The 12 most badass action films with powerful female leads


Hollywood is finally moving closer to equality. The past few years have seen a growing number of films starring, written by and directed by women. There's still a lot of progress yet to be made, of course. But there's one area where women have been kicking butt and taking names for decades: action films. Ironically, action films are stereotyped as the launching pad of the manliest of manly men: Schwarzenegger, The Rock, Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone and so on. But some of the biggest action hits, both critically and commercially, are led by women.

If you're looking to expand your home video library for the holidays or just searching for a great holiday playlist while taking out some healthy aggression, here are 12 of our all-time favorite films featuring strong women front and center.


No. 12: Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003)

Quentin Tarantino has a complicated relationship with some of his female actors, especially Uma Thurman, who criticized the director's disregard for her personal safety during the making of the Kill Bill films. But there's no denying Kill Bill Vol. 1 is a tour de force that brought QT back into Hollywood's good graces after the box office setback of Jackie Brown (another kickass female-led film, btw). The Bride's tale of revenge is riveting, violent and even funny at times. It's impossible not to look at, as Thurman leaves a bloody trail in her quest for justice against the evil Bill. The action peaks in an insane battle between The Bride and the Crazy 88 but the entire movie is a re-watchable blast from start to finish and will help kill the time until the dynamic duo reunites for Kill Bill 3!

Watch it now: Kill Bill Vol. 1, $3.99; on Amazon


No. 11 The Hunger Games (2012)


Jennifer Lawrence is an Oscar winner and social media icon. But she first connected with mass audiences in her role as Katniss Everdeen. The entire Hunger Games trilogy was a smash hit but the first entry in the series remains our personal favorite. Not everything has aged perfectly since the film first premiered. While we love Josh Hutcherson in Future Man, he's a little short for a Stormtrooper, as another iconic female lead once famously said. Nonetheless, J-Law carries this film on her charisma and completely sells her journey from humble daughter to deadly revolutionary.

Watch it now, $3.99; on Amazon


No. 10 Captain Marvel (2019)

Brie Larson is one of most talented young actors in Hollywood today. So, when she signed up to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe, fans were understandably excited. And Captain Marvel did not disappoint. The film is already one of the most financially successful in the Marvel franchise and Larson's character Carol Danvers was able to seamlessly take a leading role in an already massive cast of proven winners. The movie was subject to some controversy because of Larson's outspoken advocacy on social issues and some of the ensuing backlash from vocal minorities on social media. Now that there's been enough time for that noise to pass, we're left with the movie itself to judge. And it's simply a blast. Larson has natural chemistry on-screen with Samuel L. Jackson that leads to plenty of laughs. Jude Law makes a compelling foil for Captain Marvel and the film is full of surprising and fun twists. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is stronger with Brie Larson in it and this is a film we'll be watching on repeat while we wait for the next installment.

Watch it now, $14.99 with bonus content; on Amazon


No. 9 La Femme Nikita (1990)

The 1990 action thriller from director Luc Besson was ahead of its time both stylistically and, of course, in its story centered around Nikita. The story has been remixed, copied and redone so many times, we've lost count. But this one still has so much going for it. If you like Marvel's Black Widow, or pretty much any Angelina Jolie action film, you'll love this one. The less said the better, as its plot and incredible action sequences are better kept in all their surprising glory. That said, this one is a hard rated "R," so don't show it to your daughters or their friends until they are age-appropriate!

Watch the original trailer here


No. 8 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

It's hard to properly explain just how influential Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was upon its release. But consider just some of its accomplishments: An international film that was both a box-office smash and an awards contender. These days, we're a bit more accustomed to our action and superhero films also being genuinely "good" films, but that was rarely the case when Crouching Tiger first premiered. It's revolutionary fighting "wire work" continues to influence action films nearly 20 years later and Michelle Yeoh has gone on to several leading roles in other Hollywood films and TV shows including Crazy Rich Asians, Star Trek: Discovery, and the forthcoming Avatar sequels with female action star pioneer James Cameron. It's all a circle, folks.

Watch it now, $6.99; on Amazon

No. 7 Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

To most people, this is a Tom Cruise vehicle. But the real action star of the film is clearly co-star Emily Blunt. She's everything we've come to expect out of a typical Cruise role: confident, no-nonsense and ready for whatever the impossible mission requires. Their chemistry in this film is perfect, with Cruise playing off Blunt's mastery with his own anxious ticks, paranoia, chicanery and fear-driven choices. When Blunt's character Rita is forced to take Cruise's Cage under her wing, the sparks fly in a riveting, action-packed film that has a really unique and emotional story to boot. Rumors of a sequel and/or prequel (trust us, it's part of the film's charm) continue to circulate but this feels like more of a one-off gem for both Blunt and Cruise. We'd be first in line to see them pair up on the screen a second time, but only if Blunt stays in charge.

Watch it now, $7.99 with bonus features; on Amazon


No. 6 Wonder Woman (2017)

Wonder Woman is a great metaphor for the state of superhero movies. Marvel films are the dominant force and they are almost entirely centered around male characters. Then, along came this unexpected megahit from DC Comics starring Gal Gadot, who had previously made her mark in smaller supporting roles in films like the Fast and the Furious series. And Gadot is nothing short of a revelation as Wonder Woman, a film that rocked the box office and won over critics alike. Wonder Woman is a perfect bridge for women who are reluctant to watch superhero films and for guys who are hesitant to watch a film led by a strong woman. Diana is everything we want out of our heroes and she has a great supporting partner in Chris Pine's Steve Trevor. Director Patty Jenkins captures the action and emotional arcs in vivid colors and crisp action sequences. Wonder Woman truly raised the bar for women in superhero films and for the genre in general.

Watch it now, $7.99; on Amazon

No. 5 The Force Awakens (2015)

Oh, how time flies. It's only been four years since Star Wars returned to the big screen. And it's easy to forget what a big deal this film was. It shattered the domestic box office record and silenced most of the critics who thought the George Lucas prequel trilogy was a serious letdown. And the whole thing hinges on the performance of Daily Ridley's young Jedi in training, Rey. Yes, millions of us showed up to catch a glimpse of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Han Solo back on the big screen, but director J.J. Abrams was clear this would be a story about the next generation of galaxy heroes and he didn't disappoint. Despite some backlash over whether Rey was "too strong" in the Force, this movie and its sequel The Last Jedi were both massive hits. And re-watching The Force Awakens is a reminder of what a journey Rey has already gone on before her trilogy is even complete.

Watch it now, $12.99 with bonus features; on Amazon


No. 4 Rogue One (2016)

The strongest of the non-Skywalker Star Wars film, Rogue One continues to grow in audience appreciation over time. Jyn Erso is a classic Star Wars character while also feeling entirely new. Her journey as a reluctant member of the nascent Rebel Alliance is highly relatable and emotionally satisfying. And unlike so many other prequels, Rogue One brilliantly queues up the original Star Wars trilogy in a surprising and heart-racing fashion. Rogue One is the most "adult" of the Star Wars films but never feels gloomy despite high stakes and ultimately tragic story. It's also one of the most re-watchable movies of the past decade and would make a fine addition to your home library. The Force is strong with this one.

Watch it now, $3.99; on Amazon

No. 3 Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

And now we're in true action epic territory. Much like with Edge of Tomorrow, it's easy to mistakenly assume this is an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. After all, his Terminator is all over the marketing and has become a timeless global icon. Arnie's T-800 is the only character to appear in all films, including the increasingly weak sauce sequels and spinoffs. But purists know there are really only two Terminator films and Linda Hamilton's Sarah Conner is the star of both. In the first film, Conner is a frightened woman on the run who discovers her inner strength through her comrade, savior and future lover Kyle Reese. It's a tender romance hidden in the confines of a action-horror masterpiece. By 1991, director and writer James Cameron decided to push the budget, story and female empowerment to an entirely new level. When we catch up with Sarah Conner she's a broken woman. No one believes her story about the futuristic killing machine out to destroy humanity, not even her young son, John. It's a set-up that is reminiscent of so many action films previously starring men. But the simple gender twist puts an entirely new meaning into the proceedings. In the same way that Conner learns to be tough in the first film, she rediscovers her vulnerability through her son John but not before kicking an extreme amount of ass along the way. Despite being very much a product of its time, Terminator 2 has aged nearly perfectly after almost three decades, something even the best of films can rarely say. The fact that this applies to a film heralded for its special effects, is even more surprising. And that's all because it's anchored in the incredible story of Sarah Conner. Arnold may "be back" but Sarah Conner isn't going anywhere.

Buy it now, $9.99 Special Edition; on Amazon

No. 2 Aliens (1986)

Sigourney Weaver was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance as Ripley in the Alien sequel, also written and directed by James Cameron. Like Sarah Conner, Ripley has transformed physically but carries deep scars of emotional vulnerability. In its own powerful way, Aliens is a textbook guide to countering gender norms and sexism. Ripley is never judged for being a woman. She's judged for her personal capabilities and wow is Ripley ever capable. Aliens is a film that spawned a dozen catch-phrases and countless other signature visuals and plot elements that have been shameless copies by other filmmakers over the past 30+ years. If you've never seen Aliens, it might almost feel familiar because you've probably seen so many of its elements in lesser films that came later. But it's themes are timeless: corporate greed run amock and a hero standing alone in the face of doubt against seemingly insurmountable odds. The superior Director's Cut is over two and a half hours but rest-assured this isn't the Irishman. We challenge you to put on Aliens and see if you're able to stop before it's over. Some film critics prefer the original and we're here for Alien any time, anywhere. But put us in the camp of preferring the sequel when it comes to pure storytelling, that re-watchable factor and the sheer mastery of craft on display. It simply doesn't get better than this.

Watch it now, $3.99; on Amazon

No. 1 Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Nominated for 11 Academy Awards, this isn't just the best female-led action movie ever, it's one of the best films of the 21st century, period. The fact that it's the fourth entry in a loosely connected series of action films previously starring Mel Gibson is even more impressive. And let's not forget this film came out at a time when Tom Hardy was on top of the world. But anyone who sees Fury Road will quickly realize this film absolutely belongs to Charlize Theron and the band of "mothers" she's set out to protect from the radiation laden war boys who want to use them as baby factories to populate their dying world. On the surface, Fury Road is a two-hour action sequence, full of cars, guns and, yes, guitars with flame throwers on them. We're here for you, Duff. But it's almost a subtle and satisfying master class in feminism that breaks and reshapes so many cinematic tropes that it's nearly impossible to keep count. Fury Road is the kind of film that will be taught in universities for decades to come but can also be thrown on at any respectable midnight movie screening. It's the purest form of pop culture as art, commentary and cinema. It's a shame that it didn't take home the top prize for Best Picture but it's also obviously the one that will be remembered as the best movie of the year as it endures the test of time. An absolute classic and the perfect popcorn film with layers of depth for anyone looking for a great time (with great women) at the movies.

Watch it now, $3.99; on Amazon


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Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Wil Wheaton speaking to an audience at 2019 Wondercon.

In an era of debates over cancel culture and increased accountability for people with horrendous views and behaviors, the question of art vs. artist is a tricky one. When you find out an actor whose work you enjoy is blatantly racist and anti-semitic in real life, does that realization ruin every movie they've been a part of? What about an author who has expressed harmful opinions about a marginalized group? What about a smart, witty comedian who turns out to be a serial sexual assaulter? Where do you draw the line between a creator and their creation?

As someone with his feet in both worlds, actor Wil Wheaton weighed in on that question and offered a refreshingly reasonable perspective.

A reader who goes by @avinlander asked Wheaton on Tumblr:

"Question: I have more of an opinion question for you. When fans of things hear about misconduct happening on sets/behind-the-scenes are they allowed to still enjoy the thing? Or should it be boycotted completely? Example: I've been a major fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer since I was a teenager and it was currently airing. I really nerded out on it and when I lost my Dad at age 16 'The Body' episode had me in such cathartic tears. Now we know about Joss Whedon. I haven't rewatched a single episode since his behavior came to light. As a fan, do I respectfully have to just box that away? Is it disrespectful of the actors that went through it to knowingly keep watching?"

And Wheaton offered this response, which he shared on Facebook:

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Images courtesy of Mark Storhaug & Kaiya Bates

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The experiences we have at school tend to stay with us throughout our lives. It's an impactful time where small acts of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way.

Schools, classrooms, and teachers that are welcoming and inclusive support students' development and help set them up for a positive and engaging path in life.

Here are three of our favorite everyday actions that are spreading kindness on campus in a big way:

Image courtesy of Mark Storhaug

1. Pickleball to Get Fifth Graders Moving

Mark Storhaug is a 5th grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary in Los Angeles, who wants to use pickleball to get his students "moving on the playground again after 15 months of being Zombies learning at home."

Pickleball is a paddle ball sport that mixes elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, where two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. It's as simple as that.

Kingsley Elementary is in a low-income neighborhood where outdoor spaces where kids can move around are minimal. Mark's goal is to get two or three pickleball courts set up in the schoolyard and have kids join in on what's quickly becoming a national craze. Mark hopes that pickleball will promote movement and teamwork for all his students. He aims to take advantage of the 20-minute physical education time allotted each day to introduce the game to his students.

Help Mark get his students outside, exercising, learning to cooperate, and having fun by donating to his GoFundMe.

Image courtesy of Kaiya Bates

2. Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids

According to the WHO around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the US, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience severe mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Kaiya Bates, who was recently crowned Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen for 2022, is one of those people, and has endured severe anxiety, depression, and selective mutism for most of her life.

Through her GoFundMe, Kaiya aims to use her "knowledge to inspire and help others through their mental health journey and to spread positive and factual awareness."

She's put together regulation kits (that she's used herself) for teachers to use with students who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each "CALM-ing" kit includes a two-minute timer, fidget toolboxes, storage crates, breathing spheres, art supplies and more.

Kaiya's GoFundMe goal is to send a kit to every teacher in every school in the Pasco School District in Washington where she lives.

To help Kaiya achieve her goal, visit Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids.

Image courtesy of Julie Tarman

3. Library for a high school heritage Spanish class

Julie Tarman is a high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, California, who hopes to raise enough money to create a Spanish language class library.

The school is in a low-income area, and although her students come from Spanish-speaking homes, they need help building their fluency, confidence, and vocabulary through reading Spanish language books that will actually interest them.

Julie believes that creating a library that affirms her students' cultural heritage will allow them to discover the joy of reading, learn new things about the world, and be supported in their academic futures.

To support Julie's GoFundMe, visit Library for a high school heritage Spanish class.

Do YOU have an idea for a fundraiser that could make a difference? Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.

Chris Evans is playing the lead role in the upcoming Pixar film "Lightyear."

Chris Evans was already skilled at squeezing hearts on social media, cavalierly sharing sweet pics of his adorable dog and piano-playing videos on Instagram, as if we could just casually watch him be a near-perfect man without swooning. And now he's being even more delightful with his gushing giddiness over getting to play his dream role.

The guy is already best known as the studly Marvel superhero Captain America, so what could possibly top that? Pixar, apparently. Evans' ultimate acting dream is being in a Pixar movie. And now that dream is coming true, the most eligible of the Chrises could not be cuter in his expressions of joy.

Sharing the new trailer for "Lightyear"—Pixar's origin story about the astronaut the Buzz Lightyear toy was based on in the "Toy Story" universe—Evans wrote on Twitter:

"I'm covered in goosebumps. And will be every time I watch this trailer. Or hear a Bowie song. Or have any thought whatsoever between now and July cause nothing has ever made me feel more joy and gratitude than knowing I'm a part of this and it's basically always on my mind."

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The Schmidt family's Halloween photoshoot has become an annual tradition.

Two of Patti Schmidt's three sons were already well into adulthood when her daughter Avery was born, and the third wasn't far behind them. Avery, now 5, has never had the pleasure of close-in-age sibling squabbles or gigglefests, since Larry, Patrick and Gavin are 28, 26 and 22, respectively—but that doesn't mean they don't bond as a family.

According to People.com, Patti calls her sons home to Point Pleasant, New Jersey, every fall for a special Halloween photoshoot with Avery. And the results are nothing short of epic.

The Schmidt family started the tradition in 2017 with the boys dressing as the tinman, the scarecrow and the cowardly lion from "The Wizard of Oz." Avery, just a toddler at the time, was dressed as Dorothy, complete with adorable little ruby slippers.

The following year, the boys were Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Chewbacca, and Avery was (of course) Princess Leia.

In 2019, they did a "Game of Thrones" theme. ("My husband and I were binge-watching [Game of Thrones], and I thought the boys as dragons would be so funny," Schmidt told TODAY.)

In 2020, they went as Princess Buttercup, Westley, Inigo Montoya and Fezzik from "The Princess Bride."

Patti shared a video montage of each year's costume shoot—with accompanying soundtracks—on Instagram and TikTok. Watch:

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