For this week’s The Hunger Games, Jennifer Lawrence not only transformed herself mentally to play a teenaged survivalist but also physically, in order to accurately portray the masterful hunter and archer that Katniss Everdeen has become. It’s something of a tribute to female roles that are genuinely kickass, physically demanding and heroic, not faux-empowering, exploitative or merely tough-looking. Here are other movies with such qualities from their leading ladies.
Before Michelle Rodriguez became a big star (and a bit of a troublemaker), she broke out in this little indie. With virtually no budget and thus scant room for stunt doubles and nifty effects, Rodriguez was forced to become a real female boxer, and the result was a very credible performance – and countless Best Newcomer-type awards.
Another boxing movie, another actress who went the extra mile to authenticate her performance and character. Hilary Swank’s training was “two and a half hours of boxing and approximately an hour and a half to two hours lifting weights every day, six days a week.” It showed – and paid off: She won a Best Actress Oscar for the second time in her career.
Though Demi Moore’s performance wasn’t exactly Oscar-worthy (it was Razzie-worthy, though: She won Worst Actress in 1997), there’s no denying that her portrayal of the first woman to undergo Navy SEAL training was physically demanding – and that Moore met those demands head-on. And, uh, hair-off!
Uma Thurman was put through the ringer – mentally, emotionally AND physically (how she was not nominated for an Oscar is beyond us) – in Quentin Tarantino’s two-“volume” martial arts/revenge opus, and while Tarantino and master choreographer Yuen Woo-ping deserve a lot of credit for the memorable fight sequences, Thurman was at the center of them all. Which is impressive even if her stunt double was heavily involved.
While we’re on the subject of Tarantino and his borderline fetishism of female empowerment, we must mention Death Proof – in which real-life stuntwoman Zoe Bell plays a stuntwoman on the run (along with Rosario Dawson and Tracie Thoms) from Kurt Russell’s deranged Stuntman Mike. And she, naturally, performs her own stunts, including riding on the hood of a car at breakneck speeds, sans CGI. If that wasn’t physically demanding, then what is?
So … yeah, we cheated a bit. But how could we not include a TV show – really the only one of its kind, save perhaps for series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the original Bionic Woman and Charlie’s Angels, to a much lesser degree – that features a female lead (Jennifer Garner) performing crazy action sequences on a weekly basis? Well, we couldn’t!
Be it the original trilogy adaptation, featuring Noomi Rapace, or David Fincher’s recent Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, starring Rooney Mara, playing antiheroine Lisbeth Salander is clearly not for the dainty actresses out there – or any actresses afraid of physicality, whether it’s uglifying one’s appearance drastically or filming sexually abusive scenes.
Even if Linda Hamilton didn’t perform all her stunts in the first two Terminator movies – and it’s safe to assume that she didn’t – it is abundantly clear that she put in a ton of time at the gym to not only be ready for said stuntwork, if necessary, but also create a ripped Sarah Connor who doesn’t look silly handling various guns.
Multiple Angelina Jolie Movies
These days, Jolie looks a little, er, fragile to pass as a believable ass-kicking action heroine, but in all of her action movies (including the Tomb Raiders, Wanted, Salt and even Mr. and Mrs. Smith), Jolie has insisted on doing as many of her own stunts as possible. Which for insurance reasons might not translate to that many, but stil, she’s clearly game for physically demanding roles.