The action hero genre is the stuff male fantasies are made of; skilled brute force, rewarded heroism and loads of damsels in distress. Suddenly the ungrateful damsels decided to stand up and save the clichéd male heroes. Females showed they could be self-reliant, kick butt and look good doing it. Whatever did they need men for?

The female action hero was an emasculating nightmare some men needed time to swallow. The tide slowly turned negating the abnormality of females as film action heroes and rewarding audiences with some of the most iconic and unique action heroines of all time. These ladies broke beyond female empowerment and into the realm of action hero legends.

10. Aeon Flux
Played by Charlize Theron in Aeon Flux (2005)

For the film version, this scantily clad double agent from the future opts for more conservative attire. Gone are the criss-crossed strips of leather she donned in the original 1991 MTV animated series and more functional, full-length spandex suites are introduced for the film. Even though there is far less skin showing, Charlize Theron does no less justice to this agile, acrobatic heroine. Flux is one of the most beguiling, imaginative and limber female heroines to date. She expertly maneuvers through death-defying mazes like no other. Plus, the love-hate relationship with Trevor Goodchild creates an added spark to an already tantalizing heroine.

 

9. Selene
Played by Kate Beckinsale in Underworld (2003)

Selene is a latex and leather clad, death-dealing vampire whose hobbies include exterminating lycan and expertly flipping off of high ledges. This vamp goddess, with luminescent ice blue eyes and perfectly pale skin, has an inquisitive nature which gets her into several high-stakes situations her adroit warrior skills always get her out of. Her enemies can suck on that.

 

8. Alice
Played by Milla Jovovich in Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)

This heroine was born of a video game and became an immediate fan favorite spawning several sequels. A genetically enhanced victim of the Umbrella Corporation, Alice wakes to finds Raccoon City populated by flesh-eating zombies and flashbacks of what has come to pass. Alice’s tenacious pursuit of killing zombies, while unmasking the evil corporation pulling the puppet strings, is a testament to her mass appeal. Besides, who else could make hospital gowns, head stitches and a wrecked, choppy, half-shaven head of hair look so good?

 

7. Nikita
Played by Anne Parillaud in La Femme Nikita (1990)

The appeal of Nikita as an epic action heroine isn’t simply because she’s a law-breaking tough-girl turned stealth, government killing machine. The real appeal lies in her romantic hopefulness and emotional vulnerability. Although riddled with emotional turmoil, she still holds out for a sense of normalcy. La Femme Nikita inspired a plethora of creative projects in its wake, including a remake for U.S. audiences starring Bridget Fonda, Alias, the TV hit starring Jennifer Garner, and two TV series named after the original film.

 

6. Ellen Ripley
Played by Sigourney Weaver in Aliens (1986)

Before Will Smith came along in Independence Day, Ellen Ripley had become a pro at battling disagreeable aliens. In this sequel to Alien, Ripley masters the art of flame throwers, automatic weapons and destroying slimy aliens. Meanwhile, she maintains her motherly instincts in the course of her career shift from astronaut to alien assassin. Ripley proves that being tender, intelligent and tough are not mutually exclusive attributes.

 

5. The Bride
Played by Uma Thurman in Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003)

The Bride, betrayed by her former lover Bill and her assassin squad, wakes from a coma and goes on a revenge-fueled killing spree. In one savage battle after the next, The Bride embodies William Congreve’s immortal words that “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned / Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.” One might wonder if the uniform for a woman scorned is a bumble bee inspired ensemble.

 

4. “Lady Kung Fu” (Kao Yu Ying)
Played by Angela Mao in Hapkido (1972)

Angela Mao is one of the notable martial arts stars of the 1970’s.  She played Bruce Lee’s sister in Enter the Dragon and had a break out role in the 1972 film Hapkido. In one epic fight scene Kao Yu Ying (a.k.a. Lady Kung Fu) gives a monumental beating to a man using her braid. It makes Lara Croft seem like an underachiever for her limp ignorance of braid fighting technique. Mao’s short but extremely iconic career as an action heroine created the mold for roles such as, Jen Yu and Yu Shu Lien in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and O-Ren Ishii from Kill Bill Volume 2.

 

3. Yu Shu Lien
Played by Michelle Yeoh in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Angela Mao may have been a female pioneer in martial arts action films but Michelle Yeoh perfected the art. A Chinese Opera star who reached great acclaim, Michelle Yeoh, as Yu Shu Lien in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, displays such beautifully graceful movement and rich fighting technique that one could watch her without realizing the passage of time. Her fighting skills are as mesmerizing as her acting chops and Yeoh is as believable in the action scenes as she is in the film’s love story. In Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Michelle Yeoh reigns supreme.

 

2. Lara Croft
Played by Angelina Jolie in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)

Setting aside her ignorance in utilizing her own enviously long braid as a functional weapon, Lara Croft, a buxom video game character brought to life, manages to give the James Bond monopoly a run for its money. As much as Croft is a rebellious and adventurous weapons diva, she also maintains a modicum of manners and decorum. Lara Croft melds Indiana Jones and James Bond into a deliriously good-looking female package who can outmaneuver most of her male counterparts while making them drool.

 

1. Sarah Connor
Played by Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2 (1991)

Sarah Connor finally comes into her own in Terminator 2 as a true action heroine. Out of the guise of a meek waitress in Terminator emerges one of the most iconic and groundbreaking female action heroes of the early 90’s. She is absolutely stunning in all her lithe, muscular, no-nonsense, rifle-wielding glory. At the time, it wasn’t exactly the norm to see women with such distinct muscle tone and an unwavering sense of cool, but Connor owned it and made it credible. In the immortal words of Sarah Connor, “The unknown future rolls towards us. [We] face it for the first time with a sense of hope.” A sense of hope because the modern American action heroine is born!

 

As with any list, there are usually some honorable mentions which narrowly miss a top slot. One of several action heroine nods goes to Solara, played by Mila Kunis, in 2010’s The Book of Eli. Solara transforms from a victimized girl into a woman who fearlessly escapes her kidnappers. She pursues a cause greater than her own existence, all while expertly shooting semi-automatic weapons. Solara goes on to carry the legacy left behind.

Mathilda, played by a precocious 12-year-old Natalie Portman in The Professional (1994), is a survivor who knows how to stand her ground against a slew of bad guys. After losing her parents, the hitman Léon takes the young girl in and inadvertently shows her the killing ropes while she teaches him how to love in return. Mathilda courageously stands up to Gary Oldman’s expertly played, lunatic, drug addicted, dirty DEA agent. She may be scared but like a true action heroine she never backs down.

Storm, played by Halle Berry in the X-Men series of films, is a silver-haired, superhero vixen with the power to control the weather. She is a team player who tirelessly works to save and support her fellow mutants and humans alike.

O-Ren Ishii, played by Lucy Liu in Kill Bill: Volume 2 (2004), was a strong contender for the top ten because any woman with the merciless audacity to cut someone’s head off for taking a verbal swipe at her heritage makes a notable action heroine.

Jen Yu (Ziyi Zhang) in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) illustrates throughout the course of this martial arts ballet how someone so delicate and diminutive can be just as ruthless and skilled as any male action hero.

Saving the best runner up for last is Foxy Brown played by Pam Grier. In all her fabulous afroed glory, Brown takes the Blaxploitation genre and makes it into a kitschy vehicle for female empowerment in Foxy Brown (1974). The exaggerated whimsy inherent in this vigilante film makes it no less entertaining. Foxy Brown creates the opportunity for a strong woman to take control no matter the farcical lines she delivers to the delight of her cult audience.