Female action stars put the badass in what they do in their own unique ways. They’ve been around for years, but don’t seem to get as much screen time or as high-budget films as their male counterparts. Through the years, plenty of ladies have shown us what they can do and that whatever the boys can do, they can do it better. Sometimes in heels.
Who are our 5 favorites? Who are the best ones in our hearts? Who deserves to be on this list? Who do we keep going back to again and again? Look no further!
Lily Li aka Lily Li Li-li
An early female action star, Lily Li is from the golden age of Shaw Brothers films. If you do not know who the Shaw Brothers (or Shaw Bros) are, you need to go find some of their films and educate thyself! They had mostly male stars, but a few ladies stood out, including martial artist Lily Li. Her work may not have been as plentiful as current action stars, but it is work of historical importance. She helped break down barriers for women in film and with Shih Szu, she really made the Shaw Brothers film something to be looked forward to. Li was a Kung Fu artist who had no equal in how precise her moves were and how beloved she was by her fans. Some of her best performances include Executioners from Shaolin, The Wandering Swordsman, and The Bride with White Hair television series. This last one is more than worth looking for. Lily Li is a necessity to every action fan’s film library. She’s one of the very early ladies of Kung Fu, andneeds to be given the respect she deserves.
Did you think we’d skip her? No way! Here at JoBlo, we have an eternal love for the Lady Dragon. She’s also one of the nicest people you could ever meet, so she’s a favorite due to her skills, talent, and personality. She holds multiple black belts and sashes in a ton of different disciplines, including Wushu, Pai Lum White Dragon Kung Fu, and a bunch more. She often gives her time and energy to good causes including raising money for St. Jude’s, donating time to the Martial Arts History Museum, and more. She’s a true lady with the skills to take anybody down. Are we fanboys and fangirls? Absolutely! If you want to check out her work, a good place to start would be Yes, Madam and of course the Martial Law films and Lady Dragon. Rothrock is still very much active and showing the younger ladies how it’s done.
If you watch a lot of action and sci-fi, you know who Sofia Boutella is. She may have started as a backup dancer for Madonna, this Algerian actress made her way onto the big screen with a dance film (which did come before her Madonna videos), then she suddenly showed up in Kingsman: The Secret Service as Gazelle and stole just about all the scenes she was in. In terms of what we love here, she was also in Star Trek Beyond, Atomic Blonde, The Mummy reboot, and Hotel Artemis in a part that is hard to miss, a killer in a red dress who gets one kickass fight sequence in a hallway. That alone would have been enough to get her on the action film map if she wasn’t already there waiting for us. Dear filmmakers, more Sofia Boutella, please (she’ll be starring in Zack Snyder’s highly anticipated Rebel Moon)!
Speaking of action actresses who were first dancers, one cannot avoid bringing up the great Michelle Yeoh who seems to be seeing a resurgence in her career lately. For her old-school fans, she’s a fantastic fighter on screen and one who is often seen in greatly fun action films. Her background in dance started at age 4, making her the perfect person to learn fight choreography. One of her early films, Yes, Madam with Cynthia Rothrock brought a lot of attention to her screen fighting capacities and led to a bunch more action films including The Heroic Trio, Supercop, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for which her mix of martial arts and dance was just about perfect. This lady has worked with master martial artists and held her own easily. Yeoh is one that is still to watch as all the parts she’s taken on lately (including Everything Everywhere All At Once) have been fantastic.
There was a time when Charlize Theron wasn’t always the go-to action actress, but rather one who mainly did romance and drama. But, starting with Reindeer Games, it seemed something was brewing within this actress, soon leading to parts in The Italian Job, the sci-fi actioner Æon Flux, Hancock, and more. Then, suddenly, Mad Max: Fury Road happened and she was so much in charge in this that the film became more about her character than the lead in a lot of ways. She was stealing scenes and swinging weapons one-handed! From there, we got Atomic Blonde, she joined the Fast and Furious franchise and did The Old Guard. She’s a bonafide action star now and it’s great to see her fighting, shooting guns, and generally being a fantastic action lead. Charlize seems destined to keep the action star mantle alive and well in her career with a sequel to The Old Guard, a sequel to Atomic Blonde, and who knows what else in the pipeline.
More and more female action stars are coming up every year, with some really worth keeping an eye on. Of course, a lot more are out there including Karen Shepard who has one strong resume in martial arts, Elodie Yung, Michelle Rodriguez, the great Pam Grier (who paved the way for many), Zoe Bell (who makes a lot of actresses look real good), and of course a ton more. We feel like we’re forgetting so many, but those above are a few of our favorites.
Who do you think we should cover in the future? Who do you want to see more of?