Image: Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.
The Best Female-Driven Action Films That Will Get Your Heart Pounding
Movies are evolving, and over the last decade, many fearless women have picked up a sword (or lightsaber), strapped on a weapon and conquered the box office, proving that female-driven action flicks are just what audiences want to watch. From superpowered heroes to sharp-tongued assassins, these ladies show their strength, vulnerability and brains in stories that are truly triumphant.
Check out the top action hits with women center screen.
First, the superheroes
“Wonder Woman” (2017)
Gal Godot brought brawn and intelligence to her portrayal of D.C.’s top femme fighter in her thoroughly wonderful Wonder Woman. Paired with the teasing charm of Chris Pine’s lost soldier, Steve Trevor, the film captured a perfect mix of beautifully shot action sequences and tongue-in-cheek humor. Set during WWII, Princess Diana leaves her happy home on the hidden island of Themiscyra—where she was trained by the Amazons warrior women—and uses her powers to defeat the Nazis. Want more? Watch the recently released sequel, “Wonder Woman 1984.”
“Black Panther” (2018)
When Marvel released this culture-shaking hit in 2018, girls and women all over the world made videos of themselves performing the fierce stance of Wakanda’s Dora Milaje, the battalion of warrior women trained from birth to be the world’s best fighters and protectors of their king, the Black Panther. The action stars here are Black women, making this film a major cultural touchstone and a must-watch (and re-watch).
“Captain Marvel” (2019)
Marvel’s first female-led blockbuster, “Captain Marvel” is the tale of the most physically powerful Avenger, and Brie Larson’s dynamic performance as Captain Marvel showcases her fighting skills and her heart. This origin film finds Captain Marvel crashing to earth during a daring escape, battling enemy shapeshifters, meeting our old pal Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and discovering the truth of who she is.
“The Force Awakens” (2015)
In 2015, Star Wars introduced its newest galaxy-saving hero Rey (Daisy Ridley), a next-gen Luke Skywalker, in whom the force is strong. An orphan and scavenger, Rey comes to realize her destiny as a rebel fighter, forces the recluse Luke to train her and battles the equally powerful Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) with whom she has an intense Force-driven bond. “The Force Awakens” is the first film of the Star Wars sequel trilogy. The second installment, “The Last Jedi,” also stars Ridley as Rey. Both films are loads of fun, full of humanity and humor (and can be streamed back-to-back!).
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” (2016)
This one-off in the Star Wars universe stars Felicity Jones as a tough, quick-thinking rebel who gathers a charming crew of fighters and droids (Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen) to help her steal the Death Star engineering plans created by her father.
Let’s talk about Charlize Theron
“Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015)
While the title character might be a dude, the true star is the incredible Charlize Theron. Considered one of the greatest action films ever (with a 97% on Rotten Tomatoes), it garnered 10 Academy Award nominations and won 6. Theron plays Furiosa, a woman out for redemption who rescues the titular Max (Tom Hardy) and a harem of sex slaves on a wild ride through post-apocalyptic Australia.
Where to stream: HBO Max
“Atomic Blonde” (2017)
Theron plays an MI6 agent in the days leading up to the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall. Her mission: Find a missing list of government agents from around the world before the KGB kills them all. Slickly shot with a soundtrack of thumping ’80s new wave, “Atomic Blonde” shows off Theron’s mad fighting skills—the Oscar-winning actress does all her own stunts!
Director Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”) and screenwriter Gillian Flynn (“Gone Girl”) have created a rich and layered action/crime drama that follows mob wives (Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki and Cynthia Erivo) as they take over the jobs of their recently deceased husbands in order to pay off their debts and get what’s theirs. Weaving in issues of race, class and sexism with a ripping story and a killer twist, “Widows” is both a phenomenal action film and insightful social commentary.
In this dark thriller, Oscar-nominee Saoirse Ronan (“Lady Bird,” “Little Women”) plays a teenager raised in the woods by her father (Eric Bana), who has kept her true past hidden to protect her. Hanna was created as part of a CIA program that altered the DNA of babies to make deadly super-soldiers. Her father reveals the truth when the head of the program (Cate Blanchett) wants him dead and Hanna back, forcing Hanna to fight for her survival.
The young adult series that took over the world
“The Hunger Games” (2012–15)
This four-part film series, based on the best-selling young adult novels by Susan Collins, made Jennifer Lawrence and her character Katniss Everdeen household names. Each year in the ravaged dystopian world of Panem, a boy and girl from each of the state’s districts are selected to participate in an epic battle that will leave just one survivor. When Katniss volunteers in place of her sister, her fight to survive and help her fellow “tributes” captivates the country and sparks a revolution. Each film in the series is a thrill ride, and the cliffhangers will lead you to binge them all.
First a beloved Disney animated musical and now a live-action film, “Mulan” follows the inspirational journey of a fearless young woman who disguises herself as a man to save her ailing father from serving in the Imperial Army. Beautifully shot, with stunning scenes of sword fighting on horseback, “Mulan” is a richly emotional coming-of-age story about accepting who you’re meant to be.
“Raya and the Last Dragon” (2021)
Disney has a strong track record of creating powerful female warriors, and “Raya” is no exception. Journey to the fantasy world of Kumandra, where long ago, in the face of a great evil, dragons once sacrificed themselves for the safety of their human friends. Now, 500 years later, that evil has returned and a young woman must find the legendary last dragon to help her save her people.
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