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Women-Led Action Films That Totally Kick Ass

By David Young · September 26, 2022

Women-Led Action Films That Totally Kick Ass_feature

Why should guys have all the fun? The best action films boast some of the highest-grossing titles at the box office, but historically, women have often taken a back seat to the best parts of the genre — like the saving and the fighting and the jumping through plate glass windows to dodge fiery explosions.

Being a damsel in distress is boring now. Being an action hero is where it’s at! When danger lurks around every corner — when the timebomb ticks down to its final seconds, women in cinema are there to jump in and save the day with their strength, skill, and prowess. Let’s take a look at some female-led action films that deliver the thrills in a big way.

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Kill Bill: Vol. 1

If you think about women-led action, the first thing you’ll remember is Kill Bill. For anyone uninitiated, though, the movie is about a woman’s pursuit of vengeance for a cold-blooded attack that destroyed her life and landed her in a coma. You can’t blame her for wanting some payback — but the brutality and precision that the Bride (Uma Thurman) uses in her devised plan for revenge is captured beautifully as an homage to all dangerous people that shouldn’t be crossed.

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Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is the iconic badass of horror and Hollywood — and while much of Alien is steeped in terror and suspense, there’s still some high-octane action in Ripley’s story — especially when it’s just her and a terrifying alien creature in a clamor to the death. This story does a great job of making Ripley’s coolness in the face of danger a core feature of this action-horror classic’s main conflict. Her resilience is the calling card that makes her a compelling hero in an onslaught of horror — an engineer and authority who rises to the occasion with astounding aplomb.

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Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Action is a huge tenet of every kung fu film, and of course, that includes the epic tale encased in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. This film contains amazing battles and badass fighters like Jen (Zhang Ziyi) and the main character Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh) — whose central role in the story has everything to do with fighting skills. The story relies not only on tools of combat — namely an ancient sword — but the secrets of a combat style seemingly lost to time itself. 

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The Hunger Games

This speculative fantasy about a dystopian version of the U.S. follows the premise of a life-or-death game — and one girl’s decision to enter the game of her own free will. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) takes the place of her sister in the Hunger Games, where she and her survival skills make her a force to be reckoned with against trained killers from other parts of the dystopian nation. The script’s ability to capture motive and drive — as well as the intricacies of the world of Panem — make it just as visual as it is compelling. That capability also showcases how dangerous the world of Panem happens to be, with Katniss navigating such dangers as well as political ones.

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This crime thriller takes action into its own hands with four indebted women rising to the occasion when they’re saddled with the criminal legacy of their late spouses. The stakes are clearly high from the get-go, and the heist that sits at the center of the plot acts as a catalyst for each of them to take a step deeper into the action. There’s a suddenness regarding their lives’ upheaval into a world of violence, car chases, and betrayal — and that suddenness showcases the adaptability of the widows that now have taken up this mantle. 

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Mr. and Mrs. Smith

What happens when two trained assassins find love? Well, obviously, they don’t spill the beans. They stay undercover until it’s too damn late. That’s what happens in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, as both characters (Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt) discover they’ve been assigned by rival agencies to eliminate each other. The script focuses on mounting tension — the kind you expect between spies, as well as the kind you expect between lovers. They discover more about themselves, their love for each other, and the stakes of their decisions all through a moving and monumental showdown that culminates in an unexpected alliance. One of the major things that this story proves is how sexy danger really is — and for the Smiths, it happens to be a “10 out of 10.”

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Speaking of assassins, Hanna has been trained from an early age to do exactly that. Her father has put her on the fast track, with a mission in mind; but when plans change, Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) has to circumnavigate the CIA and in the end, discover she isn’t who she thought she was. The story might cover a lot of points and topics, but the skill and predisposition Hanna has to this life is something that stays central to the narrative until the very end.

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Wonder Woman

Superheroes always bring the action necessary to power a high-octane film, and Wonder Woman is one such hero. The eponymous film showcases her prowess and abilities in a legendary conflict: World War I. This clash of worlds works to identify real conflicts with superhuman elements, giving a great reason for us to see what Diana Prince, Wonder Woman herself is capable of. There’s enough here to even build out the godhood from which Diana (Gal Gadot) hails, and the action that takes place speaks to more than just her strong abilities and godly heritage: it speaks to her protective and compassionate nature, a major key to how she resolves conflict in this movie and elsewhere in the fandom.

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Charlie’s Angels

Films like Charlie’s Angels are remembered as a regular staple in the action genre, with three women taking matters into their own hands time and again using skills, gadgets, and everything else in their arsenal to put criminals in their place. As these “Angels” solve crimes with uncanny badassery, this film’s high stakes bring them a high-octane adventure you can’t help but enjoy as a time capsule.

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Kill Bill: Vol. 2

That chilling whistle can only mean one thing: The Bride is back. Of course, she’s an assassin bent on finishing a job — a hit list of her own, in fact. The protagonist of Kill Bill (Uma Thurman) finds that Bill, her prime target, is laying low in Mexico. As she gets the scent, she relentlessly makes new attempts to end the man who ruined her wedding day. Of course, Quentin Tarantino’s script once again showcases his reverence for a steely resolve. It brings new light to the age-old adage, “Hell hath no fury like a woman you’ve tried and failed to kill.”

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Skill and know-how go hand-in-hand with action. High-octane films cover a lot of that by introducing danger — and showing how a character creates or negates that danger. The women of these films use their skills and knowledge to face down the deadly forces in their way.

Covering all of those bases and writing action that sizzles can be a huge challenge. However, reading these scripts will help you learn how to turn these situations on their heads with a measure of prowess. And if you need a little more guidance, learn some screenwriting tips from action movie writer Shane Black.

Read More: Hasta La Vista, Baby: The Best 90s Action Movies

Scripts from this Article