For a long time the action movie genre has largely been a boys club, with women either relegated to sexy love interest roles or barely featured at all. There were exceptions to the rule - Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley being the most obvious examples - but it's only recently, and particularly with the rising popularity of young adult sci-fi novel adaptations, that action movies with female leads have really begun to infiltrate the top spots at the box office.
Leading the pack is The Hunger Games' protagonist Katniss Everdeen, now a two-time survivor of Panem's brutal gladiatorial game show, who returns this week in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1. The film picks up after Katniss' escape from the Quarter Quell, with Peeta a prisoner of the Capitol and the leaders of the rebel faction keen to turn Katniss into a symbol of hope for their fighters.
Propaganda filmmaker Cressida, played by Game of Thrones star Natalie Dormer, plays a crucial part in turning Katniss into the Mockingjay by following her into the war-torn areas of Panem and filming her in action. Dormer has been outspoken in the past about the dearth of interesting roles for women in film. Speaking during the 'Women Who Kick Ass' panel at San Diego Comic-Con this year, Dormer described Katniss as an "anomaly" in mainstream cinema, where there exists a tendency to "make a woman either the angel or the whore."
Screen Rant caught up with Dormer, along with the rest of the cast, over the weekend to discuss the impact that The Hunger Games has had on the current landscape of mainstream cinema, and we asked if she would be interested in joining the upcoming slate of superhero movies with leading or prominent female characters.
"I will play in a sandbox where there is good work and good material. I'm interested in a quality in cinema and I think it’s finally… catching on. The beautiful thing about Julianne Moore’s role in this movie, President Coin, as well as Cressida, could easily have been played by men. They could have been male characters. I saw 'Interstellar' the other day. The Anne Hathaway character and the Jessica Chastain character, they could have easily been male roles and they are not.
"I think that is what we are aiming for, ultimately, is when it becomes more about gender irrelevance it’s more about just who the character is and the journey they are on. I think that’s what we’re aiming for as an industry, as an audience, and just as people."
President Alma Coin is the leader of District 13, the headquarters of Panem's rebellion. She might be fighting back against a cruel and corrupt regime, but that doesn't necessarily mean that Coin is one of the good guys; the trailers have strongly indicated that Coin is interested in using and manipulating Katniss in exactly the same way that President Snow did.
It does seem to be true that Hollywood is starting to break out of the habit of defaulting to male whenever a character's gender is inconsequential. The Hunger Games and other adaptations like Divergent might not be the best example of this, since they're based on novels rather than original scripts and therefore the gender of the characters was already fixed, but Luc Besson's recent box office hit Lucy is a good example of a film that could easily have had a male protagonist, but didn't.
Warner Bros. and Marvel Studios have both come around to the idea of action movies led by women, with Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel standalone movies both on the way. It's worth noting that Dormer has already appeared in the Marvel cinematic universe, as a soldier in Captain America: The First Avenger whose only real impact on the plot was kissing Steve Rogers and making Peggy Carter jealous. Perhaps one day soon she'll get an offer for something a little more substantial.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 opens in theaters on November 21st, 2014.