Nothing peeves me more than hearing the argument "women aren't funny" or "women can't be action heroes." They're both such comically incorrect ideas based on stereotypes perpetrated by the ugliest, most misogynistic corners of Hollywood and audiences. Now, that's not to say that all women are funny or all women make convincing action heroes. Not all men are funny or even close to baddass. The point is, one unfunny female comic means that "women aren't funny", while Kevin James is free to continue making movies without fear of reflecting negatively on his sex.
The idea that female superheroes are less effective than male superheroes is another laughable concept. It took a while for authors to even write a female superhero and when they did, the most successful were/are mostly knockoffs of the already established male ones (Supergirl, Batgirl, Spiderwoman). Technically, the first female superhero was Fantomah, an ageless ancient Egyptian woman who transformed into a terrifying skull-faced creature to fight the forces of evil, but she hardly caught on.
That was in February of 1940. Soon thereafter, Catwoman made her debut in Batman #1, followed by Miss America and Phantom Lady (also rather unpopular) and eventually, the most prolific female superhero- Wonder Woman- in December of 1941. Each superhero (male or female) has both a greatest weakness and greatest strength. For example, Wonder Woman is virtually unbeatable in fair and direct melee based fights, but looses when she misjudges her opponent or is squaring off against a foe whose strength is something other than hand to hand combat (WW vs. Hades or WW vs. Circe). The point of that little history lesson is that Wonder Woman is every bit as powerful and instrumental to victories as her Justice League peers.
The only onscreen incarnation of Wonder Woman worthy of mentioning before Gal Gadot (who will make her debut appearance in Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice), was Lynda Carter who played the Amazonian heroine from 1975 to 1979 on ABC's Wonder Woman. The show was met with critical acclaim and still has fans to this day.
So why did it take 36 years to get a female-led superhero show back on the air? (Supergirl debuted in 2015) I'm not sure. Some might tell you that there wasn't a market for it, but that's simply not true. Superhero and comic book movies have always been popular, especially more recently. Why is Black Widow the only core Avenger (besides Hawkeye) that doesn't have their own movie? Good question. It's not like Black Widow is lacking in fans.
In 2017, Gal Gadot will be bringing Wonder Woman to the big screen in the first stand alone female-led adaption in the DC or Marvel Universe.
I didn't come here just to talk about superheroes, though. The article is titled "Female-Lead Action Movies" because "Action Movie" is an umbrella term that can refer to multiple sub-genres, such as Spy Thriller, Action Comedy, Disaster, Fantasy/Adventure, Chase, Martial Arts, certain variations of Sci-Fi, and Superhero movies.
YA Dystopian future films are a seemingly never ending onslaught of young adult love triangles. Movies like The Hunger Games represent the best of the genre while the recent The 5th Wave or Twilight seems to be the worst. However, The Twilight film, New Moon, which has a 4.9 rating on IMDB and 28% on Rotten Tomatoes earned 709.7 million dollars at the box office. Now, I will admit that most people went to see Twilight for the shirtless Taylor Lautner, but Kristen Stewart was still the protagonist, so it can be counted as a plus for women at the box office.
The Hunger Games series, which included the classic love triangle but didn't pander to it, was a smash hit at the box office as well. The Hunger Games, with its unapologetic female protagonist (Jennifer Lawrence), really is the gold standard for this genre. It's final film, Mockingjay Part 2, is still in theaters but has so far earned 652.2 million at the box office. Unlike Twilight, it earned a 7 on IMDB and 70% on Rotten Tomatoes. Because it was the 4th film in the series, I'd chalk the deficit up to "viewer fatigue". The poor man's Hunger Games, Divergent, exhausted everyone. And anyway, that 652.2 is hardly a failure, granted the other three earned 694.6 million, 865 million, and 755.4 million, respectively.
Female-lead Young Adult Action Films? They work!
There are other types of Dystopian future films that aren't aimed at adolescent audiences. The most recent being Mad Max: Fury Road, which starred Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron as dual protagonists. The movie was the launching off point for the Mad Max reboot and earned 375.8 million at the box office (should have been more), a 8.2 rating on IMDB and 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, as well as 10 Oscar nominations. Although Hardy played the title character, Theron's Furiosa quickly became a fan favorite. She was every bit as capable (if not more so) than any male character, and the movie carried a strong and flattering feminist message.
Dystopian Chase? It works!
When I say "spy", most likely what comes to mind is either "Bond" or "Bourne"... maybe Mission Impossible. Although all of those franchises have female roles, they're obviously not female-led. That's not to say that female spy thrillers don't exist.
Salt, staring Angelina Jolie, grossed 293.5 million at the box office and earned a 64% on Rotten Tomatoes, outperforming the most recent Bourne Film (starring Jeremy Renner) by 17.4 million dollars and 12% on RT.
Lucy, starring The Avenger's Scarlett Johanssen, earned an incredible 463.4 million at the box office. That number surprises me because Lucy is basically just a rip off of Limitless, a 2011 film with Bradley Cooper that only earned 161.8 million despite its 7.4 rating on IMDB.
Sicario, which was the top rated thriller of 2015 according to Rotten Tomatoes, starred Emily Blunt as the ethical FBI Agent Kate Macer, who is thrown into the unruly backwaters of the war on drugs and Mexican border relations. It was rated R, which allowed for the director to tell his story uninhibited, but hurt them at the box office I think. It grossed 80.6 million but ended up with three Oscar nominations (Cinematography, Score, and Sound Editing) and the promise of a sequel.
Spy Thrillers? They work!
Snow White and The Huntsman was released in 2012 and grossed 396 million dollars. The film was nominated for two Oscars (Costume Designs and Visual Effects), and starred Oscar Winner Charlize Theron, Kristen Stewart, and Chris Hemsworth. A sequel was quickly green-lit. That sequel is called The Huntsman: Winter's War and it's set to be released this April. It stars Theron, Emily Blunt, Jessica Chastain, and Chris Hemsworth and promises the visual spectacle that was the original but with a vastly more impressive cast.
The Huntsman: Winter's War is really the point of this article. As I've illustrated, there are a few action films with female protagonists, but it's extremely rare to see a female ensemble in an action film. That's why this movie is so special. Not only does it showcase women with varying degrees of morality, it also stars three big name award winning actresses. So please, go see this movie. The more money it makes, the more incentive the studios will have to green-light similar projects. Being the change you wish to see might be as simple as buying a movie ticket.