Could Hollywood Finally Be Ready To See Female Action Heroes Go Mainstream?
There’s been ample talk about diversity in Hollywood lately. But progress aside, one particular area of the movie business remains stubbornly unchanged: action films. Even while, according to the Motion Picture Association of America, women make up a majority of moviegoers, action stars are still mostly macho, muscular and overwhelmingly male.
And while last year saw genres like comedy, drama and horror record strong numbers of female-led films, according to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, all but seven per cent of action leads were male.
But that could be about to change. In fact, this year has already seen a spate of action heroines: Captain Marvel smashed the record for the highest grossing worldwide opening for a solo superhero movie when it premiered in March and Alita: Battle Angel also enjoyed great success at the global box office.
And at risk of reading too far into Lashana Lynch and Natalie Portman’s promotions in the Bond and Thor franchises, it would seem that film studios are waking up to the fact female-driven action films do make money. Who knew?
Time will tell whether the genre’s commitment to green-lighting more badass women is genuine. But as increasing numbers of female directors and screen- writers move into the space (rumour has it Daniel Craig requested Killing Eve writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge be brought in to rework the Bond 25 script) it’s only natural that more women will land lead roles.
Elizabeth Banks, who’s directing and acting in the upcoming Charlie’s Angels spinoff – starring Kristen Stewart and GQ favourite Chris Pang – is another pioneering voice within the genre’s female frontier. As is Deborah Chow, who will become the first woman to direct a Star Wars franchise when The Mandalorian premieres on Disney+ this spring.
In anticipation of the box-office bangers to come, we look back at 10 of the most iconic female-led action films to trail blaze their way through the last decade.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
In addition to casting Michelle Yeoh in the lead as a young Chinese warrior, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon received the most Oscar nominations for a non-English language film ever. This record wasn’t trumped for 18 years, until Roma came along, a testament to just how far ahead of its time the film was.
Charlie's Angels & Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (2000 & 2003)
Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu ushered the iconic ’70s TV series into the new millennium with finesse. The films grossed over $770m globally.
Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2 (2003 & 2004)
The Uma Thurman-led film series set the precedent for female assassins on screen going into the 21st century. Which is astounding, given what we now know about Kill Bill’s disgraced producer. Nevertheless, The Bride and her yellow tracksuit will go down in history as one of cinema’s fiercest female characters.
Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005)
It will be remembered as the film that brought Brangellina together - and the source of a spike in mid-2000’s child adoption rates. She may have had to share the screen with Pitt, but we all know that Jolie was the real star here.
It’s no surprise that Angelina Jolie makes this list multiple times. Her no nonsense, down-the-line delivery (and mind-blowing stunts) saw her stun in the Oscar-nominated spy thriller.
The Hunger Games (2011-2015)
Four epics in four years - the Jennifer Lawrence-led book-to-film-franchise adaptation has grossed over $4bn globally, with a prequel said to be in the works.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Zoë Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Australia’s own Abbey Lee Kershaw joined Charlize Theron for this sequel which bagged not one but six Oscars that year.
Star Wars (2015-2017)
The sci-fi canon has long placed women front and centre. Felicity Jones, Daisy Ridley and Lupita Nyong’o are among actresses whose careers skyrocketed off the back of The Force Awakens (2015) Rogue One (2016) and The Last Jedi 2017).
Wonder Woman (2017)
After returning to the Fast & Furious franchise as a supporting role for years, Gal Gadot cemented her place in action-hero lore with this box office-blaster. It would take two years for its highest-grossing female-led superhero film record to be broken by Captain Marvel.
Captain Marvel (2019)
Name a record, Captain Marvel’s broken it. The MCU’s first female-fronted superhero flick exceeded all expectations, with Brie Larson’s portrayal of Carol Danvers proving superheroines do sell.
Charlie’s Angels will premiere November 14.