Here are a couple of ground rules for this article:
1. Movies are from the New Millennium, 2000 – present day.
2. All protagonists must be females.
3. All films are of the action genre.
Milla Jovovich as Alice
from the Resident Evil franchise
When deciding to write about modern day female badasses, Milla Jovovich was a very easy choice. My initial thought was to include her for her role as Leeloo in the Luc Besson directed science fiction film THE FIFTH ELEMENT (1997), but that would have broken the ground rules for this article. This film would have suited the article just fine, but I think we all know her better as Alice in the long running horror/action franchise RESIDENT EVIL (2002 – 2016).
The first film in the series, RESIDENT EVIL (2002), was adapted from the popular Capcom video game series Resident Evil initially released in 1996. Establishing itself as the first survival horror game, Resident Evil features a protagonist who confronts the outbreak of an aggressive virus that has turned the scientists of Racoon City into flesh eating zombies. While the first feature film loosely follows the original video game, the remainder of the franchise transforms into an adrenaline-fueled action series of popcorn films. Regardless of what you think of these movies or the intellectual property of Resident Evil as a whole, I believe we can all agree that the consistent inclusion of Milla Jovovich’s Alice character defines the backbone of the series. The franchise has made more than $1.2 billion over a 14-year period, due in large part to the kick-ass, level headed, and confident presence of Milla Jovovich.
Uma Thurman as The Bride
from Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2
If you’ve been watching films for any amount of time and if you’re serious about genre film, then you’re aware of Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino introduced the movie going audience to the misadventures of a bored crime lord’s wife Mia Wallace (Uma Thurman) in the now classic PULP FICTION (1994). Thurman had been in the movie business for 10-years at this point, but remained relatively unknown until this breakout role. I can’t recall when I first heard about KILL BILL Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 (2003/2004), but I do recall thinking to myself that Uma Thurman was an odd casting choice considering what information had been released about the project prior to release – that KILL BILL was a revenge film heavy on martial arts action. Why choose Thurman for this part? She had no martial arts training whatsoever and had not been involved in any serious action pictures. Uma Thurman didn’t make sense at all.
Fourteen years have passed since the KILL BILL series was unleashed to the masses. Uma Thurman was the perfect choice to play the battered, left for dead Bride. Thurman owns the lead role of The Bride as her dedication to the film is astonishing. She’s been physically beaten unconscious on her wedding day and left in a prolonged coma. When waking up in the hospital much later, she sees that she’s lost her unborn child. Unable to walk or function, The Bride begins self-therapy to recover her motor skills while the tortured memories of what happened to her come flooding back. This setup fuels the remainder of the film and takes us through The Bride’s recovery and her continued martial arts training. It also shows how she gloriously and violently works her way through the people who wronged her, concluding with the film’s eponymous Bill. This becomes evident after she dispatches the entire crew of the Crazy 88s, a frenzied blood-spattered scene you won’t soon forget. All this is done in an escalating fashion, and by the time she’s done, The Bride has transformed into a badass force of nature. Thurman perseveres as a character and performer until the whole bloody affair has concluded itself. In hindsight, I should have never questioned Tarantino’s casting decision. In fact, I have not done so since seeing KILL BILL.
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa
from Mad Max: Fury Road
MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015) is set in a future post-apocalyptic world. This picture is the fourth film in the franchise and comes 30 years after the extended music video known as MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME (1985). George Miller is back in the director’s chair for this installment of the franchise and Mel Gibson has been replaced by the much younger Tom Hardy. While this film is ferociously fueled by high octane action, its co-star Charlize Theron is the real reason to watch. That, and the fact that this movie is a throwback in regards to how they used to make action films, relying heavily on real stunts, real cars, real car crashes and real explosions.
Soon after the film opens, Furiosa is seen leading a convoy to an oil refinery known as Gastown. In the early part of this journey, she veers off the beaten path and heads toward her childhood home named “the Green Place”. We also learn that she has taken Immortan Joe’s “breeders” (his concubines) in an attempt to free them of their captivity. This action leads Joe to send out his best men to stop Furiosa. Furiosa, however, won’t have it, so she teams up with Max to free the young women and to put an end to Joe’s despotic grasp on the land over which he rules.
Much has been said about Charlize Theron’s role as Furiosa, and specifically, how this movie represents women. But let’s not debate that here. Instead, let’s celebrate the badassery of Furiosa. This woman has been enslaved in a male dominated world. She’s an amputee who wears grease face paint. She’s a bundle of fear and anger in a world poisoned by men. She’s a survivor. This article could break down her actions scene by scene but that’s not going to happen nor can it convey what the picture does so well in its visual storytelling. If you’ve deprived yourself of seeing MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, rectify that situation now. You’ll see why Furiosa has been included in this article.
Rose McGowan as Cherry Darling
from Planet Terror
PLANET TERROR was the first feature in Quentin Tarantino’s and Robert Rodriguez’s throwback to the exploitation double features of the 60s and 70s, GRINDHOUSE (2007). PLANET TERROR takes place in rural Texas where its plot revolves around a chemical leak that infects citizens turning them into crazed flesh-eating zombies.
Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan) gets fed up at work and leaves her exotic dancing job. While having a bite to eat at the Bone Shack, she runs into her old boyfriend Wray (Freddy Rodriguez). Cherry decides to hitch a ride with Wray since she was injured earlier by a passing truck. During that ride, Freddy swerves on the highway just missing someone on the road and Cherry ends up in the woods after a zombie rips her from the truck’s passenger window. Freddy finds Cherry shortly afterwards with and even more serious injury – one leg missing. Her leg was consumed by the growing number of flesh eating zombies. At the height of the outbreak, Freddy heads to the hospital to find Cherry. Cherry sports a sour mood since her leg is now missing. Here’s that conversation:
El Wray: Get up. We’re leaving.
Cherry Darling: I can’t walk.
El Wray: So what? Get up!
Cherry Darling: Motherfucker! Look at me!
[removes blanket to reveal her missing leg]
Cherry Darling: Look at me! I was gonna be a stand-up comedian! Who’s gonna laugh now?
El Wray: Some of the best jokes are about cripples. Let’s go.
Cherry Darling: It’s not funny. I’m pathetic.
El Wray: Would you stop crying over fucking spilt milk?
Cherry Darling: I have no leg!
[looking frustrated, El Wray rips off a wooden table leg and shoves it in Cherry’s stump]
El Wray: Now you do. What do you think?
This scene more or less lays the foundation for McGowan’s character. The wooden table leg gets upgraded to a sub-machine gun/rocket propelled grenade launcher and then upgraded again to a mini-gun near by the end of the picture. It fits her ever evolving character arc perfectly as she mows down infected creature after infected creature. She does this on the back of a Harley, while accidentally being propelled through the air (putting those grenades to good use) and protecting her new family of refugees as the film comes to a close. She’s the inspiration for this editorial piece and my favorite of the ladies mentioned here.
Chun-Li as herself
from Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (2009)
(I’m exercising editorial discretion here – I’m leveraging the 2009 film to include the character Chun-Li in this article)
Chun-Li’s video game debut was in 1991 where she first appeared in the Capcom produced Street Fighter II: The World Warrior. Chun-Li is approximately 5’5 in height and her weight is unknown (it’s a secret). She has brown eyes and dark brown hair. She also has the meatiest set of legs you’ll ever lay eyes on. She was born on March 1, 1968, in China and her martial arts training includes several forms Chinese kempo (literally, “Chinese martial arts”).
Chun-Li likes crepes, fruits, candy, Western confectionary, her father, and fellow martial arts warriors Ryu, Ken and Guile. Her dislikes are the villainous M. Bison, crime, people who can’t get to the point, and indecisive shady people. Chun-Li has a long list of rivals. Some friendly, some not so friendly. Here are a few: Vega, Balrog, Gen, Zangief, Ken (friendly), Rashid (friendly) and Sakura (friendly).
Chun-Li has a large variety of in-game special moves. The most notable is Hyakuretsukyaku (“Hundred Rending Legs”), more commonly known as Lightning Kick. This is her signature attack move. While there are other moves that round out her capable fighting skills, Hyakuretsukyaku is the one that she typically uses to finish her opponents.
Chun-Li’s appearance has changed slightly since she was first introduced to the world of Street Fighter. She is known for her muscular thighs and wears different shades of blue clothing with white combat boots. Her clothes vary from a qipao (a Chinese dress) to embroidered vests, athletic shoes and gem studded wristbands. These clothing styles are based on the games in which she appears. For instance in the anime Street Fighter II V, based on the original Street Fighter II game, she can be seen wearing casual outfits including sleeveless V-necks, red Chinese pants and black Chinese shoes.
Chun-Li is an extremely resourceful fighter. She has a strong sense of justice and is a highly disciplined combatant. She has an elegant and feminine personality, providing an empowering influence to all women wishing to fight within the world she lives in. Did I mention she’s an Interpol cop? Yeah, she is. She defines the term badass and her years of dedication to law enforcement is why she’s included here.
Modern Day Badass Round-Up
Cinema and popular culture have changed drastically in the new age in which we’re living. Men are no longer the only gender being used to headline over-the-top action films. In many ways, those watching action films prefer a strong, independent woman who can competently handle herself. It provides the missing sex appeal many of the male dominated action films lack. We no longer need those testosterone driven action films when we have so many beautifully talented badass actresses available to us.
Did I leave a Modern Day Badass off this list? If so, who would you have included? Let us know by posting your comments below.
(Be sure to read our male counterpart to this female version of Modern Day Badasses)
Contributed by Mike Murphy