Being a longtime fan of action movies and the son and brother of exclusively strong-willed, badass women, I’ve developed an appreciation for those qualities in women on the screen.  Particularly those who face nigh-insurmountable odds, and no matter the cost to their mental or physical health, push forward with a singular goal:  to kick all asses.  This probably also explains why I am into ladies with dude haircuts who can beat me up but are submissive in bed, buuuut I don’t suppose that’s really all that relevant to this article.  Forget I mentioned it.

Anyway, I’m not talking about the fetishistic portrayal of women by Tarantino, Rodriguez, and all the subsequently-spawned copycat directors (although Beatrix Kiddo gets a pass here, because I love Uma and that character was undeniably badass); I’m talking rough-and-tumble women, with guts of steel and a ‘tude that makes you forget that Hollywood would normally want you to idolize them as sex objects.  Women who, in the old west, probably would have hitched up with Wyatt Earp and choked those dudes in the Tombstone Cowboy Gang with their Nancy-boy sashes.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, I present you with my favorite five action movie ladies, in no particular order:


1. E. Johnson – Cherry 2000

The post-apocalypse's answer to mace.

Cherry 2000 was one of the higher-profile post-apocalyptic/dystopian future films that cropped up in the late 80s, but it still featured many of the hallmarks of the goofier representatives of the genre:  mixed acting(though certainly better than most), silly dialogue, resource issues that are only flippantly addressed, all wrapped around a ridiculous, but entertaining premise.  Melanie Griffith dead-pans her way through the script as Edith “E” Johnson – a female tracker-for-hire and expert on the wastelands who is handy with a gun and behind the wheel of her 1965 Ford Mustang, which has all sorts of ridiculous buttons that do who-knows-what.  However, she inexplicably gets all weak-in-the-knees for her newest client, Sam Treadwell (David Andrews) – a simpering fool of a man who will do anything to get a new chassis for his former wife-bot that he shorted out because he wanted to have some sexy boning in dirty sink water.  Unfortunately for him, they don’t make that model anymore, so he has to take her personality chip, which contains all of her memories, out to the wastelands where an old forgotten warehouse still has one in stock.

Why E gives a damn about this pathetic space-age Ryan Gosling, I don’t know, but she certainly doesn’t pander to him.  Maybe it’s the fact that the only men out on the fringe are dudes like Brion James who, if you’ve ever watched in any other film, always plays an asshole.

And never closed his mouth.

In the movie, E does insane shit that nobody would ever think was a good idea, like attach a car to a giant crane to swing it towards a hole in a dam, knowing that all the while there will be dudes shooting rockets at her.  But she doesn’t give a fuck because she knows something they don’t:  they are all idiots.  Seriously, they fortify this whole dam, arm every single guy to the teeth, and every single time this woman drives her mustang up and attaches it to this crane, she kills them all and then drives down a hole and right up to their main enemy(and her friend, mentor and father figure), Six-Finger Jake.

In the remainder of the movie, she proves her ability to bone, fix old planes, kill all of the guys, and, bafflingly, her willingness to sacrifice herself for Sam so he can live and take his robot lover because all three of them are too heavy for the plane and because he is the only thing she actually gives a fuck about in this world, now.  The heart is an idiot machine, and so is Sam’s robot, and it takes him hearing it speak again after spending so much time with E. Johnson to realize that.

E. Johnson does not give a fuck about: Killing dudes, driving cautiously, or sacrificing herself for a dude she loves.

E. Johnson does give a fuck about: Known moron Sam Treadwell.


2. Melina – Total Recall

The 80s were a time for perms and bra straps

Melina (Rachel Ticotin) is the sleazy/demure/athletic woman of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s dreams in Total Recall, a Paul Verhoeven-directed screen adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. In the movie, Schwarzenegger’s character Douglas Quaid plays a regular (if excessively buff) construction worker who has recurring dreams about living on Mars and getting exploded with a very handsome woman when they both fall down and smash their evidently fragile spacesuits.  He soon goes to a company that offers to implant memories to sate his ever-growing desire to vacation to Mars and finds himself actually going to Mars through a series of mishaps that occur after he wakes in the middle of the procedure as someone else, entirely.  Once on Mars, Quaid finds himself rooting out clues to his apparent missing identity, one of which leads him to Melina.

Melina is initially introduced as a prostitute working at a brothel that turns out to be a front for an underground revolution seeking to free Mars from the control of a ruthless villain, and an erstwhile, once-bitten-twice-murderously-angry lover of Quaid’s.  He must work to regain her trust, which she is hesitant to confer again, if he is to have any hope of meeting with Kuato, the psychic, sentient abdominal tumor and leader of the revolution – and not to mention one of the creepiest characters in all of science fiction (SERIOUSLY.  It’s like Louis Anderson burst out of this dude’s chest and then was involved in a horrible fire.).


Melina, surprisingly not debilitated by her experiences with Kuato, proves to be remarkably resilient and resourceful, good with guns, and (because Paul Verhoeven is never one to exclude a good catfight) an expert in the field of kicking Sharon Stone’s ass without career-ruining one-liners. She even gets flung out into the near-vacuum of Mars, nearly explodes, and in defiance of physics survives the ordeal.

Puffy. Demure.

In the land of triple-breasted women and dudes with their brains on the outside, she who has those skills is queen.

Melina does not give a fuck about: Killing, Dennis or Randy Quaid, the fact that Kuato is terrifying, physics.

Melina does give a fuck about: Douglas Quaid, mutant liberation, and for some reason, Kuato.


3. Kidda – The Blood of Heroes

Appearances are deceiving; this woman does not give a fuck.

Ah, The Blood of Heroes. Ever since seeing this, it has been one of my favorite movies, definitely up there in my top 5 when it comes to post apocalypse films.  And Kidda, played by Joan Chen, is most definitely one of my favorite female characters in an action movie.  Initially a poor stick farmer, Kidda dreams only of playing The Game – a sport around which this entire world seems to revolve – professionally.  You can imagine it as a macabre cross between football and gladiators.  Each team consists of five players, as listed on the Wikipedia page for the sport, which I just found out is actually played by nerds in real life:

A team is composed of the following:

  • One qwik (sometimes spelled “quick”[2]): An unarmed player, and the only one allowed to touch the skull
  • One chain: A player armed with a chain
  • Three enforcers (German: Fighter[3], German term: Pompfer): Armed with their choice of weapons (except chain). May handle the skull with their weapons

Kidda, through a lucky break, gets subbed-in for her team’s quik, and snaps a dude’s ankle with her bare hands. After fully disabling him, she is downed by the other team, who finally wins, but at the permanent cost of their quik, who cannot continue with the team.  Seeing their dilemma, they invite the relentless Kidda to join the team and begin her training.  This opening sequence begins their journey, which ultimately leads to them playing in the league.

Throughout this movie, never once do you get the sense that the characters give a shit that she is a woman.  Sallow (Rutger Hauer!) is initially immensely skeptical of her, having only recruited her out of necessity, but that skepticism is firmly rooted in the fact that they are dealing with an inexperienced rookie.   Kidda quickly proves herself, however, by being fucking crazy.

When a match starts, she just goes ape-shit, fuck-your-face insane, as though her opponent is a bag of candy that she has to open by any means necessary.  Or else she’ll die.

In a fit of unchecked not-giving-a-fuck, Kidda straight bites a dude's ear off.

I’m sayin’, Kidda is terrifying. If I ever meet Joan Chen in real life, I am going to run. That is the only smart thing to do.  But as a female character in a movie?  She is incredible.  She is treated fairly, and without any apparent gender preference — just another person living in a world that has lost its shit.

Kidda does not give a fuck about: Anything but The Game.

Kidda does give a fuck about: The Game.


4. Beatrix Kiddo – Kill Bill 1&2

If looks could kill, Beatrix would not give a fuck.

In one moment, Beatrix Kiddo (Uma Thurman) was lying unconscious and left for dead with a bullet in her skull after watching her entire wedding party slaughtered by the man she idolized and loved, and in another, awake in a hospital 4 years later, flooded with the realization that, as far as she knew, her unborn child was dead.  That is an immense heap to take in, all at once, and if it happened to you or me, the first order of business would be to cry like a little bitch.  Turns out, that was exactly her reaction.  In this, Beatrix was exactly like the rest of us.  And that is as far as the similarity goes.

You see, within the next 10 minutes, she also pretended to sleep while a male nurse brought a man in to rape her in exchange for money – same as he’d done countless times over the course of her stay – then she murdered the would-be rapist with her mouth. Just ate the bottom of his face off until he bled to death.  And next, paralyzed temporarily from the waist down, she laid in wait for her former pimp, surgical scalpel in hand, sliced his achilles tendon, and killed him with a door.

This ain’t no triflin’ woman.

Over the course of the two Kill Bill films, Quentin Tarantino chronicled with no irony, no sensuality, and not even so much as a wink, the bloody story of her vengeance.  Armed with a sword and a heart that no longer beat for her fellow man, Beatrix sought only to bring to justice every single person involved in the theft of what was to be her life.  It was as much a lovingly-crafted homage to every samurai film and western Tarantino had ever loved as it was the story of a woman who could stand up, on her own, and fight for what was hers, all who would stand against her be-damned.

The first of her vengeful killings was a woman who had since left their assassins’ trade to start a family of her own.  Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) opens her door to find the woman she thought she would never see again glaring murder at her, and when her young daughter comes home from school, she begs Beatrix for mercy, but Beatrix don’t give a fuck.  Beatrix here to kill.  Everyone.  Always.  Until Bill everyone who walked out of the church that day alive is no more.

And oh, they try to keep her at bay(Spoilers, if you care, ensue).  O-Ren Ishii sends wave after wave of samurai sword-wielding gangsters, numbering in the double digits, to stop her.  She don’t give a fuck; they die.  Bill’s brother Budd shoots her with rock salt and buries her alive.  She don’t give a fuck; she burrows out of the earth.  Elle Driver attacks her with her own sword.  Don’t matter; she takes her eye out and leaves her blinded for life.  Finally, Bill taunts her with her own child, tries to kill her while she’s sitting down, and he might as well have been playing footsie with a beehive.  She pokes him, slaps him, and his heart explodes.  No love lost there.

Beatrix Kiddo does not give a fuck about: Being buried alive, getting attacked by any number of Japanese men with swords, killing baby-mamas.

Beatrix Kiddo does give a fuck about: Revenge.  And her daughter, when she figures that whole thing out.


5. Sarah Connor – Terminators 1&2

This woman is scary.

This is not a ranked list, but if it were, Sarah Connor would be number 1.  Because here’s the deal:  while the other women listed here are dealing with protecting their pink and soft boyfriends, fighting to get better rights for their mutant friends, trying to fulfill their dreams of full-contact murdery sports and seeking vengeance for their dead husbands, friends and babies, Sarah Connor is tasked with the salvation of humanity. She goes from being a waitress in the suburbs of LA to being hunted by a 6-foot-tall cyborg from the future, her only protection a rather smallish soldier her future son (who, by the way, is also the soldier’s son) sent back in time as their last, best hope.  She finds out that she has 13 years to train her unborn son not only how to tie his shoes, talk, read, piss in a toilet, and practice good personal hygeine, but she also must prepare him to lead the pitiful remnant of human society against their future robot conquerors.  And by the way, she has probably never even held a gun or managed a team of three people at this point in her life.  And she has to do all of this off the grid so nobody gets suspicious and takes her son away.

Yeah, she has to train her son to kill these things.

Considering the circumstances, I’d say she took all of this news rather well.  She doesn’t bitch and moan or find a protector to replace the one she lost.  She realizes now that trust is a commodity best kept close, and that the only person in the entire world she can trust, besides her son, is number 1.  Flash forward 12 years to her first appearance in Terminator 2, and we see her a changed woman.  Gone are her superfluous highlights, her poofy, well-maintained hair.  She has turned her bed on its end so she can do pull-ups.  Her hair is damp and greasy, clinging to her face, and she is covered in sweat.  And she is in a mental institution, desperate to escape and return to her son’s side, so that he will once more be safe, out of public view.  Safe from the machines.  Over the course of this movie, we witness her escape from the institution – with the surprise help from one of the very machines designed to destroy her son now reprogrammed to assist him – we watch her lead the group to her friends who just so happen to have a huge cache of devastating weaponry, and attempt to murder the man chiefly responsible for the breakthroughs in computing that thereafter spawned the horrible intelligence that would end life as we know it on earth, right in front of his child and wife.  She shows no remorse when it’s revealed that his intentions were pure and right.  She is methodical and efficient when they go to destroy everything that was achieved in the pursuit of developing Skynet – the computer that would have begun the assault on humanity – and she is fearless in the face of certain doom as she fights a new Terminator made of liquid metal that can assume the image of any person it comes in contact with and cannot be even remotely injured with conventional weaponry.

Sarah Connor would make all of the other women on this list cry by glancing at them.

Sarah Connor does not give a fuck about: Her own life or anything really.

Sarah Connor does give a fuck about: Saving the entire world.

  •  Why is Cherry 2000 one of my favorite movies ever?

  • Nice list.  I like The Salute of the Jugger a lot too.