Weekend Roundtable: Ass-Kicking Action Heroines

As audiences line up to see ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ this weekend, they may be surprised to find a bald, robo-armed Charlize Theron on equal footing with the title hero of the film. For this week’s Roundtable, we wanted to celebrate some of cinema’s other badass action heroines who prove that girls can kick just as much butt as the boys.

Brian Hoss

Not only is ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon‘ a great film for a myriad of reasons, it’s also a movie where the female leads out-action their male counterparts. The relative action abilities are central to the plot, and one specific fight is easily a standout with regards to intensity.

Chris Chiarella (Sound & Vision)

Let’s go back to 2000 for ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon‘. Young Zhang Ziyi was co-starring in only her second feature film and made a huge splash as Jen, a warrior princess full of secrets and no shortage of ass-kicking moves. Whether wearing a mask and stealing the Green Destiny sword, trying (and failing) to enjoy a quiet meal incognito in a tavern full of tough guys, or going toe-to-toe with Michelle Yeoh (no slouch in combat herself), Jen is at the center of the mayhem throughout this action-packed, Oscar-winning film. ‘Crouching Tiger’ ushered in a new wave of Asian martial arts cinema here in the United States, and it would not have been the same without the graceful-yet-formidable Zhang Ziyi.

Shannon Nutt

My pick for kick-ass heroine is Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in Jim Cameron’s ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day‘. While the first film had her playing a waitress who was pretty much the prototypical “girl in danger”, the second movie put the character in charge with both a physical and mental upgrade in toughness that turned the once meek Sarah into a force to be reckoned with. However, Hamilton and Cameron still brought a vulnerability to the role, as Sarah was haunted by her knowledge of what the future would bring.

James Cameron probably doesn’t get nearly enough credit for the strong female characters he’s brought to the screen, and the version of Sarah Connor in ‘T2’ is one of his best.

Mike Attebery

I doubt I’m the only one to pick Sarah Connor, but 24 years later, just looking at a photo of Linda Hamilton in ‘T2‘ makes me feel more amoeba than man. Forget ass-kicking, that lady was the definition of BADASS. Yeah, she was a little rough around the edges, and not exactly mentally at ease, but she could definitely kick some serious ass.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

Yakuza? No sweat. Ninjas? Bring ’em on. There’s not a man alive who can hope to take down Japanese high schooler Ami Hyuga: The Machine Girl. With something close enough to an M134 mini-gun taking the place of her tempura-fried left arm, Ami sets out to avenge her murdered brother, slaughtering every gangster-warrior type from here to Kyoto. Words can’t describe how gloriously unhinged Noiboru Iguchi’s ‘The Machine Girl‘ is, unleashing everything from a ‘Power Rangers’-esque super-squad of grieving parents to a climactic power drill bra.

M. Enois Duarte

Long before there was a beautiful Bride, a badass Sarah Connor or even the indestructible Ellen Ripley, there was the suave, seductive style of the deadly assassin ‘Lady Snowblood‘. Born in a prison and trained by killers and a holy man, Yuki (Japanese for snow) is on the hunt for the men responsible for the murder of her family. Beginning in nonlinear narrative, the disjointed and insanely awesome revenge flick follows our heroine as she takes out one terrible criminal after another until she uncovers the mastermind responsible for ruining her life while also giving her a sense of purpose. The final battle is a thing of splendid beauty and brilliance, making Yuki one the most badass action heroes ever.

Luke Hickman

My instinct for this week’s topic took me directly to ‘Kill Bill’ and ‘Lucy’, but I decided those options are too easy. For me, there’s another badass female who can take down anyone, male or female. Director Joe Wright brought a refreshing indie sensibility and genius to the action genre with ‘Hanna‘. Genetically modified, she’s the motivated and unstoppable teenage girl equivalent of Jason Bourne. She can get through international borders without being detected. She can destroy any man or woman that stands in her path. And she’s going to do whatever it takes to uncover the truth about her past. Offering insight to the teenage experience along with a healthy dose of brutal-yet-PG-13 violence, the film is a unique blend of elements that aren’t often paired together.

Chris Boylan (Big Picture Big Sound)

The obvious choice for female badass would be Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley in the first two ‘Alien‘ films. Ripley’s grit and determination were formed in the crucible of the Nostromo, where she first took on her acid-blooded foe, after the beast decimated her entire crew. Then, in the second film, with the knowledge that she had literally slept through her daughter’s entire life, Ripley’s maternal instincts kicked in when innocent young Newt was put in danger by the Alien Queen. Ripley rises to the challenge, nearly single-handedly exterminating a species when even testosterone-laden Space Marines (notably played by Michael Biehn and Bill Paxton) fall short. Whether her weapon of choice is a flamethrower, a grenade launcher, an automatic rifle or a Caterpillar P-5000 Power Loader, Ripley uses all of the above to take out the Alien horde. Satisfying as both sci-fi and action/adventure, ‘Aliens’ remains one of my top 10 favorite films, due in no small part to Ripley.

But there are other female heroines who stand out for pure badass, name-taking dominance. Bruce Willis is hard to outdo as an action hero, but the best action sequence in ‘The Fifth Element centers around Leeloo (Milla Jovavich), the “perfect being” whose martial arts prowess takes down a battalion of purpose-bread super-soldier Mangalores. That fight scene, accompanied by a colorful operatic performance by a blue-skinned opera diva, is still one of my reference clips for testing new displays and audio gear. It holds up well to repeated viewings because it’s so damn fun!

Finally, when discussing chicks who kick ass, who can forget Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) in ‘Kick-Ass‘? She may be 11, but she can out-curse a sailor and take down a drug dealer’s bodyguard or a gaggle of mob hit men without breaking a Hello Kitty press-on nail. (Of course, I’m kidding. Hit-Girl would not be caught dead with Hello Kitty press-on nails.) Trained by her Big Daddy, Hit-Girl may be a supporting character in ‘Kick-Ass’ but she’s clearly the baddest muther trucker out there and she easily steals the show.

Josh Zyber

The great Michelle Yeoh has already received some love above for her role in ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’, but let’s not forget that role came as sort of a career culmination after the actress had already proven herself one of the queens of Hong Kong action cinema. This is the woman who went toe-to-toe with Jackie Chan in ‘Police Story 3: Supercop‘ and with James Bond in ‘Tomorrow Never Dies‘ and proved herself more than a match for either. In fact, her fighting skills in ‘Crouching Tiger’ greatly outclass Chow Yun-Fat, who’d done plenty of shoot-’em-ups before but never a martial arts film. All the best action scenes in that movie are centered around the ladies, not the men. Michelle Yeoh is an action movie legend.

I’ll extend Honorable Mentions to Uma Thurman as The Bride in ‘Kill Bill‘ and Milla Jovovich as the zombie-killing Alice in the ‘Resident Evil‘ series (one of my great guilty pleasures).

Who are your favorite action heroines? Tell us in the Comments.


  1. Some of the best kickass ladies have been mentioned above, Hickman and Zyber took my two first picks so I’ll go with Christina Lindberg from the Swedish exploitation flick “Thriller: A Cruel Picture” aka “They Call Her One Eye”. It’s about a girl, Madeleine/Frigga who is turned into a drug addict and forced into prostitution. One of the most famous scenes in the movie is when her pimp takes her eye out ( supposedly a real cadaver was used for the shot). What makes this movie so cool is that with the money she makes from hookin’ and being treated like a sex toy, she takes it upon herself to take firearm lessons, stunt driving lessons, and martial arts so she can get revenge on all who’ve done her wrong. The movie is total exploitation and super cheap looking, but damn effective. If there’s ever a movie that I would love to see remade with some better production value, this would be it. She looks pretty badass with her trench coat, shotgun,and eyepatch.
    I’m watching all the Harry Potter flicks with my daughter right now and I think Hermione is total kickass. She’s smart, loyal, powerful, and Harry would never make it through without her.
    Right now I’m drawing a blank for more kickass big screen females, but tv has had some amazing ones.
    Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Michonne, and I can’t mention Michonne without mentioning Carol.

  2. Speaking of Aliens we shouldn’t forget Janette Goldstein’s turn as space marine Pvt. Vasquez. She was a female tough enough that you had no problem believing she could kick some xenomorph ass. I want to also mention Maureen O’Hara in Against All Flags opposite Errol Flynn. I love seeing women in strong roles from classic Hollywood films.

  3. DBGaither

    Wow, first thing to come to my mind was Gina Carano in Haywire. The pure physicality and believability of her fight scenes were awesome.

  4. William Henley

    Well, to me, the obvious one should be Laura Croft in Tomb Raider. Yeah, it was a bad movie, but Laura Croft is still cool.

    Another bad movie with a fantastic heroine was The Avengers (no, I am not refering to the Marvel franchise). Uma Thurman made a fantastic Emma Peel.

    While it was a television show, there were a few specials released theatrically, so I am going to put in the girls of the Dragonball Z universe – Chi-Chi, Bulma, Android 18 and Videl (While Pan did appear in the final episodes of Z, I don’t think she was in any of the Z movies, I don’t think she really had much of a role until GT. Launch is only in Dragonball, and is only seen in a couple of flashbacks and spirit bomb attacks, so I am not listing her under Dragonball Z either)

    Diane and Tangina from Poltergeist. They kick some supernatual butt!

    Queen / Senator Amadalia from Star Wars. She may not be a Jedi or a fighter or anything, but she is pretty darn tough and won’t let people walk over her. Along those same lines, Leah quickly takes charge of situations and keeps her head.

  5. photogdave

    Rebecca Romijn in Femme Fatale and as Rogue in the first two X-Men movies.
    Kicks ass and is hot in all three!

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