A good action hero is hard to find these days. Unless they come from a comic book, we just don’t have the brawny, no-nonsense men that populated 1970s and 1980s cinema. But if you think they’re scarce, try finding a good action heroine. They exist (Ripley, Beatrix Kiddo, Lara Croft, Lorna Cole) but they’re few and far between, and vastly outnumbered by the bad ones. Many writers and directors seem uncertain as to how to stick a gun (or a sword, or a superpower ….) in a girl’s hand, and make her consistent and believable. To help aspiring moviemakers know what not to do, I’ve compiled the action heroines that I find to be the worst cinema has to offer.
They range from aspiring policewomen to futuristic terrorists – and to be fair, they’re also an example of how not to write any character, male or female. But they’re more offensive because they’re obvious attempts to be feminist and inclusive. If you can’t give a heroine the snappy lines and charisma that belongs on a t-shirt, than don’t bother. These sad characters are proof.
How do you take one of Marvel’s most lethal heroines (rumor has it her body count exceeds Wolverine’s and the Punisher’s) and ruin her? I don’t know, but they managed it in not one, but two movies. The cold-blooded assassin was nowhere to be found. In her place was someone milquetoast and morose, though Jennifer Garner could certainly swing a pair of sais. But she’s the living example of miscasting because as lovely and lean as she is, she just looks like a kindergarten teacher out for vengeance.
“Wouldn’t Halle Berry look really hot in a Catwoman costume?” And that was the end of the scripting process. You know what would have been easier and cheaper? Just making a poster with Halle Berry dressed as Catwoman, and selling it for $10.00. Loads of profit, fewer jokes, no Razzies, and no setting a fine DC character back 10 years.
3. Queen Amidala
When you design a character as iconic as Princess Leia, writing her mom should be a pretty easy task. You could just write Princess Leia as she would have been in peacetime – a strong, intelligent, and capable politician. Or you could just make her a weepy, wooden figure who exists only to stare longingly at Anakin, a woman who lacks the willpower to survive for the sake of her Jedi children. Yeah, Mr. Lucas. Do that!
4. Charlie’s Angels
The Angels of the 1970s were certainly sexualized, but they were also groundbreaking for the time. If men tuned in for the T&A (tame by our standards), women tuned in to idolize them. Then the 2000 movie came along. If female fans hoped that 2000 would have a little less T&A, and a lot more independent thought, they were sadly mistaken. In the future, we require more! Charlie’s Angels is like a Top Cow comic – it’s supposed to be selling strong women to women. But all that carefully displayed flesh leaves we, the intended audience, in uncomfortable doubt. Where’s the action? Butt shaking and steering will isn’t action! Martin Riggs never did that …!
5. Violet of Ultraviolet
I feel like Milla Jovovich is the female Charles Bronson. Give her script where there’s a gun or a sword, and she’ll do it. Ask her to do a sequel to it, and she will. I dig that about her, and I’ll give her Resident Evil franchise a pass. But Ultraviolet? No. When your characterization consists of “Her name is Violet, but she’s on the edge, so the movie is Ultra-Violet,” you have already failed. I don’t care whether there’s a director’s cut or not.
6. Aeon Flux
I never enjoyed the fever-dream dystopia of the original Aeon Flux series, but I understood the appeal. I always thought it might translate well into live action and that an icy-cold character would be an intriguing challenge for an actress and her audience. Unfortunately, icy translated to “deadpan” and “boring.” I can remember how she left dogs to die in the cartoon. I don’t remember anything but her blank stare in the movie.
7. Mona Sax in Max Payne
Mila Kunis is supposed to be a Russian assassin in this movie. I just remember her standing around in a trenchcoat, showing Max Payne her thigh-high boots. In fairness, that made her far more interesting than Mark Wahlberg’s Payne who just stood around looking sad.
8. Mina Harker in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
To be fair, I never liked Mina in Alan Moore’s series either (I’m currently rereading it to try and change my opinion) but at least Moore makes her a proper Victorian feminist. Hollywood decided she could only be cool if she was a “well-regarded chemical scientist” and a vampire (I guess she took night classes) who can go glassy-eyed at the sight of Dorian Gray. Peta Wilson, we hardly knew ye.
9. Stewardess Cindy in Commando
The film is called Commando. That means you go and fight solo, especially if you’re being played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Inexplicably, John Matrix decides that’s not the way to go, and recruits a stewardess to help him. But she can’t shoot, can’t drive, and can’t fly the kind of plane he needs her to. Before Hollywood became vaguely aware of feminism and Sigourney Weaver, this character would have just been a scantily clad love interest or a dweeby tech guy. Instead, they tried to set a feminine example … but then they just got sleepy and gave up.
10. Maid Marian in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
The production of this film was tumultuous, so it’s not surprising that there are two Maid Marians in this film – one who can don armor and nearly slice Kevin Costner into ribbons and one who spends the second half of the film wailing and trying to avoid rape by Alan Rickman. I don’t have a problem with Marian being a damsel in distress (this is medieval England, after all) but I can’t stand when a woman suddenly loses her wits and forgets how to kick a guy in the testicles.
11. Anna Valerious in Van Helsing
I can handle the ridiculous costume and the silly Romanian accent. But Anna is a know-it-all who doesn’t actually know anything, and never has any silver bullets on her. I’ve always been charmed by the way she wants to rush off and fight Dracula, a move so ill-planned that Gabriel Van Helsing has to actually drug her to stop it. (Classy!) When he faces down Dracula and fails, she informs him Dracula can’t actually be killed. So, how was she going to do it? Loosen the corset strings, Anna. You’re suffering from oxygen deprivation. (And so am I to remember so much about this movie!)
Bringing back a very, very popular character like Marion Ravenwood should be easy. You just look at all your old notes, think about who she was, who you think she’s become since we last saw her, and how that’ll make her react to the situations you plan on putting her in. Perhaps you even want to ask input from the actress who played her. Or you could just have her drive a truck, and act like a lobotomized clown. Yeah, Mr. Lucas. Do that!
13. Irina Spalko in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
It’s a mark of what a great character Irina Spalko was that I completely forgot her name and thought it was “Natasha.” All I remembered was her haircut, her bad accent, and her “psychic” ability. Spalko had moments of brilliance (I’m still perplexed as to how she got herself, all her Soviet pals, a box of swords, and uniforms past America’s Cold War paranoia) but she would never have escaped the gulag back home. I wish Steven Spielberg and George Lucas had done an alternate ending where we saw Spalko before a Soviet tribunal trying to explain how she lost the Crystal Skull due to not being a good enough swordswoman. Would there be an awkward pause before her military commander said “But you had guns, yes?” Or would he just scream it before she even finished describing how she balanced precariously on a jeep, fencing with Mutt? Brainmelt by aliens was preferable to Siberia, and she knew it.
14. Inspector Kate Moore in The Enforcer
I’ve given Inspector Moore the lowest spot because she tries. She tries really, really hard and she’s stuck in heels. But when you’re paired with Inspector Harry Callahan, you’ve got to bring your A-game. At the very least, you’ve got to wear flats (surely his stride is legendary among the SFPD?) and ditch the purse. You have to not get sick during autopsies and prove to him a woman can be an inspector as unflappably strong as he is. Moore risks it all, but I’ve always suspected the bleak ending was meant to prove Dirty Harry right. He felt bad by the end (and possibly romantically inclined), but tomorrow he probably wakes up as sexist as ever.