The Mount Rushmore Of ... Female Action Stars
Who Do We Thank For All Of This?
Having watched Zoe Saldana's most recent foray into the action genre in Columbiana I got to thinking that we are in the midst of a female action boom. Just look at 2012 so far:
- As the year starts The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is still going strong in it's 2nd week of release, on its way to grossing $232 million worldwide.
- January 20th saw the release of yet another Underworld movie (which ended up #1 at the box office that week) and Haywire, Steven Soderberg's attempted launching of Gina Carano into the action world.
- January 27th brought One For The Money, Katherine Heigel's first action flick (sorry, I didn't count The Killers mostly because I am trying to forget about the existence of The Killers).
- March 15th brings the premiere of Missing on ABC, Ashley Judd's turn at making Taken into a TV series.
- March 23rd KATNISS EVERDEEN is unleashed on the world in The Hunger Games.
So what brought us to this boom? Was it Angelina Jolie and the fact that she is only a sure fire box office bet when she is toting guns? Was it Uma Thurman and the trail of bodies she left in Kill Bill? Was it Trinity in The Matrix? Was it the continued financial success of both the Resident Evil franchise and the Underworld franchise? The answer of course is yes to all of that an so much more, but how far back to we have to go to see the birth of the modern female action star? Who makes up the Mount Rushmore of female action stars?
Sigourney Weaver as Ripley (The George Washington) - Some will argue that Ripley isn't really an "action" hero. They would be wrong. She is the start of how we view women in the action setting today, which is to say they are the same as men. Ripley could just have easily been a man. Watch the film again and you will see they wouldn't need to change a word of dialogue if Harrison Ford played Ripley instead of Sigourney Weaver. Ripley was also a strong enough character to build a franchise around (another first for women in this genre).
Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor (The Thomas Jefferson) - Sarah Connor is an interesting example of evolution and transition. She starts as a generic damsel in distress but when her hero is killed and her destiny as "Mary" is revealed she becomes something entirely different, a hero. The second movie shows what the weight of heroism has done to her (loss of innocence and joy combined with the gaining of strength and resolve). Sarah Connor is really one of the first female action heroes who is as physically capable (translation: as badass) as any of her male counterparts. And, Linda Hamilton's physical transformation has to be on anyone's short list of most impressive of all time along with:
- Robert De Niro in Raging Bull and again in The Untouchables.
- Edward Norton in American History X
- Tom Hanks in Castaway
- Christian Bale in The Machinist (it frankly puts the Castaway one to shame)
- Charlize Theron in Monster
and, of course ...
- Eddie Murphy in The Nutty Professor
Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft in Tomb Raider (The Abraham Lincoln) - I know you are rolling your eyes thinking "how could Tomb Raider be the Lincoln, the game changer?" Its simple. As great as Linda Hamilton was The Terminator films were sold as Schwarzenegger movies. Alien and its sequels sold the monsters as much as they did Ripley (although she was the unquestioned lead, she was always surrounded by teams of people). Tomb Raider is an action movie with a female lead who carries all of the action and was sold as such. Name a big budget, studio movie that did that before Tomb Raider? It seems quaint now, but it was honestly never done (at least not successfully) before. And make no mistake, Tomb Raider was successful. Believe me, I thought long and hard about putting Uma Thurman's Bride here or Carrie Anne Moss' Trinity because I enjoyed each of those performances more (and I make no apologies for liking Tomb Raider and its sequel just fine), but Tomb Raider was the game changer. Tomb Raider proved it could be done.
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games (The Teddy Roosevelt) - If I am doing this list again in 5 or 6 years Katniss is Lincoln. If I am doing this list again in 15 or 20 years Katniss may well be Washington, we may be saying that female action stars must start with her. For now, since she kind of defines now, she is Roosevelt.
The Mount Rushmore. Maybe that is a little vein, how about my Mount Rushmore? Better? But hey, what do I know, I'm fat.