In the action genre, the number of women who have managed to headline their own film is rather minute. Sure, upcoming films like Atomic Blonde showcase the talents of Charlize Theron, and Sigourney Weaver did manage to become an action icon for the ages with her starring turn in Aliens. But more often than not, actresses of all stripes are relegated to roles that are little more than eye candy, a brief appearance as a supporting character, or one-note comedic relief. While Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham gear up for a spinoff featuring their characters from the Fast & Furious franchise, longtime series player Michelle Rodriguez recently mused on leaving the series if its female characters weren’t given more to do.
With that in mind, here are our picks for 15 actresses who should lead their own action film. For the record, in our view, an action film is defined as something akin to Taken with Liam Neeson as opposed to the more action-comedy rooted Bad Boys series with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. If there’s more laughs than explosions, then it’s out.
15. Eva Mendes
Making her series debut in the less-than-beloved second installment of the Fast and Furious franchise, Mendes began her acting career in a straight-to-video horror film based on Stephen King’s Children of the Corn short story and has since appeared in films like Training Day, Ghost Rider and We Own the Night with Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix.
Having worked with David Ayer (Bright), we envision the two re-teaming for a gritty urban drama in the years to come. Set it in Los Angeles, have it written with the same quality and care that went into End of Watch, and another classic of the genre would be born. Plus, it would make up for the slight of Dwayne Johnson getting a Fast & Furious spinoff first, even though his character came in later.
14. Alyssa Milano
Though audiences around the world probably most recently remember Milano from the reference she’s given in the Guardians of the Galaxy films (Peter Quill’s ship is named after her due to a childhood crush.), few are as aware that from 1998-2006, she kicked ass alongside her fictional witch sisters on The WB’s Charmed.
Before that and her recent run of playing the seductive airhead in a lot of comedies, her second film role was as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s daughter Jenny in the 1980’s classic Commando. Perhaps the two could re-team for something in the future? It certainly would be interesting to see the one-time Austrian Oak re-pair with his cinematic kin for a Logan style film all their own. A fitting swan song that would be.
13. Freema Agyeman
Born in London in the late ’70s and performing since the new millennium, Agyeman recently appeared in Netflix’s recently-cancelled Sense8 as an ally to the main characters. She’s also had roles in the long-running sci-fi series Doctor Who and its spinoff Torchwood, as well as more mainstream fare like The CW’s Sex and the City prequel The Carrie Diaries.
After watching her tough portrayal of Amanita Caplan on Sense8, we envision her appearing as the Afghan born Dust in a future X-Men film or solo spinoff series. Obviously, some tweaks to the character would be required, but rarely if ever does something adapted from one medium to another ever stay the same (World War Z’s film adaptation being one example.) so we think it could work.
12. Jamie Lee Curtis
The child of screen legends Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis, Jamie Lee made her film debut in Halloween back in 1978, and she’s enjoyed a storied career in the decades since, complete with occasional re-visits to the genre that made her a proverbial Scream Queen. Though her most well-known action film appearance came in True Lies alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger, the template for what her own action film could look like lies in one of the later Halloween sequels.
In Halloween: H20, Curtis plays a confident and brave Strode who isn’t afraid to take on her psychotic brother and ultimately behead him with an axe. Why haven’t we seen a performance like that from her again? Cast her as a principal in a Die Hard style film that takes place in a school (this would be admittedly tricky to do, due to the inevitable controversy surrounding it), and watch the magic unfold. She’d be incredible.
11. Drew Barrymore
Born into the legendary Barrymore family of actors, the E.T. the Extra Terrestrial and Scream star did dabble in the action genre at one point with the McG directed Charlie’s Angels and its lesser-received sequel, Charlies Angels: Full Throttle. Since then, the 42-year-old has mostly stuck to comedies and dramas, and she’s currently starring in Netflix’s Santa Clarita Diet alongside Timothy Olyphant.
A reboot of Charlie’s Angels is currently in the works with Elizabeth Banks set to direct and a release date firmly claimed and, if given the chance, Barrymore should make an appearance in it. Generally, re-launches of a franchise make a clean break with past iterations, but the Fever Pitch star is too talented to ignore. Casting her as a villain would certainly make for an interesting change of pace.
10. Jurnee Smollett-Bell
Beginning her acting career as Michelle Tanner’s close friend Denise on Full House and later appearing on its spinoff Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper, Jurnee Smollett-Bell comes from a family of performers on the stage and screen. The New York born actress most recently appeared on the small screen as Rosalee, a house slave on the WGN series, Underground.
Though she hasn’t appeared in anything along the lines of a Die Hard yet in her career, readers should be impressed by knowing that she shot episodes of the critically acclaimed but now-cancelled show while pregnant. As anyone who has ever carried a child could tell you, doing anything while in that state is no easy task. If ever the opportunity came along, Smollett-Bell would be perfect for a female-driven western, especially given her affinity for charming and believable accents. After all, contrary to what industry depictions of the time period would have you believe, white people weren’t the only folks running around the old west.
9. Ruth Negga
Regular watchers of Marvel’s television offerings (so, probably not most people working on the films) will recognize Negga from her role as Raina on ABC’s Agents of SHIELD. During her career to date, Negga has also voiced Shanalotte in Dark Souls II, played Lady Taria in Duncan Jones’s Warcraft, and she currently stars as Tulip O’Hare on AMC’s Preacher.
All of these are fine characters to be sure, but only the latter is remotely at the heart of the stories in which they make their appearances. Due to dabblings in video game and comic adaptations, she’d be a ideal fit for a new version of PainKiller Jane. This female vigilante with regenerative powers first appeared in comics in the 1990s, and although she already has one previous television film and series under her belt, she’s certainly due for a reboot. Negga would be perfect.
8. Diane Kruger
The German actress is likely best known to readers for her work alongside Nicholas Cage in the National Treasure series of films from Disney. But outside of those, she has also dabbled in intense productions like FX’s The Bridge and Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds.
Initially described by The New York Times in 2006 as “too beautiful to play a role of any substance”, the former model has been working to disprove the sexist write-up since. If she ever gets into the action genre, Kruger would be a great fit for a director who makes smart films that also have the style viewers have come to expect. In essence, a little less Michael Bay and a heck of a lot more Chad Stahelski and David Leitch (John Wick).
7. Ali Leibert
North of the 49th parallel, this Canadian actress has enjoyed a decade long career playing bit parts in various television shows and a handful of films. To date, her most prominent role has been in the Canadian television series Bomb Girls. Set in a munitions production factory during the Second World War, Liebert’s portrayal of closeted worker Betty McRae won her critical acclaim.
She would later take home a Canadian Screen Award in 2015 for her work on the series. If ever a stateside production wanted to hire her, Leibert would do well in a film that plays on her approachable look. Perhaps as a cop who no one takes seriously at first. Or, since the actress actually owns her own production company, she could just find an action film script to star in all on her own. One way or another, it needs to happen!
6. Constance Wu
Embarrassingly, even in 2017, there are very few roles for Asian performers in the industry. Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park recently departed CBS’s Hawaii Five-0 due to a pay dispute, and in spite of a strong campaign online, Marvel’s Netflix adaptation of Iron Fist went with the traditional Caucasian depiction of the character — to subpar results.
More often than not, this is due to members of this minority group getting typecast as one type of performer. If you start in action or drama, you stay in that lane. If you start in comedies, you get stuck there too. But Constance Wu is far too talented to get shoehorned. After her upcoming film role in Crazy Rich Asians for Warner Bros., she should do something intense. Despite her start coming in the comedic genre (thanks to ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat), she seems tailor-made for a hyper-dark revenge film, like a mother looking to settle the score after her child is killed in a school shooting and the perpetrator gets away.
5. Catherine Bell
For those who don’t remember JAG or are just familiar with the show as a result of the one time it was mocked on Family Guy, Bell played Lieutenant Colonel Sarah Mackenzie on the NBC (and later, CBS) legal drama from 1997-2005 opposite David James Elliott. If you watch the news, you’d know that since the show ended, a vast array of change has occurred within the U.S. military.
It would be interesting to see a film made with Bell that took advantage of it all. Cast her as one of the first women to pass special forces training or a general who has to command her son on the battlefield, and you have the makings of a very compelling film. She’s certainly in good enough shape that she could handle all of the physical preparation required.
4. Julie Benz
Until her shocking death in season four (Spoilers!), this Pittsburgh born actress played the often-put-upon girlfriend and later wife of Miami based serial killer Dexter Morgan. After her run on Dexter concluded, Benz followed up with a role on the Fantastic Four-like No Ordinary Family in 2010, and she recently appeared on the television adaptation of Training Day for CBS.
If cast as the lead in an action film, it would be a welcome sight to see Benz do a turn as a Death Wish styled vigilante. Rita had been through a lot on Dexter, so Benz would be a natural fit for a character who is pushed to the breaking point and lashes out. Think a mix of The Burning Bed and the first Rambo film, and you’d have a winning combination.
3. Bonnie Bedelia
Though her career has cooled in comparison to that of her on-screen husband Bruce Willis since the first Die Hard entered theaters decades ago, Bedelia would be the perfect thing to re-vitalize the series — and perhaps even get Willis interested in his work again. (In recent years, the action star has gotten a lot of flak for seemingly being disinterested in acting and being a celebrity.)
We envision a film where he’s wounded and she has to save his life for a change. After two near-death incidents and so many years of her husband and children being in the “wrong place at the wrong time”, it’s pretty likely that Holly McClane (Nee Gennaro) would take up some weaponry and related combat training in order to protect herself. Sure she’s old, but so is Willis! And anything can happen with stunt doubles.
2. Sofia Vergara
Best known for starring in ABC’s Modern Family as Gloria Delgado-Pritchett, Vergara began her career in her native Colombia before moving to the United States and later becoming a citizen. In recent years, her offerings have included Hot Pursuit with Reese Witherspoon and the upcoming Emoji Movie. Having a comedic background is fine, but as any performer worth their salt can tell you, staying in it for too long results in you being pigeon-holed (just ask Matthew McConaughey how people once saw him).
In the future, Vergara should look to branch out to some darker concepts. If given the opportunity, she would be interesting in a Predator style film, but set in the desert. Sahara, somewhere in the United States or a lesser-known locale. It would be interesting.
1. Cate Blanchett
Although the Australian blonde memorably played Lady Galadriel (one of like, three or four female characters in the whole saga) in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J.R.R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, and she has an upcoming role in Thor: Ragnarok, as far as we can tell, she’s never headlined an action film all by herself.
This should happen, and soon. In the event that Blanchett decides to branch out, a post-apocalyptic film feels like it would be the right fit for her. Do something like an anti-Mad Max. Instead of a silent lone wanderer, she’d work well as the no-nonsense leader of a town who has to protect the populace from raiders, mutants, and everything else roaming about the wasteland beyond the secured and comfortable confines of the city. She’s as talented as they come, and we’d love to see what she could do with a gun or two in her hand.
Do you have any suggestions for actresses who should be doing action films? Let us know in the comments.
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