30 Action Movies Starring Badass Women
From “Atomic Blonde” to “Widows,” there’s been an influx of women-led action movies over the last decade. But women have been acing in this genre long before we finally got our first woman-led Marvel superhero film in 2019. The late ’90s and early aughts were a breakthrough for women in the action film space: women were finally leading action movies, rather than being relegated to the overlooked sidekick or love-interest role.
Of course, there’ve been some pretty badass women leading superhero movies lately, including “Captain Marvel,” “Wonder Woman 1984,” and “Black Widow.” While female superheroes have always been around, these titles prove that women belong in the driver’s seat and send a powerful message – especially to the younger generation.
If you’ve been looking for a fast-paced, action-packed movie featuring a kick-ass woman front and centre, this list is for you. Browse this guide of women-led action movies and add these titles to your to-watch list.
As the first woman to play the main superhero in a Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movie, Brie Larson took the Marvel franchise to new heights and brought in a new wave of fans – young girls who finally had a female superhero to look up to. Larson’s character, Carol Danvers, transforms into an extraterrestrial Kree warrior, aka Captain Marvel, after the people living on Earth find themselves in an intergalactic battle crossfire. At the same time, Carol begins experiencing flashbacks where she’s a former US Air Force pilot. She’ll have to dig deep to save her people and make sense of her real identity.
In “Dark Phoenix,” Sophie Turner stars as Jean Grey, who develops a powerful and dangerous superpower after being hit by a cosmic force during a rescue mission. Her new, unparalleled strength makes her more powerful than her friends, the X-Men; however, it also makes her unpredictable and unstable. A threat to everyone around her, Jean is a ticking time bomb, and the X-Men want her destroyed. But anyone who threatens Jean or gets in her way is in for a rude awakening.
"Wonder Woman 1984"
With Aphrodite’s beauty, Athena’s brains, and strength greater than Hercules’s, Wonder Woman is arguably the most badass superhero in the DC Universe. Set in the mid 1980s, “Wonder Woman 1984” centers on Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) – ordinary civilian by day, superhero by night. She keeps her true identity under wraps, but that changes when Maxwell Lord and the Cheetah (Kristen Wiig) turn her world upside down. Diana learns that being her full authentic self is more powerful than keeping half of herself hidden.
Charlize Theron’s performance as elite M16 assassin Lorraine Broughton in “Atomic Blonde” will blow your mind and possibly you leave you a little dizzy (the stunts she does are next level). In this action-thriller, Lorraine’s assignment takes her to Cold War Berlin, where she must take down every assassin, spy, and crime lord in sight to retrieve an irreplaceable document that contains an atomic bomb of information. When she starts suspecting that someone on the inside has double-crossed her, blood is shed.
During her Divergent trilogy days, Shailene Woodley ruled the action-movie world. She plays a tough-as-nails character named Beatrice “Tris” Prior, whose storyline centres around her unpopular and life-changing decision to join the Dauntless faction – a group of daredevils and thrill-seekers – over her birth faction, Abnegation. As fans of the story know, the two factions couldn’t be more different, which only further motivates Tris to prove that she belongs. After the film’s success, the trilogy continued with “Insurgent” and “Allegiant” in 2015 and 2016, respectively. The cinematic franchise is based on the Divergent book series by Veronica Roth.
This ’90s action film follows Lieutenant Jordan O’Neill (Demi Moore) as she sets out to become the first woman to join the US Navy. The only problem is that no one wants her there or believes in her ability to succeed – including her commander, John James Urgayle. To make matters worse, she’s the only woman in her class. When she learns her application was approved solely based on her feminine appearance, she buzzes off her hair, puts in more hours at the gym, and asks her commander to push her even harder.
The only thing better than a woman-led action film is a five-women-led action film. In “Annihilation,” a biologist and Army veteran named Lena explores the “Shimmer,” a dangerous and enclosed landscape with mutating creatures and other living organisms. No one has ever safely toured the Shimmer and lived, including Lena’s husband. It’s up to Lena and her team to stop whatever is happening inside the Shimmer. This part action, part sci-fi movie stars Natalie Portman, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, and Jennifer Jason Leigh – a pretty intimidating team.
"The Hunger Games"
Before Divergent, there was The Hunger Games franchise, which ran from 2012 to 2015. Jennifer Lawrence plays lead character Katniss Everdeen, a young woman who volunteers to take her sister’s place in a government-sponsored fight to the death. With intense action scenes, political intrigue, and a steamy love triangle, “The Hunger Games” keeps you on the edge of your seat. The movie takes place in a fictitious dystopia, where “tributes” compete for survival.
It’s been more than 20 years since this action-comedy premiered, but we’ll always refer to Lucy Liu, Cameron Diaz, and Drew Barrymore as Charlie’s Angels. The three women play a trio of first-class private investigators with the coolest gadgets, fastest cars, and iconic wardrobes. Spoiler alert: they work for a man named Charlie. Whether they’re hunting down criminals, pulling off missions with the help of epic disguises, or kicking butt in hand-to-hand combat, these Angels never lose. Luckily, if you fall in love with this badass group of friends, there’s a sequel: “Full Throttle.”
"Edge of Tomorrow"
Despite what some fans might say, Tom Cruise plays second fiddle to Emily Blunt in “Edge of Tomorrow.” Maj. William Cage (Cruise) and Rita Vrataski (Blunt) are stuck in a perpetual state of war and violence, but there’s something familiar about it all. Soon, Cage realises he’s in a morbid time loop, reliving the same day he was killed. He joins forces with Vrataski and hatches a plan to break the cycle.
In this action film, a bloody battle between vampires and Lycans leaves young vampire Selene (Kate Beckinsale) without a family. The clans are life enemies, and Selene owes everything to her vampire clan. Now a fully trained assassin, her loyalties are about to be put to the ultimate test when she falls in love with her next target, a Lycan. The movie was so well-received by fans that it led to a franchise.
Scarlett Johansson reprises her role as Black Widow and stars alongside Florence Pugh in the action-packed Marvel spy thriller “Black Widow.” The movie explores Natasha Romanoff’s (Johansson) life before she was an Avenger and the road less travelled that led to the code name “Black Widow.” At her side is her sister, Yelena Belova (Pugh), who pushes Natasha to divulge the darkest secrets from her past – including the events and relationships that took place in the infamous Red Room. “Black Widow” is filled with epic fight scenes and MCU Easter eggs.
Former mixed martial artist Gina Carano puts her moves to action in “Haywire.” The movie opens with Carano’s character, Mallory Kane, wrapping up another successful mission overseas. As an elite government operative, having a target on your back comes with the territory, but what Mallory never expected was a member of her own team turning on her. Seeking vengeance and an explanation, Mallory leans on her black-ops training to build a trap.
From the director behind “12 Years a Slave” comes a spine-chilling action-thriller with an A-list women-led ensemble cast: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Erivo, and Elizabeth Debicki. These four widows are bonded for life after their husbands unexpectedly lose their lives in an armed robbery gone wrong. Grief-stricken and vengeful, they band together to finish the heist their husbands never got to. With the police on their tails and criminals knocking on their doors demanding that their debts be paid, everything is riding on one last heist.
A Netflix original, “Gunpowder Milkshake” follows a 27-year-old hit-woman working for a crime organisation, the Firm. All Sam knows is how to be an assassin, and the Firm is family – they were the ones who picked up the pieces after her mother left Sam when she was only 12 years old. But when a dangerous mission goes rogue, she must choose sides: the Firm or her helpless victim – an 8-year-old girl. She reaches out to the only person she knows who will know what to do: her mother. Will Sam be able to let bygones be bygones?
"Kill Bill: Volume 1"
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, “Kill Bill: Volume 1” is a mixed martial arts action film starring Uma Thurman and Lucy Liu. When a jealous ex-boyfriend shows up on the Bride’s wedding day ready to kill, what is supposed to be the happiest day of her life quickly turns into the worst. Oh, and the people who helped Bill track the Bride down? The Bride considered them her best friends. After spending the last four years in a coma thanks to Bill’s failed assassination attempt, the Bride awakes. She forms a plan to hunt down Bill and his accomplices one by one until she’s the only woman left standing.
"The Old Guard"
Another Charlize Theron-led acton movie, “The Old Guard” follows an army of five mercenaries with an extraordinary gift: they never die. For centuries, this immortal army has fought in the shadows to save the lives of everyday civilians; they exist to keep the worst from ever happening. When Andy gets wind of a possible new recruit, she and her team track the soldier down. As Nile’s training comes to an end, an emergency rescue mission puts the army’s hidden gift at risk. Should they get captured, their genetics will be monetised – and the world as everyone knows it will no longer exist.
Robert Pattinson is the twelfth actor to take on the role of Batman – but any true DC Comics fan will tell you that Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, is the real star of the show. In the latest “Batman” saga, Batman journeys into the underbelly of Gotham City when the Riddler threatens to wreak havoc on the metropolis. With the Riddler’s plans of crime and corruption drawing near, Batman faces immense pressure – and comes upon Catwoman, with whom he shares fiery-hot chemistry. Without Cat by his side, Bat knows there’s no stopping the Riddler. Who’s the real hero now?
Set in ninth-century China, this Chinese action drama is about the horrifying abduction of Nie Yinniang, the daughter of a well-accomplished general. Following her kidnapping, Nie spends the next 13 years of her life being cared for by a nun and training to become an assassin. Now, the time has come for Nie to venture home and to face her demons, including her family.
After losing his trail on the world’s most-wanted art thief, the Bishop (Gal Gadot), FBI special agent John Hartley’s (Dwayne Johnson) ego is badly bruised. Desperate to prove that he still has what it takes, he enlists the help of Nolan Booth (Ryan Reynolds), the second most-wanted art thief in the world. In exchange for his cooperation and art-stealing expertise, John promises to make Nolan untouchable. Naturally, the Bishop is five steps ahead and welcomes their pitiful attempts at taking her down.
If you prefer your action movies with a side of comedy, get ready to bump “Spy” to the top of your queue. Featuring Melissa McCarthy and Rose Byrne, “Spy” follows acclaimed CIA analyst Susan Cooper (McCarthy), who assumes the dangerous mission of a fallen agent, Bradley (Jude Law). Susan has never actually worked in the field, but when Bulgarian art dealer Rayna Boyanov (Byrne) murders Bradley before her very eyes, it’s game over. With a suitcase full of high-tech gadgets and undercover costumes, Susan is ready to prove that women belong both in the field.
"Mad Max: Fury Road"
“Mad Max: Fury Road” is the fourth movie in the Mad Max franchise – two more are expected to drop in 2023 and 2024, respectively. In the most recent installment, fans are introduced to Immortan Joe and his captives, who live in Citadel. The city reaches a boiling point when a warrior called Imperator Furiosa secretly swoops in to save Immortan Joe’s five wives. When word gets out that Max Rockatansky has joined forces with Imperator Furiosa – and that they’ve seized the War Rig to transport the other captives – Immortan Joe sends his minions after them.
"Rogue One: A Star Wars Story"
Jyn (Felicity Jones) never had a close relationship with her father. Of course, he was taken hostage by the corrupt Orson Krennic when she was a child, so getting to know him was never really an option. Older and wiser, Jyn now understands that her father is working as the Empire’s head scientist and is in charge of overseeing the most lethal weapon in the whole galaxy: the Death Star. In an attempt to right her father’s wrongs, Jyn seeks out the help of a secret agent and an army of soldiers to demolish the Death Star. This is a standalone film in the Star Wars franchise.
Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon come together for the ultimate women-led cast in the 2016 action-comedy “Ghostbusters.” Colleagues Abby Yates and Erin Gilbert believe there are ghosts lurking in the streets of Manhattan, and to prove it, they enlist the help of engineer Jillian Holtzmann. Between Abby’s intense background in paranormal research, Erin’s mad science skills, and Jillian’s knack for design, they make an unstoppable trio. All they’re missing is someone who knows New York City like the back of their hand. Enter: Patty Tolan. Their union couldn’t have come at a more perfect time, because a squad of ghosts is about to swarm Times Square.
Moody was more than just the world’s greatest assassin to Anna – he was her best friend, her mentor, her confidant, and a father figure. So when Anna finds Moody covered in bullet wounds in his bathtub, she makes a promise to herself and to Moody that she’ll kill whoever is responsible. Cool, calm, and collected, Moody’s murderer could not be more excited to meet the infamous Anna. When their paths finally do cross, it’s a fight to the death.
"The Suicide Squad"
Not to be confused with the 2016 cinematic version (which features a very similar name and the same lead actress), “The Suicide Squad” centers around Harley Quinn and her gang of misfit supervillains – Bloodsport, Peacemaker, and King Shark – on Corto Maltese, which is known for housing the government’s most mischievous and vicious enemies. The only reason these supervillains aren’t behind bars is because they’ve been hand-picked to carry out a search-and-destroy mission. The assignment? Demolish every living creature that’s linked to Project Starfish. For Harley and her crew, it’s either kill or be killed.
"The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard"
Sonia Kincaid is an acclaimed international con artist who also happens to be married to a seriously dangerous hitman – which makes bodyguard Michael Bryce’s job all the more fun (and life-threatening). Danger is Sonia’s middle name, and as a crime swindler, she’s not scared of a little blood; between her and her husband’s line of work, she’s experienced more near-death experiences than she can count. Michael’s got his work cut out for him, and the plot thickens when a madman threatens to take control of Europe. There’s only room for one felon, and Sonia will see to it that it’s her.
Three-time Golden Globe award-winning actress Angelina Jolie portrays Evelyn Salt, a CIA officer. When a man sends in a tip that a Russian agent is on their way to New York City to assassinate the president and points the finger at her – in front of all of her colleagues – she flees. With her life, her career, and everything she’s ever worked for on the line, Evelyn’s duty is no longer to her country, but to herself.
"The Harder They Fall"
“Treacherous” Trudy Smith (Regina King) is the toughest outlaw in Rufus Buck’s crew. Her upbringing was difficult, but don’t get it: Trudy is no damsel in distress. She may not be the leader of her gang, but she’s definitely its most intimidating member – and their rival gang is about to find out just how domineering she and her handgun can be.
"Men in Black: International"
“Men in Black: International” puts a modern spin on the “Men in Black” franchise. At the center of it all is actress Tessa Thompson, who plays the role of Molly, also known as Rookie M. When a new wave of alien-like villains threaten to wreak havoc on Earth, Molly teams up with veteran Agent H to take them down and protect the agency. But this new species is unlike anything they’ve ever faced before, and it’s not long before they’re both questioning who is friend and who is foe.