Lionsgate via Everett Collection
If the trailer for Scarlett Johansson's upcoming action film Lucy is any indication, her character is going to kick some serious butt. The director of Lucy, Luc Besson, is known for his high-octane action flicks, and is shifting gears by handing the leading role in this picture to a woman. Men have traditionally played the action hero in Hollywood films, but every now and then, a woman will come along to show them how it's done. Below are 10 of the most dangerous female action heroes that you must watch before Lucy hits theaters in August.
1. Hit Girl
Mindy Macready may be a sweet, innocent child, but her superhero alter-ego Hit Girl is a force to be reckoned with. Chloë Moretz owns the screen as the foul-mouthed fighter who can take on any grown man in Kick-Ass and Kick-Ass 2, two of the most innovative superhero movies of the 21st century. Below is a clip that demonstrates why Hit Girl is a champion.
2. Beatrix Kiddo
Quentin Tarantino's epic revenge fantasy Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Kill Bill Vol. 2 features arguably the most heroic, empowering action hero ever put on screen. Uma Thurman is Beatrix Kiddo, a.k.a. The Bride (a.k.a. Black Mamba), and her purpose is to kill the men and women who tried to murder her on her wedding day. Every fight scene is epic, but the clip below is especially awesome.
3. Yu Shu Lien and Jen Yu
Ang Lee's masterful Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is noteworthy for having two women who can match any male soldier. Michelle Yeoh is Yu Shu Lien and Ziyi Zhang is Jen Yu, and in the scene below, both women go toe-to-toe in an attempt to assert their authority. I won't spoil the ending for those who haven't seen the film, but in this clip, the fight ends in a draw, so it's only fair to include both of them.
In Joe Wright's techno-pulp action film Hanna, Saoirse Ronan plays Hanna, a 15-year-old assassin who is being tracked down by a government agency. As the film progresses, we see how tough and lethal Hanna actually is. Below is a user-generated montage of the film that provides a glimpse of Hanna's dangerous grip.
5. Ryan Stone
If you're one of the few people in the world who hasn't seen Gravity, you owe it to yourself to marvel at Sandra Bullock's heroic performance as Ryan Stone, an astronaut who is lost in space and uses her strength to find her way back home. The clip below is one of the more moving scenes from the film that highlights Ryan's courage.
6. Clarice Starling
Long before the television series Hannibal, we had Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs, which introduced the world to Clarice Starling, a feminist action hero if ever there was one. Jodie Foster won her second Oscar for her performance as Clarice, a strong FBI agent who overcomes sexism in the agency to track down a serial killer. The scene below shows the lengths Clarice will go to save the day, as she has a conversation with the creepy Hannibal Lecter.
7. Princess Merida
In Pixar's Brave, Princess Merida challenges conventions by playing archery and doing all sorts of activities "respectable" women aren't allowed to do. Brave is a wonderful movie that should inspire young girls to follow their dreams despite the obstacles that are in their way.
8. Mallory Kane
We don't know much about Mallory Kane in Haywire, but we do know that she's a fighter. Gina Carano emerges as the next Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme with her forceful star presence, proving that women can be iconic action stars as well. Below is one of the best scenes from the movie.
9. Sidney Prescott
Aside from being one of the best horror series in cinema history, Wes Craven's Scream franchise deserves credit for creating Sidney Prescott. Neve Campbell revises the "scream queen" trope with her performance as Sidney, a tough, no-nonsense teenager who refuses to be a victim. Unlike other slasher films with women at the center, Scream portrays its female protagonist as smart and sophisticated. Below is a clip that shows why Sidney is a unique, unprecedented female character in the slasher genre.
10. Foxy Brown
Pam Grier shines in this blaxploitation classic as Foxy Brown, a tough black woman who gets revenge on the mobsters who murdered her boyfriend. The blaxploitation films of the 1970s turned Grier into a star and sex symbol, and they inspired Quentin Tarantino to cast Grier in Jackie Brown, a modern revision of the genre. Below is a clip that shows why Foxy Brown is the coolest female action hero on this list.
In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.