Presenting: The Most Badass Feminist Action Flicks of All Damn Time

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Presenting: The Most Badass Feminist Action Flicks of All Damn Time


action movies with female leads

IMDb

Excuse me ma’am, do you love watching strong women kick ass and take names? Same, which is why I turn to feminist action movies for a healthy dose of ✨female empowerment.✨ Like a powerful feminist anthem, action movies with female leads will remind you that femininity and strength go hand in hand—and the world in which women are always relegated to the role of damsel in distress or sexy sidekick is O-V-E-R. Yes, Bond girls are hot and sometimes even have agency, but I like my action stars with a lil more dimension, mmkay?

Even the Mission Impossible movies eventually learned that it’s always better when the women get in on the action–but let’s be real, those movies will always be about Tom Cruise. I feel the same way about The Matrix. Trinity rules, but they’re about Neo. Let’s shine a light on the female action heroes who are the true stars of the show. The main characters, if you will. Whether you’re in the mood for a movie about female assassins, agents, vigilantes, villains, spies, superheroes, or anything in between, I’ve got the perfect pick for you. There are classics and newer obsessions. And while, admittedly, many of these women-led action films involve spandex ensembles and pointy high heels, they thankfully don’t ALL solely rely on all the typical female action star tropes. All I’m ever asking for is a little variety. As long as some of these protags look comfortable I’ll suspend my disbelief for less practical ‘stumes in other movies.

The best female action movies say🖕to the male gaze and misogyny, and if you’re in the mood for some badassery, then these fun, feminist flicks are for you. Plus, as a bonus, many of these movies were directed by women, too. We love to see it.

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The Agojie, a real brigade of all-women warriors of the Dahomey kingdom in Western Africa between the 1600s and 1900s, have partially inspired fictional female squadrons in pop culture including the Dora Milaje in Black Panther and the Amazons in Wonder Woman. Now we have a (fictionalized) version of the real thing directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, and it rocks.

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The first Alien is more of a horror movie, and Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley is more of a final girl than an action star, but the sequel goes full action with Ripley as the lead.

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This trippy German movie literally hits the ground running and doesn’t stop. Also… I studied this movie in a philosophy class, y’all. It’s deep! Take notes!

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4

Miss Congeniality (2000)

Sure, people remember the funny quotable lines and romantic comedy of it all… but remember the whole point of the story? She kicks major ass!

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5

Raya and the Last Dragon (2022)

How about an animated action movie? This Disney movie is extremely exciting, so check it out! It’s a gorgeous adventure about a girl who saves her kingdom and gets in some impressive fights along the way.

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This movie, in which Viola Davis recruits the ordinary wives of her husband’s criminal associates to do one job to get them out of trouble, is criminally underrated.

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7

Jupiter Ascending (2015)

This is a weird movie. Mila Kunis plays a cleaner who finds out she’s a space princess. Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth, and Tuppence Middleton play immortal (ish) space siblings. Channing Tatum plays… a dog? But if you can roll with the oddness, this wild space fairy tale is genuinely fun and full of action!

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Speaking of space operas, I know we loved Andor—but Cassian Andor was introduced to Star Wars in a film with a lady lead. Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones, may not have a lightsaber but she can 100 percent handle herself in a space fight.

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9

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

You can have an action hero with a lightsaber too, as a treat.

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Pam Grier was it in the70s. When Foxy Brown’s boyfriend is murdered by drug dealers, she’s the one who takes them down.

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After the success of The Hunger Games, Hollywood wanted more YA action movies with girls at the center. Enter movies like The Maze Runner series, Vampire Academy, and the Divergent movies–which, even though it didn’t get to the last book, is worth marathoning because it still got wild at the end.

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12

Romancing the Stone (1984)

Before The Lost City, there was this rip-roaring romantic comedy with Kathleen Turner as the shy paperback writer and Michael Douglas as the rugged wildcard adventurer.

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Starring Charlize Theron, this superhero flick tells the story of four centuries-old immortals secretly working to protect humanity, who—just when they discover another immortal—realize their secret powers have been exposed. Hey, Netflix, how about that sequel?

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What happens when a trained assassin realizes she only has 24 hours to live after being poisoned? She goes on an epic mission through the streets of Tokyo to take down her enemies, ofc.

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15

Gunpowder Milkshake (2021)

Starring Lena Headey and Karen Gillan (hi, Cersei and Nebula!), Gunpowder Milkshake follows an assassin who must team up with her estranged mother in order to take on a powerful crime syndicate.

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Even if you haven’t seen all the MCU movies yet (seriously, WYD?), it’s worth watching Black Widow just to see ScarJo team up with Florence Pugh and confront her dark pre-Avengers past.

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And while we’re on the topic of Marvel movies, let’s not forget Brie Larson’s role as a former U.S. Air Force pilot-turned-most powerful hero in the MCU (yes, I said what I said).

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Maggie Q (aka Nikita) stars in this one as Anna, who has earned a rep as the world’s most skilled contract killer after being rescued by a legendary assassin as a child. When her mentor is brutally murdered, you’d better believe Anna’s going to get revenge.

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K, full disclosure—this movie has a lot of haters. However! Critics all agree that Zoe Saldana’s performance as Cataleya—a woman who seeks revenge against a Colombian drug lord for killing her family—is *chef’s kiss.*

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Again, this one didn’t exactly get favorable reviews, but IMO watching Gina Rodriguez train to take down a Mexican drug cartel after her friend is kidnapped is a good time. You can also stream the 2011 original movie starring Stephanie Sigman.

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You didn’t think I’d include just one Charlize Theron flick, did you? Set right before the collapse of the Berlin Wall, Atomic Blonde stars Theron as an elite MI6 spy who is tasked with taking down an espionage ring in Berlin—though the mission proves more dangerous than she initially realized.

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Set in China during the last years of the Tang Dynasty, The Assassin revolves around a general’s daughter who is kidnapped and trained to become a professional killer…though things get tricky when she’s tasked with killing a man from her past.

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If you’re a fan of the Blaxploitation flicks from the ’70s, then you’re going to love Proud Mary. This one stars Taraji P. Henson as a ruthless assassin whose life is turned upside down when she encounters a 12-year-old boy she’ll do anything to protect.

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Natalie Portman is truly unrecognizable in V for Vendetta as Evey, a young woman who teams up with a masked vigilante known only as V in order to take down the fascist government lording over England.

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This action-packed flick follows a highly-trained black ops operative (Gina Carano) who must set a trap and learn the truth behind a double-cross after she’s betrayed by her employers and targeted for assassination. Fun fact: Carano performs all her own stunts in the one.

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27

Charlie’s Angels (2019)

It may not have won big at the box office, but the latest installment in the Charlie’s Angels franchise (starring the trio of Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, and Ella Balinska) is undeniably fierce and fun.

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Angelina Jolie stars in this one as the titular Evelyn Salt, a CIA operative who must go on the run in order to try and clear her name after she’s accused of being a double agent for the KGB.

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Speaking of Angelina Jolie! As much as I loved her as Lara Croft, I can also confirm that the 2018 remake starring Alicia Vikander is VERY much worth watching.

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30

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

Released nearly 30 years after Terminator 2: Judgment Day (and disregarding the events of all the terrible Terminator movies that followed), this latest installment gives Sarah Connor a starring role as she tries to stop an advanced liquid Terminator from hunting down a special young girl.

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31

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

An oldie but a goodie, this masterpiece stars Michelle Yeoh as a rebellious young warrior tasked with protected a fabled 400-year-old sword for her lover—and when it’s inevitably stolen, she has to go to great lengths to retrieve it.

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Gal Gadot as Diana, princess of the Amazons, is e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g, and that’s all I have to say about that (and yes, while the sequel, Wonder Woman 1984, isn’t *quite* as good as the original, you should still watch it.)

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While we’re on the topic of DCEU movies, can we also talk about how fabulous Margot Robbie is as Harley Quinn in this fun, female-filled Suicide Squad spin-off?

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Before it became an Amazon Prime Video series, Hanna was a movie starring Saoirse Ronan as the titular Hanna, a teen assassin tasked with killing the senior intelligence agent who is after her father, an ex-CIA operative from Germany.

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35

The Hunger Games (2012)

Obviously this list wouldn’t be complete without The Hunger Games, which stars J.Law as Katniss Everdeen, a fierce archer from a coal-mining district who volunteers to take her little sister’s place in a deadly competition.

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36

Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)

Another great female-led franchise: Kill Bill, which stars Uma Thurman as The Bride, a former assassin who—after waking from a four-year coma—is out for blood.

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Set in 1911 during Japan’s rule over Korea, this epic espionage flick follows a group of Korean resistance fighters (all led by a badass woman) as they attempt to assassinate a high-ranking Japanese officer.

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What happens when one woman finds herself and her two kids held captive while visiting her late father’s remote country home? She taps into her inner badass, obv. Gabrielle Union is brilliant in this role.

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39

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Sure, Tom Hardy plays the titular Max Rockatansky, but everyone knows the true star of this movie is Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), the ferocious war captain who turns against Immortan Joe in order to free his captive concubines.

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Last but not least: Wanted, which stars Angelina Jolie as a member of a secret assassin society who takes a meek young man under her wing as her mentee. What’s not to love?

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