When it comes to #action movies 2017 has been the year of the woman in the best way possible. We have not only seen returning heroines like #Underworld's Selene but all new characters such as Justine (Brie Larson) in Free Fire headline major motion pictures. We even saw veteran actor Hugh Jackman was upstaged in his final outing as Wolverine by relative unknown Dafne Keen in Logan. This is all without mentioning the DC Extended Universe having their first biggest commercial hit yet in the critically acclaimed #WonderWoman. If there has been anyone to benefit from the female hero renaissance it has been #CharlizeTheron.
For years the Oscar-winning actress has been playing action heroes and all the hard work seems to have finally paid off this year. First there as her turn as the villainous Cipher in The Fate of the Furious and now her starring role in the critically acclaimed Atomic Blonde. Set in 1989 Lorraine Broughton (Theron) is sent to take down an espionage ring in Berlin after her lover is killed. Directed by John Wick's David Leitsch it looks to be one of the most exciting and original action movies of the summer. More importantly it's the latest in the long lineage of women on the big screen kicking more ass than the men. So like Wonder Woman earlier this year after you see Charlize Theron become the coolest spy since 007 here are 8 MORE bad ass women to watch after Atomic Blonde.
1. The Queen of 'Fury Road' Imperator Furiosa
- Appears In: Mad Max: Fury Road
- Portrayed By: Charlize Theron
- Year Released: 2015
Theron has been the star of many action movies but her most popular has to be her turn as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road. Despite being a #MadMax movie, the story is very much about Furiosa freeing the wives of Immortan Joe and trying to reach a paradise known as The Green Place. While Max plays the brooding rogue throughout it is Furiosa who is at the center of most of Fury Road's action scenes. So much so that it got Men’s Rights Activists in their feelings about her very existence. And yet being female isn't what her character is about. She isn't given the War Rig or save Immortan Joe's wives because she is a woman. Instead it is because she's a badass and a damn good one at that.
Atomic Action Scene: Taking On the Bullet Farmer
Traveling under the cover of night Max and Furiosa are being chased by the villainous Bullet Farmer. Grabbing a sniper rifle Max fires two shots missing their target each time. Walking behind the post-apocalyptic survivor Furiosa rests the rifle on Max's shoulder and can shoot out the Bullet Farmer's search light. It's an awesome little character building moment that not only shows Furiosa's ingenuity and leadership skills but is another example why she is such a great heroine.
2. A Born Survivor, Takako Chigusa
- Appears In: Battle Royale
- Portrayed By: Chiaki Kuriyama
- Year Released: 2000
Picking a bad ass character from Battle Royale is nearly impossible. Not because there aren't any but because there are so many. Almost all the characters have their own story to tell and time to shine with a perfect example being Takako Chigusa. Despite being held captive and forced to fight to the death she goes about her day exercising and not taking any crap from other people. While her behavior seems odd it is quite admirable. Despite her fate being up in the air she takes control of her life and lives it by her own rules. She may play a minor role but when it comes to characters that leave an impact Takako Chigusa is certainly near the top.
Atomic Action Scene: Run Through The Jungle
A natural born athlete Takako is sexually harassed by fellow student Kazushi Niida. Despite Niida having a crossbow the athletic Chigusa is having none of it and chases down her attacker before stabbing him to death. After being found and shot by the deadly Mitsuko she still has the will to run into the arms of best friend Hiroki Sugimura before dying. Even in death she lasts as long as she can and goes out on her own terms. It's the kind of violent and bittersweet mini-story only Battle Royale can pull off and it's easy to see why Quentin Tarantino chose to highlight actress Chiaki Kuriyama in Kill Bill Vol. 1 after watching this scene.
3. The War Ready Waitress Anna Peterson
- Appears In: The Guest
- Portrayed By: Maika Monroe
- Year Released: 2014
When it comes to horror director Adam Wingard is as student of the genre. One of his strongest qualities is his use of the final girl. I discussed Erin in his breakout film You're Next but he gave audiences a heroine just as good in 2014's The Guest. While David (portrayed by Legion's Dan Stevens) charms the rest of her family Anna isn't so easily convinced. And as David starts to come apart at the seams it is Anna investigates David and slowly starts to tear his story apart. Like Erin in You're Next, she surpasses all the final girl tropes relying on her intelligence and detective skills more than anything else and exemplifying everything we want out of a modern day final girl.
Atomic Action Scene: The Mirror Maze
With the assistance of Major Carver (Lance Reddick) Anna finds a homicidal David at the Halloween dance looking for her brother Luke. Putting on a mix CD made by Anna David chases them through a mirror maze killing off Carver and Luke's teacher. Seemingly having Anna cornered he tracks a pair of bloody footprints, he is tricked when Anna appears behind David and can shoot him with Carver's gun. Set to the song "Anthonio" by Annie the scene is a classic game of cat and mouse in one of the best thrillers of the past decade.
4. The Ground Breaking Golden Swallow
- Appears In: Come Drink with Me
- Portrayed By: Pei-pei Cheng
- Year Released: 1966
Compared to Hollywood women being just as badass as the men is much more common in Hong Kong cinema. Whether it's Zhang Ziyi in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Angela Mao in Hapkido women in the lead role has become a staple of martial arts film and a big reason for this is the film Come Drink with Me. The first wuxia film to star a woman Come Drink with Me follows a woman solely known as Golden Swallow. When her brother is kidnapped by a crew of bandits it is up to her to save him. With the bandits never expecting a woman, she effortlessly makes her way through the bandits in her search for justice. With the assistance of drunken master Fan Da-Pei the two are take on the evil abbot Liao Kung and save Golden Swallow's brother. With a classic story and fight choreography that still holds up today it's easy to see why this Shaw Brothers film is considered a kung fu classic.
Atomic Action Scene: Prisoner Exchange
Looking to get their leader back the bandits attack a procession led by the general's men. With the general's men ambushed it is up to Golden Swallow and her female warriors to protect her brother and retrieve the bandit leader. A flurry of arrows and swordplay this scene classic kung fu action and is the perfect showcase for this revolutionary of kung fu cinema.
5. Baby Doll and the Fantastical Girl Gang of 'Sucker Punch'
- Appears In: Sucker Punch
- Portrayed By: Emily Browning, Vanessa Hudgens, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Jamie Chung
- Year Released: 2011
When it comes to Zack Snyder there are a lot of opinions on his work, particularly about his first original film Sucker Punch. What many saw as a misogynistic director Snyder tried to explain as a feminist reverse of misogynistic nerd tropes. No matter which side of the fence you side with the one thing both seem to agree on is how stellar Snyder's action scenes are. Always a good visual storyteller Snyder does a marvelous job coming up with original and explosive action scenes. The biggest reason this works is the women rounding out the cast, particularly Emily Browning. While in the real world they come off as scrappy and beaten down by the world in the fantasy world the girl gang arecomplete badasses. Is it all a bit on-the-nose? Sure. Is the script perfect? By no means. But as an spectacle this is one of the best of the past decade no matter which gender is leading the charge.
Atomic Action Scene: The First Quest
There are a lot of great ensemble scenes in Sucker Punch that let each of the women show their stuff. With that said I believe the best has Baby Doll as the sole focus. Set to do her first dance by the asylum psychiatrist Dr. Vera Gorski (Carla Guigno) Baby Doll transports herself to feudal Japan. Learning the steps she needs to take to escape she is tasked with going up against three giant, mechanical samurai. Using her speed and agility she takes out the first two before battling the third outside of a snowy temple. As silly as it all sounds it's an absolute joy to watch. Like a video game fight made real it is a perfect example of what makes Sucker Punch such a blast to watch.
6. Hong Kong's Very Own Superheroines, The Heroic Trio
- Appears in: The Heroic Trio
- Portrayed by: Michelle Yeoh, Maggie Cheung, and Anita Mui
- Year Released: 1993
Before Wonder Woman, Elektra and even Catwoman got their own movies Hong Kong had their own superheroine showcase in The Heroic Trio. While not the first movie to star superheroines it may be the first to be good. An ancient eunuch from the Ming Dynasty known as The Master is stealing babies the to bring about a new emperor of China. It is up to the mysterious Ching (Yeoh), a bounty hunter known as Thief Catcher(Cheung) and superheroine Wonder Woman (Mui and not THAT Wonder Woman) to team up to stop this ancient villain. Despite feeling a bit dated in 2017 The Heroic Trio is a surprisingly creative movie. With action choreographed by Ching Siu Tung (A Chinese Ghost Story) the fight scenes are a dazzling mix of kung fu action and a look more typically seen in films about Chinese folklore giving the film it's own, unique flair. The Heroic Trio is more than just a stunning production value though. We also get three great heroines in Ching, Thief Catcher and Wonder Woman. Each of them have their own reasons to fight the evil monk with backstories as good as any superhero origin. Part 90's martial arts action and part superhero adventure The Heroic Trio is an entertaining slice of Hong Kong cinema.
Atomic Action Scene: Facing the Master
Finally gaining access to the underworld Wonder Woman and Thief Catcher confront the Master and his minions. Their mix of martial arts and weaponry give them the advantage briefly but the Master quickly starts winning. All seems lost when Ching comes to join the fight and they bring the Master into the real world. It gets crazier from there but as a whole it's like the best, and silliest, of 90's Hong Kong action rolled into a single great scene.
7. Mommy Dearest, Charly Baltimore
- Appears In: The Long Kiss Goodnight
- Portrayed By: Geena Davis
- Year Released: 1996
While Shane Black is a respected director today (Lethal Weapon, Iron Man 3) not everything he touched was a huge hit. The perfect example is 1996's box office bomb The Long Kiss Goodnight. It has since gone on to gain cult status and a big part of that is Geena Davis as Samantha Caine. A typical housewife and schoolteacher a concussion she receives in a car crash quickly unleashes side of her that nobody knew existed. With a knack for knives and guns she learns about her past as an assassin named Charly Baltimore. It's a fun role that lets Geena Davis show off her likable personality while also showing some serious action chops. More importantly it never feels like the part is written because the woman is the lead. You could just as easily imagine Mel Gibson or Robert Downey Jr. in a similar role. It just so happens to star Geena Davis who knocks it out of the park. With a stellar Shane Black script and fun action scenes The Long Kiss Goodnight is the perfect example of what made 90's action movies so fun.
Atomic Action Scene: Meeting Dr. Waldman
Looking for answers about her identity Samantha arranges to meet Dr. Waldman (Brian Cox) at a train station. Approached by an assassin Samantha channels Charly and guns him down on pure instinct. As more assassins enter the train station Samantha and Mitch (Samuel L. Jackson) make a run for it to the upper floors. With no way out the two jump out of third story window before being rescued by the real Dr. Waldman. While short this is not only a fun chase scene but does a stellar job of building the mystery of who Samantha Caine and what makes her so dangerous.
8. The Vietnamese Vixen, Trinh
- Appears In: Clash
- Portrayed By: Veronica Ngo
- Year Released: 2009
When it comes to kick ass women in movies one of the most common tropes is motherhood. It's just one of things that as humans we can all connect with and of the best to use this was 2009's Clash. One of the few Vietnamese action movies to get a US release it follows the mercenary Trinh. Her daughter has been kidnapped by mobster Black Dragon who will only return her if she steals for him. Putting a team together she sets out to steal a mysterious laptop and get her daughter back by any means necessary. Veronica Ngo's not only kicks as much ass as her male counterparts but quickly emerges as having the best story as well. With perfect action the role is given the emotional gravitas most action movies hope for. With appearances in David Ayer's Netflix film #Bright and a little movie called #StarWars: The Last Jedi before the end of the year there's no better time to watch this martial arts gem.
Atomic Action Scene: The Hand Off
When it comes to Asian action movies they usually fall into two categories, focusing on mostly martial arts action or highlighting dazzling gunplay. Clash is one of the few films that can balance the two perfectly and it's no more apparent than in the climax. As the traitorous Cang (Lam Minh Thang) meets with a Chinese Triad to deliver the laptop they are confronted by not only Black Dragon's gang but the French gangsters who stole the laptop in the first place. Trapped in a Mexican standoff the gangs begin firing on one another before Trinh pursues Cang. It's an action-packed scene that would make action maestros like John Woo shed a tear.