movies & entertainment

12 Breakout Women In Action Films Who Were Their Own Heroes

Karthika S Nair | Dec 12 2019
Image credits: beyond pink creatives

Action is the most popular genre among filmgoers. Action films include edge-of-the-seat pop-corn flicks that can be watched multiple times. Plenty of men have laid their signature in this genre with their success and popularity; from the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Jackie Chan, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Will Smith, Tom Cruise etc.

Just like superhero films, action movies were made targeting the youth and teenage male audience. So the stories were designed like so.  

Women’s role in an action film was that of a motivating figure who was either kidnapped or fridged. Or they are glamourous eye-candies present for the male audience’s validation.

Or they were regular sidekicks who barely had screen time or dialogue. 

However, stories were considered incomplete without the presence of a strong female character and with the arrival of new generation writers and directors who were able to think out-of-the-box, women with voices and personalities were born. 

Characters who were remembered for their tremendous presence were created leading to a chain reaction that leads to more strong women on screen. 

Here 12 women in action films who looked for a sword instead of a knight.

1. Sarah Connor- Terminator series


Director James Cameron wrote and directed the ‘Terminator’ (1984) and ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ (1991) which were both successful critically and commercially. The notable aspect of Cameron’s work is that he wrote powerful women in his films. Sarah Connor, played by (Linda Hamilton) is the first of her kind; proto-feminist, determined, brave and persistent. She started as an innocent and naive waitress in the ‘Terminator’.

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After finding out that the fate of the human race is in her hands, Sarah emerges as a determined woman who is ready to fight back the system that will destroy the human race. Sarah’s son John is the future of human resistance which fights and defeats the evil machines backed by a computer programme named Skynet. 

In the first film, Sarah is targetted by the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) before her son was conceived. Later, she turns the tables and targets the Skynet before it is born.

2. Ellen Ripley- Alien series


Ellen Ripley is the breakout action heroine that paved the way for more to come. Sigourney Weaver brought to life the badass and brave woman in a terrifying world of malevolent aliens. She goes all alone to save a little girl who was taken by the aliens.


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Sigourney Weaver received an Oscar Nomination for her performance in the film ‘Aliens’ directed by James Cameron, who created the badass heroine Sarah Connor. 

Read: 11 Breakout Women In Horror Films Who Subverted The Notion Of Damsel In Distress

3. Imperator Furiosa - Mad Max Fury Road (2015)


‘Mad Max Fury Road’ as a film was lauded for the portrayal of proto-feminist narrative which showed a woman trying to save young women from the cruel leader Immortan Joe. 

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Charlize Theron played Imperator Furiosa, a warrior in Joe’s brigade who goes rogue and saves Joe’s harem. 

Furiosa lit up the film with her determination and grit. The story and the scenario were hers and Mad Max just played along. The film itself was lauded for its portrayal of strong women in a world run by powerful and greedy men.

‘Mad Max Fury Road’ received six Oscar nominations including best picture. A solo film on Furiosa is on works. 

4. Rita Vrataski- Edge Of Tomorrow (2014)


Emily Blunt shined in ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ as Rita Vrataski. When the Earth was attacked by vicious aliens, humans designed giant robots to fight back. Rita was lauded for being able to kill multiple aliens in a single day. She later trains Bill Cage (Tom Cruise) to fight the aliens. The film was lauded for its proto-feminist narrative. 

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Emily Blunt won critics choice award for best actress in an action movie.

5. Ilsa Faust- Mission Impossible series 


The audience was impressed by the scene where Ilsa Faust was introduced in 'Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation' where she helped Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) escape by taking down a bunch of goons. Ilsa's mysterious aura earned her the attention and respect she deserved. She means business and she won't give up. Ilsa makes the right choice and chooses the right side even if it means putting her own life on the line. 

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Unlike previous heroines in 'Mission Impossible' series who was fridged or sidelined or sexualised, Ilsa owns it all, thanks to Rebecca Ferguson's charismatic portrayal. She is not Ethan's sidekick or love interest but his equal. 

Ilsa also broke the series' tendency to replace the women thanks to the audience's response. She plays an important role in 'Mission Impossible: Fallout'. 

6. Mako Mori- Pacific Rim (2013)


Mako Mori is a woman with substance and motivation in 'Pacific Rim'. She is slick and stylish as a fighter. She fought hard against the aliens with her male counterpart played by Charlie Hunnam. 'Pacific Rim's success is conjured by her tremendous role as well. 

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Rinko Kikuchi's role as Mako Mori in 'Pacific Rim' gave birth to the 'Mako Mori Test' which is used to measure gender equality in films. The usual Bechdel Test, which is derived by measuring the number of time women spend talking on-screen about anything other men,  was regarded as unreliable. Mako Mori test works if the female character's arc is not linked to her male counterpart. 

Mako Mori is a woman of colour in a mainstream Hollywood film who is not sexualised or sidelined. She is motivated by revenge and has her own backstory. 

7. Letty Ortiz- Fast And Furious series

In 'The Fast And The Furious', Leticia Ortiz silenced a sexist co-contestant with her skills in driving. Played by Michelle Rodriguez, Letty was initially a love interest and eye-candy in a testosterone-fuelled movie. Eventually, she received her own character development and the audience sees that there is more to her than just being a sidekick. 

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She is very protective and was willing to risk her life for her boyfriend/husband Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel). At the same time, she is very compassionate and has a good heart. 

Letty is the soul of the 'Fast and Furious' series and Michelle was lauded for being the badass who stood along with her male counterparts. The representation of women improved after 6th 'Fast and Furious' film. Michelle wanted the filmmakers to do better in terms of women's representation.

8.Lara Croft- Tomb Raider series


'Tomb Raider' video game series was released at a time when it was dominated by male characters and there was a need for female representation. For many years straight, 'Tomb Raider' topped the list of the most popular video game series. Success motivated Hollywood to make a film. Star Angelina Jolie starred as Lara Croft and replicated every signature of the move of the popular character such as back flipping, jumping, single braided hair, running and shooting with two pistols. 

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Jolie depicted a cool, stylish and daring version of Lara Croft who doesn't flinch when there is massive gunfire. 

Alicia Vikander played a less sexualised version of Lara Croft who is very smart and determined. Vikander’s version of Croft was not received as well as Jolie’s but the film was lauded for presenting Croft differently. 

9. Natasha Romanoff/ Black Widow- Marvel Cinematic Universe 


Marvel Cinematic Universe introduced Black Widow as the first and only woman in the founding Avengers team. She does not have superhuman powers yet she stood along with her super-powered teammates. Black Widow is flawlessly portrayed by Hollywood star Scarlett Johansson who had been playing the character for a decade. 

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The character is noted for being very slick and mysterious. She has a back story that motivates her to go forward. Black Widow has a criminal history but after getting a family in the form of her Avengers team, she found a purpose. She kept the team together even when the odds were against their favour. 

Finally, Black Widow is getting a solo release after the success of MCU film 'Captain Marvel' and DCEU's 'Wonder Woman'. 


Read: 15 Breakout Female Characters In Superhero Movies And Shows 

10. Beatrix Kiddo- Kill Bill series


Quentin Tarantino's ambitious film 'Kill Bill' way ahead of its time due to the diverse cast and a badass woman Beatrix Kiddo. Beatrix Kiddo was a former assassin who was ready to leave her life behind and have a fresh start after finding out that she is pregnant. 

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The fate didn't work in her favour because she gets tracked down by her former team. Her fiance and an entire room of innocent women and men get gunned down by her team. She gets brutally beaten up, shot and left for dead. But she survives and makes a list of all the people who, she believes, should pay for what they did. 

Uma Thurman plays a compelling action heroine who is the best at everything she does. She has exceptional skills and shows no mercy to the wrongdoer. Nothing stops her, not even an army of 88 armed men and women who were ordered to kill her. 

The film received a lot of accolades and stylish artistic filmmaking was well received. 

11. Trinity- Matrix series


The audience gasped in amusement while watching the 'Matrix' when Trinity jumped up and the camera went sideways to capture her style while kicking a man. Trinity is introduced as a badass woman who fights for the human resistance against the machines who exploit and use them as "batteries". 

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She is seen as a pivotal member in the team led by Morpheus (Laurence Fishbourne) and a love interest of main hero Neo Keanu Reeves). But there is more to her than just being just a love interest. She jumps into action and saves Neo several times. At one point, she chose to enter the Matrix and save Neo despite knowing her life will be in danger. 

Carrie Anne Moss became a favourite heroine of the fans who enjoy watching women in action. Her Ducati stunt scene in 'Matrix Reloaded' is regarded as one of the best moments in cinema. 

12. Alice- Resident Evil series


'Resident Evil' series was not well received by the critics who constantly slammed each film for being too pretentious and boring. But 'Resident Evil' is longest-running series featuring a team of women protagonists led by charismatic Alice (Milla Jovovich). 

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Alice is different from a typical heroine in an action whose story is tied to a man. She runs her game and does what is right. The films show her in different situations but she rises out of them flawlessly.

Alice is chosen as a favourite by fans from a list of heroines who would be chosen to face a hound of supernatural beings.