The representation of women on the big screen has always been a hotly debated topic. In an article that became one of the most influential pieces of film criticism, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, Laura Mulvey asserted that classical film positioned women only “to-be-looked-at” with no significance or active role in the story. Some time later, film scholar, Linda Williams subsequently argued that the representation of female desire was often punished in early and classical cinema. “The bold, smoldering dark eyes of the silent screen vamp offer an obvious example of a powerful female look”, she noted. But she continues, stating that “the dubious moral status of such heroines” are always punishable by the end. This is perhaps most obvious in the role of the Femme Fatal who, in Film Noir of the 1940’s and 50’s, used her sexuality to convince otherwise upstanding men to help her commit crimes of murder and betrayal. But of course, she would always be killed for her wrong-doings; think Barbara Stanwyk in Double Indentity.
This insidious behavior can also be found in recent women of horror who are being positioned more and more often as killers who lure in their bait with their sexuality. A tactic referred to by scholar, Barabara Creed as the Monstrous-Feminine. They’re beautiful, cunning, and vindictive. Whether they are following in the tradition of the Femme Fatale or are simply out for revenge (or even just a game of cat and mouse), one thing holds true – these ladies are not afraid to pull the trigger. They may not all be killers, but they all have devious intentions. Here are 10 seductresses who won’t let anything, or anyone, get in their way.
10. Amanda Seyfried in Chloe
A remake of a French film, Nathalie (2003) this erotic-thriller stars Amanda Seyfried alongside Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson as it explores both the dark and liberating potentials of sexuality. When Catherine (Moore) suspects her husband of having an affair, she takes it upon herself to hire an escort (Seyfried) to seduce him. As if this were not complicated enough, things get even trickier when it becomes evident that the mysterious beauty may be playing a dangerous game of hearts herself.
9. Sarah Michelle Gellar in Cruel Intentions
Based on an 18th century French novel, Cruel Intentions follows the stories of four characters all brought into each others lives by Kathryn (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and her devious step-brother Sebastian (Ryan Phillippe) when she decides to make a game of her own lust for revenge. Taking on the role of the puppet-master, Kathryn dangles herself as the prize while instigating the downward spiral of an innocent new girl in town, played by Reese Witherspoon. You guessed it – it cannot end well.
8. Denise Richards in Wild Things
Released in some countries under the title Sex Crimes, this erotic-thriller is loaded with suspense and false truths. Constructed form multiple character perspectives, the film forces the viewer to be just as unclear about who to trust as the other characters. No one is innocent in this one, especially Kelly (Denise Richards) who goes out of her way to commit the perfect crime. If all goes well, she will be lavished in riches, but first she will have to convince more than one person that she is worth the risk.
7. Katherine Isabelle in American Mary
Directed by horror newcomers Jen and Sylvia Soska (twins who are often referred to simply as the Soska sisters), this one is a revenge narrative with a twist. When med student Mary (Katherine Isabelle) finds herself in a very vulnerable position, having been violated by professors and doctors she thought she could trust, she decides to take matters into her own hands (literally). Using her surgeon skills to exact revenge, Mary soon finds that she has a lot to learn about herself, and how far she is willing to go.
6. Nicole Kidman in To Die For
This Crime-Dramedy follows aspiring journalist, Suzanne (Nicole Kidman) on her climb to the top – at all costs. Taking advantage of both grown men and teenage boys, she truly has no shame as she compels, seduces, and kills to be where she wants to be. Ambition is a powerful thing, but so is karma. This performance won Kidman a Golden Globe and she was even nominated for Top Villain by the American Film Institute.
5. Angelina Jolie in Original Sin
This erotic-thiller is a remake of the French film, Mississippi Mermaid directed by the acclaimed Film Critic Francois Truffaut. Despite having Angelina Jolie and Antonio Banderas in the leading roles, the film was a critical flop. Still, the intensity on-screen as Luis (Bandaras) becomes wildly obsessed with the mysterious Julia (Jolie) merits some attention here. Lie after lie and twist after twist, Julia uses her sexuality and manipulates Luis’s lust to get him right where she needs him to be.
4. Jade Dornfeld in Alyce Kills
Even with little experience in film, Jade Dornfeld shines as the unstable Alyce. After accidently pushing her best friend off of a building, Alyce must come to terms with her grief, guilt, and desires, becoming someone altogether new. And this new Alyce has a bone to pick with a few men who have crossed her path. Believe me, you would not want to be one of them. Exploring for the first time the unlimited power of her sexuality, Alyce sets out to avenge her friend’s death while simultaneously embracing her ability to come out of her shadow.
3. Alicia Silverstone in The Crush
This psychological-thriller stars, Alicia Silverstone in her very first role. Although the story is based on actual events involving the writer and his neighbor, the story also shares many plot points and themes with the 1955 novel Lolita, from which two film adaptations of the same title have been made. The story follows Nick (Cary Elwes) as he is seduced and stalked by his lanlord’s 15 year old daughter (Silverstone). Unfortunately, what he initially believed was just a crush becomes much more when he realizes just how dangerous the girl really is.
2. Meghan Fox in Jennifer’s Body
This one is a horror comedy written by Diablo Cody, who collaborated once before with director Jason Reitman for the 2007 film Juno. She has stated that this film is an attempt to depict female empowerment and friendship. The story follows Jennifer (Fox), a newly possessed cheerleader who lures in teenage boys for the thrill of the kill. It has received mixed-reviews but fandom has inspired a graphic novel tie-in. The film has even been referred to by critic Roger Ebert (a fan of the film) as “Twilight for boys”, an obvious allusion to Fox’s uninhibited sex-appeal.
1. Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct
Despite initial negative reception, this neo-noir became one of the most successful films of the 1990’s, raking in over $350 million. Much attention was paid to Stone for her sexy portrayal of the cold-hearted man-killer Catherine. The film was nominated for multiple awards, even though there was controversy over its overt display of sexuality and protests from the LGBTQ community, who felt the film perpetuated homosexual stereotypes. Stone reprised the role in 2006 in Basic Instinct 2, and while she was still sexy and dangerous, this time around, the film was a commercial flop (as many sequels tend to be). Even so, “Catherine” remains one of the sexiest and deadliest women in film.