This weekend, Scarlett Johansson will slip out of her skin-tight Black Widow catsuit and into some more agreeable, casual fabrics for Lucy, but one thing that definitely won’t be changing in the actress’ new role is her ability to kick serious ass – and look damn good doing it. So, in honor of Johansson and of Lucy as a whole, the writing staff here at We Got This Covered has taken on the thrilling task of looking back through movie history to uncover the most physically adept, bruisingly smart and just plain badass women of cinema. We’re not saying it was an easy task – in fact, we had so many viable candidates for this list that we eventually decided to expand it from ten to fifteen entries. And some of our staff put forward entries both exciting and unconventional – get ready for some surprises.
Of course, trying to rank these femme fatales against one another would be as difficult as staging a jailbreak from a group of Chinese drug smugglers using only a flirtatious smile (i.e. it’s something we’ll leave to the experts). So instead, we’ll hand the reins over to you, and expect that you’ll let us know in the comments section who you think would emerge victorious in a Battle Royale between all fifteen of our lethal ladies (my money’s on the tyke with the double-sided katanas).
Read on, for fifteen of the most kick-ass action heroines ever to grace the silver screen…Next
15) Bliss Cavender - Whip It!
Have you ever seen roller derby or, more specifically, the roller derby scenes in Whip It? It is utterly brutal – and Ellen Page consistently excels at it in Drew Barrymore’s 2009 directorial debut.
In a rare film, populated by women who are in no way defined by their relationship to men, teenager Bliss Cavender is awestruck by roller derby team members. Having watched the Hurl Scouts perform in an exhibition match, she approaches team member Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig) and pronounces her to be her new hero. Mayhem seems unimpressed and simply tells her, “put some skates on, be your own hero.”
Cavender does, and in doing so, discovers a natural aptitude and a love for the sport. But, roller derby can be exceedingly vicious. As a contact sport – like rugby and American Football – players are required to physically block their opponents in a variety of ways. Each competition features two teams of five players rolling round a sloping, circular track, in the same direction, and at high speed. One player on each team is designated as the ‘jammer,’ and must score points by lapping members of the opposing team. Players must help their ‘jammer’ by hindering the ‘jammer’ of the opposing team. Injuries can range from bruises and sprains to concussions and broken bones – including spinal injuries.
In order to try out for her chosen team, Bliss Cavender trains incessantly, lies about her age and eventually qualifies – against the approval of her best friend, and without the knowledge of her parents. However, it is this determination that follows through in her derby scenes. Just as she is 100% committed to following her dream, she puts the same level of commitment into her gameplay. She is scrappy, brave and instinctive – developing her own moves and strategies, and finally being designated ‘jammer,’ as her life outside of derby begins to disintegrate.
Characterized by high speed and violent collisions, roller derby as a sport makes for movie scenes that are like white-knuckle rides – and Bliss Cavender leads the pack as ‘jammer’ for the Hurl Scouts. As she begins to learn how to filter that passion and motivation through to other aspects of her life, she solidifies a derby career for herself, and kicks ass.
- Sarah MylesPrevious Next
14) Sidney Prescott - Scream
Unlike so many characters littering the horror genre, Sidney Prescott is smart – and that is the reason we’ve put her onto our list. Okay, she could really choose her boyfriends, best friends and allies better (one of them always turns out to be a killer) but hey, this is a slasher franchise, there has to be some kind of shock reveal.
She doesn’t quite fall under the ‘scream queen’ label, but Sidney is close to being one of the more invigorating and self-aware protagonists the genre has to offer. While David Arquette’s Dewey labors around like an idiot and has us all scratching our heads as to how he’s actually made a career out of being a police officer, Sidney uses her brain and awareness – not to mention a television to the face – to get herself out of precariously sticky situations with the killer.
It’s a credit to Neve Campbell’s turn that the character, quite simply, doesn’t annoy the crap out of me. She portrays Sidney as intelligent and reliable, a heroine truly capable of outwitting the killer and ensuring a happy(ish) ending. The fact that she survived the original and three dwindling sequels is a testament to this – well, that and the fact these films made a ton of money.
- Dale BarhamPrevious Next
13) Emma Peel - The Avengers
Back before The Avengers was synonymous with a group of superheroes, and back before Black Widow strutted her stuff in a leather catsuit, there was a different kind of Avengers and a different redhead making her kick-ass credentials known to the world at large. She also happened to wear a leather catsuit.
Mrs. Emma Peel might not be a movie character (unless you count the risible 1998 Uma Thurman incarnation), but she’s influenced plenty of them, and no list of kick-ass women would be complete without her. Mrs. Peel arrived on the small screen in 1965, and promptly stepped into pop culture lore. A lanky auburn-haired beauty in a tight leather outfit, she also happened to be a brilliant mathematician who wrote papers on thermodynamics in her spare time, had a working knowledge of chemistry, botany, and astronomy, was an amateur sculptor and modern artist…oh, and also learned both judo and karate for the hell of it.
Emma Peel used her formidable fighting skills and equally formidable wit to assist her friend and partner John Steed in defeating diabolical masterminds who threatened the future of Britain and, perhaps, the world. In the person of Diana Rigg (yes, Olenna Tyrell did have a life before Westeros), Emma Peel was far more than just eye-candy (though she was that too). Steed always treated her as an equal, and she would have accepted nothing less – an attitude that was groundbreaking in 1965, and is still unfortunately missing from a lot of kick-ass partnerships today.
Emma Peel was a feminist character who never made an issue of her feminism or her femininity – she knew she was equal to men, and never had to prove it. Whether she was battling man-eating plants from outer space, crazed scientists with weather machines, or resurrections of the Hellfire Club, Emma Peel was always cool, tough, and stylishly kick-ass. Without her, I can assure you that Scarlett Johansson would never have stepped into that suit. While Emma did return briefly in the ill-conceived 1998 film of The Avengers, there is only one true Mrs. Peel. Underestimate her at your peril.
- Lauren Humphries-BrooksPrevious Next
12) Rita Vrataski - Edge of Tomorrow
It’s a sorry state of affairs over in Hollywood when one of the main critical praises of a movie is the presence of a strong female character. Shouldn’t that be the case for all movies? No?
Well, our list here certainly makes a case for everything female AND badass – and Edge of Tomorrow star Emily Blunt is the embodiment of such a description. Rita – aptly nicknamed the Angel of Verdun for her heroics on the battlefield – is both a mentor and an obstacle for Tom Cruise’s protagonist to overcome. She also kicks some serious alien butt, though that’s beside the point. She’s unwavering in her dedication to the cause and unflinching when it comes to putting a bullet in Cruise’s head – obviously, because she knows he will reset himself, but it’s great to see that conviction.
Her character in Looper was similarly strong and it is because of these two roles that Blunt has started making waves in the acting community. Despite being beautiful, she is shying away from roles that rely completely on her looks and is taking on projects that test her resolve and acting ability – may we see more of her in this light in the future.
- Dale BarhamPrevious Next
11) Mallory Kane - Haywire
If you’re trying to get a kick-ass action hero, a solid place to start looking is for people who can kick ass in real life. Enter Gina Carano, MMA fighter turned actor who starred in Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 thriller Haywire. At one point, she was the third best 145-pound fighter in the world. She had a few minor roles before being cast in Haywire, but that was her first shot to be the leading lady: Mallory Kane.
And lead she did. The film emanates the Bourne franchise (though what spy thriller that’s come since Bourne doesn’t?) in that she’s a covert agent who is being hunted by some of her own agents. Carano does her own stunts, absolutely pummeling everyone she’s up against. The action is nearly flawless throughout, as she roundhouse kicks her way through opponent after opponent. Carano’s dialogue and overall acting isn’t flawlesss, but she makes up for that with her ability in the more intense moments, which is really what’s important in an action flick anyway.
In terms of female action heroes, there may not be any who is more formidable in a more realistic way than Mallory Kane. That’s a credit to Soderbergh’s direction, but it’s mostly because Gina Carano can actually kick ass.
- Alexander Lowe
10) Selina Kyle/Catwoman – Batman Returns, The Dark Knight Rises
How could we ever write a list about the most kick-ass heroines and not include the biggest anti-heroine Gotham has to offer? Whether it’s Michelle Pfeiffer’s sultry seductive turn as the prowling burglar or Anne Hathaway’s deadpan jewel thief, the character is one that packs as much punch in the personality department as she does in full-on combat.
Technically, she is a villain and is motivated by her pension for revenge and glamor – but that doesn’t stop her from killing Christopher Walken’s Max Shreck with a deadly electric taser kiss (Batman Returns) or blowing Bane away with a well-timed shot from the Batpod (The Dark Knight Rises). What can we say? We’re a sucker for a character that breaks the rules – and in this case, it is Catwoman who breaks Batman’s only rule.
The Caped Crusader is not allowed to kill anybody – it just isn’t in his blood. But Selina Kyle? Well, her blood boils like a kettle of vengeance and she is more than adept at mopping up any scum Batman spares. Despite dancing and prancing across our screens in the tightest-fitting one-pieces we’ve ever seen, it’s her personality and devious nature that makes the character so endearing to the audience. In all honesty, Catwoman was the best thing to happen to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, which was otherwise regrettably a step down from the quality we’d come to expect after The Dark Knight. Let’s hope we see her again in the expanding DC movie canon – and pray Halle Berry doesn’t return for another go-around.
- Dale BarhamPrevious Next
9) Princess Leia - Star Wars
There aren’t many heroes of any gender who do more ass kicking than Princess Leia. I suppose she doesn’t have much of an option though, being that many times she’s the only woman on the planet (and seemingly in the galaxy). If she wasn’t ready to kick some ass, she’d be disposed of by some bounty hunter, Empire scum or other abominable alien.
She can use a blaster as well as anyone and never falls into any cliche of running around, screaming while waiting for someone to help her out. Even when she’s in her most vulnerable position as Jabba’s slave girl, she finds a way to do something awesome, choking out that horrible Hutt with the very chains that bound her. The galaxy can rest safe knowing its best female diplomat is also able to hold her own with Chewie, Han and Luke when it comes to saving the day.
Then again, her father is Darth Vader and her brother is Luke Skywalker, so she’s got some pretty powerful Jedi blood running through her. If she wasn’t kicking ass, then I’d be inclined to believe that the babies got switched at the space hospital, because there’s no way someone with that heritage isn’t going to be totally awesome.
- Alexander LowePrevious Next
8) The Bride - Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2
Beatrix Kiddo. Black Mamba. The Bride. She goes by many names, but however you know the character, there’s no hiding how incredible she truly is. After awakening from a coma induced by a bloody beating from her former lover Bill delivered on her wedding day, The Bride goes on a bloody campaign of vengeance, dispatching all who stand in her way with any weapons available to her – but most prominently a gorgeous and razor-sharp Hanzō sword crafted especially for her. Oh, and she totally masters the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique.
Along the way, she gets the crap beaten out of her, shot in the chest with rock salt, buried alive and subjected to horrific tortures – but still manages to take out everyone on her Death List Five. And The Bride isn’t just a stone-cold badass. She also hurts deeply, and it’s a credit to Uma Thurman that you can sense all the raw emotion boiling beneath the surface. For her emotional journey as well as the skill with which she swings a sword, The Bride is a kick-ass creation. That she comes from Quentin Tarantino, typically known for his cool cucumber dudes, just sweetens the deal.
- Isaac FeldbergPrevious Next
7) Katniss Everdeen - The Hunger Games
Back when The Hunger Games was first released, I had no idea what to expect. On the surface, it appeared to be more Twilight nonsense consisting of a female character that is more concerned with who she should f*** rather than the overarching, far more serious themes of the story.
When I actually saw the movie, I was pleasantly surprised. Not only did I enjoy the film and feel it lived up to all of the hype surrounding it, but I actually became a massive fan of the franchise’s heroine, Katniss Everdeen. The world she lives in truly does come across as overbearing at times and features the very definition of survival of the fittest. This is a universe where citizens are raffled into a fantasy arena battleground with only one goal: kill or be killed.
Katniss, while obviously distraught from everything surrounding the plot, seemingly takes this opportunity to become the modern-day badass heroine of a generation. Instead of using tried-and-true guns or swords, she stalks her prey with a freaking bow and arrow with deadly skill. Her awesome display has single-handedly rejuvenated the usage of bows across film and video games. Come on, who didn’t love slaughtering hundreds of enemies with the bow and arrow in the latest Tomb Raider game?!
Violent antics aside, you also have to love how the romantic love triangle portion of the franchise is written in a believable fashion, and not with some of the most horrific dialogue ever seen in film. Why can’t we have more YA adaptations like The Hunger Games? And better yet, more strong independent heroines focused on survival.
- Robert KojderPrevious Next
6) Hit-Girl - Kick-Ass
Chloe Moretz’s Hit-Girl kicks more ass than anyone else in the twisted superhero flick Kick-Ass – and she’s only 11 years old. Though we have her traumatic upbringing at the hands of former cop Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) to thank for a lot of her skills, there’s no denying that Hit-Girl does just fine on her own, dispatching an entire warehouse of thugs in hopes of rescuing Kick-Ass and Big Daddy from a fiery death. Throughout the first movie, she’s a pint-sized lethal weapon – not to mention one with a shockingly foul mouth and an empowering sense of self. Just hand her double-bladed katanas, a handgun or, hell, even floss or something, and she’ll turn it into a deadly tool of mass destruction.
Then, in Kick-Ass 2, as her alter ego Mindy McCready enters high school, she gets even more badass, taking down mean girl cliques with her stellar dress sense (and a crowd-control shock baton), duelling henchmen with AK-47s on top of a moving van and then single-handedly besting the ruthless and highly trained Mother Russia, finishing her off with an onslaught of glass shards. Oh, and then she rides off into the night on her motorcycle after stealing Kick-Ass’s heart. I don’t think anyone can argue that Hit-Girl is not one of the most funniest, coolest and most plainly badass femme fatales in recent memory.
- Isaac FeldbergPrevious Next
5) Selene - Underworld
The Underworld movies, despite having their fans, don’t make that great an impression, but if there’s one thing about them that does it’s Kate Beckinsale as vampire warrior Selene. By 2003, Beckinsale was an accomplished actress, but there was hardly anything on her IMDb page that said, “Here’s a woman who could convincingly suit up in leather body suit and destroy all monsters with a combination of guns, swords, and wire-fu.” Well, she proved us wrong. In one fell swoop, Beckinsale asserted herself as a steely and committed action heroine, and as consequence, her character Selene became the one constant across all four (so far) Underworld films.
So, what’s the appeal? It might be that despite the fact that she’s a vampire femme fatale in the modern world, Selene has a lot in common with the legendary heroes of cinema’s Old West: she’s a loner, she has grit, she’s shrewdly capable, and driven by tragedy to get vengeance for the ones she’s lost. But despite the outward appearance of icy detachment, she still has a heart, and a moral center. She becomes drawn to Michael, a man meant to be her sworn enemy, but when she’s confronted with the fact that she was betrayed by the vampire elders, she has no qualms about turning the guns on her own kind, and boldly choosing the path that’s right for her.
So indelible is the character that Selene also narrates the beginning and end portions of the Underworld prequel, Rise of the Lycans, which takes place several hundred years before she was born. As for Selene herself, we see an evolution over the three films she’s the main character of, we see her change from lone warrior, to protective partner, to the most ferocious mama grizzly this side of an Alaskan hunting party. All the while though, the fighting skills are still tremendously impeccable as Selene takes on one bad guy after another, sometimes emerging injured, but always emerging victorious.
- Adam DonaldsonPrevious Next
4) Alice - Resident Evil
This Alice fell down a very peculiar and very violent rabbit hole. In this Wonderland, the Red Queen is a computer program made to look like a little girl, and the endless army of playing card soldiers is a mass of undead creatures created by an evil corporation. As a worker drone in that corporation, Alice was a perfectly expendable cog in the machine, but through the infection of Umbrella headquarters, the quarantine of Raccoon City, the end of the world, and everything that comes afterward, Alice has proved herself a survivor, and perhaps the only hope for saving mankind from itself and a zombie-filled future.
Alice’s journey has certainly been multifaceted in a number of different ways. In the first Resident Evil, she has to overcome amnesia as she’s trapped in the Umbrella complex with a group of strangers, and although she’s not sure who she can trust, her muscle memory is thankfully intact. Once captured by Umbrella, she becomes a test subject for the T-virus, but rather than becoming another kind of monster, she’s able to use the virus to develop super-powers, which she then uses to fight Umbrella and attempt to save the surviving remnants of humanity. When she becomes too powerful, Umbrella agent Wesker takes away those abilities, but still, Alice can’t be stopped so long as she has her fight, a gun, and the wits in her head.
All that considered, it’s no wonder that Umbrella not only has an interest in keeping Alice alive, or even just alive enough to be studied more thoroughly, but at the end of the last movie, Retribution, Alice is once again infected with the T-virus and told that she is the key to saving the world (or what’s left of it). Considering everything she’s done and survived so far, it’s impossible to tell what Alice might now be capable of, but what’s clear is that no matter the challenge, no matter how dire the odds, and no matter how many monsters, creatures and madmen stand her way, you’d be foolish not to bet on Alice to come out on top.
- Adam DonaldsonPrevious Next
3) Black Widow - The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier
You knew from the moment that “Natalie Rushman” appeared on screen in Iron Man 2 and flipped Happy Hogan feet over head that she was no mere paralegal/office drone. It was hardly a spoiler for comic book fans when it turned out that Natalie was really Natasha Romanoff, aka The Black Widow, one of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s top operatives. As realized by Scarlett Johansson, it didn’t take much time for the butt-kicking assassin to make an impact in the male-dominated realm of superheroes, and become one of the most in-demand utility players in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
After making an impression in Iron Man 2, Black Widow made the cut and joined a super-team in The Avengers, where in spite of having no super-powers, she managed to hold her own in the midst of an alien invasion of New York. In fact, an argument can be made that Widow won the battle for The Avengers by finding the key to closing the wormhole and using it.
Later, in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, she’s invaluable in Cap’s battle against the resurrected HYDRA, helping to destroy the corrupted S.H.I.E.L.D. even though it would force her to answer difficult questions about her past.
So she may not have a metal suit, a super-soldier serum or a god-like heritage, but Black Widow’s definitely made a name for herself. Look to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. where her name is constantly dropped as the agent everybody wants to be, and everybody wants to be better than. How does she do it? Pure skill and talent. A bad ass reputation help,s too, but you only after you’ve built that with the first two things, which is a hell of a lot harder that building Iron Man suits in the basement of your palatial, cutting edge estate on the California coast.
It’s easy to wallop the bad guys when you can Hulk out, or have a magical hammer, or a suit of armor full of gadgets, but Widow’s old school and gets the job done with her own two hands. And sometimes feet.
- Adam Donaldson
2) Sarah Connor - Terminator 2: Judgment Day
One of the reasons I’m incredibly worried about Terminator: Genesis is that there’s no way in hell the gorgeous Emilia Clarke will ever be able to hold a candle to Linda Hamilton’s kick-ass performance as Sarah Connor in T2: Judgment Day (yes, she was all right in The Terminator, but it wasn’t until the superior sequel that Connor really came into her own). After a stint in a mental hospital after attempting to bomb a computer factory, she emerged as a completely ripped, hardened, apocalypse-ready woman warrior – ready to take on anything Skynet could ever send her way.
Shall I count the ways in which Sarah Connor is one of the most kick-ass action heroines in cinematic history? We’d be here all day, so I’ll settle for a few points. In her hands, a broken broom handle is a deadly weapon to be used on any sniveling orderly standing in her way. She can hold her own in any shootout, no matter how intense. Stealing cop cars? No problem. Taking out killer robots? She can do it like snapping her fingers. And raising a kid? Well, let’s just say you wouldn’t want to give this lady mothering tips.
She’s also extremely proficient and resourceful, making good use of paperclips, syringes, giant-ass guns and of course any projectile weapon she get her hands on to wreak serious havoc. When I consider people I’d want by my side in the event of a robot or zombie apocalypse, Sarah Connor is at the top of my list – and I’ve even settle for Linda Hamilton, seeing as there’s absolutely no way she could have gotten that buff and that badass without something sticking.
- Isaac FeldbergPrevious Next
1) Ellen Ripley - Alien
When Ellen Ripley woke from stasis, 35 years ago in Ridley Scott’s Alien, she simultaneously redefined a genre, and the perception of female characters in film. Suddenly, heroines could truly kick ass. Created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, she is widely regarded as the best female film character in history.
Armed with a Masters degree in Engineering, she joined the US Merchant Navy, travelled amid the stars, and defied corporate protocol to become a mother. She uncovered a dastardly conspiracy to create horrifying biological weapons, and returned to field of battle again and again – squaring up to one of the most terrifying creatures imaginable, and always coming out on top.
Each film gives Ripley a defining moment. In 1979’s Alien, she cites her responsibility for crew safety when refusing to open the hatch of the Nostromo when Kane (John Hurt) needs to return with an unknown biological entity on his face. In this single scene, Scott takes the long-established perception of female movie characters as emotionally weak, and turns it on its head.
In James Cameron’s Aliens, in 1986, Ripley faces off with a fellow Mom – the Xenomorph Queen. To escape, Ripley threatens the unhatched eggs of the Queen, then burns them anyway. Ripley then levels the playing field by climbing into a Powerloader and taking the Alien on, fist-to-fist. Her exclamation, “Get away from her you bitch!” was instantly iconic. Tender and loving with the child, she becomes a grizzly mother bear in a heartbeat – creating perhaps the clearest depiction of maternal instinct ever committed to film.
David Fincher’s Alien 3 in 1992 had Ripley sacrifice herself to save the universe once and for all, choosing what she perceives to be her final act – the destruction of the infant Xenomorph Queen that bursts from her chest as she dives into a furnace. That act is cruelly taken away from her in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Alien: Resurrection in 1997, when Ripley is cloned, and her Alien Queen is used to breed more Xenomorphs for nefarious purposes. Now connected to her nemesis on a genetic level, she lures the humanoid Alien that sees her as a mother into a trap, and destroys it in gruesome fashion.
In a world where female film characters in 2014 still routinely exist in a male-dominated world, Ripley has blazed her own trail since 1979. In her franchise – though her goal is to prevent Aliens killing everything in their path – she is one woman repeatedly battling the attempts of a male-run corporation to weaponise and enslave a female-dominated Alien race. She is the ultimate kick-ass action heroine, because she fights against female oppression on an intergalactic scale.
- Sarah MylesPrevious