While men still get the majority of attention in action movies, women continue to have prominent roles in major Hollywood action films. Some franchises such as Underworld and Resident Evil are led by kick ass actresses, and movies such as Salt and Lucy that feature female action heroines in the main roles continue to do well at the box office. There are also a number of female superheroes on both the big and small screens—including Black Widow, Scarlet Witch and Supergirl. So, with women continuing to take names within the action genre, we look at the top 10 female movie heroines of all time.
10. Foxy Brown – Foxy Brown
A cross between Death Wish and female Blaxploitation movies, 1974’s Foxy Brown stars actress Pam Grier as a sexy black woman who takes a job as a high-class prostitute in order to exact revenge on the mobsters who murdered her boyfriend. And exact revenge she does—kicking ass and taking names along the way. Pam Grier is one bad mama in this slice of 1970s cinema. And at a time when women were not often seen pointing guns at people, Foxy Brown burst onto the screen and turned heads as an unapologetic aggressor. This character proved popular with audiences and left an impression on people—one of them being director Quentin Tarantino, who later cast Pam Grier in his 1998 movie Jackie Brown as a kind of older, wiser Foxy Brown.
9. Private Vasquez – Aliens
One tough hombre, Private Vasquez from Aliens is quick on the trigger and quick with a comeback. When asked by fellow Colonial Marine Private Hudson if she’s “ever been mistaken for a man,” Vasquez quips “No. Have you?” It is that kind of put down, combined with her raw toughness, that makes Vasquez a sure fire badass. It also doesn’t hurt that she has enormous muscles and sports a red bandana. And who can forget the gigantic gun Vasquez shoots, or how she blows herself up with a grenade rather than be taken by the aliens in the movie. With so many memorable qualities and moments, it is not surprising that Vasquez is one of the most memorable characters in Aliens. Actress Jenette Goldstein does a great job of bringing the character to life and enabling her to hold her own with the male Colonial Marines.
8. Red Sonja – Red Sonja
Back in the day actress Brigitte Nielsen was an Amazon woman, and never more so than in the 1985 Conan spinoff Red Sonja. Who else could go blow-for-blow against a pumped up Arnold Schwarzenegger in his heyday? And Red Sonja is a total badass—wielding swords, engaging in hand-to-hand combat and decapitating people from the saddle of her trusty steed. This is one woman who is every bit the barbarian that Conan is—and then some. And while the movie itself is nothing to write home about (many people credit it for ruining the Conan franchise), we can still appreciate the violent rampages of Red Sonja and the way in which Brigitte Nielsen brought the character to life.
7. Trinity – The Matrix Trilogy
Played by actress Carrie-Anne Moss, Trinity is not only the love interest of main character Neo in The Matrix, she is also a kick ass action heroine in her own right—capable of going toe-to-toe with anyone she encounters. Whether it is giving someone a roundhouse kick, flipping them one handed or driving a motorcycle off a skyscraper, Trinity is game for anything that happens in the crazy world of The Matrix. And she looks deadly cool doing it in her skin tight leather outfits and cool sunglasses. Capable of being both tender and harsh, Trinity has helped to shape perceptions of the modern action movie heroine and done it with style and class. She is one tough cookie, and even has a scrap or two with the dreaded Agent Smith. No wonder Neo loves her so much.
6. Laurie Strode – Halloween
As the girl next door who has to defend herself against maniac killer Michael Myers in the original 1978 Halloween movie, the character of Laurie Strode is an unlikely heroine. Nevertheless, Laurie Strode (played by a young Jamie Lee Curtis) manages to fend off Michael Myers and protect the kids she’s babysitting in the film. This is a pretty impressive undertaking considering that she is outmatched by Michael Myers size, strength and maniac tendencies. She also does not have a weapon with her. However, like all true movie heroines, Laurie Strode rises to the occasion and acquits herself admirably. She lives to fight another day. The scene where Michael Myers attacks Laurie in a closet is truly frightening and audiences, understandably, wonder how this poor girl is going to survive to the movie’s end credits. By fighting back is the answer. Good job, Laurie. Good job.
5. Sarah Connor – Terminator 2: Judgement Day
You gotta go to the sequel and the totally ripped Sarah Connor on this one. Sure, the character kicked a little butt at the end of the first Terminator movie. But nothing like you see in the 1991 sequel. Totally buff, dressed in mercenary black, and unloading a machine gun into the evil T-1000, Sarah Connor is the bomb in this movie. And, like the aforementioned Red Sonja, she holds her own against Arnold Schwarzenegger at the peak of his powers. Most impressive, audiences never feel for a moment that Sarah Connor can’t handle herself amid the craziness around her in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. She is totally confident and believable as a crazed mother trying to warn humanity about Judgement Day, survive the end of the world as we know it, and protect her son (the savior of the future) in the process. Clearly, she has a lot on her plate. But she handles it, man. She handles it well.
4. Jean Grey/Phoenix – The X-Men Trilogy
Jean Grey, who becomes Phoenix in the original X-Men trilogy of films, is a tragic character that dies in the end but not before taking out a lot of people in the process. And for sheer force of power, you won’t find a better comic book heroine in the movies than Jean Grey/Phoenix. Played by model turned actress Famke Janssen (who gets bonus points for also playing a Bond girl in 1995’s GoldenEye), Jean Grey/Phoenix is literally too powerful and as conflicted as comic book characters come in the movies. A telepath with extraordinary powers, Jean Grey is capable of taking on and stopping virtually every evil mutant and villain she encounters. She is also torn between her fellow X-men—Cyclops and Wolverine, making her storyline in the film that much deeper. For sheer power, complexity and intrigue, Jean Grey/Phoenix is the lady!
3. Hit-Girl – Kick-Ass
She might not be that big or that old, but the character Hit-Girl from the 2010 film Kick-Ass certainly lives up to the movie’s title. With a foul mouth and a foul temper, Hit-Girl is the toughest character in the movie—and she kicks the asses of men twice her age. Flying kicks off walls, Ninja throwing stars and straight up punches to the face. Hit-Girl does it all and then some, and the men and boys around her in the movie are left with their mouths agape—not knowing what to make of what they have just seen from this petite girl. And just as shocking as Hit-Girl’s fight moves is her language. She swears like a sailor throughout the movie and never lets up on any of her adversaries. She is pure kick ass fun.
2. Ellen Ripley – The Alien Universe
The second female from the world of Alien to appear on this list, Ellen Ripley is the main character in this series of movies. And through four films to date, the character of Ellen Ripley (played by actress Sigourney Weaver) has fired high powered machine guns, shot grenade launchers, taken a barbell to the face, and come face-to-face with arguably the scariest alien in the history of cinema. She even had one of the little buggers implanted in her during the third Alien movie. And yet, Ellen Ripley has never wavered in her focus or steadfastness. She was at her kick ass best in the 1986 movie Aliens alongside Private Vasquez and the other Colonial Marines. But she has had heroic and death defying moments in all of the Alien movies. And for being so resilient, we salute her.
1. The Bride – Kill Bill Volumes 1 & 2
Most of the women on this list have gotten by while sporting guns and other weapons. However, for pure bare knuckled brutality, nobody beats The Bride from the two Kill Bill movies. Attacked and left for dead on her wedding day, The Bride (played by actress Uma Thurman) awakes from a comma with one thing on her mind—revenge. And she spends not one but two movies getting that revenge in a series of harrowing Kung Fu fights and martial arts sequences. And man, can The Bride fight. In one sequences she literally takes on 100 people, and there is so much blood involved in the battle that the movie has to switch from color to black and white. Few movies have so much action and feature such a strong female lead. The Bride is cunning, resourceful and, above all else, tough. These Quentin Tarantino directed movies are great and it is largely due to the acting chops of Uma Thurman and the viciousness of The Bride.