Lilian Min
May 23, 2015 9:00 am

The reviews for Mad Max: Fury Road have been enthusiastic, and for good reason. Though on the surface, the reboot of George Miller’s classic Australian action franchise seems like another testosterone-surging fist pump, it cleverly masks a much more interesting tale — that of a woman fighting to rescue a troupe of enslaved would-be women turned brood mares, and with them, revolutionize a tyrannical social order. It’s a film that features a woman in charge (Charlize Theron’s inspiringly named Imperator Furiosa), breathtaking action sequences, and ah yes, some dude named Max too.

Before the film even opened in theaters, it raised the ire of some people, who claimed they’d been duped into buying into a lady-oriented film when they were expecting a macho, “man’s man” film instead. But in our opinion,  the fact that Fury Road is a bold-faced ode to fighting females is really nothing but good news, and a direct challenge to all those films that throw immaculately groomed women in the thick of the action, only to run in heels and be saved by men. To that, Furiosa and her oil-streaked glare, as well as the trope-subverting troupe of women she rescues, ride their interpretation of feminine strength into critical adoration and commercial success.

Despite the film’s much-hyped reception, it’s not exactly reinventing the wheel — there have been plenty of ass-kicking lady leads in action films for decades. In fact, if you haven’t seen some of these other female-centric action (and yes, there’s a reason we’re going only female-led over female-including), you could do worse than curling up with your Netflix and taking a look at some of these inspiring women-led action movies.

Kill Bill Pt. 1 and 2

Uma Thurman’s iconic role is a brutal, visceral spin on a very familiar story: A mother looking for her child. But what makes Kill Bill, both parts, of note is its outstanding supporting lady cast: Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, and Daryl Hannah all have career-highlight roles. This is a film about a woman on a mission, and it never, ever lets you forget the woman at the center of the story, or the many people, of all genders and sexes, who get in her way.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Ang Lee’s martial arts magnum opus may have two love stories nested into the plot, but its central focus is on a girl trying to escape the role society has prescribed for her, and the woman who seeks to dissuade her from the choice she herself made. Zhang Ziyi later dazzled in a multitude of other Chinese martial arts films like Hero and House of Flying Daggers, but Crouching Tiger was her breakout role, and like nothing else of its time. (Also, Michelle Yeoh has never been better.)

Alien, Aliens, Alien3

While the Alien franchise has taken on a life of its own, is there anything more iconic than Sigourney Weaver wielding the Power Loader suit against her nightmare fuel “mother” doppelgänger? Ripley was an ordinary space colonist pitted against unspeakable horror, and over and over again, she triumphed against the worst the cosmos had to throw at her. Prometheus too has interesting female leads, but in this case, the original is the best.

Jackie Brown

The mainstream popularity of blaxploitation films coasted on amped-up sexuality, especially for the women involved. But Jackie Brown, Quentin Tarantino’s homage to the genre, was the self-aware twist that brought the genre into the modern era. Pam Grier had the unlikely break of reinterpreting one of her earlier roles (in Foxy Brown), and her grit and style in the face of danger is iconic to this day.

Ghost in the Shell

Though the film’s getting a live-action revamp with Scarlett Johansson in the lead, the animated original isn’t to be missed. A classic meditation on artificial intelligence and the ~*technofuture*~, Major Motoko Kusanagi serves as the viewer’s guide through a complex cyber-world and its many strange, surreal trappings — many of which are reality today.

Charlie’s Angels

Yes, it’s not exactly the most “serious” take on action, but c’mon, this adaptation of the ’70s television show is a fun and action-packed ride from start to finish. With Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu, and Drew Barrymore as the titular Angels, Charlie’s Angels is a zippy, welcome twist on its source material.

The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Linda Hamilton’s arms aside (the most imposing guns in the series), the image of the tank topped, aviator-wearing Sarah Connor is a unmistakable in action film history. Another mom on a mission, Connor’s dedication to saving her son-as-symbol-for-the-world is remarkable — intimidating in its deadly focus, and also really, really fun to watch as she kicks ass. Game of Thrones’s Emilia Clarke is taking on the formidable Connor mom legacy this summer, and well, she’s got some big combat boots to fill.

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance

Korean director Park Chan-Wook’s Vengeance trilogy isn’t known as a trilogy — its middle segment, Oldboy, has taken on a life of its own, and even inspired a (tepid) American remake. However, it’s the series’s last installment, following a plotting woman determined to seek penance and vengeance in disproportionate doses, that really gets at the viewer. All three films are utter spirals into the darkest crevices of human nature; Lady Vengeance makes you root for its sick but satisfying conclusion.

What other films would you suggest for female action heroine fans?

(Images via here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, herehere, and here)

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