There’s truly nothing like a well-made action movie. The best in the genre are able to combine jaw-dropping action with compelling characters, an exciting plot, and great visuals. It’s a lot to get right, but when it all works, there’s nothing better. For a long time, action movies have been, for the most part, dominated by men. Somewhere along the way, movie producers got the idea that women didn’t want action movies, but recent years have proved this wrong. Now more than ever, we’re seeing more projects driven by women, both in front of and behind the camera.
The diverse group of movies on this list should leave no doubt that women can do it all. Whether comedic or serious, small-scale or completely epic, these female action movies are no joke. Some of these movies were wildly successful, while others gained more of a niche audience of devoted fans. Even if action movies aren’t your usual choice, forget about bad romantic comedies and give one of these a try. You might even like it!
17. Red Sparrow
This Jennifer Lawrence flick was one of the first big movies getting hype in 2018. In Red Sparrow, Lawrence plays a Russian prima ballerina who gets injured and is forced to become an agent in a top-secret government program. J-Law trained hard for the movie, and she also had to take intensive ballet lessons. The movie is gorgeously shot and takes place all over Europe, and there’s some serious action. The violence here is no joke, so be prepared for some shocking imagery.
16. The Hunger Games
Way before Jennifer Lawrence was playing Dominika in Red Sparrow, she was fighting for the future of Panem. The film adaptations of Suzanne Collins‘s hit book trilogy turned Jen into a worldwide movie star and helped continue the trend of young adult projects with strong female leads. Katniss faced danger at every turn from her competitors in the Hunger Games and the politicians making the rules, but she stayed strong. Throughout all four movies, Jennifer Lawrence brought the books to life through her poised, powerful performances.
Angelina Jolie is in peak form in this 2010 spy movie, but it almost didn’t happen. Salt was originally written with a male lead character, and Tom Cruise was in talks to play the role. Luckily, it was reworked for Angelina, and the end product is a slick political thriller with lots of action. Angelina Jolie trained in several different martial arts techniques for the part, giving her character some impressive moves. Tom Cruise is alright, but we’re happy with this casting switch-up.
Saoirse Ronan stars in this exciting thriller, and it’s a big change from some of her more serious roles. She plays the daughter of an ex-CIA operative, who is growing up in Finland. Her father trains her to be an assassin, as opposed to most fathers who just teach you how to go fishing. Hanna and her dad are now targets for elimination by the CIA, so they have to evade capture. Hanna is trained in both hand-to-hand combat and target shooting, making her way stronger than she looks.
13. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
When Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was released in 2000, it brought an entirely new genre to the attention of American audiences. Wuxia films are centered around the use of martial arts in ancient China, and the fighting in this movie is absolutely breathtaking. Michelle Yeoh stars as a professional bodyguard, and she is not playing around. There’s also a mysterious female villain character, Jade Fox, who can kick some serious ass. There are plenty of men in the movie too, but the women are more than capable in the highly-choreographed fight scenes.
12. Atomic Blonde
Released in 2017, Atomic Blonde gave Oscar-winner Charlize Theron a chance to do some major stunts. She stars as Lorraine, a secret agent who is sent to Cold War Berlin to find other spies. As you can imagine, there are some problems along the way, but Lorraine is more than equipped to take down anyone in her way. The action is beautifully shot and skillfully edited, giving Atomic Blonde a heavy dose of style along with its fighting. Charlize Theron is usually great in everything she does, and this is no different.
11. The Heat
Comedic action movies can be really great or kind of flat, but The Heat works nicely. Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock have great energy together as two polar opposite law enforcement officials working to take down a gangster. They do their fair share of bickering with each other, but they also know when to turn on the action. The most memorable moment in the movie is when Sandra Bullock decides to try a medical technique she learned at home, that involves a straw. If you haven’t seen it, you’ll either scream or think it’s the funniest thing ever. Probably both.
10. Charlie’s Angels
This is one reboot that paid homage to the original while still coming out very well. Starring Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, and Lucy Liu, this movie brings both great comedy and even better action. The three women were perfect partners and friends, and the movie’s success led to a great sequel, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. There’s reportedly another reboot in the works, with Elizabeth Banks planned to direct. Audiences just love this trio of strong, independent women.
9. G.I. Jane
G.I. Jane might not sound like much, but this has nothing to do with some doll. Demi Moore plays the first woman to ever participate in the U.S. Navy Special Warfare Program, and she proves she can hold her own. During her training, she demands that she’s held to the same standard as the men, not letting anyone treat her differently. She ends up pulling off a rescue mission in Libya, dispelling the doubts about whether women can hang with the men. This is a fun action movie, but it also carries an important feminist message.
8. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
There’s a new Tomb Raider movie out now starring Alicia Vikander, but let’s talk about the original. Released in 2001, Angelina Jolie plays Lara, the international treasure hunter who is skilled in fighting her way out of sticky situations. Based on a popular video game, Jolie completely embodied the titular character, looking super fit in the iconic tank top. The movie received a sequel in 2003, and obviously, there was enough interest to bring it back in 2018. Lara Croft is a tough woman, and she’s up to any challenge.
Alien is a true classic in the science fiction genre, and it still more than holds up nearly 40 years later. Sigourney Weaver is unstoppable as Ripley, who fights for her life as her spaceship’s crew is ravaged by an extraterrestrial presence. This movie still has the ability to terrify and delight anyone, and the sequels are great too. Particularly, the second movie Aliens is nearly as good as the first. In this series, Ripley is pushed to the brink time and time again, and it’s a joy to watch her find strength she didn’t know she had.
This 2003 movie gave birth to the Underworld saga, which is all about the struggle for power between vampires and werewolves. Kate Beckinsale plays a vampire who hunts werewolves, or lycans, for a living. Predictably, she falls in love with a human who is being pursued by the lycans. After he is bitten by the creatures, she must decide whether to kill him out of loyalty or try to save him and fight back. The movie gained a loyal audience, and there have been four sequels since. Whether or not these movies are your cup of tea, they’re doing something right.
Melissa McCarthy gets a lot of mileage out of her comedic gifts, and Spy is another action project that she works her magic in. She plays Susan Cooper, a CIA employee who always has just sat behind a desk, helping agents get their missions done. But chaos ensues when she’s sent into the field, forced to adopt secret identities and take down some international criminals. You might not expect much from someone who can’t ride a Vespa without tipping over, but Susan Cooper discovers that she can pack a punch. Rose Byrne is also delightfully cheesy as the movie’s main villain.
4. The Terminator
When you mention The Terminator, everyone always thinks of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Sure, the movie is named after his character, but the story isn’t even really about him. The main protagonist is the girl next door Sarah Connor, played by Linda Hamilton. When the Terminator is sent back in time to kill Sarah, she’s forced to work quickly to stay alive and outsmart the machine. The original Terminator is a tightly-wound, epically violent thriller, and it makes sense why people still love it 35 years later.
3. Wonder Woman
When it was released in summer 2017, Wonder Woman completely took the world by storm. It received great critical praise and blew all box office expectations out of the water. Gal Gadot immediately became iconic as Diana Prince, and the fact that the director, Patty Jenkins, is female made its success even sweeter. It took far too long to get this iconic character on the big screen, but now she’s not going anywhere. After this movie’s World War I setting, the sequel will take place in the Cold War. We also know that Kristen Wiig will play the main villain, which is incredibly exciting.
2. Sucker Punch
It’s rare enough that we get a great female-led action movie, so a movie led by a whole group of women is even better. In Sucker Punch, Emily Browning plays a girl stuck in a mental institution, and she teams up with some of her fellow prisoners to escape. This whimsical action flick blurs the line between fantasy and reality, but the women are badass either way. Abbie Cornish, Vanessa Hudgens, Jena Malone, and Jamie Chung round out the team, and they’re not going to stop until they get what they want. We need more movies with strong groups of women, which leads us to a little bonus:
1. Ocean’s 8
Ocean’s 8 isn’t even out yet, but we have a feeling it’s going to be pretty awesome. The complete all-star cast of women is so exciting, we haven’t stopped thinking about it in months. Anne Hathaway, Rihanna, Mindy Kaling, Sandra Bullock, the list just goes on an on. A reboot to the earlier, male-led Ocean’s movies, this one is all about the gals. Combine top-notch action with the glamour of the Met Gala, and this just looks like a recipe for success.