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Home » Actors, Movies

Best Pre-SALT Female Action Heroes

Submitted by on July 23, 2010 – 12:09 am 24 Comments

My parents are in town so I probably won’t get a chance to see Salt this weekend, but I’ve been reading about how amazing Angelina Jolie is in the movie. I’m a big fan of her in action mode, but some articles make it sound as if a woman has never convincingly played an action hero. So, I thought I’d pop out this quick reminder list of some of the most bad-ass female performances in the last 25 years.

  1. Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. When I saw her in that movie, every ounce in my 98-lb. body wanted to be as strong as she. I kept thinking, How do I get arms like that?? Arnold may have had bigger muscles but to me, Hamilton was the most powerful presence on screen. (UPDATE: Chuck producers announced today that Hamilton will be Chuck’s mom this coming season! That’s nine kinds of awesome because she was our first choice when my husband and I were armchair-casting the role.)
  2. Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Aliens. She was so fierce protecting Newt, the alien had nothing on her.
  3. Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity in The Matrix. She wasn’t all shades and black vinyl; she had the butt-kicking skill to back up her ‘tude.
  4. Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy in Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series. Besides her formidable slayer-ness,  she was armed with a valuable weapon—her quick wit.
  5. Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. She looks like a waif but bad guys learned the painful way not to mess with her. In The Girl Who Played with Fire, Lisbeth experiences things which would destroy the average person, but her fierce resilience proves she’s the Girl Who Won’t Stay Down.
  6. Anne Parillaud as Nikita in La Femme Nikita. There have been two other Nikitas (Bridget Fonda and Peta Wilson) and Maggie Q is about to debut as the third incarnation on CW but Parillaud remains the best and most convincing as the reluctant assassin.
  7. Geena Davis as Samantha/Charly in The Long Kiss Goodnight. At first, her character can’t remember her past, believing she’s a housewife. But from the moment she throws that kitchen knife across the room with deadly accuracy, you know her dangerous side is taking over and she doesn’t disappoint.
  8. Michelle Yeoh in Supercop or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Tomorrow Never Dies. I can’t pick just one when Yeoh is one of the most incredible stunt actresses out there. It was almost insulting when she was cast as a Bond girl because it was clear she would save his ass in a fight, not the other way around.
  9. Zhang Ziyi as Xiao Mei in House of Flying Daggers. The movie has gorgeously choreographed and photographed fight scenes—the ones in the bamboo forest and in the field stand out—all elevated by Zhang’s agility and grace.
  10. Jennifer Garner as Sydney Bristow in Alias. She kicked butt with such ferocity and conviction, she made us believe that sweet dimpled college girl was a lethal spy.

Who would be on your list?



  • le0pard13 says:

    One damn fine list, Elyse! All of the women here truly kick ass! I’m so glad you included Geena Davis from The Long Kiss Goodnight (from a Shane Black script). It’s one of my all-time favorite action/Xmas movies. I personally think her ex (Renny Harlin) ain’t that great as a director, but even he couldn’t mess up what Shane had written. Plus, Geena was so great in it. Who else could have delivered that one line from movie (you know the one) ;-). Thanks, Eiyse, and I hope you have a great family weekend.

  • Jen Forbus says:

    O.k., I’ll definitely start thinking about this one. I can’t say one way or another about any of these because (gasp) I haven’t seen any of them. But I know I love me a good female action hero…and Angelina is one of my more favs. I’ll be back when I come up with my gals!

  • LolosLetters says:

    Jen! None?! I thought I was bad only having seen 7 and really only remembering the performance of four. Will definitely try and think of others, this is a great topic, E! Eliza Dushku comes to mind as Echo in Dollhouse, and because I just saw Book of Eli and like Mila Kunis she comes to mind, but nowhere near top 10. Will keep thinking, beats working!

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      I like Kunis but have never seen her in action mode since I haven’t seen Eli. You’ve got me intrigued. I liked Dushku as Faith on Buffy but didn’t like her on Dollhouse, probably because I didn’t like the show.

      Yes, Angelina crushed ass in Wanted. And I’m still waiting for your list.

  • LolosLetters says:

    Angelina was also pretty kickass in Wanted. However, I have a sense that Angelina is pretty kickass in real life.

  • jenn says:

    Wow. I can’t believe I’ve only seen two of these – The Matrix and The Long Kiss Goodnight. I was younger when LKG came out and watched it over and over again.

    For being such a big darn feminist, I’m ashamed to admit that I’m usually not interested in movies with a female action hero (gasp). I know, I can’t believe I just said that.

    I really did enjoy Mr. and Mrs. Smith, though – of course, that’s Angelina.

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      That’s interesting. Why aren’t you interested in movies with female action leads?

      I really liked Mr. & Mrs. Smith, too. She was Pitt’s equal in every way.

      • jenn says:

        I guess they often come off as cheesy. No, that’s a cop out. I don’t know. I love James Bond. I grew up on John Wayne. I like my action movies to have a strong male lead. (I’d like the women to not be wimps, either). I’ve just not seen many movies with strong female action leads. But more than that, they usually don’t have the types of story lines I’m interested in. Tomb Raider, Aliens, eh. Not so much for me.

  • Michelle Yeoh, she is the real deal. She can do it all. I did like Noomi Rapace, too, but more for her acting skills than her on-screen kick-ass capability.

  • HY says:

    Good list, Elyse! I can’t wait to see Salt b/c I want to the scenes filmed in DC. Also looking forward to seeing Maggie Q as the new Nikita!

  • Great list, PCN ~ I haven’t seen all of these, but those I have seen left me wanting to kickbox a bad guy. I’m glad to see Geena Davis on the list. I love that movie and she was ferocious in it! And I wish Alias was still running. {Ok, that may be just the teensiest bit due to Michael Vartan…}

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      I’m pleasantly surprised Geena is getting so much love here. When I put her on my list, I thought either no one has seen the movie or would remember it.

      I’d say Vartan was a BIG reason why I loved Alias.

      • le0pard13 says:

        <The Long Kiss Goodnight didn’t do much box office when it first came out (and was considered a bomb). However, it really has blossomed over the years since once it came out on tape/disc. I know more than a few people (both genders) who claim it as a favorite. I love it for Geena’s performance and Shane Black’s script (Samuel L. Jackson, too). Thanks, Elyse.

  • Jen Forbus says:

    This ended up being harder for me than I thought because I actually don’t like A LOT of action movies, so I don’t see as many. Then add on top of that the fact that I think they write a lot of female hero roles very poorly. Anyway, some of my list will be thriller movie-based (I like a ton in that category), but I figure if they can play a good thriller hero, then they can do a good action hero, right???

    Jodie Foster would definitely be on my list. I think most of her roles are technically thriller, though. And while the movies haven’t always been great, her performances are stellar.

    Demi Moore’s GI JANE, definitely. She’s got a number of thriller roles where she’s been a kick-ass hero, too. Even as animated Esmerelda, she was great.

    Rene Russo in IN THE LINE OF FIRE. Again, I don’t think they classify this one as action, but she was great. I also liked her in LETHAL WEAPON. Mel may be gone off the deep end, but those movies are still good movies!

    Meg Ryan’s gone a little odd these days, but I thought her role in COURAGE UNDER FIRE was top-rate.

    Catherine Zeta Jones – o.k., groan if you want to, but I actually like her and even though ENTRAPMENT wasn’t a great film, she was a good hero in that one. If nothing else, give her credit for all the gymnastics!

    Kathleen Turner was the other one I came up with. ROMANCING THE STONE and JEWEL OF THE NILE are probably action films but I was thinking more along the lines of V.I. WARSHAWSKI. When I looked it up, VIW isn’t action, but I don’t understand how that’s not action and MISS CONGENIALITY is. Whatever!

    Two from TV I wanted to mention are Gabrielle Anwar, who has done film but what I’ve seen her in hasn’t been action hero. However, she’s a kick ass action hero in BURN NOTICE. She can shoot it, blow it up, or knock it out.

    And finally Cote de Pablo who plays Zeva on NCIS. She’s fabulous. I don’t know of any film work that she’s done, but someone should be trying to snag her for an action film!

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      These are some great choices, Jen. How could I forget Moore as G.I. Jane? She was TOUGH. Didn’t she do one-arm pushups? I thought “Damn!” when I saw that.

      Re: Zeta-Jones, my husband was mesmerized by her, ah, flexibility.

      Fi is a great character and Anwar looks like she has a blast playing her!

      Thanks for taking time to come up with your list.

  • le0pard13 says:

    I saw SALT yesterday with my son and one of my daughter’s schoolmate’s dad. While I enjoyed KNIGHT & DAY last month, Jolie made Tom Cruise look like a total wimp with her role in SALT. Also, as opposed to K&D, the audience clapped when the Phillip Noyce’s director credit hit the screen (a good many of them being women). We all thought it one one fun flick. Thanks, Elyse.

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      I liked Jolie a lot and agree she is totally badass, especially that thing she did with the chain near the end. But I felt the movie was lackluster and would have to give it more thought to explain exactly why. I went with 4 other people and 3 out of 5 (me included) fell asleep in the middle. That was the last thing I expected to do while watching this!

  • BTQY says:

    Whether you like the movie or not. HITGIRL from Kick Ass has to be considered. After taking out rooms of goons out- come on.

  • sly says:

    1) linda hamilton – T2
    2) sigourney weaver – aliens
    3) michelle rodriguez – girl fight & 2 fast 2 furious & resident evil
    4) michelle yeoh – crouching tiger, wing chun, etc.
    5) milla jovovich – resident evil
    6) demi moore – g.i. jane
    7) angelina jolie – tomb raider & mr./mrs. smith
    8) bridget neilsen – red sonia
    9) ?
    10) ?

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