Female Action Stars: 6 Women Who Changed Everything

Aric Mitchell - Author

Sep. 6 2013, Updated 8:13 a.m. ET

Female action stars used to be virtually non-existent. Cracking skulls was a pastime reserved solely for the male crowd, and it would probably still be that way if not for the ladies, who were able to break through the chauvinism and forge their own path. They were able to take bull-by-horns and create characters that were believably bad in every good sense of the word.

Not only were these female action stars able to break noses and handle high-caliber weapons with all the precision and control of a man, but they were able to do it without sacrificing the qualities that made them feminine. These ladies didn’t have to revert to some masculine ideal of tough to actually be tough.

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They handled all of that just fine on their own, giving legitimacy to female action stars and their effects on film continue today. So without further ado, we give you our picks for the six tough women, who changed everything.

Sigourney Weaver

As with all great stars that turn a career into decades, Sigourney Weaver got her start on television in a 30-minute daytime drama called Somerset. It didn’t take long for Hollywood to notice, however. In 1979, just three years after her first credit, she landed the role of Ripley in Ridley Scott’s Alien. She would later appear in the James Cameron sequel, and two additional times, cementing her legacy as the baddest of the baddest female action stars. While she does less butt-kicking these days, she’s maintained a busy schedule. You can next catch her in Exodus and The Mortal Instruments: City of Ashes.

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Uma Thurman

There had been lots of female action stars to grace the silver screen prior to Uma Thurman’s turn as The Bride in Kill Bill Volumes 1 and 2, but generally, the material was weak. Not so here. Thurman gets the full Quentin Tarantino treatment in turning in one epic revenge drama that blends ’70s-style action, martial arts, anime, and western into one visually mesmerizing work of art. Best of all, you were able to lose yourself in her performance to where gender doesn’t even become an issue.

Milla Jovovich

Jovovich came to Hollywood from the world of modeling, but you could never tell it by the way she handles herself in a fight scene. Her first high-impact credit came in Luc Besson’s action/sci-fi hit The Fifth Element. From there, she became the sigil-bearer for the Resident Evil series. Say what you want about the quality of those films, but there have been five thus far with a sixth on the way next year.

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Linda Hamilton

The first time Linda Hamilton (as Sarah Connor) locked horns with a Terminator unit, she was able to escape by a hair, thanks in large part to her savior, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn). The second time around she was more comfortable in the action. Star Linda Hamilton made her character a physically imposing lady the second time around, capable of trading bullets and fists with the best.

Pam Grier

As an African-American woman coming up in ’70s cinema, you had to be super tough to make a splash in action cinema. Pam Grier was. In fact, she left such an impression on young Quentin Tarantino that in 1997, he would make her the star of his crime-drama Jackie Brown, based on the Elmore Leonard novel Rum Punch. For me, however, it’ll never get any better than her classics Coffy and Black Mama, White Mama. QT would probably agree.

[Featured Image from Coffy, pictured above]

Diana Rigg

Long before the other female action stars on this list, there was a woman, who made kicking butt look easy, believable, and 100 percent sexy. That woman’s name was Diana Rigg, who starred as Emma Peel on the hit British series The Avengers. Coincidentally, Thurman (see No. 2) would step into Rigg’s bodysuit in the 1998 film update co-starring Sean Connery and Ralph Fiennes. Unfortunately, not the same thing.

Which female action stars do you think should have been included? Share your thoughts below.


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