Female action leads which have helped redefine cinema
Time Out Abu Dhabi staff
New sci-fi film Divergent fills the mould set by The Hunger Games with its strong, intelligent female lead. We reveal the best heroine roles the silver screen has given us so far.
Ellen Ripley This space-bound heroine has had her fair share of anguish. Four films’ worth, in fact. Getting hunted by an eight-foot leathery beast would be rather tiring for anyone without Ripley’s extraordinary stamina, but the one quality that keeps bringing audiences back to the franchise is the fact that, underneath that brave face, she’s just as afraid of the alien monster as we are. The difference is that she decides to do something about it; whether that’s blasting the creature up into the atmosphere in her own spacecraft in Alien, smashing it through an airlock with a forklifting robot in the gun-happy sequel Aliens, or covering it in molten lead in Alien 3. Even the weak link in the series, Alien: Resurrection, which reanimates a long-dead Ripley for even more xenomorphic carnage, was lit up by Sigourney Weaver, who was dedicated to continuing Ellen Ripley’s position as the benchmark for strong female cinematic leads.
Katniss Everdeen The two Hunger Games movies we’ve seen so far have been powerhouses of slow-building tension, dystopian malaise and peril. The Games themselves are Battle Royale-inspired skirmishes upgraded with fresh and compelling political stakes, but the glue that holds the epic scope together is Katniss Everdeen. Katniss is your regular everygirl who happens to be flung into the heart of her world’s violent social structure after a noble act of self-sacrifice: saving her younger sister from taking part in the bloodthirsty Games to come. As heroic as Katniss is in Suzanne Collins’s bestselling series of books – which the films are based on and faithful to – it’s Jennifer Lawrence’s lead performance that’s responsible for at least some of the mega-franchise’s success. There are two more parts to come – Mockingjay Part 1 and Mockingjay Part 2 – and we feel the odds of those being just as good are solidly in its favour.
The Bride Beatrix Kiddo. Black Mamba. The Bride. Whichever moniker you prefer, the heroine of Kill Bill Volumes I and II could easily be listed in the dictionary as the very definition of ‘revenge’. When her wedding is sabotaged by a gang of elite assassins, a bloody blast from the past she thought she’d escaped, she vows vengeance on her would-be killers when they fail to eliminate her. And the eponymous Bill is at the top of her list. The simple yet systematic ticking-off of her blood-stained to-do list provides the meat for two movies that would become touchstones of contemporary action cinema – and a display of possibly the toughest example of womanhood the multiplexes had seen for years. When The Bride isn’t taking practising extreme patience (two films is a very long time to wait, after all), she’s delivering pithy one-liners. And Uma Thurman – it’s impossible to think of anyone else in this role – provides her with just the right shade of humanity to allow us to think her ‘tour de gore’ is justifiable. Whatever you think, you’ve got to admit: she’s a woman who knows what she wants.
Celie Johnson Revisiting The Color Purple, which was nominated for 11 Academy Awards in 1985 without winning a single one, the biggest surprise is Whoopi Goldberg losing out on one of the little gold men for her acute, tender portrayal of Celie Johnson. A young black woman in the first part of the 20th century, Celie faces abuse at the hands of her father (Danny Glover) and a culture largely ignorant of her plight. Where Ellen Ripley has the sass, and where The Bride has the muscle, Celie has a quiet dignity that defines not only herself in her struggle against the misfortunes that life constantly throws at her, but of all of womankind. While director Steven Spielberg holds the reins when it comes to the well-timed pulling of the audience’s heart strings, this is Whoopi’s show through and through. Amazingly, this is her film debut, and her nuanced performance is probably the reason she’s still in the business today.
Princess Merida The red-haired, hot-headed princess of 2012’s Brave is important on many levels. She’s the first female lead character in a Pixar film – a much needed balancing of the scales after 12 movies from the animation giant featuring male leads. Secondly, she’s also the first Disney princess who doesn’t enjoy being in a dress: Merida is a freewheeling, carefree spirit and, while her unruly behaviour does have its consequences – her mother turning into a bear is one of them – she’s intensely likeable, and a more than welcome addition to kids’ film. While Merida’s thoroughly tomboyish personality is new for Disney, the studio has been wading into more equal waters with 2009’s The Princess and the Frog and the much more recent box-office-breaking Frozen. This movement, while a bit late, is helping turn the gender tide in animation – and we like to think of Merida as the brave leader of the revolution.