by fully showcasing Carano’s background in mixed martial arts. Mallory is shown by Carano as more than simply a one-dimensional action heroine by giving her a peculiar feeling of vulnerability.
The film’s realistic battle scenes set Haywire apart from its competitors. Each punch, kick, and throw has a genuine ferocity that can be partially credited to Carano’s professional fighting expertise; these aren’t Hollywood-styled battles. Beyond that, Mallory is a fascinating character who exhibits the depth and complexity frequently lacking in action films. Despite being a proficient killer, the protagonist is multifaceted and realistic since she struggles with trust difficulties and navigates life with a discriminating wariness.
Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003)
The talented Uma Thurman starred as the Bride in the 2003 martial arts classic Kill Bill: Volume 1, which was directed by the renowned master of stylized violence Quentin Tarantino. The Bride swears revenge on a dangerous team of assassins and their leader after they attempt to kill both her and her unborn child. During the making of 1994’s Pulp Fiction, both Tarantino and Thurman had the idea for the Bride; they later spent an entire year and a half writing the script in 2000 and 2001; the renowned director crafted the part expressly for her and used her as his muse throughout the creative process.
Kill Bill: Volume 1 was a critical and financial success, and Volume 2 was released six months later. Thurman cited Coffy and Gloria’s title characters as her primary influences for her butt-kicking performance, claiming that both of them are “two of the only women I’ve ever seen be truly women while holding a weapon.”
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)
The 2001 action adventure Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, which is based on the well-known video game series of the same name and stars the explosive Angelina Jolie as the title character, follows the gorgeous and astute heroine as she jet sets across the globe in search of ancient artefacts in competition with the enigmatic Illuminati. Denise Richards, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Sandra Bullock were competitors for the role, but the actress ultimately won it over despite some fans of the video game franchise feeling that she didn’t physically match the part.
These worries were allayed, according to director Simon West, who said, “It was always Angelina. Lara doesn’t take crap from anyone and sleeps with knives. That’s Angelina to a tee,” they said. Despite the doubters, Jolie’s portrayal of Lara Croft in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider received tremendous praise. Jolie’s status as an action movie icon was cemented when she returned for the 2003 sequel Lara Croft: Tomb Raider—The Cradle of Life.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road, is surprisingly engaging. Despite the movie being a part of the renowned Mad Max series, Furiosa emerges as the real protagonist. A standout performance in modern action cinema, Theron’s powerful and convincing portrayal of Furiosa exemplifies an unwavering spirit and brutal combat prowess.
Mad Max: Fury Road takes viewers on a great cinematic journey rather than just an action spectacle. The action scenes in the movie are visually stunning and action-packed, while feminist themes are subtly woven throughout the fast-paced car chases and brutal character fights. With Furiosa leading the charge, the film makes a strong case for female empowerment and resistance to oppression. These factors elevate it to one of the greatest action films with a female lead, along with its widespread critical acclaim (including six Academy Awards).
Resident Evil (2002)
The first film in the Resident Evil franchise, which is partially based on the video game series, stars amnesiac heroine Alice and a squad of commandos from the Umbrella Corporation as they battle to stop the spread of the T-virus at a top-secret underground facility. Milla Jovovich, who accepted the job because she and her brother are such big fans of the video game genre, gives an outstanding performance as Alice, the butt-kicking, highly trained private security agent who battles the legion of zombies produced by the evil Umbrella Corporation.
In order to prepare for the physically demanding role of Alice, Jovovich trained in karate, kickboxing, and combat training. She then performed almost all of her own stunts for the movie. Jovovich returned for each of the five high-budget sequels that Resident Evil inspired. According to the Chicago Tribune, “Resident Evil updates the zombie genre with an anti-corporate message while still terrifying its audience and providing heart-pounding action.”
Angelina Jolie plays Evelyn Salt, a CIA agent suspected of being a Russian sleeper agent, in the thrillingly compelling film Salt. The spectator can follow Salt’s metamorphosis from a once-dedicated spy to a fugitive on the run from her own agency, desperately trying to prove herself thanks to Jolie’s superb performance. The spectator is left wondering if Salt is a puppet in a global conspiracy or a cunning mastermind of global mayhem.
The strength of Salt lies in its ability to blend a compelling story with heart-pounding action. The plot of the movie unfolds like a challenging puzzle, keeping audience members wondering about Salt’s innocence right up until the end. The action scenes are stunning in every way. Jolie’s athletic prowess and unflinching willpower are prominently portrayed, from the breathless rooftop chase to the deadly hand-to-hand combat. The picture stands out as a memorable challenger in the field of female-driven action films thanks to its seamless integration of story and action.
Underworld, a 2003 action-horror film directed by Len Wiseman, follows the vampire Death Dealer Selene as she becomes entangled in the ongoing conflict between opposing forces and discovers herself falling in love with a human the lycans are desperate to capture. The film focuses on the hidden history of vampires and lycans. Being an action star and embracing the change of pace for her career (having previously done romances and period dramas) was exciting for the brilliant Kate Beckinsale, who plays the relentless hunter Selene. She said, “It was quite the challenge for me to play an action heroine and pull off all that training when in real life I can’t catch a ball if it’s coming my way.”
Despite conflicting reviews from reviewers, Underworld struck a chord with viewers and became an unexpected smash, sparking a franchise and earning praise for the actress’ compelling performance, the Gothic aesthetic, and the film’s fascinating narrative and backstory. “Perhaps it’s the idea, the atmosphere, or the enthusiastic action,” the BBC said, “but it maintains a mysterious watchability which suggests it could become a cult classic.”
Wonder Woman (2017)
When Gal Gadot assumed the legendary role of Wonder Woman in the 2017 Patty Jenkins blockbuster film, she used the Lasso of Truth and the Bracelets of Submission with great force. With the assistance of American pilot Steve Trevor, Wonder Woman follows the titular heroine as she attempts to put an end to World War I on the grounds that Ares, a lifelong enemy of the Amazons, is to blame. Gadot expressed her gratitude for the chance to play the famous, powerful female character in the comic book hero, saying, “I feel very grateful that I received the opportunity to represent such an iconic, strong female character. I adore this character, everything she represents, and everything she stands for.
Jenkins made history as the first female director to receive a $100 budget with the release of Wonder Woman, which also set a record for a female director’s highest domestic opening. With a remarkable $822 million in revenue, Wonder Woman was hailed by critics who praised its action scenes, gorgeous graphics, enduring performances, and direction.