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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.