Action heroes are aplenty in our extensive history in popular culture. Unfortunately, however, heroines are few and far between. Only recently have female characters been portrayed as resourceful and headstrong leads in media on a more consistent basis, and many older heroines paved the way for this long overdue evolution. The predictable and frankly outdated story model of having a hero save a damsel in distress appears to be dissipating in favour of a strong female lead achieving her own set of goals. Even the mindless action hero series The Expendables has introduced female characters in order to adapt to a new and much-needed change.
While series like Twilight, which unfortunately cast a negative shadow on the progress we’ve made, still exist, others like The Hunger Games and Brave will continue to stomp out those outdated creations. Even comic books have undergone change despite the admittedly skimpy outfits some superheroines are made to wear. Still, the change will take time and it certainly won’t happen overnight, as evidenced by some of the heroines included on this list. But patience will breed results and eventually we’ll look back at past series with embarrassment for how conspicuous the maltreatment of female characters had been. But the following list will pay respects to the characters that have gone against the grain and laid the foundation for a new future.
With that in mind, this list will count down the 13 most badass heroines in media and what makes them particularly interesting and, well, badass. And may these characters mark the end of woeful creations like Princess Peach. Ugh.
13. Storm – X-Men
Storm is an integral part of the X-Men and appears with the superhero group in all forms of media. She’s a powerful female figure who can control the weather and poses a threat to any baddies in her path. In fact, she even leads the X-Men intermittently throughout the comics, a testament to her significance as a comic book character. Storm has also commanded an all-female group of superheroines and now has her own solo comic series, which debuted in July. Simply put, Marvel has put a lot of resources into Storm being one of their flagship female leaders, and so far it has paid dividends on the comic strips.
12. Wonder Woman – DC Comics
Wonder Woman is experiencing a resurgence with her inclusion in the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and her own solo film in 2017. She was created in the 1940s under the progressive mindset to shatter the damsel in distress narrative. She is a symbol of female empowerment and represents a perpetual shift in how superheroines are depicted in comic books. While attire is still a hot button issue in comics, Wonder Woman is nonetheless an important and powerful character whose stock will only rise in the coming years.
11. Trinity – The Matrix
Trinity’s main purpose in The Matrix trilogy isn’t to serve as Neo’s love interest. No, she can kick some serious ass. She knows how to handle a weapon, is a master martial artist and knows her way around the virtual reality known as the Matrix. Besides looking cool in shades, which is mandatory in the trilogy, she can do a back flip off a motorcycle, have it explode on her victims, and then land in a totally badass pose to watch her graceful destruction. How she’s introduced in the first film is a famous scene as well, which sees her effortlessly beat up on cops and then evade agents by jumping off rooftops and through windows.
10. Rogue – X-Men
Marvel’s southern superheroine is one of the most popular and important members of the X-Men. The villainess-turned-heroine is known for the white streaks running through her hair and her ability to absorb other mutants’ powers and strength through physical contact. While she was cut from the new X-Men trilogy, particularly X-Men Days of Future Past, which revisited the original trilogy, Rogue played an integral role in the original due to her close relationship with Logan, or Wolverine. In the comics, particularly in the ’80s, she had a badass demeanor and was portrayed as a tough, abrasive character. More of that please.
9. Princess Leia – Star Wars
Princess Leia is that rare mixture of princess and heroine. She wants the advantages that are associated with being a princess, but she won’t hesitate firing a weapon and taking matters into her own hands. She’s a strong female lead that isn’t easily wooed by Han Solo’s slick and egocentric advances. It’s why the duo was so much fun to watch on the silver screen. Considering the time the films were released, it was refreshing to have such an integral character act as an individual rather than an object to advance the story. One hopes she brings her tough persona to the upcoming sequels.
8. She-Hulk – Marvel Comics
She-Hulk is a walking, talking tank of a superheroine. What makes her unique to Hulk is that she retains her intelligence and conversational skills, making her a formidable foe. Her human form, Jennifer Walters, is intelligent and driven and often fights for the rights of minorities as a criminal defense lawyer. Her superhuman strength makes her one of the strongest characters in the Marvel Universe. Above all else, though, is She-Hulk’s penchant for good-will and being a good Samaritan. That, coupled with her incredible power, makes her a refreshing, smart and headstrong female lead who should really have her own film by now. Get to it, Marvel.
7. Jean Grey – X-Men
Jean Grey, also known as Phoenix or Dark Phoenix, is an immensely powerful superheroine and sometimes supervillain. Her powers include telepathy and telekinesis, giving her the ability to manipulate the will of her enemies and move physical objects with ease. When she later transforms into Phoenix, and subsequently Dark Phoenix, she wields cosmic fire, can survive in any atmosphere, and can fly through space. Basically, she becomes the ultimate badass and one of Marvel’s most powerful characters. Her conflicted allegiance due to these powers makes her one of Marvel’s most intriguing and interesting characters as well.
6. Katniss Everdeen – The Hunger Games
Katniss Everdeen is perhaps the most contemporary heroine on this list. With The Hunger Games movies set to conclude soon and the novels still a huge hit, Everdeen is a headstrong, bow-wielding survivor who will do absolutely anything and everything to save her family and friends. She survived the perils of The Hunger Games, twice, and her resolve is impenetrable despite the constant efforts of the government. She is yet another example of a heroine capable of taking care of herself and serving as the strongest and most resourceful character on the screen or in print. We suspect she’ll be idolized by teenagers for decades to come.
5. Lara Croft – Tomb Raider (Crystal Dynamix version)
Forget everything you know about Tomb Raider prior to this depiction by game developer Crystal Dynamix. Lara Croft is now an intelligent, resourceful and fearless survivor who players invest themselves in because of her struggles and relatable character, not because of her skin-tight clothes and revealing physical features as she was previously portrayed. The modern approach paid dividends with critical acclaim and subsequent sequels lined up. Now would seem to be a prime time to reboot the franchise on the silver screen and present Lara Croft as the respectable and ruthless survivor she is in the current game series.
4. Merida – Brave
Merida served as a major shift from the traditional Disney format when it comes to female characters. She doesn’t want to be a princess or some damsel in distress for a hero to save, no, she wants to wield a bow and express herself freely. To accentuate what a shift this was for Pixar, it was the first of their 13 films to feature a female protagonist. That shameful fact aside, they did a good job in creating a truly respectable role model for young girls. Merida thinks for herself and takes matters into her own hands if she has to. She’s the evolution of Princess Leia, in a sense, and echoes the progressiveness of Katniss Everdeen.
3. Beatrix Kiddo – Kill Bill
Beatrix Kiddo, played by Uma Thurman, cemented herself as an eternal badass when she sliced about a hundred grunts into pieces. Her tale is a simple one, grounded in her relentless mission to destroy everyone that has wronged her and ruined her wedding. When confronted by Elle Driver, a one-eyed villain who also wields a samurai sword, Kiddo doesn’t even bother killing her and opts to yank out her only functioning eye, rendering her blind and miserable. It’s just one of the countless examples of what makes Kiddo such a deadly and ruthless heroine. She simply doesn’t have time to be a damsel in distress, she’ll fix her problems herself…with the aid of a gigantic sword.
2. Sarah Connor – The Terminator
At some point between The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Sarah Connor decided she had enough and went full beast mode. She rocks a pair of shades and smokes cigarettes while battling a virtually unstoppable robot. It’s the stuff of legends. What makes her such a refreshing character is that there is no romantic sub-plot to distract from the fact that Connor is a ruthless, robot-killing machine. She wants to be treated like every other action hero, and she succeeds and then some. What’s letting some creep security guard lick your face if it means freeing yourself with a paper clip concealed in your mouth so you can later beat him senseless with a broken broomstick? It’s the Connor way.
1. Ellen Ripley – Alien
The aliens had no idea what they were in for. Ellen Ripley is the kind of woman who survives an alien massacre on intergalactic scavenger ship Nostromo, takes the time to save a cat named Jonesy, then returns to the planet where the aliens crash landed and leads a group of space marines to take out some alien scum. That’s right, space marines, and Ripley goes so far as to drive their armored personnel carrier right into the nest of the aliens just to kick some ass. While the sight of a towering alien queen threatening the well-being of a little girl companion would send the toughest of people running for the hills, Ripley coolly responds with, “Get away from her, you bitch!” What a badass.