If you stan kickass women as much as we do, these action movies with female leads are for you. Wonder Woman, Lara Croft and G.I. Jane are a few badass women who have taken down bad guys over the years, but there are so, so many more action movies with female leads to watch.
Since the first-ever action movie in 1903, The Great Train Robbery, the action movie genre has been dominated by men. There’s Ethan Hunt in the Mission: Impossible series, Dominic “Dom” Toretto in the Fast and Furious franchise and, of course, James Bond, but over the years, more and more women have been front and center of their own crime-fighting narratives, and we love to see it. From The Hunger Games to Captain Marvel, action movies with female leads have heart, fight scenes and an important story to tell about how women can kick ass just as well as men.
The evolution of action movies starring women has come a long way, and while the genre isn’t as equal to action movies starring men, there are still many on-screen female heroes to root for. Ahead, we’ve rounded up the best action movies with female leads to watch the next time you’re in the mood to see women kicking ass.
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Enola Holmes (2020)
Millie Bobby Brown stars as Sherlock Holmes’ teenage sister, Enola, in this mystery filmed based on the first book of a series of the same title by Nancy Springer. The story tells the story about how Enola travels to London in search of her mother, who has disappeared. The badass action-mystery also stars Helena Bonham Carter, Henry Cavill and Sam Claflin as other Holmes family members.
Any action movie fan knows that Kate Beckinsale is an icon. Beckinsale became a household name of the genre in 2003 when she starred in the first Underworld movie, an action horror film about vampire Death Dealer named Selene (Beckinsale) who hunts Lycans (a.k.a. werewolves.) Selene finds herself in a tricky situation when she falls for a human, Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman), who’s targeted by Lycans. The film was followed by a sequel, Underworld: Evolution, in 2006, and a prequel, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, in 2009. A second sequel, Underworld: Awakening, was released in 2012.
The Old Guard (2020)
The Old Guard stars Charlize Theron as a woman named Andy (whose full name is Andromache), a centuries-old warrior with regenerative healing abilities who’s recruited by a former CIA agent for a mission. Along with a team of three men who also have regenerative healing abilities, Andy recruits a U.S. Marine named Nile Freeman, who discovers that she has the same powers as Andy and her team. The film, based Greg Rucka’s comic book of the same title, is directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood.
Wonder Woman (2017)
Wonder Woman became the first female-led film in the DC Extended Universe when it premiered in 2017. Starring newcomer-at-the-time Gal Gadot, the movie, based on origin of the DC Comics superhero of the same name, is set in 1918 as Diana Prince, an immortal Amazon warrior, discovers a US pilot captain Steve Trevor crashed off the coast of Themyscira, the home of the Amazons. After Themyscira is invaded by German soldiers, Diana and Steve embark on a mission to find and stop Ares, a Greek god who Diana believes is responsible for the war. The film is directed by Patty Jenkins.
Atomic Blonde (2017)
Atomic Blonde, based on the 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City, stars Charlize Theron as Lorraine Broughton, a top-level MI6 field agent, who is sent to Berlin during the Cold War in 1989 to investigate the murder of a fellow agent and recover a missing list of double agents. The film is set on the eve of the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
Charlize Theron also stars in Mad Max: Fury Road, the fourth installment of the Mad Max film series. The movie, which is set in a post-apocalyptic desert wasteland where petrol and water are scarce, follows a man named Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), who meets and joins forces with Imperator Furiosa (Theron) to flee from a cult leader named Immortan Joe and his army, who travel in an armored tanker truck.
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is the first in the Lara Croft film series. The movie, starring Angelina Jolie, is based on the video game series of the same name, which follows an adventurer named Lara Croft, who embarks on a mission to try to recover ancient artifacts from the illuminati.
Hanna stars Saoirse Ronan as a young girl raised in the wilderness of northern Finland by her father, a former CIA operative, who trains her as an assassin. The film, which also inspired an Amazon TV series of the same name, follows Hanna and her father as they run from a senior CIA agent played by Cate Blanchett who is on an mission to track them down and eliminate them.
Captain Marvel (2019)
Captain Marvel became the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first female-led film when it premiered in 2019. The movie, based o the origin story of Marvel Comics character Carol Danvers, stars Brie Larson as Danvers, an ex-U.S. Air Force fighter pilot who becomes a member of an elite outer-space military unit called Starforce after an accident that imbued her with superhuman strength and the power to fly and shoot energy from her body after she was exposed to the energy of the Tesseract, a cosmic cube.
G.I. Jane (1997)
G.I. Jane, directed by Ridley Scott, stars Demi Moore as Lieutenant Jordan O’Neil, a soldier who becomes the first woman to undergo training in the U.S. Navy Special Warfare Group. The film, whose title is a spinoff of the G.I. Joe action figures, follows Lieutenant O’Neill as she battles sexism and makes a name for herself in the military.
The Fifth Element (1997)
The Fifth Element follows a taxicab driver named Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis) who meets a woman named LeeLoo (Milla Jovovich) who falls into his cab. LeeLoo and Korebn, a former special forces agent, join forces to recover four mystical stones to defend Earth fro the attack of a malevolent cosmic entity.
The Hunger Games (2012)
The Hunger Games, based on Suzanne Collins’ book trilogy of the same title, stars Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, a young girl from District 12, an underserved community in a post-apocalyptic Earth, who volunteers as tribute in The Hunger Games, a televised fight to the death among teenagers, to protect her younger sister.
Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003)
Kill Bill: Volume 1 is one of two movies in Quentin Tarantino Kill Bill series. The film stars Uma Thurman as a bride who swears revenge on a team of assassins (played by Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Michael Madsen and Daryl Hannah), as well as the group’s leader, Bill, after they try to kill her and her unborn child.
Salt stars Angelina Jolie as Evelyn Salt, a CIA agent who is accused of being a double agent for the KGB goes on the run to clear her name. The film was initially written with a male lead played by Tom Cruise but was rewritten for Jolie after conversations with the creators.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
Directed by Ang Lee, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a Chinese martial arts based on Wang Dulu’s 1938 novel of the same name. The film stars female action stars such as Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi as warriors in 18th-century Qing dynasty China.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
Rogue One stars Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, a young renegade who is detained for her crimes against the Empire. The film, which is set before the events of the first Star Wars movie, follows Jyn after she is freed by the Rebel Allegiance and must find a way to survive.
Divergent, based on Veronica Roth’s 2011 novel of the same name, stars Shailene Woodley as Tris Prior, a young girl who is told that she is Divergent and will never fit into any of the world’s “factions.” The film is set in a post-apocalyptic Chicago, where people are divided into factions base on human virtues. The film follows Tris, whose full name is Beatrice, as she discovers an evil plot beneath what looks like a perfect society.
Foxy Brown (1974)
Foxy Brown stars Pam Grier as the titular character, a woman who seeks revenge after her government-agent boyfriend is shot and killed by members of a drug ring on her doorstep. The movie is regarded as one of the first action films to star a Black female lead.
Alien, directed by Ridley Scott, s a science-fiction horror film that follows a crew on the commercial spacecraft Norstromo, as they encounter a deadly and aggressive Alien, who attacks the ship. The film is led by Ripley, a warrant officer played by Sigourney Weaver, who was relatively unknown in the film world before the movie. Alien went on to become Weaver’s breakout role in Hollywood.
Wanted, based on Mark Miller and J.G. Jones’ comic book series of the same title, stars Angelina Jolie as Fox, an accomplished member of a secret society called the Fraternity, who mentors Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy), an account manager who discovers that his father was a professional assassin and worked for the Fraternity.
Catwoman stars Halle Berry as Patience Phillips (a.k.a. Catwoman), a designer who discovers conspiracy around a dangerous product at the cosmetics company she works for that could create widespread health problems. When her plot to reveal the conspiracy is discovered, Patience is killed by the conspirators. However, she’s revived by Egyptian cats who grant her superhuman cat-like abilities and thus she becomes Catwoman, a crime-fighting, anti-heroine who seduces the detective pursuing her. The movie is based on the DC Comics character of the same name.
Resident Evil (2002)
Resident Devil is a horror-science film based on the Capcom video game franchise of the same name. The film, which is followed by five sequels, stars Milla Jovovich as Alice, a woman with amnesia who bands with joins forces with an organization called the Umbrella Corporation. Together, Alice and the Umbrella Corporation attend to contain an outbreak of a fictional T-virus in a secret underground facility.
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)
Birds of Prey, based on the DC Comics superhero team of the same name, is a sequel to 2016’s Suicide Squad. The movie stars Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, a former-psychiatrist-turned-supervillain who’s tasked with recovering a diamond that’s embedded with the account numbers to the fortune of the Bertinelli family. The film also features DC Comics characters such as Huntress and Black Canary.
Charlie’s Angels (2000)
The first Charlie’s Angels film premiered in 2000 and starred Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu as three female agents working at a private detective agency in Los Angeles. The movie is based on the TV series of the same name, which ran from 1976 to 1981. In 2019, the film was remade with Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott and Ella Balinska as the new crime-fighting trio.
Live, Die, Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Edge of Tomorrow stars Emily Blunt as Sergeant Rita Vrataski, a.k.a. the “Angel of Verdun,” who joins forces with Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), a public relations officer with no combat experience, to fight against aliens in a landing operation.
Starring Scarlett Johansson as the lead, Lucy follows a woman who receives psychokinetic abilities when a drug that’s supposed to improve cognitive functions is absorbed into her blood stream. The film is shot and set across major cities, such as Taipei, Paris and New York City.
Miss Bala (2019)
Miss Bala, which translates to Miss Bullet in English, stars Gina Rodriguez as a woman who is trained to take down a Mexican drug cartel after her friend is kidnapped. The movie, which also stars Anthony Mackie, is based on the 2011 Mexican film of the same title.
A version of this post was originally published in July 2020.