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.
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.
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.
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.
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]
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.