The 20 Best Female Action Movie Heroes of All-Time

Wonder Woman

The first good thing about this list is that if you are under the age of 32 it is likely that you have seen many, if not most, of these choices. You won’t have to do a search on the history of cinema; there are no black-and-white movie clips to endure. One very important reason for the absence of female action heroes in movies is that women in large part were relegated to supporting the male stars, either as the damsel in distress to be rescued or the eye candy that would draw male viewers. So one female action hero has to be included on the list as the celluloid ceiling breaker for all the others to follow. There were comic book heroines such as Supergirl and Batgirl, and a few made it to TV (Yvonne Craig comes to mind) but none made it to the big screen.

So this “all-time” list basically only covers about 40 years. This should be looked at in a positive way as there is plenty of room for growth for female action heroes in movies, which translates into many opportunities for women to be cast in leading roles. Come to think about it, it is an opportunity to move away from some of the traditional approaches to movie-making and start getting creative again.

1. Diana Prince, Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman

Those who think of Wonder Woman today immediately think of Gal Gadot, which is not a bad thought by any measure. Casting her as Wonder Woman was an act of genius, as she plays the role superbly and the special effects in the movie do not override the storyline. Those of more ancient times remember Lynda Carter as the first Wonder Woman, who appeared on TV. Her unique weapons of choice include the famous Lasso of Truth, along with her indestructible bracelets, and boomerang tiara. The sword and shield as well as her physical strength and abilities were characteristics typical of a number of male movie heroes. The cultural concept of “Amazon woman” can be connected to Diana Prince.

2. Lieutenant Jordan O’Neil, G.I. Jane

The idea of a woman the stature of Demi Moore making it through Navy SEAL training is more than a bit of a stretch. For many reasons, her character has been forgotten in part because the basic premise of the movie was not accepted by viewers. But as we will see with other characters on this list, a true female action hero does not have to wear herself out beating the crap out of people (or aliens). If there is a strong female that promotes gender equality in the movies with a considerable amount of action along the way, G.I. Jane is easily in the top 10. Her ultimate goal isn’t to compete with men but to compete with herself. She can lead a SEAL team into actual combat and let her hair down to show that she is still uniquely a woman. Oh, and there is the political battle that ensues when another woman tries to use her to achieved her own ends. You might not buy into the idea of her being a SEAL, but her character is one of the most memorable in the movies.

3. Letty Ortiz, The Fast & Furious Series

Letty Ortiz

Michelle Rodriguez is known for her roles in big-budget action movies but one of her standout roles is as Letty Ortiz in the Fast & The Furious franchise. Leticia is married to Dominic Toretto (Vin Diezel) but before that she was a mechanic and street racer. She holds her own in the crew and isn’t afraid to get down and dirty when it comes to getting the job done. She even worked with the FBI and ended up on the wrong side but she eventually found her way back to her family. Ortiz is an excellent fighter skilled in boxing and street fighting. She can also shoot perfectly, and speaks three languages, English, Japanese, and Spanish.

4. The Bride, Kill Bill Volumes 1 and 2

The Bride, whose actual name was not revealed until the end of Kill Bill 1, becomes a hero solely as an act of revenge for the murder of her bridal party and the failed attempt of her own murder. She was trained in a variety of martial arts and in particular has a very unique set of skills as a Samurai warrior. Those skills and training are essential to her survival throughout both movies, as she battles with an entire room of Samurai, escapes from a buried grave, and dispatches the woman who killed the master who taught her the 5 finger exploding heart technique. The underlying story is that while both movies hint at The Bride actually fighting for the child unknown to her, this fact is not stated until the end. Beyond this, The Bride is a nameless warrior until Volume 2 but there are hints throughout the movie (“Trix … are for kids.”) Kiddo is an exquisite combination of warrior and mom.

5. Trinity, The Matrix


How would Neo survive the first Matrix movie without Trinity? The answer: it is not very likely. The first of the Matrix series starts off with Trinity bouncing off walls while eluding capture, but it is hard to see at that point how important of a role she would play by being the glue that kept Neo — and the sequels — moving along. A mix of toughness and tenderness, love and discipline, Trinity is so essential to the series that she is resurrected. Though Neo is The One, he often finds himself depending on Trinity to guide him through the maze of the realities of the Matrix. In many ways, she is Neo’s hero. If the definition of a hero/heroine is someone who is willing to sacrifice themselves for another, Trinity fits that definition perfectly. In many movies, the female character may find themselves slowly written out of the script or their screen presence diminished. With The Matrix, the more see of Trinity, the more interesting the movie becomes.

6. Sarah Connor, Terminator 2

Some fans may criticize the way Linda Hamilton got the role of Sarah Connor in Terminator 2 but there is little doubt she fashioned one of the most memorable female action movie heroines of all-time. The physicality of her character has been rarely duplicated within such a small stature. She portrays the best maternal qualities of a woman, committed to protecting her son at all costs, yet also has an adequate dose of feminism, confident of her ability to protect her son in the absence of a father. She outsmarts a psychologist, overpowers security forces, and is the key to saving the planet from a nuclear holocaust predicted to be initiated by The Machines. She is constantly battling the mindsets of people who refuse to believe her. But the best of Sarah Connor is when she is blasting away at the anti-Terminator Terminator rather than passively watching it dissolve in a chemical plant. Terminator 2 has plenty of non-stop action sequences, and many fans think it is the best of the Terminator series.

7. Catwoman, Batman Returns

Cat Woman

This choice on the list is highly debatable, which is maybe the reason it is included on the list. Is she hero or villain? Obviously our choice is she is a hero because her focus throughout the movie is getting her revenge on the real villain in the movie – Max Schrek — who just happened to push her out of a window that resulted in her becoming Catwoman. She runs off security guards and shows and exceptional athletic ability, in addition to being proficient with a whip (her tail?) and her claws. She manages to beat Batman in a rooftop fight. But what makes her a rare kind of hero is she ends up being on her own side. Batman and the Penguin are just tools used to exact her revenge on Max Schrek. There are many kinds of heroes, and sometimes people become heroes simply by looking out for their own best interests. Think of it as an aftereffect that the public (viewer) sees when all is said and done.

8. Lara Croft, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

When we first meet Lara Croft in The Tomb Raider fight scene, we quickly discover that she is athletic, acrobatic, and armed to the teeth. As she gets into what appears to be a life or death battle with a robot that is programmed to kill her, there are other words that begin with the letter “A” that apply — aggressive, astute, and self-assured. Her character is much like Indiana Jones, except she is much better to watch. By profession she is an archeologist, but in life she is an adventurer who seeks out mysteries of various tombs. The combination of athleticism and academics works well because both are required to defeat her enemies who would use the secrets she discovers for their own evil ends. As we find out as the series goes on, the initial combat with the robot was no more than a training exercise. On an odd note, how many female action heroes had a slot machine video game exclusively made for them? Lara Croft was one of the most popular online casino video games for quite some time.

9. Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games

The debate of the names on this list continues with Katniss Everdeen. The action part of the action hero qualification goes without saying, but is she actually a hero? Acting like a superhero does not mean you are actually one in the context of the movie. Some have drawn comparisons to Black Widow of The Avengers movie, exchanging hair color and weaponry for a mirror character image. But along the way you see her being nudged into taking her place as a hero rather than accepting that role from the very beginning. It’s a purpose without a plan until others join in and point the way. Unlike many other action heroes on the list, she lacks a consistent discipline, often being reckless and acting contrary to the messages she preaches, particularly to President Coin. Her motives are somewhat selfish, like Catwoman, but through that lens she ends up as a heroine. Katniss may be an unlikely hero, but nevertheless she is a hero.

10. Princess Leia, ‘Star Wars’

Before we make the case for Princess Leia as an action hero, let’s first agree that at the core of the Star Wars movies was the ongoing conflict and mystery between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. But when we are first introduced to her as Skywalker and Solo move in to free her, she comes out blasting away and is wondering why the men who are supposed to be rescuing her are a bunch of wussies (not Wookies). She has the right amount of sassiness, yet her position as Princess requires a royal and composed demeanor. It brings up the question of how much action should a female action hero have to get involved in to be considered as an action hero? When looking at Lara Croft and Saran Connor, there is plenty of action to go around. But neither of them has the responsibility as a leader like Princess Leia does.

11. Alice, Resident Evil

Resident Evil

Alice has many names: Janus Prospero, Alice Parks, and Alice Abernathy. Following in the vein of action of many previous action heroes, she has a cover. Cool, collected, and calculating as she fights off hordes of zombies, she is willing to sacrifice herself for the good of others, but that sacrifice is never a permanent one. Armed to the teeth, she is always one step ahead of them. Her superpowers came as the result of an experiment initially used to fight the zombies but soon became hunted by the very people that gave her the powers. Seemingly being chased by everyone, her character is never short on action scenes.

12. Furiosa, Mad Max: Fury Road

How much of an action hero is Furiosa in the movie? The script was good enough for the future Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot, to have wanted the part but placed second behind Charlize Theron. Furiosa is resourceful, tough, and can take care of herself against Mad Max in one of the movie’s epic battles — with one arm, no less. You don’t get the nickname of “Bag of Nails” out of affection. She is also resilient, as any female Road Warrior needs to be to survive. But her main purpose is to free 5 women from their tyrant owner, and travels across the desert to help them escape. As Mad Max’s chosen driver, she has a critical role in much of the action across the desert.

13. Jane Smith, Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Mrs Smith

If there is a more anonymous name than Jane Smith, it is hard to think of. As a government operative married to another government operative who is told to terminate Mr. Smith, she is cunning, smart, deceptive, and has some very normal abilities, such as driving a car. It is hard to find a better fight scene between two married people than Jane Smith has in this movie. Many times the actions of this character are subtle but no less dangerous.

14. Alex Munday, Charlie’s Angels

Lucy Liu plays Alexandra Munday, one of Charlie’s Angels, alongside other angels, Natalie Cook and Dylan Sanders. In the movies, she is one of the most deadly angels, skilled in martial arts, intelligent, witty and good with explosives. She isn’t the one to mess with when their cover is blown. Munday was raised by her parents, who were professors and perfected her skills in gymnastics, fencing, chess, and archery. She also got a medical degree and spent time learning Kung Fu. As an angel, she was involved in espionage missions, hacking, and motocross, so she isn’t to be messed with.

15. Evelyn Salt, Salt


If there is one thing that guarantees action, it is being suspected of (or actually being) a double agent. Both sides have trained you in their own protocols, and you are always on the run until you convince one side or the other that you are working for them exclusively. Evelyn Salt uses her female mystique to the maximum, and often uses it as a prelude to escape or executing her mission. There is no shortage of weapons of improvised weapons that are at her disposal.

16. Jinx, Die Another Day

What qualifies Jinx as an addition to the list is not only her diving skills, falling backwards off of a high cliff to avoid capture, but that she is hardly the typical Bond girl who needs Bond to rescue her. In fact, many times she is Bond’s equal in Die Another Day. She can keep up with the verbal exchanges between both her foes and Bond, while demonstrating she can be resourceful in the oddest of situations. Her combat against a sword wielding wench is a credit to female spies everywhere.

17. Black Widow, Black Widow

Black Widow

Many superheroes are part of the Avengers, but none come to close as Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. In the 2021 Black Widow movie, we learn everything Natasha Romanoff underwent to graduate from the Red Room. Although she doesn’t have supernatural abilities like the other Avengers, she is talented. Natasha is a master of espionage and infiltration, an excellent martial artist with outstanding athletic ability. Black Widow didn’t have the easiest life and found a home with these avengers. For her to sacrifice her life to bring back, everyone who disappeared during the blip was noble. She made the ultimate sacrifice for the ones she loved.

18. Peta Larson, La Femme Nikita

The character that resulted in the TV series actually began in the film Nikita. How can a trained assassin be categorized as a hero? Well, if they are assassinating the bad guys that would seem to qualify. (Think James Bond or American Sniper here.) The original French film, Nikita, introduced the character who was accused of killing a police officer and then spared when a government agency saw Peta had qualities that could serve them well. There is an American version of the film, Point of No Return with Brigette Fonda as Peta and parallels the major character and theme of Nikita. Like any male trained assassin, Peta is an expert with weapons and hand-to-hand combat, but also has the presence of mind to be cool under pressure. An accepted criticism is that there is not enough action for Peta to qualify as an action hero, but part of her skill set is her ability to use her best female qualities to lure her targets into the web of death.

19. Yu Shu Lien, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Yu Shu Lien

Including a character from this movie was a must, as it has a rare combination of martial arts fighting that is also artsy in its production. Yu Shu Lien is the common person who is both successful in business and a trained warrior. Despite her successes, she feels trapped in a culture with arranged marriages, but finds herself in a position where she has to use her softer side to recover a stolen sword. The perception of a warrior being dutiful and composed oozes through her character. Her complete set of skills comes to the forefront as she becomes frustrated with her attempts to recover the sword and ends up in combat with the thief.

20. Lucy, Lucy

Admittedly, this is not a movie that will win the Oscar for fewest Plot Holes, but Lucy deserves a place on this list because she makes us rethink how we define basic concepts — such as what action really is and how we judge an action character. Fortunately, Lucy is a female action character but instead of using her physical strength she uses her accelerated mental abilities. One thing that is true about the character is that she prefers to avoid violence while for everyone who is chasing her, physical violence is the preferred method of dealing with a problem. It is likely that the absence of physical action in the movie was a turn off for the classic action movie fan.

Read Next: Wonder Woman Will Still be Part of the DCU. 

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