Split Decision: Action Heroines

Welcome back to Split Decision! Each week, we pose a question to our staff of knowledgable and passionate film geeks and share the responses! We may never know if it is legal to park in the center of Broad Street, but we’ll answer movie questions all day long. Chime in on Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments below!

This week’s question:

Since Lara Croft is back raiding tombs, who is your favorite action movie heroine?

“You let a WOMAN beat ya, huh?” says Gena Rowlands in her Oscar-nominated performance as the title character in her husband John Cassavetes’ 1980 film Gloria. She is a force to be reckoned with. I’ll also cite two other favorites: Pam Grier, who made her name in Coffy and Foxy Brown, but I loved in films like Above the Law and Jackie Brown and Sandra Bullock, whose work in the action-comedy Miss Congeniality (1 and 2) is stellar. Bullock can pratfall, dish out sarcasm, and inspire, all while being armed and fabulous.–Gary M. Kramer


Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: Judgment Day was the easy choice for me; that is, until Mad Max: Fury Road was released.  Imperator Furiosa is such an unadulterated badass, and yet, Charlize Theron finds subtlety and motivation for each and every action Furiosa takes.  Add a buzz cut and a bionic arm and you have one of the strongest pure action heros ever put to celluloid, male or female.–Jeff Piotrowski

While the performance itself leaves a little bit to be desired, there’s just something about Gina Carano as Mallory Kane in Haywire that kicks ass! Perhaps it’s the fact that she’s not just an actor who learned a few moves, but a legitimately talented MMA fighter that would have no problem dishing out brutal beatings in real life. Granted, she looks phenomenal while taking out the likes of Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas and a laundry list of other beefy men, but never does Steven Soderbergh’s lens sexualize her. She’s a thoroughly scary presence, and unlike many action heroes, she never requires high-tech gadgetry to get the job done — just fists. Add to that the fact that the film needn’t utilize tricky camerawork to hide a stunt double, and you’ve got yourself a visceral actioner with a bonafide badass at its center. Dan Scully

For my selection, I can’t help but sing the praises of Cheng Pei-Pei and her iconic swordswoman-for-hire, Golden Swallow, whose balletic grace, exacting technique, and tactful badassery set the screen ablaze in King Hu’s wuxia classic, Come Drink With Me. After her brother, the Governor’s son, is taken hostage by a ruthless gang, Golden Swallow strolls into town to retrieve the kidnappee and, eventually, alongside town inebriate/covert kung-fu master Drunken Cat and a band of female warriors, face off against the clan and their leader, Jade-Faced Tiger.
Truth be told, Golden Swallow is a “patient zero” of sorts; her demeanor recalls the laconicism of Eastwood’s Man With No Name (or Kurosawa precursor of your choice) and, perhaps, some of the more determined women in Howard Hawks’ oeuvre, but rarely before was female athleticism so prominent and integral to narrative drive in an action film, not to mention photographed with such splendor. Moreover, thanks to her strong sense of principles and infectious no-nonsense attitude, Golden Swallow’s appeal doesn’t stop short at her swordsmanship.
Her arrival at the town’s inn is met with petty threats from Jade-Faced Tiger’s cohorts, as two men, respectively, hurl a jug and a wooden bench her way, their efforts proved futile due to Swallow deflecting both objects as if swatting a fly. Where Cheng Pei-Pei (and her character) really shine, however, are the fight sequences, some defying the laws of gravity and all supplying the jolt action fanatics long crave. Hu’s vibrant camera and kinetic staging, which collaboratively convey as much, if not more, about the protagonist than her dialogue, give these set-pieces an extra boost, but it’s Golden Swallow and her undying commitment to the mission that seal the deal. Many analogous heroines would follow in her wake, in both wuxia and action cinema overall, but, directly influenced or otherwise, few were ever this energetic, rigorous, and mysterious. — Dan Santelli

Pam Grier is by far my favorite action heroine of all time. In the ‘70s she broke into the Blaxploitation scene starring in both Coffy (1973) and Foxy Brown (1974) (to just name two iconic roles). What is there not to love about a strong, confident, independent black woman who will kick anyone’s ass? She commands respect and admirably embraces her sexuality. Her role as Foxy Brown made such an impact that she starred as Jackie Brown (a variation of her ’74 role) in Quentin Tarantino’s 1997 film aptly titled Jackie Brown. I think Pam Grier is just the coolest, in case you couldn’t tell.–Catherine Haas

For a while it was Ellen Ripley, but I think that she may have been unthroned by Lorraine (Charlize Theron) from Atomic Blonde. She simply kicks so much ass. She is also vulnerable and takes her fair share of punches and hits, dealing with guys who are about twice her size. But that doesn’t stop her, and she always gets hers in the end. I will happily take a few more of these movies, please. —Andy Elijah

How could I not pick The Bride, aka Beatrix Kiddo, from Kill Bill? Not only is she the epitome of being an action star–swords, guns, hand-to-hand, she can do it all–but she is also an extremely feminine character. That isn’t trying to be dismissive of other choices, but I always think back to the moment in Vol. 2 where Beatrix is being attacked by another female assassin moments after she learns that she is pregnant. On its face, the scene is comedic due to the ridiculousness of the scenario, but it also gives the Bride a humanity that is lacking in Vol. 1. She is an amazing creation of Uma Thurman, who is simply a kick ass lady. —Ryan Silberstein

Cherry Darling in Planet Terror. SHE HAS A GUN FOR A LEG THERE IS NO OTHER ANSWER. A very close runner up is Beyoncé as Foxxxy Cleopatra in Austin Powers in Goldmember because she’s Beyoncé. I don’t watch too many pure genre action movies, so here we are.Jenna Kuerzi

Author: Ryan Silberstein

Ryan spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area, and his nights as a mysterious caped vigilante saving his city from the disease that is crime watching movies. He lives on a diet consisting of film, comic books, experimental beer, black coffee, and those big metal historical markers around town. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.

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