There’s never been a shortage of action heroes in Hollywood. Over the past few decades, there’s been a rise in the number of awesome female action stars, too. From Sigourney Weaver’s indestructible Ripley in Alien to Linda Hamilton’s warrior version of Sarah Connor in Terminator 2, plenty of women warriors have paved the way for the strong women we see on our screens regularly today. Some actresses that are cast in combat-heavy roles end up relying on stunt doubles to pull off their characters’ feats of strength. There are others, though, that go above and beyond the call of duty and make kicking ass a way of life both on-screen and off.
With years of combat training under their belts, they’re the type of women that you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark ally — the ones that could disarm you without batting an eye. Here are 15 Hollywood Actresses That Could Kick Your Ass.
15. Naomi Watts
Naomi Watts has delivered plenty of emotionally vulnerable performances over the years in films like Mulholland Drive and 21 Grams. So it may come as a surprise that she’s actually one of the toughest women in Hollywood. Since the late 1980s, she’s studied judo, and she’s even competed in amateur competitions. These days, she studies Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
Sure, it’s a little surprising that she hasn’t had a chance to flex her muscles in any of her big roles so far. In retrospect, though, she couldn’t exactly go toe-to-toe with her captor in King Kong, and The Ring probably wouldn’t have been quite as scary if her character had drop-kicked Sadako. Plus, we did get a little glimpse of her full-body strength in some of the more grueling survival scenes in her Oscar-nominated role in The Impossible. There’s something to be said for kick-ass women who keep their skills on the down low, anyway.
14. Evan Rachel Wood
Evan Rachel Wood’s work in Hollywood has run the gamut. She’s played a wild child in 13, a sultry vampire in True Blood and a robot in HBO’s upcoming series Westworld. Throughout her 20+ year acting career, the 28-year-old actress has turned in dozens of electric (and eclectic) performances. One skill she hasn’t had a chance to showcase yet? Her years of training in martial arts.
Wood practiced taekwondo for four years as a young woman, and even earned a black belt in the process. Unlike many of the other ladies on this list, Wood hasn’t played many characters that are prone to kicking ass. With movies like Ides of March and Across the Universe, she’s stuck to roles that require emotional, rather than physical, intensity. Her fighting skills have remained untapped in her on-screen career so far, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have what it takes to hold her own.
13. Neetu Chandra
While she hasn’t broken through to mainstream success in the United States, Neetu Chandra has made quite a name for herself in her native India. The 32-year-old Bollywood actress has appeared in more than a dozen Hindi films, including Apartment, No Problem and Ameerin Aadhi Baghavan. Though she’s racked up quite a few film and television credits, her most impressive accomplishment today is one that she rarely gets to use in her acting career.
Chandra has been training as a martial artist for years. Her talent in that arena is so on point that she’s competed in high-profile competitions. In 1997, she even represented India in the World Taekwando Championship. To date, she holds two Dan black belts in taekwando. She’s credited her training with giving her a self-confidence that helped her succeed in Bollywood. Maybe one of these days, she’ll get a chance to show off those skills on screen.
12. Stacy Keibler
Stacey Keibler may look petite, but that hasn’t stopped her from becoming one of the most badass women in Hollywood. The 36-year-old has had a long career in the entertainment industry, too — she started as an NFL cheerleader, and has been, at varying times, a model, reality show contestant, an actress and a TV host. She’s most famous, though, for the years she spent as a professional wrestler. She started her career in 1999 as member of the Nitro Girls on WCW before becoming a WWE Diva. In her time as a wrestler, she showed up on SmackDown!, Raw and Tough Enough.
Though she retired from wrestling in 2006, she’s stayed in the public eye, appearing as a television host and guest starring in several sitcoms, including George Lopez and How I Met Your Mother. Unfortunately, she hasn’t had many chances to use her roundhouse kick and chokehold skills in her post-wrestling career.
11. Michelle Yeoh
Michelle Yeoh is a legend when it comes to her on-screen fighting skills. Since the 1980s, she’s been a staple in the Hong Kong movie industry — and she’s earned a reputation for performing many of her own complicated stunts. Yeoh gained international fame thanks to her stunning performance in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. She’s also fought alongside uber-famous action heroes like Jackie Chan in Police Story 3: Super Cop and James Bond in Tomorrow Never Dies.
Yeoh has the rare ability to make fighting look not only easy, but down-right beautiful, thanks to her years of practicing ballet. The way she wields a sword and throws a high kick, you’d think that she’s spent years honing her craft. In reality, she has very little formal training in martial arts. Yeoh has worked closely with stunt trainers in preparing for her combat-heavy roles — but she’s never actively practiced martial arts, other than a bit of taekwondo.
10. Sarah Michelle Gellar
For seven years, she high-kicked, punched and slayed her way through hundreds of vampires. Sarah Michelle Gellar didn’t just play a slayer on TV, though — she’s a beast in real life, too. In fact, Gellar was an accomplished athlete years before she found fame on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
As a teen, she was a skilled competitive figure skater. She also found success in Taekwando, earning a black belt and placing in national competitions. Gellar kept up her martial arts skills throughout her years on Buffy, and honed her abilities by training in street fighting, gymnastics and kick-boxing, too. Basically, she could not only kick your ass — she could kick your ass three or four different times over. The 39-year-old hasn’t had a role as physically demanding since the series ended in 2003 — unless you count that laughable fight sequence in Scooby Doo, but she’s kept herself in pique physical shape nonetheless.
9. Elodie Yung
Most of us don’t grow up to find that our childhood hobbies could make us famous. But in Elodie Yung’s case, that’s exactly what happened. The 35-year-old actress has been practicing karate on and off since she was nine years old, and earned a black belt before she graduated from high school. Though she doesn’t always actively keep up with her training, her martial arts skills have come in handy in more than one of her roles.
Her training certainly helped her as Jinx in GI Joe: Retaliation, where she showcased a stunning agility as she handily defeated her opponents. Yung’s karate background was crucial when she took on the role of Elektra in the second season of Daredevil. The work she had to do to prepare for the role was grueling — and would have been impossible without her already strong background as a fighter. Whether you loved Yung’s portrayal of the iconic Greek assassin or not, there’s no denying that her combat skills were entirely on point.
8. Michelle Rodriguez
Unlike many of the other actresses on this list, Michelle Rodriguez doesn’t have a ton of professional training — but what she lacks in expertise, she makes up for in pure ferocity. She held her own against professional fighters in multiple installments of the Fast and Furious franchise and ruthlessly fought for vigilante justice in Machete. Rodriguez has built a career on intense action sequences, and become one of Hollywood’s go-to tough girls as a result.
The 37-year-old underwent a grueling five-month training schedule to get ready for her role as a boxer in the indie hit Girlfight — even though she’d never set foot in a ring before she auditioned. She’s taken that training with her throughout her Hollywood career, too. Rodriguez threw her own punches when she appeared in Demi Lovato’s boxing-themed music video last year. She worked out with trainers for several weeks to prepare for her fight scene against Gina Carano in Fast & Furious 6, too. Basically, she’s a serious badass.
7. Summer Glau
She’s got style, she’s got grace, and she’ll kick you in the face. Summer Glau spent her childhood training to be a professional ballet dancer, but a career-ending injury made her change course and pursue acting instead. Since then, she’s become an avid student of kung fu, kickboxing and wushu, and she’s put her training as a dancer and a martial artist to good use on screen.
Joss Whedon cast her in a small role on Angel thanks to her ballet background before giving her a more prominent role on his short-lived series Firefly. The diminutive 34-year-old played the telepathic, eccentric assassin River Tam — and she was also able to show off both her dancing and her combat skills in many of the character’s epic fight sequences. She also starred as ruthless robot Cameron Mitchell on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, where she used her preternatural strength to easily overtake foes twice her size.
6. Lucy Liu
From a deadly assassin in Kill Bill and a crime-fighting PI in Charlie’s Angels to a tough-as-nails brothel owner in The Man With the Iron Fists, Lucy Liu has fought through her share of action sequences over the years. The 47-year-old actress has practiced martial arts on and off throughout her entire Hollywood career, too — which explains the razor-sharp reflexes and incredible strength she’s exhibited on screen. Liu often performs her own stunts, which is pretty impressive given the level of skill that many of her fight scenes have required.
Remember that awesome fight between the Bride and O-Ren in Kill Bill? Yeah, Lucy Liu can totally do that in real life, too. She trained in Samurai sword fighting for three months prior to filming her part in Vol. 1. Plus, she’s been practicing Kali-Eskrima-Silat, a Phillippines-based form of knife fighting, since she was in her 20s. In other words, there’s no question that she could take just about anybody down — it’s just a matter of how she’d choose to do it.
5. Priyanka Chopra
She’s one of India’s most recognizable faces — an accomplished actress, model and a former Miss World to boot. Priyanka Chopra is also becoming a huge hit in Hollywood — and she’s built up a considerable reputation for being an action star, both here and abroad. The 33-year-old trained extensively and performed her own stunts when she was cast as a champion boxer in Mary Kom. She learned karate and jiu jitsu for her action-heavy roles in Bollywood hits like Drona, Don and Jai Gangaajal. She also participated in Khantron Ke Khiladi, the Indian version of the adrenaline-fueled reality series Fear Factor.
These days, she’s kicking it stateside as FBI agent Alex Parrish in Quantico, a series that’s paid homage to her physical prowess with extended training montages and more than a few impressive fight sequences. Chopra is also learning Kajukenbo, a hybrid form of martial arts, for her upcoming role in the big-screen adaptation of Baywatch.
4. Caity Lotz
As Legends of Tomorrow’s Sara Lance, Caity Lotz has become one of TV’s most impressive superheroes. Since she first debuted on Arrow, Lance has whipped Hawkgirl into shape, taken down a whole locker room full of men, and fought the Green Arrow and Spartan at once and barely broken a sweat.
Awesomely enough, Lotz does all her own fighting. The 29-year-old has spent years training as a dancer and martial artist. Before she broke through in Hollywood, she spent her free time mastering the art of parkour. She even considered a career as a stuntwoman before turning her attention exclusively to acting. Once she landed the role of the White Canary, Lotz started up a regular training schedule to keep herself in shape. She practices krav maga, muy thai and hones her upper body strength with a salmon ladder. So it goes without saying that an average mortal wouldn’t stand a chance against her.
3. Ronda Rousey
It seems like a disservice to Ronda Rousey to call her an MMA fighter — because in so many ways, she’s simply dominated the sport over the last few years. As an Olympic medalist, and bantamweight champion, she’s has won dozens of fights and rapidly become one of the most recognizable female mixed martial artists in the world. Rousey has had a chance to show off her judo and jiu jitsu skills — which she’s been honing since she was 11 — on the big screen, too, advancing her career into the acting arena.
The 29-year-old has lined up some pretty high-profile projects, hosting Saturday Night Live and appearing in films like Fast & Furious 7. In The Expendables 3, she even got a chance to show off to one of Hollywood’s most famous heavy-hitters, Sylvester Stallone. It’s safe to say that anyone who can impress Rocky with her fighting skills more than deserves her due.
2. Gina Carano
It’s been a few years since Gina Carano was in the ring — but that doesn’t mean she’s any less fierce than she was when she was a popular Strikeforce and EliteXC fighter. The 34-year-old became famous for her killer Muay Thai skills and made headlines for years thanks to her skill as a kick-boxer and MMA fighter. Carano has also worked steadily as an actress and model, beginning with the 2006 film Ring Girls.
Since retiring from professional MMA fighting, she’s turned her attention exclusively to her Hollywood career. She appeared in NBC’s revamped American Gladiators before winning roles in a couple of high profile movies. She co-starred as Riley Hicks, Luke’s kick-ass compatriot in Fast & Furious 6. She most recently appeared as Angel Dust in Deadpool, where she made fighting Colossus look like child’s play. In other words, the fact that she could easily take down a metallic mutant doesn’t bode too well for us normal folk.
1. Milla Jovovich
She rose to prominence in Hollywood with a string of roles in action movies like The Fifth Element. With her penchant for playing strong, fearless women, Milla Jovovich’s movie roles in the 1990s and early 2000s more or less set the groundwork for the action heroines that came after her. It’s not a reputation that came easy, either — Jovovich has spent years cultivating her ass-kicking skills.
The 40-year-old actress has been studying martial arts since she was a teenager. She’s said in interviews that she’s well-versed in taekwando and Brazilian jiu jitsu, and has studied both on and off for years. Her commitment to martial arts has paid off in her Hollywood career. Jovovich has relied on these combat skills while filming her action-packed role as Alice, the superhumanly strong protagonist in all six Resident Evil movies. In doing so, she’s proven herself to be one of the preeminent female action stars of the 21st century.
Who’s your favorite ass-kicking actress? Let us know in the comments!
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