Love Fede Alvarez’s 2013 EVIL DEAD remake or loathe it, there’s no denying how powerful a central performance it has in Levy’s Mia, a former heroin addict who seems to finally find salvation when doing bloody battle with the sado-masochistic Deadites in that infamous cabin in the woods. Mia is more than just a gender swap version of Bruce Campbell’s Ash, she’s one of contemporary horror’s most ferocious warriors. By the time she emerges from the rural madhouse, screaming in a rainstorm of gore, you’ll want to bow at her feet.
Okay, Lena Headey’s despicable Ma-Ma in Pete Travis’ cult action meltdown DREDD is an odd fit for this list, as the scar-faced drug lord is an irredeemable villain. And yet, there are quieter moments in the film when we see just what this woman has endured in her life to make her what she is and we empathize. Instead of succumbing to her own private Hell that life has thrust her into, Ma-Ma decides to own it, ruthlessly savaging her way to the top of the underworld and refusing to waiver, defiant to the very end. We hate Ma-Ma, true, but we respect and quietly admire her. She’s a survivor and more than a bit tragic.
Horror cinema’s original survivor, Marilyn Burns’ screaming Sally doesn’t so much kick ass as she refuses to have hers get kicked, or in this case, sawed in Tobe Hooper’s classic shocker. As poor Sally and her family and friends fall prey to Leatherface and his cannibal clan, Sally decides to run and run and run, evading death at every turn and fighting tooth and claw to save her own life. A primal performance and hugely influential.
Jamie Lee Curtis became 70s slasher cinema’s “It Girl” for a reason. Her meek babysitter Laurie Strode in John Carpenter’s 1978 indie horror landmark HALLOWEEN becomes a warrior, protecting her charges and doing relentless battle with mass-murdering man-monster The Shape. Her resilience and resourcefulness continues in HALLOWEEN II and then, by the time we get to Steve Miner’s HALLOWEEN H20, she’s a veritable force of nature. All other “final girls” wither in her shadow.
Kate Beckinsale’s Selene was instantly iconic the moment she appeared on the original UNDERWORLD’s poster in 2003, with her ice-blue eyes and toned body poured into her black leather cat-suit, a vampiric riff on Carrie-Anne Moss’ Trinity in THE MATRIX films. Over the span of 4 UNDERWORLD movies (she didn’t appear in the third film, which was a prequel, though she did serve as narrator), Selene battled Lycans and vampires alike, fighting for the right to love who she wanted to love and permanently being caught in a centuries-old, supernatural race war without end.
Mila Jovovich is a force of nature; a talented, intelligent and relentlessly physical performer who, over 5 (the 6th picture is currently in post-production) RESIDENT EVIL has gotten even more badass, kicking, crushing, shooting, slashing and annihilating hordes of her husband, director Paul Anderson’s flesh eating ghouls and the many monsters they hang out with. Jovovich’s Alice is indestructible, transcending reality and existing in multiple incarnations in this hyper-stylized and surreal horror/sci-fi universe that – as long as Mila is still able – will likely not wind down anytime soon.
protection in James Cameron’s original THE TERMINATOR to near-feral, planet protecting, cyborg battling goddess in the blockbuster sequel T2. As played by Linda Hamilton, Sarah becomes cinema’s toughest mother, literally and figuratively and she‘s matched by Lena Headey’s incarnation in the short-lived but wonderful TV series THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES.
Relying on her wits to navigate and outfox a pair of the screen’s most malevolent madmen – Buffalo Bill and Hannibal Lecter, respectfully – Jodie Foster’s incarnation of Thomas Harris’ heroine, FBI agent Clarice Starling is one of the screen’s most admired female characters. Foster’s Starling is strong, bold, determined and refuses to buckle in the face of both violent death and the withering abuse shoveled on her by her braying male colleagues. Running just a fava bean behind her is Julianne Moore’s excellent version of the character in Ridley Scott’s demented sequel HANNIBAL, a more physical performance to be sure…but she aint Foster.
What’s left to say about Charlize Theron’s majestic and soulful performance as the rogue warrior Furiosa, the slave turned outlaw who liberates her fellow women – and eventually, her entire city – from the misogynistic oppression of the malevolent Immortan Joe in George Miller’s instant future-shock action classic. Furiosa is a magnificent, graceful and, as her name suggests, angry force of justice and rebellion. And while she is aided by Tom Hardy’s Max, she doesn’t really need him. Hers is a mission made on principal. She’s furious as hell and she’s not going to take it anymore!
From the moment we meet her in Ridley Scott’s ground-breaking 1979 original film, Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley is a force to be reckoned with. In fact, she’s the lone voice of reason, bucking against her superiors when they attempt to bring the alien facehugger aboard the Nostromo. After eliminating the xenomorph in round one, Ripley returned for three increasingly grandiose sequels in which her character turns into an action hero, a mother, a martyr and eventually an cloned alien hybrid. As played by Weaver, Ripley is dark fantasy cinema’s reigning Queen. Untouchable. Eternal. And we haven’t seen the last of her, methinks…