The 20 best action movies led by women

When it comes to classic action movies, they’re usually always led by macho men, relegating female characters to damsels in distress or side pieces. However, there have been plenty of action movies, particularly in recent years, with powerful leading ladies at the forefront. They prove that women can dominate the genre and kick butt just as much as any man can.

‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Before Michelle Yeoh kicked you-know-what in Everything Everywhere All At Once, she did so twenty years prior in the martial arts film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Yeoh plays Yu Shu Lien, who is tasked with passing on her lover’s sword, and when it is stolen, she must retrieve it. At the time, it was the highest-grossing foreign language film in U.S. history, with Yeoh leading as the rebellious warrior. She also did all her stunts, which is mind-blowing for those who have seen this stunt-heavy movie.

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‘Atomic Blonde’

Atomic Blonde

Charlize Theron is known for playing gals who take names, and that’s exactly what she does in Atomic Blonde. This neon-drenched thriller sees Theron play an MI6 spy sent on a mission to Berlin during the Cold War to retrieve a list of secret agents. Set against the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the film is stylish, violent, and gritty in execution. It includes an impressive ten-minute single-take fight sequence that will engross and stun viewers from start to finish.

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‘The Hunger Games’

The Hunger Games

Jennifer Lawrence became the first woman to lead a blockbuster franchise when she played Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games. Based on the book series, the film is set in a district-divided dystopian dictatorship where teenagers are chosen to fight to the death on live television. Katniss is no damsel in distress but instead, a resourceful, fierce, and determined archer who fights for survival and to save the people she loves. As a result, she sparks a rebellion for the oppressed.

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‘Tomb Raider’

Tomb Raider

Video game character Lara Croft had already come to life in two films starring Angelina Jolie, but 2018’s Tomb Raider gave Croft a nice modern update, which sexualized her less and made her even more interesting. In the movie, the heroine sets out to discover the truth behind her adventurer father’s disappearance. Alicia Vikander brings an emotional touch to her version of the character, making her an action hero with wit and depth.

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‘Wonder Woman’

Wonder Woman

As one of DC’s most iconic heroes, Wonder Woman finally made her big screen debut in 2017’s blockbuster hit. Set during World War I, Amazonian warrior Diana Prince teams up with pilot Steve Trevor to stop Ares, the god of war, from destroying humanity. With Gal Gadot perfectly embodying Diana’s kindness and fierceness, the film was a massive box office success and brought the beloved female superhero to a whole new generation of moviegoers.

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‘Kill Bill: Volume 1’

Kill Bill: Volume 1

Quentin Tarantino’s stylish martial arts gore-fest brings viewers one of cinema’s most deadly female assassins, The Bride, played by Uma Thurman. After waking from a four-year coma that her ex-husband put her in, she seeks bloody revenge on him and his fellow assassins. The Bride is just as much a killer as any of these assassins, and complete with her sword and iconic yellow and black-striped getup; she proves that she’s not someone you want to mess with or do wrong by.

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‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’

Everything Everywhere All At Once

Michelle Yeoh continues her legacy as one of cinema’s leading action stars with her Oscar-winning performance in Everything Everywhere All At Once. Part comedy, sci-fi, drama, action, and martial arts flick, the story follows immigrant Evelyn, tasked with saving the multiverse. As a woman simply trying to pay her taxes and be a good mother, Evelyn is swept up in this crazy adventure that sees Yeoh showcase her breathtaking martial arts skills, reminiscent of her work in Crouching Tiger.

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The long-running Predator series was invigorated with new life thanks to 2022’s prequel Prey. Set in the historical Great Plains, the film follows Naru, a member of the Comanche Nation and skilled warrior who must protect her people from the technically advanced Predator who arrives on Earth. Naru makes a formidable foe for the alien hunter, thanks to her resourcefulness and intelligence, and having an Indigenous female lead in a traditionally male-dominated franchise is a welcome change.

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‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

When Star Wars returned to the big screen with The Force Awakens in 2015, it delved into a new chapter that follows the story of Rey, a scavenger who discovers she has a much larger destiny within the galaxy. Like Princess Leia before her, Rey is intelligent, kind, and heroic but takes center stage here as she explores her connection with the Force and is drawn to the forefront of the rebellion against the evil First Order. Rey proves that she’s more powerful than your average Jedi.

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Sigourney Weaver paved the way for every female-led action movie that followed her turn as sci-fi legend Ellen Ripley in Aliens . While Weaver first played the role in Ridley Scott’s slow-burn thriller Alien, James Cameron’s sequel allows Ripley to go full beast mode and become the action hero she was always destined to be. Of all the buff men around her, Ripley is the only one who can go head-to-head with the Xenomorph and defeat it. Weaver even earned an Oscar nomination for the legendary role.

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‘V for Vendetta’

V for Vendetta

V for Vendetta is set in a dystopian future where society is ruled by a fascist government. Natalie Portman plays Evey, who teams up with masked freedom fighter V to take down the oppressive rulers. Portman’s character undergoes a satisfying arc from timid follower to revolution leader. The actress also experienced a dramatic transformation by shaving her head for the part and did it on camera and in character, truly immersing herself in one of her most powerful roles.

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‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

After the monumental loss of Chadwick Boseman, who played the titular superhero of Black Panther, Marvel was tasked with delivering an almost impossible sequel. However, thanks to the genius decision to let the female characters carry the film and Boseman’s legacy, it was a triumphant success. Characters like Queen Ramona, Nakia, and Okoye beautifully take the reins, while Shuri, T’Challa’s sister, steps into the Black Panther suit and proves she is more than up to the task.

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‘Birds of Prey’

Birds of Prey

Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn stole the show in 2016’s divisive Suicidė Squad, so it was only natural that she gets her own action-packed, girl power-centric, and chaotically colorful movie to lead. Birds of Prey sees Harley team up with other heroes from Gotham’s underbelly after her breakup with the Joker. Despite being hunted by a gangster and being in perilous danger, Harley really is living her best life single in this movie, building female friendships and doing it all while having fun.

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‘The Woman King’

The Woman King

Loosely based on true events from the 1800s, action ensemble knockout The Woman King follows the Agojie, a group of all-female warriors who protect the Dahomey Kingdom in West Africa. Viola Davis stars as the fierce General Nansica, who trains the next generation of soldiers and readies them for the threats they face. The entire female cast, led by the formidable Davis, is awe-inspiring and completely captivating in their physicality and large-scale battle scenes.

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Saoirse Ronan is one of this generation’s greatest young dramatic actresses, but she’s also got the goods when it comes to carrying an action thriller like Hanna. Ronan stars as a teenager who has been raised an assassin and is tasked with killing an agent who is after her father. Young Ronan plays the role with maturity and confidence, as she does with all her roles, essentially portraying the child version of John Wick. The success of the movie even led to a TV series adaptation.

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‘Miss Congeniality’

Miss Congeniality

Although Miss Congeniality is a rom-com with plenty of hilarious, quotable lines and iconic fashion moments, it’s also an action movie with a lead who kicks major butt. Sandra Bullock plays an agent who must go undercover as a participant in a beauty pageant to prevent a bombing at the event. With her drop-leg gun holster concealed under her pageant dress, agent Gracie Hart is a woman who could brutally take you down and look totally fabulous doing it.

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‘Polite Society’

Polite Society

This inventive and stylish action-comedy follows Ria Khan, a teenager who dreams of becoming a stuntwoman. When her sister becomes engaged and is set to move away, she plans a heist to save her sister from her impending marriage. The film is full of bold and creative stunts and choreography and has strong themes of girl power, independence, and sisterhood. Seeing Ria and her sister perform martial arts while donned in bedazzled saris is totally empowering.

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‘Black Widow’

Black Widow

After playing second fiddle to most of the MCU’s heroes for over ten years (even though she stole the show most of the time), Black Widow finally got her own solo movie in 2021. The film sees Natasha Romanoff, former assassin and current Avenger, having to confront her past when a dangerous conspiracy arises. It’s a satisfying and worthy vehicle for the much-loved character, where she gets to dominate and prove to audiences that she is the best Avenger.

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‘The Old Guard’

The Old Guard

Charlize Theron plays another action heroine in the 2020 fantasy flick The Old Guard. The story follows a group of immortal mercenaries who have lived for centuries and discover that their secret has been exposed. Theron is Andy, the head of the group, who leads with fierce protectiveness but also carries the emotional weight of immortality. She has lost people along the way and seen the world through many different stages. The film did so well on Netflix that a sequel is in the works.

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‘Terminator: Dark Fate’

Terminator: Dark Fate

While Linda Hamilton revolutionized the action heroine as the ripped and ferocious Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: Judgement Day, 2019’s Terminator: Dark Fate gave Hamilton an even more prominent starring role, with Arnold Schwarzenegger as more of a background player. The film sees an aged Sarah Connor on the hunt to save a young woman from an advanced Terminator. Connor proved that age is no barrier to being an action lead.

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