Cinema’s Top 10 Female Badasses

To mark the release of Alien: Covenant, featuring Katherine Waterston’s (hopefully) xenomorph-battling female ass-kicker, it seems like a good time to do a run-down of Cinema’s Top 10 Female Badasses (according to me):


10: M (Judi Dench)

She says:

“Your name is on a memorial wall of the very building you attacked. I will have it struck off. Soon your past will be as nonexistent as your future. I’ll never see you again.”

Dench’s MI6 chief punctured Brosnan-Bond’s swagger at their first meeting and ordered the shot which almost killed Craig-Bond, despite being his strongest parental figure. Tough, ice-cold and ruthless, Dench owns the role.


9: Jill McBain (Claudia Cardinale)

She says:

“If you want to, you can lay me over the table and amuse yourself, and even call in your men. Well, no woman ever died from that. When you’re finished, all I’ll need will be a tub of boiling water and I’ll be exactly what I was before – with just another filthy memory”

Before Leone, Donati, Bertolucci and Argento teamed up to reinvent the female lead in westerns, female characters had been little more than perfunctory love interests for the male heroes, and generally bland.

In Once Upon A Time In the West Cardinale’s life-hardened ex-prostitute dreams of travelling west to start a new life, “do something, what the hell”. However, her new husband and family are murdered before she gets there, and Mrs McBain finds herself being circled by a number of dangerous men with different motives.

Ever the realist about her position, she treats each with weary disdain, irritation, and barely concealed rage – and tries to kill them whenever she sees an opportunity. The film ends with all the men dead or damaged, and she is left to inherit the new world.


8: Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh)

She says:

“Without Green Destiny, you are nothing!”

While Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is generally considered an ‘art-house’ martial arts movie, the unspoken, gently simmering love between seasoned warriors Shu Lien and Li Mu Bai makes it equally romantic.

But Shu Lien really comes alive, with fire in her eyes, in the heat of battle – such as when she squares off against the young thief that wields Li Mu Bai’s stolen sword, The Green Destiny. The fight is one of the most dazzling in cinema history, and it happens to be between two women. Shu Lien eventually prevails – despite Green Destiny shattering every weapon she uses.


7: Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence)

She says:

“You can torture us and bomb us and burn our districts to the ground. But do you see that? Fire is catching… And if we burn… you burn with us!”

What makes her interesting?: the Hunger Games series of books & film adaptations have interesting things to say about reality television, celebrity culture and voyeurism, but their greatest achievement is the central female protagonist herself.

Independent, abrasive and a reluctant icon, Katniss is uncomfortable with her unwanted fame while being a more efficient killer than she would ever want to admit.

Katniss is in some way reminiscent of (the screen portrayal of) Lawrence of Arabia: they are individuals so obviously destined for greatness that they struggle to relate to the rest of humanity, and who ultimately find that the act of killing comes all to easy.


6: The Bride (Uma Thurman) 

She says:

“Those of you lucky enough to have your lives, take them with you. However, leave the limbs you’ve lost. They belong to me now.”

The Bride/Beatrice Kiddo is not quite the feminist icon Quentin Tarantino was trying for (and the films are still waay too long), but but he does succeed in moulding Thurman into a kicking, biting, slicing, chopping, crashing, crunching, clawing and stabbing icon for the ages.

I still think Tarantino does not do enough to make The Bride sympathetic, however she is believably tough, mean, charismatic and deadly, and here I do give director and muse (“Q&U”) credit. In the years since there have been a slew of wannabe female action heroes that go around beating up armies of male super-soldiers with nonchalant ease (for example Gina Carano in Haywire) – and you never buy it for a second.


5: Rey (Daisy Ridley)

She says:

“You will remove these restraints and leave this cell with the door open.”

Marooned alone on a junkyard planet at an early age, Rey learned to scratch out a living from selling whatever she could salvage. Despite being fiercely independent, resourceful and self assured, she shies away from any suggestion that she is special. Compared to Kylo Ren’s confidence in his great lineage, Rey is hesitant and adrift.

But when she finally overcame her self-doubt in the heat of battle at the end of The Force Awakens, a great heroine for a new generation emerged. The best is yet to come.

The ‘Mary Sue’ (non)issue: there have been complaints that Rey is just too good at everything. Funny how that crap never got thrown at Luke or Anakin isn’t it? Both of those guys were also incredible pilots, engineers and Force users, despite living far less self-reliant lives than Rey. Anakin could win podraces and battles in Naboo fighters when he was just out of nappies, and Luke destroyed the Death Star with his first shot when piloting an X-wing for the first time. Lucky! Baby Annie could build droids out of junk, and had a higher rating on the Force-o-meter than Yoda; Luke was a natural crack shot with both a blaster and as a gunner on the Millennium Falcon. Don’t get cocky, kid.

Yes, Rey defeated a wounded Kylo Ren in a lightsaber duel, but who’s to say that she isn’t more powerful with the Force than he is? Maybe she’s more powerful than Luke and Anakin and Yoda too? I guess no-one told Rey that a girl can’t be a badass Jedi.


4: Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace)

She says:

“I’ve never done this before. Hold still, or it’ll get messy.”

What makes her interesting? Just about everything. Forget Benedict Cumberbatch, Salander (as inhabited definitively by Rapace) is the Sherlock Holmes for the modern age. A savant-like hacker and programmer, she also displays powers of deduction to rival that of her literary counterpart.

However, there’s much more to her character than that: Salander seems at times like a train barrelling forward, fuelled by pure cold fury. She steamrollers her targets, who are – without exception – sadistic men who hate women, and deserve what’s coming to them.

Add in a compelling backstory that is revealed a piece at a time over three books/films, and you have a fully rounded character that becomes indelibly printed on viewers minds. Her chasm-deep vulnerability also allows for unconventional, yet surprisingly sweet romantic scenes.


3: Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton)

She says:

“You’re terminated, fucker.”

Just as the T2 juggernaut completely overshadowed the original, Linda Hamilton’s remarkable transformation into a hard bitten, gun-toting, muscular warrior eclipses the memory of her as a meek waitress.

However, Hamilton proved what a fine choice she was for the role even in that first movie: she ditches the hairspray and bubble-gum sheen half-way in, learns to shoot and make bombs, and stares down the killing machine chasing her. Arnie didn’t stand a chance.


2: Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher)

She says:

“I don’t know who you are or where you came from, but from now on you’ll do as I tell you, okay?”

Before 1977 the role of women in big budget, mainstream adventure movies was pretty well established: look glamorous, don’t be smart and don’t talk too much. Star Wars and Princess Leia changed all that.

Yes, she gets captured by the bad guys and the heroic men come to rescue her, so far, so predictable. But then the audience sits up straight: the moment she’s free she takes charge and starts giving orders, grabs a gun and leads the escape.

In Return of the Jedi she inverts the ‘damsel in distress’ trope by rescuing Han Solo, and then cradles him in her arms. Even when the film missteps and can’t resist putting her in a gold bikini, she reacts in the most Princess Leia-ish way possible, by garrotting her captor with her own slave chains (an act Fisher was always proud of).

In The Force Awakens she is referred to as “General” a change I’m actually not crazy about. Leia always owned the Princess thing, Disney should too. In The Empire Strike Back it doesn’t make much sense for a princess to be giving orders in the military control room on Hoth – unless of course it’s Princess Leia. Forget rank, everybody knows if Princess Leia’s in the room, she’s in charge.


Honourable mentions:

  • O-Ren Ishii (Kill Bill: Vol. 1)
  • Clarice Starling (The Silence of the Lambs)
  • Private Vasquez (Aliens)
  • Trinity (The Matrix)
  • Mathilda (Leon)
  • Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Batman Returns, The Dark Knight Rises)
  • Hermione Granger (Harry Potter series)
  • Bellatrix Lestrange (Harry Potter series)
  • Wonder Woman (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice)
  • Marion Ravenwood (Raiders of the Lost Ark)
  • Imperator Furiosa (Mad Max: Fury Road)
  • Ilsa (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation)
  • Rita Vrataski (Edge of Tomorrow)
  • Natasha Romanova/Black Widow (The Avengers)
  • Gamora (Guardians of the Galaxy)

One gets the sense that (if you so deserved it) all these women could blow your head off with one shot, not feel too bad about it, and look cool doing it.


Which leaves us with…


1: Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver)


She says:

“How do we kill it, Ash? There’s gotta be a way of killing it. How? How do we do it?”

She says:

“Yes. I read you. The answer is negative .”

She says:

“Did IQs just drop sharply while I was away ?”

She says:

“I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.”

She says:

[to Newt] “I will never leave you. That’s a promise.”

Ripley obviously wins because she’s not just the ultimate female badass – she’s the biggest, baddest (and by some distance the most interesting) badass-iest hero in all cinema, period.

I’m going to say it: Ripley is what made the Alien franchise truly great, not the xenomorph. Cameron knew it; I wish Ridley Scott still did.