Meet the Expenda-Belles: Our Dream Team of Female Action Heroes
The Expendables is awesome, but let's remember that the late 20th century had women action stars, too
The Expendables 3 hits theaters this month, giving moviegoers a third round of A-Team-meets-AARP action and giving a host of ’80s and ’90s stars a reason to flex their muscles onscreen once again.
The cast list reads like a fanboy’s dream: Sylvester Stallone, Antonio Banderas, Jet Li, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford and Arnold Schwarzenegger – and Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis and Mickey Rourke appeared in the previous installments.
But where are the women?
It’s true that The Expendables 3 cast features Ronda Rousey, a real-life action hero and UFC champ who’s just breaking into films. But let’s remember that the late 20th century had female action heroes too – some of whom kicked butt on their own and some of whom starred opposite those very Expendables dudes. Even though The Expendables has a potential all-female spin-off on its way, we thought we’d jump-start the process and toss out a few actresses who deserve a chance to remind us how tough they are.
Toughness credentials: Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Chuck, marriage to director James Cameron (1997-1999)
Put out of your mind the Linda Hamilton from Beauty and the Beast days and picture instead the Linda Hamilton from the beginning of T2 – ripped, focused and perhaps the most fiercely maternal character in the history of cinema. And don’t forget that Hamilton more recently channeled some of that Sarah Connor toughness playing the title character’s ex-CIA mom on Chuck.
Toughness credentials: Four Alien movies, one Avatar and the considerable feat of becoming a household name despite her name being “Sigourney”
If Linda Hamilton isn’t the battle-hardened leader of the group, then Sigourney Weaver could be the woman for the job. Even if we’re just basing it on her Ellen Ripley character, she comes with her own action hero catchphrase already: “Get away from her, you b—-!”
Toughness credentials: The Long Kiss Good Night, feminist icon in Thelma & Louise, and almost making the Olympic archery team
We won’t talk about a certain pirate movie. Instead, let’s focus on how this six-foot amazon’s turn in The Long Kiss Good Night blew away audiences – and blew away the bad guys, too. Besides, that’s not a joke about Davis’s auditions for the U.S Olympic archery team. She made the semifinals. That’s a handy skill to have in case the movie calls for someone going all Katniss on the bad guys.
Toughness credentials: Jackie Brown, general badassery regardless of decade
Yes, this list focuses on female action stars of the 80s and 90s, and yes, Grier’s Coffy and Foxy Brown came out in the ’70s, but she’s been kicking butt through the ’80s, ’90s and 2000s. Besides, if Quentin Tarantino names you the first woman to truly be an action star, we’ll listen. He knows his tough ladies.
Jamie Lee Curtis
Toughness credentials: Surviving three Halloween movies, True Lies and an endless supply of Activia yogurt
She may have gained fame as a scream queen, but Curtis toughened up over the course of her career. If you haven’t seen her performance opposite Schwarzenegger in True Lies, you’re missing one of the cooler turns in an action flick. Over the course of the movie, Curtis’s character transforms from a mousy hausfrau to a full-fledged hero.
Toughness credentials: Silence of the Lambs, Panic Room, literally living her entire life in front of Hollywood cameras
She played the woman who could go toe-to-toe with Hannibal Lecter, of course, but in case you can only think of Foster as Clarice Starling, you should check out the 1994 movie adaptation of Maverick. In it, she plays a sly con artist who can go toe-to-toe with Mel Gibson, which is almost as impressive.
Toughness credentials: Romancing the Stone, Jewel of the Nile, V.I. Warshawski, and have you heard her voice?
If Turner starts out Romancing the Stone all fussy and frightened like Kate Capshaw in Temple of Doom, by the end she’s a lot more like Karen Allen in Raiders of the Lost Ark. And while V.I. Warshawski didn’t find much success at the box office, it did feature Turner’s spot-on performance as a tough female detective. Key line: “Do you know how hard it is to get blood out of cashmere?” (She also played the titular killer matriarch in John Waters’s Serial Mom.)
Toughness credentials: Conan the Destroyer, A View to a Kill, daring feats of fashion
Jones didn’t just play a Bond henchman. She played the Bond henchman, May Day. And she brings to any role fierce physicality that few other actresses can muster. We’re not sure what her career as an avant-garde pop singer would bring to an all-female action hero team, but rest assured – it would be very weird and very cool.
Toughness credentials: Fatal Attraction, Fatal Attraction, Fatal Attraction
You’re probably thinking that Close isn’t known for her action roles, but go back and watch the climactic fight scene from Fatal Attraction one more time. This is an actor who can commit physically to a scene. And after all, doesn’t every squad need a loose cannon? Close gets bonus points for her role in this summer’s action blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy as commander of the intergalactic army.
Toughness credentials: Batman Returns, Dangerous Minds, and oh, who are we kidding? She’s getting this for Grease 2
We may love Grease 2‘s Stephanie Zinone more than the typical Michelle Pfeiffer fan, but we won’t overlook the actress’s other tough-girl turns. As Catwoman, she showed off some serious attitude and physical prowess. But it’s maybe Dangerous Minds, where Pfeiffer plays a Marine-turned-high-school-teacher, that has most earned her a place on our team.
Toughness credentials: the little-seen Perdita Durango, the ability to spit out any line and make it sound like an insult
Full disclosure: Rosie is our wild card. This star of White Men Can’t Jump and Do the Right Thing hasn’t really had a blockbuster action movie career, her villainous turn in Pineapple Express notwithstanding. But we’re guessing she was meant to. As a professional dancer, she’d be able to meet the physical requirements of an action hero, but we’re most excited to hear that inimitable voice speak pithy catchphrases as she takes out bad guys.