Why Most Female Lead Action Films Don’t Succeed

Women-Action-Films.jpgAction films are one of my favorite genres. They aim to deliver some of the best reasons to go to the movies: Escapism and excitement (if they’re done well that is). Unlike say… Romantic Comedies (which are basically all the same), Action films can be quite diverse and unique from each other (some are cookie cutter for sure though), except for in one major area: The vast majority of action films (even more than other genres) usually have a male lead.

Many people insist that an action movie with a female lead just can not work, and you can at least see where they’re coming from. They’ll be quick to point out attempts like:

My dear sweet heavenly tender bits… how terrible was this movie? It wasn’t just bad, it was legendarily bad. So bad that I have it on my top 10 worst films of all time list. It takes a special movie to instantly kill any momentum an actor’s career had coming fresh off an Oscar win…. and Catwoman was that kind of special!

Aeon Flux
Yet another film with an Oscar winning actress that nearly ignites involuntary bowl movements. While not as hopelessly bad as Catwoman, I don’t recall being able to say 1 good thing about this mess of a movie.

Should have been a great movie. Jennifer garner rules the mystical land in my pants and I really liked her in Daredevil. What the hell they were thinking with this movie is totally beyond me.

Ultra-awful. I don’t know why some people hold on to this false notion that Milla Jovovich has the potential to be good in anything. Oh sure, she was in a great movie once (5th Element), but being in a great movie and being great in a movie are two VERY different things. Her “Resident Evil” films are all terrible too… but not as bad as this one.

So yes, with films like these out there polluting our movie theaters (Al Gore should look into this) you can forgive some people for jumping to the radical conclusion that women in action films just can never work. But after you get past the knee jerk reaction and really start to think about it, you start to remember that there are several examples where female leads really did work in films. Projects like:

This film needs to be at least mentioned in any conversation about “best action films of all time”. Heart pounding, exciting… and I swear the term “keeps you on the edge of your seat” was originally made up to describe this flat out awesome movie. Ripley rules.

Tomb Raider
No, this movie wasn’t great (or even good really) but you can’t deny that Laura Croft as a female action lead does indeed work. Everything about her just screams “bad ass” and yet still sexy as hell. If there was a female equivalent to Indiana Jones, Laura Croft would be it.

Kill Bill
I’ve never seen a movie where a normal (non-superpowered) women goes around kicking the living crap out of men so damn believable. There is something so special about Uma Thurman’s character in these films… even as an action star.

Kind of like the situation with Tomb Raider, some people don’t really like Underworld (I did, but not so much the second one), but again you can’t discount how effective Kate Beckinsale’s character was as an action lead in the film. She just worked.

So while I agree that finding action films with female leads that actually work is rare, the above examples prove that it CAN work. It’s not impossible. Perhaps the above movies are exceptions to the rule, but they’re enough to prove you can’t just discount an action film just because it has a female lead in it.

But the cold hard reality is that the vast majority of action films with women in the leads don’t do well at the box office. Even out of the examples above, only Tomb Raider actually made over $100 million at the box office. So the question I pose is this: If we’ve proven that action films with female leads can work, why don’t they have much success at the box office?

I’m sure there will be lots of various answers to that question, but for now I’d like to propose a few observations about why these action films with women leads don’t do well (Please note, I’m suggest why they DON’T do well… not why they SHOULDN’T do well)

1) Men Can’t Identify With Female Leads
It doesn’t take a pulitzer prize winner to point out that “men and women are different” Duh! But it’s a point that is particularly relevant when it comes to this question. We often find ourselves attached and invested in film characters that we either identify with or aspire to be. For men, that’s a hard sell with female characters. Add to that the fact that the audience for the Action genre is predominately male, and the point become even more relevant.

2) Believability
I remember a lot of discussion about “Charlie’s Angels” revolving around a lot of men complaining that “I’m sorry, but how can I get into a movie like this? There is no way that stick figure (they were talking about Cameron Diaz at the time) can take me in a fight”. Is that a neaderthalic thing to say? Maybe… but it is nonetheless at the root of why many men don’t buy into a female lead action film. I can raise the objection that “Movies aren’t always supposed to be about believability… as a matter of fact, quite often it’s supposed to be about the suspension of believability” and I’d be 100% correct, but it wouldn’t change the fact that men have a hard time (for right or wrong reasons) buying into a female character kicking a lot of male character ass. Women in prison movies on the other hand is a totally different story.

3) We’re Conditioned To See Women For Their Sexuality And Intelligence In Film
Follow me here. I liken this point to things like black and white films or subtitled films. I think one of the reasons people don’t give subtitled films more of a chance is because it’s just not what they’re used to. People aren’t accustomed to having to read the dialog (even though it’s the easiest thing in the world) and so they pass on some magnificent films. I think in the movies we’ve become conditioned to see female characters just in terms of their sexuality (this is age old) or their intelligence (this is new… but at least a step in the right direction). Seeing female characters as tough or bad ass… ready willing and able to kick your ass at a moments notice is just outside of what we’re accustomed to seeing or processing. At most we’re used to seeing women as the damsel in distress or as the love interest in action films… not participating in the whopass party.

So there you have it. Some of my theories why female lead action films don’t succeed. Do you agree with them? Disagree with them? Do you have more thoughts on why these (some of them great) movies don’t attract more of an audience?

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63 thoughts on “Why Most Female Lead Action Films Don’t Succeed

  1. Maybe women feel empowered by seeing themselves as heroes. But we men know that in real life is slightly different. So for us, it’s just a fantasy story that there are badass women that kick men’s asses constantly.

    There are some exceptions when the protagonist is written by Quentin Tarantino in Kill Bill or Luc Besson’s version of La Femme Nikita. Both stories were well written and the protagonist’s backstory was believable.

  2. You're a sexist seriously resident evil is not good at all( yeah right) and Electra is not a great one, catwoman is bad, come the fuck on what movie do u like other than Sylvester Stallone I mean,, dooosh

  3. I honestly believe that the leads BEING female has nothing to do with certain films being bad. I love Angelina, Kate, and Uma in action movies, and I think they’re the best female action leads. However, I also love Charlie’s Angels, and I didn’t think Catwoman was half as bad as some people make it out to be (although, it was completely cheesy). I think the main problem is that some men have an unwillingness to relate to females (I’m female, but I can relate to male leads easily). Another issue is that not many females really love action films or superhero movies. For me, it’s a problem. I LOVE these types of movies, but I would like to see some more action films with great female leads now and again.

  4. Excuse me but fair enough with the first films mentioned as their downfall was in fact the storylines, there were no semiotic layers for viewers to think about and no internal logic for the storylines to work in audiences minds. Films like Kill Bill, Underworld and Tomb Raider were very successful for male and female audiences for all ages I might add.

    If men cannot identify with female leads what does that say about the men whom you may be refering too? As plenty of men are able to identify with women in film and clearly have some form of education to understand why certain roles have been given to women and understand implications and symbolism within these films. For example M in James Bond was made a woman because the nineties became an age of being politically correct with equal rights for women. I belive a brilliant line in Goldeneye was
    ‘I don’t think you have the balls for this M?’
    ‘Perhaps but the advantage is I don’t have to think with them all the time’
    There was no sexual implications in that, it basically meant women can do exactly what men can do.

    I myself can identify with male lead roles and enjoy the film just like many others. Unlike men who are possibly threatened by powerful women? Maybe it is the male pride that stops them enjoying a good film with a female lead.

    I’m afraid guys that women may just have the upper hand in films because women know how to use Sex as a Weapon.

  5. One thing I think men tend to forget is there are other ways to win a fight than just your fists. What about the “final girl” in horror movies. She is a heroine too. Usually very small boned and dainty and spends most of it screaming but nevertheless she gets her bearings and then tears someone up. Also, many women are trained in hand to hand combat and aren’t big “nasty girls” Its just like a guy who cannot handle having their behind handed to them to use such a derogatory description. Real men love it.

  6. This is an interesting discussion, but to me it comes down a few simple things:

    1. Female Lead Action Films are a new thing and, for a while, will only appeal to a sub-population of people who easily accept the idea of a woman having physical prowess. Give it a decade… (seriously!)
    2. “Smart” action is also a new thing. Action movies, particularly all those super-hero movies, are increasingly featuring facets of power that go beyond strength: speed, intelligence, agility, accuracy, etc. There’s a lot more room for plausible female leads in this new world. Again, give it time.
    3. Female leads in “smart” action films are seldom going to reach as broad an audience as the typical male lead action films, because the simplest component in action is “power” in the sense of physical strength. The bigger and faster, the better. That appeals to the broadest audience, regardless of how good the movie is… and the male physique is just generally better for display of physical strength.

    I came across this blog because I was looking for some action/sci-fi/fantasy movies featuring female action leads. I seek out these movies because I’ve found I flat-out enjoy watching women in action. I’m a woman, so I can relate to the movement much better. Plus, watching a woman fight, or do anything physical, really, is usually more aestheticly pleasing to me than watching a man do the same thing. (Yes, I hear you snickering!) Women have a grace and fineness of movement, even in fighting, that usually exceeds that of men.

    Thanks to the blogger who linked to Joss Whedon’s speech.

    And a big “Yeah…. hmmm…” to the bloggers who noted the success of female leads in action series on TV, as well as in horror films.

  7. 1) Men Can’t Identify With Female Leads
    Maybe it will sound strange, but I’m a writer-amateur and 75% of main characters in my books are female. Althought I can’t realy understand a womans mind, I think I can pretty much sympathize with a female character in a movie or a book.

    2) Believability
    The main point here is that most of the scriptwriters make their heroines strong as men, whitch is generally wrong. What a female hero character shoud be good at is speed and agility, not strength. And then it is (atleast in my oppinion) absolutely believable. Unless it’s a sci-fi where what is possible and what is not literaly doesn’t matter. Sure there has to be a propper explanation and some things (like Ultraviolet) are just too eccentric. However in believability is not the problem.

    3) We’re Conditioned To See Women For Their Sexuality And Intelligence In Film
    I like to see a woman in an action movie as a symbol of pure feline energy and power. Sure, she has to be sexy and inteligent, but she has to kick ass. A woman who doesn’t kick ass in a movie is only half a woman in my eyes.

    The main problem isn’t in women. The main problem is in directors and scriptwriters who seems not to choose women as main characters because they’re worried of failure. And when an action movie with a woman comes to its realization it’s something crazy (stupid?) like Ultraviolet. Can you imagine The Matrix or The Bourne trilogy with a female heroine? I do, hell I do.

    So in short:
    1) All the good titles and their main-characters are taken by men. So there’s only crap left for women.
    2) There’s only few action-actress and there’s no actress as good in fighting and stuff like Jet Li is.

    So, this is the truth in my eyes and I apologize to those who read these final words, because it means you read it all. Sorry for all the mistakes I made in this post, my english is not good enough.

    p.s.: I don’t think Ultraviolet is as stupid as it seems from this post. Some sequences are good and the fights in there aren’t that bad, but as a whole the movie just fails.

  8. I find it terribly funny that you use Elektra (yes it’s EleKtra not Electra) as a reference and blame Jennifer Garner for it’s lack of financial return… but then fail to mention the success of Alias??

    Or Resident Evil… ? Did you want to mention that it tripled it’s 30 million budget in box office return? (ie OVER 100,000,000!!!)

    Or how about Halle Berry, yes…I agree Catwoman was horrible, but are you suggesting her roles as Storm in X-Men or the fact that she was the most talked about Bond Girl in the last few years made those movies less watchable?

    Let’s REALLY analyze why these movies bomb before we puke out half cocked sexist opinions. Men have no issues with ass-kickin’ women, Kate Beckinsale, Angelina Jolie, Uma Thurman or Michelle Rodriguez are a good examples of that… but what men and women alike have issues with are lack luster, over-worked, crappy story laden scripts. When screen writers are forced to think like business suits to ensure some demographic box office return we get crap like Catwoman…

    Heck… it happens to male driven action films too, take a look at a winning icon like Batman!! Add Joel Schumacher and a horrible script and you barely make back your budget… where was the un-relatable female action star you can blame for the box office bomb of Batman and Robin, I don’t think George Clooney has breasts… and Oceans 11 did great…but if the script wasn’t at fault who was?

    Let’s hand the horrible movie credit to those who deserve the infamy… not the actors involved but the script handed to them.

    (ps… Even Uma Thurman couldn’t save Catwoman.)

  9. Other than kill bill all other movies are somehow watchable. Western dont have grip over the sword. Sword movements looks like sweaping.

    Watch this movies, I will bet you wil look for woman-warrior movies once you watch this movie. Stop finding fault in movie, just watch and enjoy. If you dont like these movie, stop watching all woman-warrior movies

    Naked Weapon.
    My Wife is a Gangster III,

  10. I think it also comes down to the casting. As a female I don’t particularly want to go and watch a lettuce eating model throw her size 0 body around in an attempt to look tough. Gone are the days were talent outweighed appearance. And what is the deal with making superhero women wear heels. I can barely dance in them let alone do a fly kick…come on. As a writer, I am more than happy to have a female lead but I will not let my work be ruined by casting an actor that doesn’t suit the role simply because they have a marketable name. Jessica Biel did so well with Blade because her body was muscular and realistic, she truly looked like she could kick butt. Also I like the fact that she wasn’t costumed in a full leather outfit. In reality they would fight crime by day and spend all night moisturising their chaffing skin. Let’s take away costumes that require the usage to talcum powder to be able to wear.

  11. I think if they wanted a belivable female action hero kick ass story, they have to let the woman use her brain, her sexuality and yeah she can use some cool fighting moves too.

    Kill Bill was brilliant! but it isn’t ‘real’ like these other action movies that involve men, you really expect me to believe one guy can beat everyone up? (bond, die hard guy, indianna)

  12. I think it’s a shame that people believe women can’t “kick ass” unless they’re big and “manly”. There are plenty of female martial artists out there (feminine, slim ones) that understand how to fight. They’ve trained, just like any other martial artist, on how to use their strengths to their advantage and make their “weaknesses” not matter. Add in a “mama bear” mentality to that and there’s someone I wouldn’t want to cross…

    I watched a documentary on snipers in World War II and they mentioned female snipers. A sniper trainer indicated that he prefers female snipers. They aren’t as impulsive. They’re patient. They pull the trigger when they know they have a good shot. They were effective and very ordinary. Some were even attractive.

    It seems to me that the problem with the female action lead portrayal in Hollywood is rooted in the lack of understanding in just how dangerous a woman who knows, really knows how to fight, can be. Or is this something that is too unsettling for a man (and the male writers) to admit?

  13. I take it on board guys – the trouble is whereas you guys can a. identify with a hero and want to be him, b. and us girlies can only want to be rescued by him, I actually quite liked Aeon and Ultra – and I thought JG was very sexy as Electra.
    HOWEVER – you gotta give the ladies credit. Could you run, jump and LAND on 4 inch spike heels while watching where you were shooting the Uzi’s?
    I think not…..

  14. I was curious about your assertion that none of the films on your list made over $100 million at the boxoffice. Having done a little research on the imdb, I discovered that:

    Aliens made $131,060,248
    Kill Bill Vol.1 made $178,398,138
    Kill Bill Vol. 2 made $149,591,303

    Whilst Underworld, as you said, didn’t break $100 million it was successful enough to warrant two sequels. The same is true of Resident Evil. Aliens also produced two sequels. That so many of these female lead films have produced sequels, highlights the major studios confidence in their profitability and I think these statistics go some way to challenging your assertion that female lead action films don’t succeed.

    Furthermore, I think it’s a mistake to suggest that men find it difficult to identify with women on screen. Horror films, which have a similarly male dominated audience to action films, frequently end with a ‘final girl’ who faces off with and ultimately overcomes the killer. Notable examples include Laurie in ‘Halloween’, Sydney in ‘Scream’ and Tracy in ‘Eyes of a Stranger’. The male spectator is able to identify with these women because they possess maculine characteristics.

    Consider Ripley from the Alien films. Typically dressed in a dirty sweaty tank-top, packing a large weapon and in the later films with short hair – Ripley not only acts, but also looks, like a man. You argue that we’re ‘conditioned to see women for their sexuality and intelligence’ and I agree to an extent. We’re conditioned to see them as objects of desire and victims that need rescuing. When a women takes on the typically ‘male role’ of hero they instantly become more accessible to male audiences.

    While female-lead action films may not be as popular as their male-lead counterparts, they are successful nonetheless. One could argue that there’s a parallel between the female-lead action film and the male-lead romantic comedy. Now I’m not talking about the Apatow produced slacker-rom-coms aimed at both sexes but male-lead rom-coms that are still aimed at a predominantly female audience – Films like ‘Failure to Launch’ and ‘Mickey Blue Eyes’ and ’40 Days and 40 Nights’. These films are less successful than female lead romantic comedies but women still go and see them because they can identify with the non-threatening (and in some cases, effeminate) male leads.

  15. I think that films like Charlie’s Angels are so unbelievable in the respect of female-male combat is that it is mostly hand-to hand.
    Kill Bill and Tomb Raider, on the other hand, have to do with women (intelligence aspect) learning a craft and surpassing their male counterparts in that craft.
    Laura Croft is smart, and she can do stuntwork. Most of her action comes with that stuntwork, and her combat is limited to knife fighting and gun shooting, which is a learned skill.
    And The Bride, as it is clearly shown in the movie, is learned in samurai swords, as well as hand to hand combat. But this hand to hand is much more martial arts and less fight club. It requires a certain amount of grace and mobility, which women are generally known for having anyway.

    Plus, in the better fem. lead movies, there’s less feminine ties with the audience… ie, love story.
    Uma Thurman kills her baby daddy! And we love her for it.

  16. What about the tough chicks in the Grindhouse movies? They were really bad ass!

    It seems Quintin Tarantino consistently can do GREAT movies with strong female characters.

    Kill Bill Volume 1 and 2.
    Jackie Brown
    Death Proof (sorta)

  17. To throw a bit of a monkey wrench into this: Why does it seem to work much better on TV?

    Buffy was quite successful, as was Dark Angel and (to a lesser degree) TruCalling. For Heroes, while it’s debatable on who is the “lead,” Claire is usually one of the most identifiable characters on the show.

    Is it because they have to have more than 90 minutes of T&A to fill? If you’re expecting Jessica Biel’s body and marginal acting abilities to support the whole thing with the worst of scripts, you’ll get nothing more than bad reviews and a few DVD rentals where guys can replay a shower scene.

    On TV, you have to build a little bit of soul into a character. Buffy was great because she defied what we expected from a vampire slayer named Buffy: smart, funny, strong, insightful, dependent on her friends and guardians, and often selfless. Which girls wouldn’t want to be friends with her, and what guys wouldn’t want to get with her? When are female action movie characters likeable? When can you sympathize with them — well, Kill Bill comes to mind ;)

  18. i loved like almost all of those films idk what everyones bitchin about (just not electra or ultraviolet)

    I mean they werent GREAT but chicks can be lead actors and rock at it at the same time why not

    but yes- this articles tittle has the word “most” not “all” so whatever…

  19. I wouldn’t say that the female lead doesn’t “succeed”..making 100 million at the box office makes it a blockbuster. however making less than that wouldn’t make it not a success..films like kill bill volume 1 which made 180+ million at the box office worldwide, and part 2 made 150+ million worldwide on a budget of 110 million combined..would be considered a success in most peoples books..maybe even a blockbuster.

  20. Nice article and some good points. I personally thought Aeon Flux was trash and both Alien and Tomb Raider I feel were actually quite good (excluding the second Tomb Raider movie). But you made one mistake, its LARA Croft not Laura. It always annoys me how many people call her Laura. I mean, Lara, its not a hard name to forgot (no offense to you).

  21. Ok I was with you till you got to Underworld and Kill Bill. Calling Kill Bill unbelievable and over the top is silly. It’s Tarantino for crying out loud. And can anyone argue with Kate Beckinsale’s blue eyes and vampire teeth? Give me a break man. That’s sexy. But generally I believe you’re right. The rest of the movies stated were awful.

  22. It’s interesting to read how many people hate “Ultraviolet”. *sigh* Look, the movie was taken away from director in post. He was given a green light for an R movie. The studio decided to turn it PG-13. Director Kurt Wimmer pretty much disavows the feature.

    The original cut minus effects (the blood were to be added in post) was 120 minutes. The theatrical release was 88 minutes. And the unrated DVD was 94 minutes. Gone is the dying subplot and corrections for plot holes. Plus the gore. The poster read ‘The Blood War Is On’ and the movie has little blood.


    What we have is an incomplete feature.

  23. (Type your comment here. Make sure you’ve read the commenting rules before doing so)
    It’s all about plausibility. The reality is that women (in general) can not physically hold their own with a man. True, movies are flights of fantasy that we all enjoy witnessing but for audiences to believe that a female can perform extraordinary action stunts and make it look smooth and realistic is asking a lot, especially from us guys. It just looks goofy. That’s not to say, though, that it can’t work. Sigourney Weaver pulled it off in the Alien movies because her character was put an intense situation of do or die. It was stimulating to see her pull herself together and put the guys around her in their place when all looked bad. It was the situation (read: the writing) that made her a great action hero that everyone believed and respected.

  24. Darkbhudda makes a good point that whether male or female the action lead must be convincing; and the majority of female leads lack that in action films. I don’t buy the “they dress too sexy to be taken seriously” argument that always comes up. How many male action stars run around without a shirt, or in some outfit that guarantees their muscular physique is on full display? Regardless of gender, the physique being on show is a standard of the action genre.

  25. One of the problems having a female lead must present is the balance of sexuality and masculinity. Just like how an action movie such as Transformers or MI:3 have a “love interest” part of the story to attract the female audience, a movie like Tomb Raider or Underworld has to keep a certain level of sexuality in the female lead to draw some of the male audiences. You can have a female lead that pretty much a female equivalent of John McClane or Leonidas but she can come off as too manly or not feminine enough for some of the male audiences. As to why are the stories and dialogue weak at times? I would assume that keep the balance of sexuality and masculinity of the female action lead is limiting what they can do. A lot of these films just haven’t matched the right balance with the right story which is why they probably did not go over well with audiences.

  26. I agree with a lot of this article but think it could be bolstered with another element. I think that sometimes women in action leads tend to be very self-conscious of the fact and in the process it draws too much attention to it. I think this causes men to tune out because often times it is done with the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the face. In the films that work I tend to notice that they did not draw attention to that fact and the characters they played could be interchangeable for men with the exception of Tomb Raider. One that I was surprised that you did not list was the Sarah Conner character in Terminator and Trinity in the Matrix. Those were both huge successes but I think you discount them for the fact that they are not the main leads but I think they count because the are main characters. Another one that I think worked that I am sure you would agree would be The Descent. However it was not that big of a hit.

  27. Point 3 I disagree with. Back in the 20s the women used to kick ass in the cinema but people would still go around whining about how cinema portrayed them in limited ways. It was wrong then and it is wrong now.

    Point 1 is canceled out by all the people who want to see a female kick ass rather than some beefy male do it.

    Point 2 is spot on. Can you imagine an action film with Rob Schneider as the lead? You don’t necessarily have to be muscle bound but you have to have a certain presence to come across as a master of kicking ass. And most of the females chosen as leads don’t have that presence. Most of the male leads these days don’t either.

  28. Best women doing action rolls:

    1. Uma in Kill Bill

    2. Weever in Aliens

    3. Davis is Long Kiss Goodnight

    4. Michelle Yeoh in Crouching Tiger

    5. Rothrock for most of her career.

    Honorable Mention: Stone in Quick or the Dead

  29. Don’t forget ‘Supergirl’, ‘Red Sonja’ and ‘Sheena: Queen of the Jungle’.

    I honestly don’t know if there are some kind of set rules as to why these movies don’t work despite the overwhelming evidence. It’s like trying to figure out why video game movies suck. A lot of factors play into each individual film. Tomb Raider, for example, being a video game movie and a female action picture, turned to shit for many different reasons (trust me, i’ve read up on it) and the main character being a woman had little to do with it.

    I really thought that Joss Whedon’s ‘Wonder Woman’ could break the mold and, of course, the movie gods forbade it from happening.

  30. I’m completely supportive on the idea of kickass female leads but none of the Hollywood “action” actress are convincing to me as someone who can kick ass. The problem stems from lackluster fight choreography and poor direction to cover up the lack of abilities – ie. shaky cam, extreme close up and rapid cutting. To really impress me and make me believe what I’m seeing, there has to be an actress with genuine physical talent who is willing take on a hands-on approach and roll with the punches, even if it meant taking some punishment. I believe the “action” actress in Hollywood are being pamper too much. If you think I’m being too hard, well, I’m sorry. Maybe I been spoil too much with the “Girls with Guns” genre back in good ole days in Hong Kong cinema where the female leads really put themselves in harms way for the sake of exciting entertainment (Moon Lee fan for life!!!). It seems the next big thing is coming from Thailand’s Chocolate, the female version of Tony Jaa. You can truly see how much blood, sweat and tears the lead (her name is “Jeeja”) endure in this film.

    Another thing is having the right attitude in these characters. I really hate it when you see these supposed tough female character but they act very “girlish” with too much sex appeal to pander to the male audience. A strong female shouldn’t have to “sell out” to justify herself if you know what I mean. One of few tough actress I admire is Michelle Rodriguez because she doesn’t put out easily and she comes off strong with a good head on her shoulder which I find incredibly sexy.

  31. It’s okay John, we still love you.
    You were close though! So I give you credit.
    But anyways, I fail at commenting, so I think we are on the same level…
    Double post, and one wasn’t even from me.
    Nice article though!

  32. I agree with almost all of the points mentioned in the article. The only thing I feel I need to point out is that it is Lara Croft. Not Laura.

  33. As someone who’s studied martial arts for 20 years, and trained with many women, I don’t find that attitude neandertholic at all.

    I’d say most female action stars aren’t believability for 2 reasons, casting and coreography.

    When it comes to casting, I think of the old phrase…”don’t send a boy to do a man’s job.” Most women cast in actaion rolls are more girl like than womanlike. I’ve known women who can really kick ass and most of them were high school and college jocks, with enough years on them to have picked up the reflexes and experience to be martial artists. One of the reasons that Uma Thurman and Sigornie Weever were so good in Kill Bill and Aliens was because they were in their 30s or older when they made those movies. If they had cast an actress in her 30s for Electra, that would have gone a long way towards breaking down the lack of believability.

    With regards to women in fight scenes, better fight coreograpy would do a lot. How many times have we seen a woman on TV mowing down thugs with high kick after high kick. There are methods and techniques that women can use to overcome the size and strength disadvantage, but we never see women using Wing Chun or Aikido techniques or even really good self defense techniques. It’s all just Tae Kwon Do and Kick Boxing.

    Finally…just a word about wardrobe. The second I see a gal fighting in low cut hip huggers with a bare midrift, they lost me. If you knew that you were likely to get in a fight, if you were likely to experience broken glass and flames, would you dress so that some of your most tender and vulnerable body parts were exposed? If you did you’d be stupid. But Hollywood loves to dress their female action stars in as little as possible.

  34. Someone said it earlier, so I’m just agreeing with him here…a large part of it is that, in general, male writers can’t pull off women as well as they can men. There are exceptions of course but the majority of men can’t do it very well. And if your lead has a poor script, your movie will suck no matter what genre it is.

  35. So a few folks have already mentioned it – the major reason the above mentioned films failed is because they were bad films to begin with.

    Adam, you said: “I think in order for men to buy a woman as a superhero/action figure, they have to explain how she is able to kick ass. No normal, hot, girl can kick an average guys ass.”

    Dude, are you serious? No one bothers to explain to me why some Jo Blo schmuck kicks ass. Though I haven’t seen all of the movies listed, I’m willing to assume that they have the same basic setup as any other film. You’re telling me that I should take it on faith that Daredevil – a blind guy – can kick ass and I’m supposed to buy it but one of the Charlie’s Angel’s chicks who can see just fine and have presumably been trained can’t? That right there is the type of mentality that keeps female action leads from being consistently kick-ass.

    As a girl who enjoys her share of action flicks, I find that the problem, which someone else mentioned early, is that the demographic for these films is primarily male. That’s not a good thing but I can’t change the studio’s mentality. That means that those female characters I want to see aren’t well represented.

  36. i agree that most male action screenwriters are at fault. (and always studio interference!)

    when i think of a female lead action movie, alien/aliens come to mind immediately. more recently jodie foster’s revenge flick (name escapes me.)

    if there’s a female lead action movie, i actually expect a better script than with a male lead. simply put, a woman must use her brain more than a guy because of the physical differences, therefore the story has to be smarter to reflect this.

    also, though not the lead (but the female lead), jessica biel in blade trinity actually looks like an ass kicker and still uber hot.

  37. It might have to do with the marketing campaign, I thought the ads for Ultra Violet, Aeon Flux, Catwoman, and Electra looked like crap. The ads for Underworld looked pretty decent, and how can you not like the Alien films (well the first two)?

    Tomb Raider was a pretty big game, that may have been why the first film did so well at the box office.

    Kill Bill had a lot going for it, QT was finally making a return to the director’s chair the, and the trailers looked great, and Uma Thurman was a respected actress long before she took the roll in Kill Bill.

    I think believability has a lot to do with it though. Even from the trailers for Kill Bill I bought into the fact that Uma Thurman could kick some ass, and I bought into Angelina Jolie being able to hold her own when she had guns in her hands.

    Believability I think is the main reason why most female action films aren’t very successful. That’s what I think anyways.

    Good Topic John.

  38. Hey DJ Machismo

    Sorry mate, but I’m not going to write “In my opinion” before every single thought I write on the site. It is assumed that unless I write “It is 100% fact that…” before a statement, everything about movies is opinion.

    Yes, I believe that any thought of relevance or talent in Milla is a totally false notion. If you don’t agree, then say so and debate it.

    If you’re “sick of it”, then go elsewhere.

  39. Technically speaking V from V for Vendetta was considered a criminal in the realm he lived in. Yet he was a charismatic and just enthralling character that you couldn’t help but root for. At least thats how I feel.

  40. The big problem is that most of the movies that fail have an unheroic character in the lead. Why on earth do they think people want to see characters with poor character? Heroes are heroes for their character. We want to see them because we want to emulate them. When you make a criminal your lead (Catwoman, Elektra) you lose that.

  41. I’ve noticed an increasing trend in a lot of people to be pushing their opinions off as fact. john you are increasingly guilty of this.

    I think Milla Jovovich has potential and have enjoyed seeing her in more than just The Fifth Element. Just because I disagree with you does not mean that my opinion is a false notion of anything.

    I’m actually getting pretty sick of it to be honest.

    Whatever happened to the talk about how to actually debate? Or are we merely relegated to listen to people on their soapbox as of late telling us how wrong our opinions are?

    I agree that some female lead movies didn’t even get a glimpse of their potential, but there are also male lead movies that are in the same boat.

    As sad as it is to say women are still behind in this world in terms of what people expect aside from just a sexy body/face to look at. But without the bad movies, there would be no good or great movies either.

  42. I’ve never understood the hate towards the Charlie’s Angels. These films are entertaining as hell, stupid, over the top and they know it. I guess that’s why most guys don’t like them but eat shit like xXx up, even asking for seconds.
    I would love to see another Charlie’s Angels film.

    Action films are of course geared towards men so of course they identify more with a Willis, Jackson or a Stallone. Most men don’t identify with three hot young women who kick ass for a living. Not that they have anything in common with John McLane either but they liked to think so.

    All those films mentioned in the bad section were known to have massive studio interference so I don’t know if it’s entirely the director’s fault. But they are god awful crap. But for some reason shit like Ultraviolet continues to sell like hot cakes, even spawning an animated series that’s in the works.

  43. I think the main problem with these movies were the creative team. None of the directors had proven themselves beforehand that they could handle action type films. Catwoman apparently had 16 different writers work on the script.

    If someone like Christopher Nolan took on the Catwoman movie it would be totally different, and probably good.

    Its all about the creative team!

  44. I think it is also important to point out that many male screenwriters are not very good at writing women. That’s a generalization, obviously, not a rule, and it works in reverse too: the men in many scripts written by women are poor characters to lead a story as well.

    Ultimately, it’s because people are obsessed with difference. When the writers are writing these scripts, they convince themselves they don’t understand femininity. Thus, they go with what they do know: their own idea of what women are. That’s how we get out Elektras and Charlies’ Angels: the lead characters are imaginary templates for the masculine perception of femininity.

  45. Hey Chisox,

    Please read the whole article before commenting. Aliens and Kill Bill are listed under the “FILMS THAT DID WORK” section. But neither made over $100 million at the boxoffice.

  46. I think you are mostly correct. I think in order for men to buy a woman as a superhero/action figure, they have to explain how she is able to kick ass. No normal, hot, girl can kick an average guys ass. Even girls that take defense classes. They may be able to defend themselves enough to run away, but there are very few girls that can actually take a guy (any guy) and they are usually big nasty girls.

    1. yes, that is true. on the other hand, how many male action lead style people do you meet in real life? the truth is, every day people make mistakes, that is why there are very few real life action legends alive today. how many navy SEALs made it out of Vietnam? how many aces of WWI and WWII made it out alive? not many, but a few.
      its not about is it common, its about do we belive it can be done, male or female. and as for taking a guy…..most fights are about minds, and less muscle anyways.
      besides, women can’t fight? Lyudmila Mykhailivna Pavlichenko, WW2 era russian sniper, 257 credited kills. nuff said.

  47. Hey Chris,

    I see what you’re saying, but I don’t agree. Let’s face it, you and I can both name 10 action films with men in the leads that were horrible yet made more than $100 million off the top of our heads.

  48. ummm….maybe its because the bad movies u mentioned were BAD MOVIES. they were horribly shot, acted, and edited films. they just happened to have female leads..if people actually make good movies with female leads maybe they can be successful….

    im down to see a female kick ass in a movie and if it looks interesting ill see it…i actually paid to see ultraviolet in theaters….

    the ones that worked were good movies. producers need to understand that hot chicks fighting doesnt equal people in seats, but good movies with chicks fighting

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