5 FOR 2015: Five Feminist Action Movies

Let’s be honest: there’s times we all get sick of dialog. Writerliness aside, I’m a woman deeply interested in watching all things explode. That being said, there’s nothing less interesting than watching another Princess in a Tower trope, and the politics of action movies have been classically frazzled. If you’re looking to delve into some awesome flames and fury without provoking a righteous feminist rage, these are my top five movies for you.


1. Mad Max: Fury Road

Nothing has made the internet quite as upset recently as Mad Max. With a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and gorgeous reception from every credible critic who’s laid eyes on it, this still-in-theaters story of Furiosa and Mad Max’s fight to save slave wives promises non-stop vengeance shot across gorgeous desert panoramas populated by leather-studded caravans that look like Burning Man’s Department of Mutant Vehicles mated with the Deceptigons.


2. Underworld

Plot: who needs it when you can stage supernatural brawls across trains? Underworld isn’t smart and it doesn’t need to be; the trope-on-trope Instant Love of Selene and Michael, a hapless doctor who so happens to be a prophesied vampire-werewolf hybrid, is vastly overshadowed by the simple pleasure of watching a world where the Matrix’s Trinity really got to unleash. Despite Michael’s ultimate destiny as the High Savior of So-and-So, Bringer of Something-to-the-Yada-Yada, it’s Selene’s quick thinking and combat training that always save the day. Or night.

3. The Dark Knight Rises

The last movie in The Dark Knight trilogy is brimming with intelligent, beautifully complex female characters. For one, Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman, both fragile and fierce, the kind of woman who steals Bruce’s mother’s pearls from him and who ventures into the occupied streets of Gotham to save and feed a small child. Despite their turbulent and mythic affair, Catwoman’s bargaining with Batman isn’t predicated on some lost woman refinding herself in love; she knows what she wants and it’s a new identity as herself, not as anybody’s rescued woman. And Christopher Nolan directing guarantees an edge-of-your seat, fantastic ride.

SPOILERS: Someone’s inevitably going to ask why I included, in the massive and wonderful canon of movies focusing primarily on starkly white women shooting people, a movie with a main male protagonist. It goes a little like this: I’m also really sick of movies where women are beautiful protagonists because they are beautiful protagonists who have been wounded in some often-gendered way or are responding to a very gendered set of norms, such as when Katniss Everdeen volunteers for the Hunger Games in a maternal effort to save the little sister she basically raised. Christopher Nolan slaps us with the idea of complex female evil in a way that’s inherently designed to challenge our gendered assumptions of who people are and where they come from.

4. The Hunger Games

Katniss Everdeen may have volunteered for the Hunger Games on a slightly gendered basis – the idea of women protecting family, after all, is one of the oldest and most pervasive ones we have – but nothing in The Hunger Games is so simple after that – not even the rule that only one person makes it out of the arena alive. Katniss is an unbreakable woman with a paradoxically open heart, one who protects both the children she chooses to raise and the boy she chooses to carry with a kind of nobility that seems impossible given her surroundings. And, oh yeah – she shoots stuff. And it’s awesome.

5. Divergent

Oh my God a movie that addresses women’s fears about sexual violence in a realistic and progressive way. Tris doesn’t become the Badass to End All Other Badasses easily – she’s a character who was raised in a pacifist environment and, despite choosing her own destiny as Dauntless, she begins that way: as a weak, scared girl. The triumph of the movie is that Tris chooses to become Tris; her indefatigable sense of justice pairs with a resolute determination that guarantees she breaks all enemies she has. One way or another.

Curated by // Katherine Frain
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