Uma Thurman

Top 10: Female Action Characters

© Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

© Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Welcome to the newest incarnation of the Shaun Talks Movies Top 10 lists! My longtime listeners may remember the first iteration of these lists from the early days of the podcast. At that time, the lists were featured as bonus weekly episodes in addition to the already standard Monday releases. These side episodes were solo shows that gave me to chance to count down random film-related lists (i.e., found footage films, young actor performances, etc.) that served to highlight movies that listeners may not know or generally hear about. Ultimately, the production of those mini-sodes proved to be a little too time-consuming, so I had to shelve the idea for the time being. But now, I'm bringing the Top 10 lists back with full force in blog format in the hopes of generating a stronger readership on the website that the podcasts themselves might not necessarily bring. 

I've been kicking around the idea to bring these lists back for quite some time, but I wanted to find a category that could serve as a great starting point. Regrettably, this first topic stems from a place of negativity, but I hope to use this post to spin that into a positive light. As you probably know, the teaser trailer for the upcoming Star Wars film Rogue One dropped last week, and the collective public reaction seemed to be one of excitement. There was, however, a very vocal minority upset that the film depicts a woman (portrayed by Felicity Jones, pictured above) in the leading role. Some of this minority has gone so far as to say they will boycott the film as a result, and I find that absolutely absurd. So, to counter their grievances, I decided to delve into the world of kickass women and the characters they've played. To restart the Shaun Talks Movies Top 10 lists, I'll be counting down my ten favorite action characters portrayed by women. 

A quick note: 

These lists will be compiled from films that I have personally seen. I do a bit of research to give myself clues and insight for creating my own list, but if I haven't seen a given movie, I will not place it on a list even if it's an obvious inclusion. Therefore, if you see a glaring omission to any particular list, there is a possibility I simply do not have it in my personal repertoire. By all means, let me know! But for now, let's get to the list!


10. Rey
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

© Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

© Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

I had some trouble placing one character here at the bottom of the list, and I had to leave off quite a few strong contenders to make room for Daisy Ridley's Rey. She's the newest character to be featured on this list, but she definitely showed she can hold her ground in the previously male-driven Star Wars universe. Like the aforementioned Jyn Erso, The Force Awakens suffered a bit of an outcry when a similar vocal minority realized that Ridley would be the star of the show; I, however, personally thought she did a fantastic job bringing her character to life. Rey has one of the strongest arcs in the film, and I would argue that she presents one of the widest emotional ranges of the characters on this list. But what truly cements her spot here is her ability to hold her own. There's a moment early in the film when Finn (John Boyega) sees her struggling against some common thieves. He instinctually rushes to her aid only to notice that she has dispatched her attackers convincingly on her own. It's a defining character trait that only grows throughout the film, and after the release of Episodes VIII and IX, I wouldn't be surprised to see Rey move further up this list. 

9. The Bride
Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)

© Miramax

© Miramax

Quentin Tarantino had always intended for Kill Bill to serve as one film, and he's gone so far as to insinuate that it remains one film that was split into two sections for the viewing masses. Because the vasty majority of the public has only seen the film chopped into its two formats, I had the ability to choose whether I wanted to highlight Vol. 1's Bride or Vol. 2's Beatrix Kiddo. Something about the mystique of an unnamed character drew to me, and I feel as though the action-oriented elements of the first film truly accentuate Uma Thurman's action portrayal of the character. While the second segment spends a lot of time delving into the typical Tarantino dialogue, Vol. 1 gives the audience the chance to watch The Bride kick ass. From the early fight against Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox) to the absolutely bonkers battle against the Crazy 88, The Bride truly shows her stuff. 

8. Erin
You're Next (2011)

© Lionsgate

© Lionsgate

I know what you're thinking: You're Next is not an action movie. I concede to that point, but Sharni Vinson's character Erin definitely deserves a spot on this list. If you haven't seen You're Next (and you really show because it's great), the story follows a young woman who accompanies her boyfriend to his family's secluded vacation home for a big family dinner. In the midst of their dinner party, unknown attackers start raiding the house, killing everyone they see. Little do these attackers know, however, that Erin was raised in a survivalist camp, making her the perfect foil to their plans. We the audience see a strong and confident character laying the plans for making their escape, and when all that hits the fan, we see Erin take complete charge in resistance. Horror films have a tendency to revolve around female characters that gradually grow into their strength against their terrifying foes, but You're Next lets Sharni Vinson be a badass from the start. 

7. Mulan
Mulan (1998)

© Buena Vista Pictures

© Buena Vista Pictures

I'm following a horror film with an animated one, but this is my list, and y'all can deal with it! Also, Mulan totally deserves a spot of recognition. She's a young woman annoyed with the status quo in feudal China, so she makes the decision to protect her father by secretly taking his place among the ranks in the army. At the outset, we see her struggle with training, but through the course of an amazing musical montage (cue Donny Osmond), Mulan shows that through mental fortitude, any physical obstacle can be overcome. She then becomes the emotional leader of a group of soldiers fighting against a despicable Hun army and one of the most underrated Disney villains in Shan-Yu. The final moments of the film show her literally fighting for the sake of the empire, and it's her gradual growth to this strength that makes her memorable and relatable. In a film that offers quite a bit of comic relief from the male characters, Mulan truly stands above the rest. 

6. Hanna
Hanna (2011)

© Focus Features

© Focus Features

The youngest character on this list, Saoirse Ronan definitely packs a punch as the titular character in Joe Wright's 2011 film. Hanna is raised in the wilderness by a former CIA special agent, and her entire childhood is spent learning different survival skills should she one day be faced with danger stemming from her father's past. She is a trained killer, but she also embodies an intelligence and thoughtfulness rarely seen in action fare. Hanna also has to confront a deliciously evil antagonist in Cate Blanchett, who plays off the girl's tenacity quite well. But Ronan, already an Oscar-nominated actress at the time, brings a fury to the character that's sorely needed. Hanna is definitely a force with which to be reckoned. 

5. Yu Shu Lien
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

© Sony Pictures Classics

© Sony Pictures Classics

Every other film on this list proves to be a rather loud, action-oriented film, but Michelle Yeoh's performance in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon mirrors the overall tone of the film itself. It's a quiet portrayal which stands in stark contrast to the big-budget action fare of the Hollywood system, yet it still stands the test of time and clamors to be included here. Yeoh brings a thoughtfulness to the character that generally doesn't find its way into action performances, and she's one of the more redeeming characters in the film itself. We're also seeing a very different style of action in Crouching Tiger: it's graceful in its choreography, and it requires excellence from its entire cast. More than anyone else on this list, Yeoh's action prowess onscreen translates directly to her proficiency offscreen, and that only adds to her mystique and aura in the film. 

4. Rita Vrataski
Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

© Warner Bros.

© Warner Bros.

Edge of Tomorrow was a film I was very excited to see, yet it somehow slipped under the radar and passed from theaters much too quickly. Lately, you may have seen it promoted under the title Live. Die. Repeat., but it's the same film featuring the same fantastic performance from Emily Bunt. A year before she would star opposite Benicio Del Toro in Sicario (a close runner-up for this list), Blunt would completely steal the show from Tom Cruise in this action-packed sci-fi adventure. The film centers around a battle against an alien menace, and Blunt's Rita Vrataski has become the face of the human resistance. Nicknamed the "Angel of Verdun" after certain battlefield heroics, her nickname within the ranks - "Full Metal Bitch" - truly cements her character as an all-around badass. She teaches Cruise's character how to do battle against their extra-terrestrial foe, and she holds her own from start to finish. 

3. Furiosa
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

© Warner Bros.

© Warner Bros.

When it was announced that the Mad Max franchise would be returning after a thirty-year hiatus, I'm sure there were plenty of people (myself included) that scoffed at the idea. When it was announced that Tom Hardy would be playing the titular character opposite Charlize Theron, I have to admit that my excitement was mostly directed at Hardy. Anyone who has seen the final film, however, will know that this is a Mad Max film only in title; the real story follows the women of the film led by the furious Furiosa. Let's break it down: as a woman, Furiosa has already become one of the leaders in Immortan Joe's army. As a woman, she has battled her way to the top, much of which seemingly with only one arm. And as a woman, she takes it upon herself to free the multitudes of Joe's wives from the hellish existence in which they live. It might be difficult to lose out on Theron's performance in this film as the visual spectacle does promote awe, but don't sleep on Furiosa. Given time, she very well may make her way closer to the top of this list. One of my favorite scenes in the film is when Max sits with a rifle and aims at an enemy in the distance. Furiosa steps behind him and silently beckons for him to relinquish the rifle to her. He does without question, knowing that she is the better marksman, and offers her his shoulder to steady her aim. When a character as iconic and badass as Max Rockatansky can submit to a superior warrior, she definitely deserves your respect. 

2. Ellen Ripley
Aliens (1986)

© Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

© Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

When Sigourney Weaver was cast as the lead in Ridley Scott's 1979 masterpiece Alien, it sent shockwaves through the sci-fi community. At the time, science fiction had been an incredibly male-dominated genre, so to place Weaver's Ellen Ripley in the middle of the action was a daring feat that ultimately paid off. Seven years later, James Cameron would bring Weaver back to that universe, but he would do so in a film that served more as an action thriller than its straight-horror predecessor. When Ellen Ripley awakes to find more of these Xenomorph menace running rampant on an otherworldly base, she's the only one with true, intimate knowledge of how these creatures function. Despite being surrounded by a group of highly-trained soldiers, she steps up to the plate to serve as the de facto leader of the ragtag group, showing that she has the chops to compete and excel. Aliens serves as a strong entry in a strange franchise, and it works as the only real action film we'll see until 2004's Alien vs. Predator. But there's no denying that Weaver's Ripley is one of the strongest female action stars that Hollywood has ever seen. 

1. Sarah Connor
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

© TriStar Pictures

© TriStar Pictures

Like the aforementioned Ellen Ripley, the Sarah Connor character starts more as a damsel in distress than a true action star. In the 1984 film The Terminator, we see Linda Hamilton work almost as a horror genre "final girl" as she attempts to defeat the slow-moving beast closing in to seal her fate. She's able to overcome, and she learns from the experience in an incredibly profound way. When we see her again in Terminator 2, she's trapped in a psychiatric hospital spouting seeming delusions about a time-traveling exterminator from the future. Once her rants are revealed to be true, however, we see that this is no longer the Sarah Connor of old. This Sarah is ready and prepared for the imminent apocalypse, and she takes the lead in defending her son John (Edward Furlong), the leader of the future resistance against the machines. In a film starring ultra-mega action star Arnold Schwarzenegger, it would take quite a bit for another character to truly stand tall as an action force, but Linda Hamilton is able to do just that in Terminator 2. Other people have portrayed the character in various iterations and sequels in this franchise, but the Sarah Connor of Judgment Day will always reign as the greatest female action star of all time. 

The Shaunies, 1998

Below is a list of the nominees and winners (in bold) from the 1998 Shaunie Awards. Enjoy!


BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Armageddon
Deep Impact
The Faculty
Saving Private Ryan
Sphere

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Janusz Kaminski, Saving Private Ryan
John Lindley, Pleasantville
Matthew Libatique, Pi
Roger Deakins, The Big Lebowski
Tony Kaye, American History X

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
David Zippel & Matthew Wilder, "I'll Make a Man Out of You," Mulan
Diane Warren, "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing," Armageddon
James Horner & Will Jennings, "I Want to Spend My Lifetime Loving You," The Mask of Zorro
Randy Newman, "The Time of Your Life," A Bug's Life
Stephen Schwartz, "When You Believe," The Prince of Egypt

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Carter Burwell, The Big Lebowski
James Horner, The Mask of Zorro
Jerry Goldsmith, Mulan
John Williams, Saving Private Ryan
Randy Newman, Pleasantville

BEST VOCAL PERFORMANCE
Eddie Murphy, Mulan
Gene Hackman, Antz
Kevin Spacey, A Bug's Life
Tommy Lee Jones, Small Soldiers
Val Kilmer, The Prince of Egypt

BEST YOUNG STAR
Elijah Wood, Deep Impact
Giorgio Cantarini, Life Is Beautiful
Kirsten Dunst, Small Soldiers
Lindsay Lohan, The Parent Trap
Rufus Read, Happiness

BEST DIRECTORIAL DEBUT
Barry Cook & Tony Bancroft, Mulan
Darren Aronofsky, Pi
Gary Ross, Pleasantville
Guy Ritchie, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels
Tony Kaye, American History X

BEST CAST
American History X
The Big Lebowski
Happiness
Pleasantville
Saving Private Ryan

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Beverly D'Angelo, American History X
Cynthia Stevenson, Happiness
Joan Allen, Pleasantville
Kathy Bates, The Waterboy
Uma Thurman, Les Misérables

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Ed Harris, The Truman Show
Edward Norton, Rounders
John Goodman, The Big Lebowski
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Happiness
William H. Macy, Pleasantville

BEST ACTRESS
Catherine Zeta-Jones, The Mask of Zorro
Julianne Moore, The Big Lebowski
Laura Linney, The Truman Show
Nicoletta Braschi, Life Is Beautiful
Reese Witherspoon, Pleasantville

BEST ACTOR
Edward Norton, American History X
Jeff Bridges, The Big Lebowski
Jim Carrey, The Truman Show
Tom Hanks, Saving Private Ryan
Vince Vaughn, Psycho

BEST SCREENPLAY
Andrew Niccol, The Truman Show
David McKenna, American History X
Ethan Coen & Joel Coen, The Big Lebowski
Gary Ross, Pleasantville
Todd Solondz, Happiness

BEST DIRECTOR
Ethan Coen & Joel Coen, The Big Lebowski
Peter Weir, The Truman Show
Steven Spielberg, Saving Private Ryan
Todd Solondz, Happiness
Tony Kaye, American History X

BEST PICTURE
American History X
The Big Lebowski
Happiness
Saving Private Ryan
The Truman Show

The Shaunies, 1994

Below is a list of the nominees and winners (in bold) from the 1994 Shaunie Awards. Enjoy!


BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
The Crow
Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles
The Mask
Natural Born Killers
Speed

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Andrzej Sekula, Pulp Fiction
Don Burgess, Forrest Gump
Robert Richardson, Natural Born Killers
Roger Deakins, The Shawshank Redemption
Thierry Arbogast, Léon: The Professional

BEST ORIGINAL SONG
Dave Rubenstein & Paul Bakija, "Degenerated," Airheads
Elton John & Tim Rice, "Circle of Life," The Lion King
Marc Jordan, Richard Page, & Spencer Proffer, "Two Different Worlds," The Jungle Book
The Roches, "You Are One of Us Now," The Land Before Time II: The Great Valley Adventure
S. Angley & Steve Smyth, "Clerks," Clerks

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Alan Silvestri, Forrest Gump
Basil Poledouris, The Jungle Book
Eric Serra, Léon: The Professional
Hans Zimmer, The Lion King
Randy Edelman, Angels in the Outfield

BEST VOCAL PERFORMANCE
Dan Castellaneta, The Return of Jafar
Jodi Benson, Thumbelina
Kurt Russell, Forrest Gump
Nathan Lane, The Lion King
Steve James, Hoop Dreams

BEST YOUNG STAR
David Krumholtz, The Santa Clause
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Angels in the Outfield
Kirsten Dunst, Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles
Michael Conner Humphreys, Forrest Gump
Natalie Portman, Léon: The Professional

BEST DIRECTORIAL DEBUT
Frank Darabont, The Shawshank Redemption
John Pasquin, The Santa Clause
Kevin Smith, Clerks
Rob Minkoff & Roger Allers, The Lion King
Sam Weisman, D2: The Mighty Ducks

BEST CAST
Clerks
Forrest Gump
Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles
Natural Born Killers
Pulp Fiction

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Amanda Plummer, Pulp Fiction
Brenda Fricker, Angels in the Outfield
Kirsten Dunst, Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles
Lisa Spoonauer, Clerks
Sally Field, Forrest Gump

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Gary Oldman, Léon: The Professional
Gary Sinise, Forrest Gump
Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction
Tim Robbins, The Shawshank Redemption
Tom Sizemore, Natural Born Killers

BEST ACTRESS
Juliette Lewis, Natural Born Killers
Natalie Portman, Léon: The Professional
Robin Wright, Forrest Gump
Sandra Bullock, Speed
Uma Thurman, Pulp Fiction

BEST ACTOR
Jean Reno, Léon: The Professional
Jim Carrey, The Mask
Morgan Freeman, The Shawshank Redemption
Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump
Woody Harrelson, Natural Born Killers

BEST SCREENPLAY
David Veloz, Oliver Stone, & Richard Rutowski, Natural Born Killers
Frank Darabont, The Shawshank Redemption
Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts, & Linda Woolverton, The Lion King
Kevin Smith, Clerks
Quentin Tarantino, Pulp Fiction

BEST DIRECTOR
Frank Darabont, The Shawshank Redemption
Kevin Smith, Clerks
Luc Besson, Léon: The Professional
Oliver Stone, Natural Born Killers
Quentin Tarantino, Pulp Fiction

BEST PICTURE
Clerks
Léon: The Professional
The Lion King
Pulp Fiction
The Shawshank Redemption