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.
Nora Ephron's Mount Rushmore
Quite sadly Norah Ephron passed away today. Anyone who has written anything even mildly creative with any attempt to infuse those words with comedy has to have to utmost respect for who Nora Ephron was as a writer and storyteller. She brilliantly mixed female and male voices with banter that was both witty and real. Nora Ephron wrote 14 movies and I believe this should be what her Mount Rushmore would look like:
George Washington = When Harry Met Sally
Nora Ephron had been around for a little while before When Harry Met Sally was released in 1989, but this was the movie that defined what we think a "Nora Ephron movie" is. Women who are funny. Men who don't equate misogyny with manliness or an ability to be friends with women as a sign of weakness. Relationships that are about more than sex without ignoring sex. But mostly a Nora Ephron movie is a romantic comedy built on banter, lots and lots of banter.
Thomas Jefferson = Heartburn
First a best selling novel then a major hollywood movie starring Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep, Heartburn is the very autobiographical account of Ephron's own divorce from Carl "All The Presidents Men" Bernstein, Heartburn actually came out 3 years before When Harry Met Sally. While When Harry Met Sally became the film that turned her name into a description Heartburn showed how much depth and talent she had in writing dramas (she had truthfully already shown that skill in Silkwood). It is also fitting that this movie starred Meryl Streep. When we hear Nora Ephron we think Rom-Com and we think Meg Ryan, the truth is Meryl Streep may have been her more accurate and more often used alter-ego.
Abraham Lincoln = Sleepless in Seattle
Lincoln was a game changer and so was Sleepless in Seattle because this was no longer about Nora Ephron the writer, this was about Nora Ephron the filmmaker. Sleepless in Seattle was only Nora's second outing as a director and it turned out to be the biggest hit of her career. Tom Hanks proved a perfect match for Ephron's style and brought a likability and sorrow and hope to his character that represents the kind of acting that never receives awards but that almost no one can do.
Theodore Roosevelt = Julie & Julia
Meryl Streep is brilliant as Julia Child and Amy Adams does her likable/cute thing to perfection in what turned out to be Nora Ephron's last movie as both writer and director. This was a movie that always felt smaller, more personal and truer than a lot of the more Ephron-ish things she had done before (You've Got Mail as an example) and in time I think this may be viewed as her true triumph. Passion, disappointment and ultimately hope.
In a world full of cynical movies it was always nice to see the marriage of wit and hope that Nora Ephron brought to the movies. We will all miss that.
R.I.P Nora Ephron (1941-2012)
The Mount Rushmore of … has become a fun way to make lists. ESPN did a whole series of Mount Rushmore’s covering states, sports and even “zany” ones like The Mount Rushmore of mustaches. They are great but they are almost always just the top 4 of a thing. I look at Mount Rushmore as representing the evolution of the role of President, so any “Mount Rushmore of” would also have to represent evolution and have things that filled the specific roles each of the four faces on Rushmore represent.
GEORGE WASHINGTON – the first, the most famous, that which in many ways defines the very thing you are listing. Also, Washington represents the beginning of the time frame. If you were to create a Mount Rushmore of War movies and you said Platoon was the Washington, then you are saying that modern war movies began to exist when Platoon was released in 1986 and any war movie from before then would be ineligible for the other slots (one of many reasons why you would never put Platoon in the “Washington” slot). Maybe the most obvious “Washington” would be Babe Ruth if you were making a list of baseball players or Star Wars for Sci-Fi movies.
THOMAS JEFFERSON – the other side of the coin with Washington. While Washington represents the popular, the action, the flashy side Jefferson represents the intellectual side, the side that people who take the thing seriously and study the subject may point to as more important even if they are not nearly as popular. A key component is that Washington and Jefferson exist in the same time and place. So if Star Wars in the Washington of Sci-Fi films, then Close Encounters or 2001 would be the Jefferson (2001 would be my choice except it did come out a few years before Star Wars so I would have to have the internal debate as to whether they it was close enough to consider it part of the same time and place). Pop quiz to the obvious Jefferson to Ruth’s Washington … Ty Cobb.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN – the game changer, the person who solidified the thing by deepening it, expanding it and redefining it. To continue our Sci-Fi thing, if Star Wars is Washington and 2001 is Jefferson (it won my internal debate) then who is Lincoln? Maybe ET for showing that Sci-Fi could be family friendly? What about Blade Runner? Probably The Matrix for bringing back abstract philosophy and cutting edge visual to Sci-Fi? Maybe now The Matrix seems somewhat obvious, but that is in no small part because we now have a definitive Roosevelt. Our Baseball list has another obvious one, Jackie Robinson.
TEDDY ROOSEVELT – the either current or most recent member of the list who may or may not be overrated but is too new to be able to gauge entirely accurately. Obviously often you will have a lot of choices to choose from with the Roosevelt spot and that is kind of perfect for Roosevelt (the “one of these doesn’t belong” member of Mount Rushmore, fairly or not). To continue with our two example lists, the definitive Sci-Fi Roosevelt? Avatar, and it would be hard to make an argument for anyone else. As for Baseball, your answer will say everything about how you view modern baseball. Do you say Jeter? Then you are either a Yankee fan or someone who puts massive value on winning and indefinable “leadership” qualities. If you say Bonds then you think steroids were an over-blown issue and that “rings” as a means of judging players in a team sport is grossly over-used. Pujols means you’re from St. Louis or at least the mid-west. A-Rod puts you in the same boat as Bonds except you have 1 ring and some of the modern metrics like A-Rod a little more than Bonds. And if you list just about anyone else you are an absolute homer or you over value pitching (this is coming from a Red Sox fan who would love to put Papi or Manny on the list).
That is it, the four slots that need to be filled. Not just “I like these four things” but this is how that thing has evolved. So, to recap our two example lists:
THE MOUNT RUSHMORE OF BASEBALL
WASHINGTON – Babe Ruth
JEFFERSON – Ty Cobb
LINCOLN – Jackie Robinson
ROOSEVELT – Barry Bonds (now you know what I think of PED’s)
THE MOUNT RUSHMORE OF Sci-Fi MOVIES
WASHINGTON – Star Wars
JEFFERSON – 2001: A Space Odyssey
LINCOLN – The Matrix
ROOSEVELT – Avatar
And if you don’t think that is different than a Top 4 list well, Blade Runner and probably Wrath of Kahn would be on any Sci-Fi list I would ever make (and Avatar would never sniff that list). And Barry Bonds is the only member of my Mount Rushmore of Baseball who would also be on my Top 4, and yet I think these two Mount Rushmore’s are nearly inarguable.
There are some great arguable ones too. Like …
THE MOUNT RUSHMORE OF THE NBA
WASHINGTON – Magic Johnson
JEFFERSON – Larry Bird
LINCOLN – Michael Jordan
ROOSEVELT – Kobe Bryant
I think most would go with Russell in the Washington role, but then you are left with Wilt, Kareem or Oscar Robinson in the Jefferson slot and you are forced to choose between Magic and Bird, none of which felt right. The truth is, the NBA really started with Magic and Bird (think Star Wars with Sci-Fi), Jordan is so much more than a Roosevelt he has to be a Lincoln, and Kobe is a perfect Roosevelt (does anyone really know how we are going to view Kobe in a decade?). Still, does it seem right that there are no big men on the side of the mountain?
THE MOUNT RUSHMORE OF SITCOMS
WASHINGTON – The Mary Tyler Moore Show
JEFFERSON – Mash
LINCOLN – Seinfeld
ROOSEVELT – Friends
Talk about one where you could make arguments at every slot. Think of what is missing, I Love Lucy, Taxi, Cheers, Cosby, The Honeymooners, Happy Days, Rosanne, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Dick Van Dyke Show and that is just off the top of my head. My first thought was to go with Lucy and The Honeymooners as Washington and Jefferson, but Seinfeld just feels like Lincoln to me and Lucy and The Honeymooners just seemed to far removed. Mary Tyler Moore and MASH both brought the modern sensibilities of occasional dramedy and character development that were not really a part of the earlier shows and therefore felt like a logical place to start. Friends and Seinfeld were kind of close together to be Lincoln and Roosevelt but Friends feels like a Roosevelt in that it is at least now perpetually copied and yet there are rumblings as to whether or not it was overrated.