20 Female Action Movie Heroes Who Could Go Toe-To-Toe With Anyone
There have been oodles of lethal female action heroes throughout history, and more and more have been popping up lately, which is a very welcome development. But who are the single most bad*ss female action heroes in cinematic history? Would you prefer Ellen Ripley or Sarah Connor in a fight against Selene's main opponent, the Lycans? Here are some of the greats. Now it's up to you to determine who among them should reign supreme.
Vote up your favorites, and vote down your least favorite. The choice is yours - act accordingly.
- 1104 VOTESPhoto: Aliens / 20th Century Fox
Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) goes through a series of intense emotional and physical transformations as she deals with the titular tormentors in the Alien saga. We appreciate the character's growth and arc, and understand it through the prism of her experiences. She begins life as the very capable warrant officer of the very blue-collar commercial ship the Nostromo, and then witnesses her (expendable) crew mates get leveled by an alien life form her bosses hoped to harvest and weaponize. Naturally, she becomes more skeptical of her next set of cohorts, and more prepared to deal with her extraterrestrial adversaries. Across each successive encounter, she grows and changes, but is never less effective or tactical in her strategy, becoming more hardened and heartless and ready to do anything to defeat the critters... at least until she kind of becomes one (more on that in a minute).
By the end of Alien: Resurrection, her fourth bout against the title baddies, Ripley has seen it all: lethal Xenomorphs who incubate themselves in her shipmates, burst through their chests at birth, and spit acid; treacherous secret robots; noble-minded secret and not-so-secret robots; evil corporate suits; the death of everyone she has ever known across centuries of cryogenic freezing in between alien battles; her own death; eight resurrected mutant Ripley clones built by lab techs with varying mixtures of Ripley and Xenomorph DNA; and a weird human Ripley-Xenomorph grandchild. It's also worth noting that the Ellen Ripley who has seen all this in Resurrection is in fact the eighth clone of the actual Ellen Ripley, who technically died by jumping into a molten pit at the conclusion of Alien 3 after discovering she had been impregnated with a Queen Xenomorph. This Ripley has inherited some Xenomorph attributes, including acid-blood and super-strength.
Across every iteration and shade of Ripley, she is never less than absolutely lethal when it comes to decimating her opposition.
- 299 VOTESPhoto: Terminator 2: Judgment Day / TriStar Pictures
Sarah Connor's transformation from a mild-mannered waitress with a weird pet iguana to the ultimate survivalist bad*ss who's just mildly insane transpires over the course of her first two on-screen appearances, in James Cameron's original The Terminator and its sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Her core human vulnerability is what makes her such an indispensable character and one of the best action heroes in movie history. Sarah (Linda Hamilton) is barely scraping by as an LA waitress during the events of the original movie. She's a sweet, unassuming woman who quickly finds herself in danger, as a mysterious killer is systematically slaughtering every Sarah Connor in the phone book. Luckily for Sarah, she is the third such listing, and is on high alert when the handsome killer approaches her at a downtown club, Tech Noir, clutching a .45 longslide with a laser sighting and wearing a fashionable jacket. That's when her adventure really gets weird - the killer is blasted with a shotgun by a different handsome-yet-dangerous man in a fashionable jacket, who convinces her to tail him if she wants to live. This is Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), who explains that her would-be assailant is actually a Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a lethal cyborg sent back from the future by a machine-led military force hellbent on eradicating humanity. Kyle, too, has been sent from the future, but his mission runs counter to the T-800's: He is a soldier, sent back in time to protect Sarah, to ensure she lives to give birth to her eventual son John, who will lead our species to survival against a robot apocalypse. What John may not have told Kyle, however, is that he is actually John's father, doomed to die protecting Sarah - but not before falling in love with her and conceiving John. Throughout the course of the first film, Sarah learns how to fight and fend for herself while fleeing the first Terminator with Kyle.
By the the events of the second movie, which takes place around 1995, Sarah has undergone a total transformation of mind, body, and soul. Hamilton wanted to ensure that the character looked like she had toughened up after her experiences in the first movie, and thus began an extensive training regimen to prep for the sequel. She began working out six days a week for three hours a day to get into peak athletic shape. Her T2 Sarah Connor arrives totally shredded, and looks and behaves like an army operative. She has befriended pockets of survivalist sects all around Southern California and Mexico, and had been training John in the ways of militaristic strategy during his formative years until she was institutionalized in a psychiatric ward. John (Edward Furlong), now a punky preteen, is in a foster home when he finds himself attacked by a new Terminator, the T-1000 (Robert Patrick), before being rescued by another T-800 model (Schwarzenegger again), who informs him that future-John now reprogrammed the T-800 and sent it back in time to protect him from the T-1000. This time, Sarah is ready when John and the T-800 bust her out, and soon the trio are on the run together - a makeshift family of misfits on a mission to save the world from a terrifying apocalyptic fate.
What makes Sarah Connor perhaps the metric against which many modern American action heroines are judged is the gravitas and depth of Hamilton's performance and physicality, coupled with Cameron's sparkling scripts. We appreciate and understand Sarah's process as she grows and changes across the first two movies, plus the sixth franchise entry, Terminator: Dark Fate, Hamilton's return to the franchise. She remained in impossibly impressive shape, and looked capable of taking down just about anybody, human or cyborg, even into her 60s.
- 387 VOTESPhoto: Underworld / Screen Gems
The Underworld franchise is far from the only horror-action-sci-fi mashup of supernatural monster slaying at the hands of tough, slick action heroines, but it is one of the most durable. Since launching in 2003, the series has churned out five installments, four of which star Kate Beckinsale as "death dealer" Selene, a vampiric huntress initially tasked with taking out werewolves in an ever-escalating interspecies war. Over time, Selene comes to realize that romance should not be bound to any one species, and she embarks on a star-crossed affair with human-turned-werewolf/vampire hybrid Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman).
Selene is the best death dealer in the business, and she's smarter than her vampire colleagues. A great fighter with a tragic past, she is reticent to trust most of the figures in her life. Beckinsale, a talented and versatile actress, gives the character more nuance and care than the uninitiated might initially expect, even as she's mowing down Lycans. That's probably the reason the character has proved so durable - and so indispensible to the series. You can't really make an Underworld movie without its signature character. It's worth noting that Beckinsale does make an appearance in the only movie in the series in which she does not star, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, a prequel in which Beckinsale lookalike Rhona Mitra plays a very Selene-esque vampire.
The seemingly ageless Beckinsale (maybe she really is a vampire?) has apparently balked at continuing the series with any fresh installments.
- 479 VOTESPhoto: Resident Evil: Afterlife / Screen Gems
Through six grisly Resident Evil adventures, Milla Jovovich's Alice has battled hordes of mutant zombies. After beginning her journey as an employee of the Umbrella Corporation responsible for creating a zombification virus who tried (and failed) to get the word out about her bosses' experiments, Alice became a rugged survivor, resourceful and clever - and constantly on the lookout for more guns.
The director of the Resident Evil series is Jovovich's real-life husband, Paul W.S. Anderson. Because Alice appears across six movies, and Sonya Blade from the original Mortal Kombat has also deservedly made the cut, Anderson is the most-represented director on this list, having helmed seven total films featuring two characters that qualify.
- 579 VOTESPhoto: Guardians of the Galaxy / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Crafty assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana) has never had it easy. Raised by the evil all-powerful being, Thanos (Josh Brolin), after he wiped out half of her people, Gamora eventually renounces her past to join forces with Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and the Guardians of the Galaxy, a wise-cracking group of jet-setting space rogues. Her rediscovered goodness is short-lived, however, when her pops resurfaces and does away with her. The character is dynamite in a gunfight, and it takes the most powerful being in the universe for her to meet her initial demise.
Of course, because Gamora is an MCU character and all character deaths in Marvel movies are fairly meaningless, she isn't actually gone for long. A Gamora from a different timeline, where she has never met her Guardians of the Galaxy friends, is introduced in Avengers: Endgame, and will ultimately have a testy dynamic with the team in the third Guardians of the Galaxy film. Tough, romantic, and smart, Gamora stands as one of the more memorable characters in Marvel's most memorable entourage.
- 682 VOTESPhoto: Kill Bill: Vol. 1 / Miramax Films
A revenge picture is only as good as its hero.
Fortunately, when it comes to Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill movies, we are rooting for Beatrix "The Bride" Kiddo (Uma Thurman) to enact her sweet vengeance and kill Bill (and everyone else who gets in her way) every step of the way.
Beatrix was betrayed by her former colleagues, the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, and left for dead on her wedding day after she left the hitman life and tried to start a normal family - albeit while pregnant with the baby of DVAS ringleader Bill (David Carradine).
Beatrix was found and taken to the hospital, where she ends up lying comatose for four years. Bill initially sends assassin Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) to finish off Beatrix, but ultimately decides he would rather the crew take care of her after she awakens and is able to fight them.
Our heroine beats some insurmountable odds and eventually goes on the warpath, knocking off her old associates one by one. She engages in kung fu battles and swordfights aplenty (including, at one point, taking down an entire yakuza army), but she also survives being buried alive. Through a complicated narrative structure, we track Beatrix's entire training and ultimate career with Bill as well as her contemporary efforts. She is tough, fierce, and ultimately fair. She punishes those worthy of punishment, but spares the innocent. If ever Beatrix needed to kill anyone else, there's no doubt that audiences would flock to the scene of the crime.