Our 10 Favorite Badass Females in Film
One of the most anticipated movies of the late summer, Atomic Blonde, blasts its way into theaters this weekend. The film stars Charlize Theron as agent Lorraine Broughton, an agent who is an uber bad ass, and who must get a special file from Berlin. She partners with a local station chief (James McAvoy), and also must dodge every spy and assassin looking to kill her.
In celebration of this film, the staff of Pop Break got together to compile a list of their favorite bad ass females in film. Enjoy this list, and let us know who your favorite bad ass female in film is!
Editor’s Note: We received another submission after posting, so there are actually 11 selections in this article.
Sarah Connor – Bill Bodkin
Sarah Connor is an amazing character. In the first Terminator, she started out as your typical damsel in distress — running and screaming from impending doom, while getting saved by a white knight (Michael Biehn). Yet, by the end of the film we realized Sarah Connor was more than just your typical damsel in distress — she was tough. She was a fighter, and she was a survivor.
However, things took a turn in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. She became a fearsome warrior. She was an elite tactical killing machine who would kill anyone who threatened the life of her son (Edward Furlong), and his destiny to save the world from the machines. Linda Hamilton is brilliant in her role, and plays Sarah Connor as the perfect freaked out yet logical human in the first film, and the woman on the verge of violent psychotic break in the second.
Sarah Connor is tough as nails, and I’d put her up against any cinematic bad ass, male or female, and I’d put my money on her.
Laura aka X-23 from Logan – Kat Manos
Who says badass women can’t include badass girls? Comic book fans know her as Laura Kinney, or X-23, but movie fans know her simply as Laura. *Spoiler alert* for a movie that you should’ve already seen multiple times since its release five months ago, but Laura is the clone daughter of X-Men’s grouchiest Canadian, Wolverine, in Logan. Played exquisitely by the 11-year-old newcomer Dafne Keen, Laura manages to successfully share (and occasionally, dominate) screentime with Hugh Jackman’s Logan and Patrick Stewart’s Charles Xavier without speaking for the bulk of the film’s 137-minute runtime.
Much like Stranger Things’ Eleven, Laura appears mute and unassuming when we first meet her, but the audience quickly discovers the power behind her silence. In one of Logan’s more memorable scenes, a gang of reavers led by Boyd Holbrook’s Donald Pierce stalks Laura to Logan’s hideout where she is sitting inside and eating cereal. Donald sends his goons inside the bunker to get Laura while the audience remains outside; we can only hear rustling and screaming indoors. Then, moments later, Laura calmly walks out holding nothing but a man’s bloodied, decapitated head. Incredible.
Much like her father, Laura has regenerative healing powers, quick reflexes, and adamantium-coated bone claws in her hands and feet, as well as a stubborn, hot head. Even as a preteen, she rarely needs any rescuing or direction when it comes to fighting off bad guys, defending her friends, and surviving throughout the film. Watching her triumphantly fight alongside her father in the film’s third act – completely holding her own – is both refreshing and moving. The level of badass her character reaches in the fight scenes becomes that much more meaningful by the time she delivers the film’s poignant final lines. I wish I was as cool as this 11-year-old.
Furiosa – Christopher Diggins
A credible case could be made that the real main character of George Miller’s 2015 masterpiece Mad Max: Fury Road is not the title character but instead Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa. After all, it’s Furiosa who jumpstarts the plot by smuggling the Immortan Joe’s wives out of his Citadel. She’s the one who has planned their escape to the fabled “Green Place” where she was born. Her redemption arc is just as central to the story as Max’s. And it is Furiosa who returns to the Citadel in triumph, having killed Immortan Joe. The story of Fury Road is Furiosa’s story, and she more than earns that honor.
Throughout the movie, Furiosa proves again and again her strength, ferocity, and determination. She drives headlong into a massive sandstorm to lose her pursuers, nearly beats Max in one of the movie’s most brutal and thrilling fight scenes, and powers through multiple stab wounds to finally put an end to Immortan Joe’s terror, just to name a few examples. But through it all, she never loses her compassion. She’s driven by a desire to see the abused and degraded wives safely to the Green Place. And when Max offers a plan to secure a real future for themselves, she puts everything she has into ensuring that they see it through. It’s impossible not to be won over by her intelligence, resolve, and kindness, and she’s a huge part of what makes that incredible movie work so well.
Princess/General Leia (Star Wars) – Josh Sarnecky
There is a reason, aside from the tragic passing of Carrie Fisher, that images of Princess Leia pervaded the Women’s March earlier this year. Since her initial appearance in 1977, Leia has become a feminist icon who transcends generations and backgrounds, represents the drive to resist tyrannical power structures and injustices, and embodies both fierceness and tenderness. Her cultural importance cannot be overstated. Whether she is single-handedly killing the crime lord that enslaved her or orchestrating a military effort against an organization with far superior firepower, Leia Organa is a strong, inspirational figure who knows how to get results.
As an action heroine and political/military leader, Leia is not one of the greatest badass women in film; rather, she is one the most badass characters ever created, regardless of gender or medium.
Delivering insults with pointed snark, leading her comrades into unparalleled danger, utilizing all of the resources at her disposal to eliminate threats—Leia is the consummate rebel. Yet the princess turned general also has a graceful, tender side that illustrates her fierce loyalty to her friends and compassion for others. In the same movie that Leia kills the aforementioned Hutt, she also befriends a tribe of teddy bear-like aliens. Ultimately, this balance of badassery and heart is what has made Leia such an enduring character and inspired so many other strong women in film (including Padme Amidala, Jyn Erso, and Rey). When The Last Jedi arrives in theaters later this year, what is likely General Leia’s last appearance in film will hopefully serve as a fittingly badass sendoff to this beloved figure.
Molly Weasley – Lisa Pikaard
There are a plethora of badass women in films but my favorite bad ass woman is Molly Weasley. Why you may ask? She’s a badass parent, adoptive mother, wife, Order member and she is an all around awesome lady.
It is not easy to raise a child so imagine having to raise Fred and George Weasley. Those boys are terrors with the best intentions. If those two tricksters were your only children, they’d be a handful but Molly had so many more. Take Fred and George, add in a son, Percy, who abandons the family for the ministry; Charlie, who works with dragons; Bill, a curse breaker who was bitten by a werewolf; Ron, who constantly gets in trouble with Harry Potter; and Ginny, the only girl who may be tougher than all the rest and you get one hell of a family to manage. It’s unfair to only list those seven kids as her children because she truly has one more, Harry Potter. She takes better care of that boy than anyone has since his parents died. She protects him, love him, and treats him as one of her own down to the annual Weasley Christmas sweater.
Being the mother of let’s call it eight children isn’t enough to make Molly Weasley a badass woman though. She is married to a man with principles and those principles lead to an underpaid and overworked Mr. Weasley but she wouldn’t have it any other way. She loves her husband regardless of the limited income and the difficulty of getting by in pureblood mania.
So between the children and her husband, Molly is a somewhat badass woman, but what makes her a badass overall? Her work within the Order. There is a specific epic moment of the final Harry Potter film that many people cannot help but cheer out loud for and all it took was five words, “Not my daughter you bitch!” Molly Weasley jumps in to save her daughter and many others during the battle of Hogwarts to stop Bellatrix Lestrange. She takes down one of the most notorious and loyal death eaters that ever was without hesitation. She threw herself directly in the line of fire and won.
If that doesn’t make for a badass woman, I don’t know what does!
Buffy – Ann Hale
If you were to ask me who I would consider to be the ultimate badass amongst all of the big and small screen females, there would be only one answer: Buffy. Now, you might argue that Ellen Ripley or Sarah Connor might be a bigger badass than our trusty vampire slayer. Well, I suppose that would depend on the Buffy. Film Buffy may cower in relation but TV’s Buffy is unbeatable. I believe that TV Buffy could not only defeat the Xenomorphs and Terminators, but could win in a fight against the likes of Ripley and Connor. If she can defeat a God, she can defeat them.
Buffy possesses an ancient power, passed down from generation to generation of slayer. When one slayer dies, another is born. So Buffy goes from being a simple airhead high school beauty queen to one tough bitch who can kill vampires, demons, werewolves, gods and all the other big bad monsters you could possibly think of. Buffy went up against evil in its purest form and survived. Could Sarah Connor do that? I think not.
Armed with unparalleled strength, a team of trusty sidekicks and a sharp wit, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is far and away the ultimate female badass in my mind.
Matt Taylor – Ramona Flowers
In the past decade, perhaps no film has earned its cult following as much as Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Edgar Wright’s critically acclaimed comedy from 2010 is a perfect marriage of nerd humor and great action, with a smart script to boot. But while the titular protagonist may be in the spotlight for most, if not all, of the action scenes, his girlfriend – who he is, quite literally, fighting for the affection for – is no slouch. Ramona Flowers is an unquestionably badass action heroine, thanks to a great script and the work of her portrayer, the incomparable Mary Elizabeth Winstead.
While the film might be about the male hero doing battle with his girlfriend’s evil exes, Ramona proves, on more than one occasion, to be a formidable fighter who doesn’t need her boyfriend to protect her. Even better, Winstead makes Ramona’s self-defense abilities look effortless, thanks to her strong stunt work and perfect deadpan humor. But what makes Ramona a truly badass woman is the way she maintains her agency throughout the film, and remains the most logical person in a film filled with outrageous characters. No matter what her evil exes do, she never apologizes for their existence or, more importantly, the baggage that they represent. She presents herself as she is, flaws and all, and dares anyone to judge her.
What makes Scott Pilgrim a truly great film is the way Edgar Wright turns his silly action film into an intelligent look at modern relationships – and Ramona plays a huge part in the film’s success. She might not be the first name to come to mind when the film is mentioned, but she’s one of the most underappreciated action heroes of the 2010s.
Rachel Freeman – Zoë Washburne
Alright, so the character I would like to put some spotlight on is very important to me. And her name is Zoë Washburne.
Zoë is one of the main characters of the TV series Firefly and the movie from that series, Serenity and she is masterfully portrayed by Gina Torres. She is an army woman who fought as a Browncoat (Independent) under Sergeant Malcolm Reynolds. After the Independents lost to the Alliance in the Unification War, Zoë joined Captain Mal on the Firefly-class transport ship, Serenity as his first mate. She is also married to the ship’s hilarious pilot, Hoban “Wash” Washburne. If you can’t already tell, Zoë is fiercely loyal and still remains a soldier at heart. She treats Mal as a superior officer rather than a captain and continues to call him “sir” even though none of the other crew members do the same.
That isn’t what makes Zoë a badass though. Anyone can follow orders, but Zoë doesn’t just walk into a dangerous task blindly. There are many things Captain Mal can instruct her to do, but Zoë is not afraid to question him. She is pretty much the only crew member who isn’t intimidated by Mal. Perhaps most importantly, Zoë is, as I said, a soldier. She is highly skilled and trained, she is not afraid to die nor is she afraid to kill – which she will do so without hesitation.
Also, she’s quick and accurate with a gun. I’m a sucker for gunslingers. While she does have some excellent sarcastic retorts and jokes, she is ultimately a more stoic character. Some may find her lack of emotion to be a character flaw, but I absolutely love it. It is what differentiates her from everyone else in the crew. And rather than hearing her whine and complain about her terrible life or how something made her feel sad, she just doesn’t give a shit.
And after hearing everyone’s sob story in the show (not that they aren’t good stories) its just nice to have Zoë there to acknowledge something terrible happened in her past (a LOT of people died in the war) but that she has a duty to uphold and that is what makes her great.
“First rule of battle, little one, don’t ever let them know where you are” – Zoë Washburne
MJ Rawls – The Bride
She’s one of the only people that knows the Five Palm Exploding Heart Technique. Beatrix Kiddo, formerly known as The Bride or the Black Mamba (depends on who you ask) led a legendary quest for revenge through two movies. The first, mixing both grindhouse and ku fung style, brought us from seeing Beatrix wiggle her big toe to fighting the crazy 88s.
The second movie, a more western style had the bride literally snatched an eyeball from Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah). That’s was the good eye from those keeping score at home. If we are thinking of bad ass women in cinema, look no further than one who was buried alive and left for dead on wedding day. It’s a vengeance redemption story that not only served karma from a physical standpoint, but when we eventually finds out she has a daughter. By the end of the saga, with the pile of bodies, The Bride will go do as one of the legendary heroines in recent memory.
Sheena Fisher – Ellen Ripley
I chose Ellen Ripley from the Aliens movie series because as a young child she was one of the first bad ass women I got to see on the big screen. In the films Ripley finds herself in command after some terrible things happen to her crew members. She is left to face the Xenomorphs nearly alone in each film. And, I must go on to say that she is never sexualized in these films. That was a very popular thing to do in the early 80’s and through the 90’s. Thankfully it’s a little less popular now, but of course still happens.
So, in case you have never seen Alien, Aliens, Alien 3, or Alien: Resurrection, Ripley played a vital role in all 4 films. Let’s talk about some of her achievements in the films. This woman is a survivor. She is actually the sole survivor in the first film thanks to her intelligence and problem solving skills. Oh, and I have to talk about my personal favorite film featuring Ellen Ripley, Aliens. The reason being that as her crew members are dropping like flies thanks to facehugger and Xenomorph attacks she stays strong. Not only that but she is the only crew member willing to save Newt (a young girl that is the sole survivor her of colony) who has been taken by the Xenomorphs. That tidbit alone should make you wise to her awesomeness.
Oh, and I should also point out that in Alien 3 our girl takes out a Xenomorph Queen. There are other achievements I’m not even touching on because I want you to discover them and Ripley for yourself. If you haven’t seen these films and like strong women as well as sci-fi and horror I highly suggest them.
Elizabeth Swann – Matt Gilbert
Whenever a list of powerful women in cinema is made to honor the latest in their respective hall of fame, the usual suspects are always rounded up. Hermione, Furiosa, Ripley, most recently Wonder Woman. All great answers. But Elizabeth Swann is one I never understood why no one included in their favorites. Maybe it’s because the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise are some pretty polarizing films, but that doesn’t make Elizabeth’s story any less badass or her development any less significant.
Everything about Elizabeth screams “damsel.” She’s rich, white, privileged and the daughter of a politician. In The Curse of the Black Pearl both Will Turner and James Norrington think they see the undead pirates kidnapping her and that she needs to be rescued. But the truth is she volunteers to be taken to the ship. She’s not intimidated by pirates. She’s fascinated by them. She’s not a damsel, she’s a fighter. Elizabeth lies straight to Captain Barbossa’s face knowing exactly how dangerous they are.
When the crew of the commandeered Interceptor take back The Black Pearl they refuse to use it to go and save Will, so Elizabeth goes alone despite the odds. By the end of the movie she’s swashbuckling and sword fighting admirably at Will and Jack’s side, even helps Jack escape the gallows back in Port Royal. Then, just for good measure, she rejects the idea and promise of a politically and financially safe marriage to Norrington in favor of blacksmith-turned-pirate Will.
And that’s just in movie one. In Dead Man’s Chest, Elizabeth divorces herself from the idea of a damsel even more. After a brief stint in the Port Royal jail she sneaks into the evil Lord Cutler Beckett’s office and forces him to sign the Letters of Marque at gunpoint. Then she ditches her dress in favor of a disguise as a sailor, manipulates an entire crew of numbskulls into sailing for Tortuga where she meets up with Jack and The Black Pearl.
By the middle of this movie, Elizabeth is just as much a pirate as Will or Jack or Gibbs, even if she says she’s had it with them. When Davy Jones’ crew attacks, Elizabeth, Pintel and Raghetti fight them all off with one sword to share between them. Both fights on that island are awesome, but I can’t help but be in awe at this onetime governor’s daughter who grows into a strong and independent and unbelievably capable pirate and fighter. Then at the end of this film, Elizabeth lies her way into murdering Jack Sparrow and throws her engagement to Will into peril. Say what you will about these movies and their characters, but one thing Elizabeth is never lacking through these movies is agency (ignoring Dead Men Tell No Tales).
As if that wasn’t enough, by the start of At World’s End Elizabeth may as well be a completely different person from who she was in Black Pearl. She gets down and dirty with the worst pirates in the world. She fights, lies to and murders them indiscriminately. She has aligned herself to the pirate’s life as they face extinction in Beckett’s new world. As the cherry on top of this already awesome and charismatic character, Captain Elizabeth Swann gets herself elected King of the Brethren Court.
It’s because of her the franchise gets its biggest and most incredible battle/action scene to date. I can’t help but get chills when she says “Prepare every vessel that floats.” She’s absolutely fearless. Her “hoist the colors” speech may ring just a tiny bit corny, but Keira Knightley delivers it with perfection. This is Elizabeth at her highest. The odds are devastating, but she refuses to cower in fear. If the Brethren Court is going down, they’re going down fighting under her leadership.
Elizabeth’s character arc across the three movies culminates in saving the pirates and finally getting to marry Will, albeit with a huge asterisk attached. Some might say this reduces her character away from the badassery she became but I disagree. She set sail to clear her and Will’s names so they could finally be together. Once the conflict is over, she doesn’t have to fight anymore. Will and her son is her reward. She’s earned the right to live happily ever after, as well as her place on the wall of fame for strong and badass female characters. I don’t know what that stinger in Dead Men Tell No Tales will mean for her, but I couldn’t be more excited to find out.