Monday, January 11, 2016


-By Arnie Fenner

There's been a great deal of excitement in 2015 about women action heroes—women warriors, as it were—in no small part because of the widely-held belief that there has been a serious lack of them in genre films/TV through the years so that whenever one appears it's a big deal. And, proportionally, that's true. But it's also true that there have been—and are—a number of serious buttkicking heroines (with more undoubtedly to come) and today, along the same lines of the "who is your favorite Batman" game, I thought I'd pose the "who was/is your favorite?" question here. Just for fun.

Honor Blackman as Dr. Cathy Gale in the British series The Avengers.

"Mrs. Peel, we're needed!" Diana Rigg's Emma Peel replaced Honor Blackman in
The Avengers and she and John Steed alternated each week between who saved whom.
But as I mentioned to Lauren recently during a conversation, I never saw Steed beat up
two guards and mow down a firing squad with a submachine gun like Mrs. Peel did
to save him in "The Living Dead" episode. Who would I count on when things were
desperate, John or Emma? Mrs. Peel, hands down.  

Anne Francis as Honey West, a kinda American version of Mrs. Peel. My wife Cathy's mom
went to high school with Ms Francis (best known for her role as Altaira in Forbidden Planet).

Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman.

Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia was a true badass. In Star Wars she plugged Stormtroopers right and left; in The Empire Fights Back she led a rebel army; in The Return of the Jedi she defrosted Han, strangled Jabba the Hutt while wearing a slave girl-bikini, and croaked Empire scouts in a high-speed chase. Sure, sure, thirty-odd years later some people have problems with her slave girl outfit in RoftJ. Me? It's part of the story,  Jabba made her wear it, she made Jabba sorry, so it's all fine by me.

Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley in Alien and Aliens (I'd rather forget the other
sequels). Smarter, more tenacious, and definitely tougher than everyone else on the
screen, heroes don't come any better. I mean. c'mon, if they had listened to her in the
first place and left Kane outside, her first crew, the settlers, and the Marines, would've
lived (though the movies would have been, admittedly, much less exciting).

Agent Dana Scully as played by Gillian Anderson in The X-Files.
She had tons more brains than Mulder.

Lucy Lawless as Xena: Warrior Princess.

Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity in The Matrix trilogy. If she hadn't saved Neo
a couple of times, he would have never lived to be "The One."

Angelina Jolie as (top) Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and as "Jane" in Mr. & Mrs. Smith.
"Who's your Daddy now?"

Kate Beckinsale as the vampiric Selene the Death Dealer in Underworld.

Leeloo—The Fifth Element—as portrayed by Mila Jovovich kicks some serious
Mangalore ass before saving the world. (Ms Jovovich also plays Alice in the
Resident Evil film series.) "Multipass!"

Uma Thurman as Beatrix "Black Mamba" Kiddo—aka The Bride—in Kill Bill 1&2.
A "wronged woman entitled to her revenge"—and she got it. Ms Thurman
also played Mrs. Peel in a 1998 movie version of The Avengers.

Scarlett Johansson as Natasha "Black Widow" Romanoff in the Iron Man,
The Avengers, and Captain America films. If they gave her her own movie, I'd go.

Though there are many strong women in HBO's Game of Thrones adaptation
(Daenerys Targaryen, Brienne of Tarth, Ygritte, Yara Greyjoy, Osha, and more) my bet
is that Maisie Williams' Arya Stark is going to turn out to be the most important character
in the series. She's a fearless survivor and she does hold a grudge.

Like Ripley—and Princess Leia, too, for that matter—Katniss Everdeen, as played
by Jennifer Lawrence in the Hunger Games series, is a hero with a conscience and a heart.

Charlize Theron's as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road: a sequel, Mad Max: Furiosa is supposedly in the works. Ms Theron also portrayed the title character in Æon Flux.

Daisy Ridley as Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. There were a lot of angry fans when
the SW Monopoly set appeared without a Rey figure, but my hunch is we're going to see
a lot of product featuring her in the weeks, months, and, yeah, years ahead.

Gal Godot will be the new Wonder Woman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
that will be released on March 25. Inspired more by the WW of Kingdom Come than the
1940s (and TV) version, there's a lot of anticipation for the film. Let's see if they pull it off.

I know this is something of a cursory list; there are many others that can be listed, especially when films and TV shows from around the world are considered (not to mention animated characters), and feel free to nominate your own favorite if I missed her.

Is there a sexuality to a lot of the costumes and characters? Of course. We're people and sex is a huge part of being human.

Are male heroes treated similarly? Certainly not. Never. Not once. Nope, nope, nope. No one would ever depict—and no one would ever want to see—guy heroes as, ewwwww, desirable, right?


So...favorite warrior women? Discuss.


  1. You left out Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I think she is worthy of mention.

    My personal favorite is Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman. She brought more than just curves to the role, she brought the unique strengths of womanhood: compassion, diplomacy and forgiveness. I really hope they do not lose that side of her personality in the new movie. Sometimes Hollywood forgets that being equal does not necessarily mean we all have to be the same.

    1. I forgot to mention Sara Conner from Terminator 1 & 2, as well.

    2. Buffy is certainly worthy of mention; not only does she break a lot of the typical "action girl" tropes that a lot of the people on this list exemplify, but she is decidedly unsexulized (by comparison) to a lot of other "Warrior Women".

  2. My first "real" virtual crush was Emma Peel. Today I would say Black Widow hands down (Scarlett).

  3. River Tam in Firefly and Serenity, played by Summer Glau? Who can forget her coming out party in Serenity? :-)

  4. My heart will always say Diana Rigg, Emma Peel, my head can't be depended on.

  5. A heroine (well not action heroine really) who felt right for what she was and how she was portrayed was Mercy from the movie The Warriors. Deborah Van Valkenburgh did an excellent job there.

    However I'm generally disappointed by both male and female actors in action movies due to the fact that as time progressed from the 80's onward, actors playing heroes are both written and cast in very unconvincing ways. I mean, when you don't have the new Charles Bronson or Clint Eastwood, when a new Rambo could be played by a 25 year old model who's never gone a day without his backside being powdered, how can the character convince you of his toughness?

    Fantasy artists love the Frazetta Conan partly because the SOB painted a hard-as-nails, burnt, toiled warrior who lives hard. Other Conan pieces fail to capture this, they just paint that year's Mr. Olympia.

    In film it's even worse and it's harder with female characters because most just look too damn soft and feminine. Few are the instances where (at least for me) a heroine is convincing without it being forced and two of them have been mentioned, Rey from Star Wars and Ripley. Almost anyone else I've seen comes across as a sweaty pencil-neck weakling posing as the poor man's Chuck Norris.

    1. I agree with all of this. Trying to play up the sex appeal too much and it makes the character unbelievable. Warriors wouldn't be smooth, unscarred or wafer thin.

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  7. My votes;

    Michelle Yeoh in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

    Naomi Harris; Selena in 28 Days Later

    Don't know if animation counts but, Korra, from Legend of Korra;

    Every female character in that show is cool. If you have time to watch cartoons and you have not watched this show, you should. To my mind, the best things to come out of Nickelodeon Animation.

  8. We played spys as children "The man from U.N.C.L.E" but I was always Honey West, my childhood hero. Rare female lead in those times. Alot of the women on the list were still on the sexual pedestal until Ripley came along, she was flawed, human and did what needed to be done.

  9. My favs include:
    - Chihiro from Spirited Away (for her coming of age journey)
    - Ranka Lee from Macross Frontier (for being the embodiment of innocence and empathy while growing into show's key world-saving character)
    - Samus Aran from Metroid (for being the first female protagonist to make me run around pretending I was a female protagonist)

  10. What about Lieutenant O'Neil by Demi Moore? Yep, the movie isn't too good, but she is really tough!

  11. Never understood the anti Alien 3 thing, seems a bit of a default opinion in our nerd world? I love it - dark, tense and claustrophobic, great actors, and I love the 'stranded at the arse end of space' feel - and in relation to this post, it really pushes the story of Ripley and the Alien further. I really like the fact that it's a 'ladz' film - horror, violence, space grunge - but the main character is a woman essentially going through pregnancy. It never occurred to me as a kid that Ripley was 'a woman' - as in, anything different to a male lead - she was just who the story was about, and she was baddass... which I guess is a real success of the franchise :)

    In fact, a whole post could be done on whether Ripley is potentially one of the (or 'the' in my opinion) greatest characters in a film franchise? In terms of character development, stereotype breaking, influence on other roles etc? It'd be interesting to run her up against say... Indiana Jones, John Mclaine, Mad Max, Bond etc

    She's definitely become an archetype

    1. I think the general dislike for Alien 3 (which had a lot of problems, including two directors and lots of script changes) has to do with the way it starts: everything that Ripley fought so hard for and won in Aliens gets blithely wiped away in the first 10 minutes. And it doesn't get any better for her. The movie looked good, but, ooof, what a bummer. :-)

    2. Yeah the original 'Wooden Monastery' idea was sucky! I like the fact that the other guys from Aliens die to be honest, it's like she's cursed by the Alien and can't escape it... and there were enough gung-ho! marines in the previous film - then one by one everyone she meets dies no matter what she does, until she realises she has to die herself... happy endings are always a bit boring :)

      I like the religious/idolisation thing they bring into it, the bonkers prisoner seeing it as a demon/a perfect being and dooming everyone else (in the extended version anyway, they capture it and he lets it out)

      The tunnel chase scene, the cremation/alien 'birth' scene and scene with the alien finding Ripley in the medical room are stunning... and they don't win just by shooting it with a gun ;-)

      Anyway, great posts as always! :-)

  12. I think for me Xena will forever be my iconic warrior woman. The show just happened to be on TV when I got home from high school (no cable) so it was what I watched. I was never quite certain if I wanted to be Xena or Gabriel, but the effect it had on me was profound. I went on to major in classical studies in university. When I ran out of pictures of Xena to put in my fangirl scrap book I moved on to artists like Royo and that pushed me straight into the world of fantasy and sci-fi art. Not to mention that Lucy Lawless pretty much ended up defining my type. So much to be grateful for! The others that come to mind tend to follow that type - Claudia Black as Aeryn Sun from Farscape. Jaimie Murray as Helena Wells in Warehouse 13 etc. I can see Lagertha from Vikings also becoming a favourite heroine for many.

    This post got me thinking about something else though. I grew up in South Africa so as a child comic books were prohibitively expensive because they were all imported from overseas. If we could get our hands on them at all it was the odd copy from garage sales etc. I had one copy of Gen 13. One copy of X-men. The only X-man I really knew anything about before the movies was Jubiliee because she happened to be in the issue I had as a kid. Sometimes it feels like I'm missing a whole chunk of 'culture' that seems so normal to the rest of the community, like Wonder Woman.

  13. I guess one woman that comes to mind that seemed convincingly strong was Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2.

  14. The list is totally white. It's sad but 2016 and Hollywood is still almost totally white. Title should be white female warriors :)

    1. So the number of the year is somehow an argument? Are we supposed to dismiss good characters (few that there are in my opinion at least) for the sake of non-white characters, to fulfill some diversity quota? Should casting of an actor be based on their skin color and not merit or the nature of the character portrayed? What?

      If you've got an idea for an interesting, credible, non-white female warrior who doesn't feel forced, isn't written to spew some identity politics propaganda or pamper the "social justice" trend, then go for it, write the script and pitch it, be the change you want to see, and if it's good enough, be certain that character will turn up in the list.

    2. Or we can think up some of the examples that do exist, some already mentioned in the comments above. Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi's characters from 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden' Dragon, for example. Zoe from Firefly/Serenity. Storm (X-men), Lana (Archer) also come to mind pretty readily. That's not to say there haven't been plenty of missed opportunities--definitely looking forward to Hollywood's eventual maturation with incentive (serious money from international audiences) to create more characters of diverse backgrounds.

    3. I think it's also a question of what actors want, and up until recently female actors didn't seem to want to play action characters en mass. I think that Charlize Theron had no idea she'd want to try her skills at an action character at some point, and maybe she had to go through all the roles she's gone through before trying. Add the whole action/fantasy/comic craze of the past 10-15 years, there's a cash incentive.

      Also let's not forget, it's hard to write a good action character regardless of sex, skin color or hair style. Hell, it's hard to paint one! You don't just stick a metal helmet on a guy, give him a sickle and a black horse and call him Death Dealer, or a magnum to a middle aged guy and call him Dirty Harry. And it's even harder for female characters because let's face it, even in war women's genetic disadvantages hold them (and the platoon) back at least a little, so in our collective understanding G.I. Jane seems far fetched. Ripley on the other hand is awesome because she's just a strict and determined woman trying the impossible and barely making it.

      I think that as more people of different backgrounds get into these markets, there will be a trickle down effect of seeing more characters who bring with them something of different backgrounds (then again, Star Trek did a lot on the late 60's). This is no guarantee of a successful outcome tho, and that's why quotas and stuff which force anything are just a bad idea.

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    5. Damn, forgetting the name of the character and the actress, but there's the lover of galdiator Crixus--played by Manu Bennet--from the Starz "Spartacus" tv series. She went on to play Amanda Conner in "Arrow".
      There's also Uhuru in the rebooted Star Trek who also played Gamorra, "the most dangerous woman in the galaxy",in "Guardians of the Galaxy".

  15. In my observation, there's a huge generational gap when it comes to media – those of us who grew up being constantly exposed to stories and images on television and the internet are extremely analytical about how people are portrayed, while those who didn't are understandably more prone to shrug it off. You provide a few examples of sexualized men (all of whom are main characters in their stories and utterly retain their agency), but what I see is that for every scene of James Bond shirtless there are hundreds of male characters who are never sexualized in any way, while for every Emma Peel there are hundreds of female characters that exist mainly to illustrate the sexual prowess of the man in the story. For every painting of Vampirella there are hundreds of women portrayed as window dressing or titillating trophies for the dude in the picture. Male characters who are portrayed as being powerful without also being sexual are abundant, while female characters portrayed similarly are quite rare. It's not the individual characters that are the issue, but rather the lack of variety.

    It's quite possible, of course, to believe that none of that matters. But I think it's safe to say that there are more women making and enjoying fantasy and sci-fi than ever before, and many of us (not all, of course) see male gaze centered art as a “no girls allowed” sign. So I'd argue that, if one is in the business of making commercially viable art, it matters more every year.

    Even putting commercial concerns aside, it's simply unwise to dismiss the concerns of a group of people you aren't part of, particularly when those groups have been kept out of the social conversation for centuries. I know throwing around words like "diversity", "gender", “agency” and “male gaze” make some people cry censorship, but most of us who critique art in these terms do it because we consider those things to be components of quality, not because we want to put PC handcuffs on artists. Making a critical point about a piece of art doesn't mean we think the work itself is horrible or worthless. It doesn't mean that the artist is a terrible person. It just means that the work could be improved.

    Anyway, I think some of the most wonderful ladies in science fiction are from Star Trek (NOT the reboot). They're not perfect, but they rarely seem like cardboard cut-outs. I'm particularly fond of Number One from "The Cage" as portrayed by Majel Barrett, and I love Dr. Pulaski, though she's as xenophobic towards Data as Dr. McCoy is to Spock.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Amanda. As Harlan Ellison has said, "Without critics we are doomed to die a strangulating death of mediocrity." The danger to avoid, of course, is selective criticism that ignores context and perspective; we have to learn from the past (we certainly can't change it) to make a better present and future. Replacing one form of prejudice with another perpetuates problems rather than solves them. Each generation has its own baggage and always will; from the Lost Generation through the Millennials and beyond, every generation has and will have their virtues and their failings. The blame game that too many play these days is a pointless pursuit. Every voice, every artistic expression, regardless of whether we agree or not, is as valid as our own and deserves to be heard; too often that truth gets lost in debates, or arguments. We don't have to like everything or everybody, but no one should feel left out of the conversation. That's certainly happened in the past—and that's something to change and improve upon in the future.

      The media—and the arts in general—sexualizes virtually every heroic character in some way and always has. The three male characters I showed at the end was only the tiniest tip of the iceberg to illustrate that point, but I could have easily gone back to the silents for examples then traveled on to Buster Crabbe in his torn Flash Gordon shirt on to the various Tarzans on till today with the cast of 300 and The Rock as Hercules—as well as all of the perfect-bodied spandex-wearing Marvel & DC superheroes filling the big and small screens these days. "Beefcake" is as prevalent as "cheesecake." Men and women are, of course, different and respond to different stimulus in different ways; just as there's "the male gaze" it would be disingenuous to deny that there's "the female gaze," too, and the media panders to it just as happily as they do to anyone in order to make a buck.

      The point of all of the characters I posted here is their strength AND their "agency" (regardless of whether observers—the audience—personally agree with their agency); I deliberately left off overtly fetishized characters. I left off Halle Berry's CATWOMAN not out of prejudice but was awful. :-)

      I don't think Furiosa and Rey would have been possible if there first hadn't been Mrs. Peel. The inspiration of the character has reverberated and influenced subsequent creators over the years. Which is a good thing. My overall feeling is like with anything else in life, if we want change, we have to actively work to make change happen and support those works that share our views. That means creating books and comics and films and TV shows and art that both reflects the changes we want and whose quality is so high everyone will embrace it. And want more.

      Oh, and I forgot to mention Valeria in CONAN THE BARBARIAN and Peggy Carter in AGENT CARTER. :-)

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