When it comes to the best action movies, we could think of dozens of great examples over the decades. But can you name at least a handful that starred female actors in the lead?
The sad thing about the action film genre before is that women remain to be the token love interest or the occasional femme fatale villain of the plot. or worse, they play the damsels in distress that needs to be rescued by the male action hero. But we all know that women could kick some cinematic ass, too!
There have been quite a number of action movies where women take front and center in the action. We only see sporadic samples during the 1970s to the 1990s. But come 2000s up to today, the numbers have been doubling. And that’s a good thing!
So yes, these best action movies with strong female lead characters take center stage in this countdown. In no particular order, take a look at a few of our faves.
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
What happens when you let women drive? Not only will they run away with the action of the film, but they will also run the whole story that’s well-written and worth its weight in petrol. Of course we’re talking about the 2015 blockbuster Mad Max: Fury Road.
Set in the distant future where earth already suffered from nuclear holocausts of epic proportions, the post-apocalyptic dystopian tale finds Tom Hardy as the titular Max. He somehow gets caught up with the totalitarian madman Immortan Joe running the society, and gets imprisoned. This society is desperate, and needs water, which Joe doesn’t permit everyone to have. Plus the scarcity of gas fuels the oppressive rule of this singular elite.
But in this ripe-for-rebellion scenario, what stands out best is Charlize Theron’s portrayal of Imperator Furiosa. She is a soldier-like driver of Joe’s War Rig, a huge oil tanker in-charge of collecting precious petrol. Out for a regular run one day, she brings with her the imprisoned women impregnated by Joe to produce his offspring. In that defining and defying moment, all hell breaks loose as Joe pursues his rebelling driver.
It would be better to see this movie for all its action-packed glory. Charlize Theron won’t disappoint! You’ll see why it’s one of the best action movies around today!
What happens when an innocent woman suddenly becomes a drug mule, but ingests the drug and becomes a super-fast learner? And when pursued by the syndicate running the drug cartel, she gives them a run for their money with some action-packed encounters.
This is basically what happens in the 2014 film Lucy. Scarlett Johansson stars in the titular role of that woman named Lucy, who figures in on this international drug cartel through a friend. When she gains super-fast developments in her brain, thanks to the overdose of this experimental new drug, everything gets heightened in her – including the ability to fight.
Of course, the bad guys went after her. Of course, she fought with them for one reason or another. But it’s not your typical action hero saga. Take a look at this Luc Besson-directed material to discover something more philosophical in the action-packed story.
In this countdown of the best action movies with female leads, of course we gotta have a vampire story listed in there. Why? Because Underworld, that’s why! And because Kate Beckinsale, that’s why!
Beckinsale portrays Selene, the vampire in the sexy dark leather-fit suit, roaming the metropolis at night. In the original 2003 film, she’s like one of the hunters with high-tech weapons. They specialize in killing werewolves termed lycans in this film. This action-packed film bore many sequels due to its popularity with fans.
After seeing Kate in action here, movie fanatics fell in love with her kind of action. That’s why the other movies in this franchise also became phenomenal box-office hits. And this series solidified the British actress’ stature as a bona fide cinematic action hero. Time to binge-watch the series! Go go go!
4. Atomic Blonde
Not another Charlize Theron starrer? Why not? If you saw her all dirtied up while fighting in Mad Max: Fury Road, then prepare to see her all glammed up while fighting in Atomic Blonde.
This 2017 film finds Charlize in the titular role of the assassin, a.k.a. Lorraine. She is a secret service agent out in Germany looking for double agents. While that seems like such a typical plot for an action movie, try setting this story during the time when the Berlin Wall was just about to collapse. Therefore, the heightened tensions that happen in an East Germany-West Germany divided country fuels more action in this espionage thriller.
What’s also empowering about this action movie with a female lead is that the girl wants to get the girl, too. Lorraine’s character is an openly bisexual woman who also hooks up with another female spy like her. Talk about extra sizzling action!Watch this film and see how Charlize kicks ass!
Of course, no best action movies with female leads countdown will be complete without mentioning one of the action-packed films of the lovely Angelina Jolie. And while her Lara Croft character might be the easiest contender to include here, we decided to focus on her 2010 film entitled Salt.
Directed by Phillip Noyce, Angelina stars as Evelyn Salt, the titular character who’s a CIA agent. However, they meet a Russian agent who told them that Evelyn Salt is a Russian agent assigned to kill the Russian president soon. He says Salt is one of the Russian sleeper agents trained and put in inconspicuous places, to be activated for a mission to destroy the USA when needed.
Of course, what’s the CIA to do? And the very American Salt suddenly finds herself in the middle of action-packed Russian controversy. The high-action in this highly intelligent film is such a good ride that you won’t want it to end. So go watch!
6. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
If you don’t mind reading English subtitles while watching a foreign language film, then Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a must-watch for you. If you are on the lookout for some of the best action movies with strong female leads set in ancient China, then this is it!
This 2000 film is directed by Taiwanese director Ang Lee, who successfully crossed over the Hollywood realm during the late ‘90s. This 2000 film of his solidified his worldwide success when the film garnered an international following.
The film follows the tradition of a typical wuxia film. These are films that feature martial arts-trained protagonists, usually set in ancient times. This film follows that structure, being set during the 18th century, where noble fighting men exist alongside respected fighting women.
Chow Yun-Fat brings the action here for his species while a host of women bring theirs. Led by Michelle Yeoh, this film is very notable for the fight sequences, especially that initial chase sequence of Michelle’s character with Zhang Zi-Yi’s equally kickass character. Go watch this and treat yourself to a fine cinematic gem!
7. La Femme Nikita
Not another Luc Besson-directed film? Why not! The French filmmaker knows how to treat women respectfully, and how to cinematically depict them in a kickass way.
If female action heroes in foreign language films are your thing, then you should include La Femme Nikita on your list. This 1990 film ages gracefully, that’s why it’s here in our list of best action movies with great female leads. Why do you think it got adapted into a Hollywood film, then into several TV series later on? Yes, the femme is quite the hero here.
The original story focused on a teenager named Nikita. The French rebel breaks the law at first, gets her fair share of payback time, but later gets recruited to become an assassin. And yes, all action sequences follow soon after. Watch this great, great, great action movie and see why this Nikita character is very popular even today.
8. Charlie’s Angels
If you want campy fun action with giggly girls that can also break bones, then go pop this film into your screener! Charlie’s Angels is the 2000 film that starred Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, and Lucy Liu. They’ve got spunk, they’ve got fashion, and they know kung fu!
The film is an action comedy version of the popular 1970s-‘80s TV series. But the decision to go comedy camp with this action film endeared the film with newer generations who didn’t grow up with the TV show. And of course, fans of the TV show also appreciated this reboot.
As usual, the three heroines work for the mysterious Charlie, owner of a detective agency. In this happy campy remake, watch the three funny femme fatales and see why they deserve to be in this list.
9. Kill Bill Vol. 1 2003
If you want campier action-packed films with really outlandish plots, then look no further than Quentin Tarantino’s filmography. Specifically, we handpick Kill Bill: Volume 1 to include in our best action movies with really kickass ladies.
The 2003 stars a samurai sword-brandishing Uma Thurman, clad in the yellow jumpsuit reminiscent of Bruce Lee. Yes, she does some martial arts stuff in here, too. The film centers on her character just named The Bride. She wakes up one day to find out that the child she was carrying in her womb is gone.
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned indeed. Not only does she avenge the violence done to her, but she also tries to avenge what happened to her child. As a trained former assassin, she goes head to head with fellow assassins both female and male, until she could reach her goal of killing the former boss assassin of hers. Yep, it’s full of fun gore, if ever that concept exists. Only Tarantino can deliver that, so go watch this one!
If you want super badass and super-sexy, then go watch the super-entertaining action film called Bandidas!
Bandidas is Spanish for bandits, the female kind. So yep, this female-driven narrative features two of the loveliest actresses we have today. Starring Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz, they portray women in a wild wild west scenario of Mexico in the late 1800s.
What, women in the wild west? Yep, that concept alone garners this film accreditation in many kinds of countdowns. But being on this list of best action movies with female leads, this one’s a total kicker – pun intended!
The story focuses on these two women who became Robin Hood-like bandits. They become bank robbers in order to help poor folks being terrorized by an oppressive and evil landowner. In addition, this landowner tried to kill their fathers, so that’s a daughter’s revenge sub-narrative we got there.
Sounds like fun yet? Oh yes, it is! It’s action-packed, too. And don’t be surprised by the good narrative, because Luc Besson is at the helm of this one as its writer!