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Badass female characters needed.
October 30, 2011 3:22 PM   Subscribe

The two most compelling female action characters I've seen are Hanna and Nikita (the original French movie one). The Mass Effect series does 'female badass' pretty well, and so too does George R. R. Martin (Game of Thrones et al.). Peter Watts is good at profoundly damaged female badasses. What other movies, games, books, and TV shows would I like that feature well-written female badasses?

I've watched a few 'lighter' shows--Chuck, Castle, etc.--and while those shows are lighthearted fun, they're not especially compelling.
posted by flibbertigibbet to Media & Arts (92 answers total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
 
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 3:24 PM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Charlize Theron was in one...

Also...Milla Jovavich is a total badass in all sorts of sci-fi movies.

Also, Kill Bill.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:25 PM on October 30, 2011


├ćon Flux-charlize theron (also in arrested development. Mr. F).

Jovavich was in All the Resident Evils, UltraViolet, Fifth Element (not boron).
posted by hal_c_on at 3:27 PM on October 30, 2011


Also...the movie "Ronin". The woman who play's Duchovny's ex-wife on Californication was a bad-ass in there:

"Take this and forget about us...because we won't forget about you". Totally understated badass.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:28 PM on October 30, 2011


Prime Suspect (the TV show)--both the British version and the American version.
posted by Bella Sebastian at 3:28 PM on October 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Sarah Conner - Terminator 2 specifically.
Elena Gilbert - The Vampire Chronicles (more of a moral badass than a physical one). See her alter-ego Katherine for the latter.
Seconding 'The Bride' in Kill Bill.
posted by elendil71 at 3:28 PM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sigourney Weaver in Aliens
posted by zippy at 3:32 PM on October 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


Oh...if you want to get in late night sci-fi stuff:

Painkiller jane

OH...and how about Capt. Kara "will punch my commanding officer for cheating at a card game" Thrace in one of the first scenes of BattleStar Gallactica. They kinda played all sorts of games with her character towards the end...but seriously, she is a REAL badass.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:32 PM on October 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


Alien. Such a fantastic movie.
posted by Loto at 3:33 PM on October 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Definitely Battlestar Galactica. So many great female badasses.

I liked Pillars of the Earth for this.
posted by lunasol at 3:36 PM on October 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also, look up Dollhouse with dushku, and alba in dark angel.

Also...tons of bad asses in "Sin City"...and mcgowan in tarantino's whatever that movie was.

Oh...and "Fringe"...
posted by hal_c_on at 3:36 PM on October 30, 2011


No one has yet mentioned Buffy? and Xena?
posted by chengjih at 3:38 PM on October 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Ah, so many good recommendations already! I can't believe I forgot "The Bride," Noomi Rapace's character in the Millennium series, Olivia/Bolivia, and Kara Thrace (aka my favourite character, alongside Boomer).
posted by flibbertigibbet at 3:39 PM on October 30, 2011


Also...if you are a fan of Lost...there were some scenes where I was kinda scared of Juliet. Even though she's a doctor, she has no problem beating some ass.

Kate was kinda too frail and pretty to be believed as a real badass.

Oh, also, Michelle Rodriguez.

ALso, Bloodrayne.

I gotta leave this thread.

Oh, also...Major Carter in SG1 was kinda a badass.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:40 PM on October 30, 2011


zoe from firefly
posted by nadawi at 3:50 PM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think Veronica Mars would qualify.
posted by gudrun at 3:53 PM on October 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh shit...VMars---100X.

Also, I can't believe I forgot Trinity from the Matrix...she was also in a movie with Val Kilmer about Mars...

Also, Natasha hensridge (sp?) and there was a movie with Ice Cube on Mars...also "species".
posted by hal_c_on at 3:58 PM on October 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Renunciates [aka Free Amazons] in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series. Their trilogy is The Shattered Chain, Thendara House, and City of Sorcery. Camilla is particularly awesome.
posted by chana meira at 4:00 PM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Demi Moore in GI Jane
Gena Davis in The Long Kiss Goodnight
Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality
posted by ainsley at 4:02 PM on October 30, 2011


You might like Lady Vengeance.
posted by cazoo at 4:07 PM on October 30, 2011


One more . . . Chocolate
posted by ainsley at 4:13 PM on October 30, 2011


CJ Cherryh - Morgaine, from the eponymous trilogy. Any of the Chanur books (though they're gritty space merchant badasses rather than combat fiends).
posted by Sebmojo at 4:24 PM on October 30, 2011


Victoria Iphigenia Warshawski.
posted by liquidindian at 4:31 PM on October 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


If you're willing to give superhero comics a shot, Manhunter (Kate Spencer) and Batwoman (Kate Kane) might be right up your alley.
posted by bettafish at 4:32 PM on October 30, 2011


Samus from the Metroid series is pretty badass. I remember having my 12 year-old mind suitably blown when I found out "that Metroid dude is actually a chick!"

The games for the Game Cube and Wii extend the bad-assery of Samus, except the latest one (The Other M) which we should all pretend does not exist.
posted by El_Marto at 4:41 PM on October 30, 2011


Badass female secondary characters OK? William Gibson does a lot of these. Molly Millions shows up in a few of his stories, and tough-chick-on-a-fast-bike is a recurring feature (Chevette in Virtual Light and I forgot the motorcyclist's name in Zero History).
posted by Quietgal at 4:47 PM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Buffy. All of 'em.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:48 PM on October 30, 2011


Aeryn Sun (Farscape) is pretty much the definition of female badass.
posted by *becca* at 5:01 PM on October 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


Allow me to introduce you to a character actor by the name of Michelle Rodriguez. Pick any film or show she appears in and you can guarantee a bellyful of good old-fashioned scowling and uh, basically she's The Strange Adventures of Vasquez from Aliens.
posted by tumid dahlia at 5:07 PM on October 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


Angela Bassett in Strange Days. Only out-badassed by Louise LeCavalier who (as always) looks as if she's made of steel. Dreadlocked, ass-kicking, steel.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 5:07 PM on October 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hunter from Nel Gaiman's Neverwhere.

Pam Grier.

Jade from Beyond Good & Evil and Y.T. from Snow Crash may not stack up in attitude, but they didn't let anything stop them, so I say they count.

Also, Gertrude Stein...
posted by zompist at 5:12 PM on October 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Torin Kerr from Tanya Huff's Valor series.
posted by crankylex at 5:19 PM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Some of the Special Circumstances agents in Iain M. Banks Culture books are *particularly* badass.
posted by juiceanddoom at 5:27 PM on October 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Babylon 5's Susan Ivanova
posted by aubilenon at 5:40 PM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Seconding Aeryn Sun from Farscape.

Also: Sydney Bristow in Alias. Sydney's mom shows up in the second season of Alias, and it turns out that she is even more of a badass than her daughter.

Diana Barrigan in White Collar (she's in the first and last-ish episodes of the first season, and then is a regular in the second season onwards). Bonus points for Diana: she's a black lesbian and she's still written as a real character. White Collar has some other problems, but Diana's pretty awesome.

Tiffany Aching in Terry Pratchett's Wee Free Men is a nine year old badass. Also, read any Pratchett book with Granny Weatherwax in it. You could start with The Wyrd Sisters.
posted by colfax at 5:45 PM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Major Motoko Kusanagi from Ghost In The Shell. [Highlight vid]
posted by Edogy at 5:54 PM on October 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Charlize Theron x2 - Monster

Not quite a woman, but Deeba from Un Lun Dun is a young girl who's pretty badass.

Lena Heady was also great in The Sarah Connor Chronicles as another iteration of Sarah Connor.

Discworld is good for strong female characters from Susan Sto Helit to Polly Perks and Sergeant Jackrum in Monstrous Regiment.
posted by porpoise at 5:56 PM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


See also the incredible stuntwoman (and part-time actress) Zoe Bell, who was the fight double for Lucy Lawless on Xena, and performed practically all of Uma Thurman's stunts in Kill Bill. She later went on to appear as a lightly-fictionalized version of herself in Tarantino's Death Proof, and there was also a well-done documentary about Bell (as well as former Wonder Woman stuntwoman Jeannie Epper) called Double Dare, which happens to be on Netflix Instant right now.
posted by Strange Interlude at 6:03 PM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie features a female badass hellbent on revenge. Her nickname is "The Butcher of Caprile".
posted by Think_Long at 6:06 PM on October 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Have to second Alias. The first three seasons were fantastic. Kinda goes downhill in the later seasonssince JJ Abrams wasn't writing it at that point. But Sidney is an awesome, strong female character.

Also, check out pretty much every role that Helen Mirren has ever played. She's an amazing actress.
posted by erstwhile at 6:10 PM on October 30, 2011


And lest we forget the late, great Tura Satana, the trailblazing B-movie actress who played the gritty antiheroine of Russ Meyer's Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Her Wikipedia bio reads like a true-life exploitation revenge film.
posted by Strange Interlude at 6:13 PM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn series has a female lead who's pretty damn badass. If you like fantasy, it's worth a read.
posted by gchucky at 6:14 PM on October 30, 2011


Beth Heke (played by Rena Owen) epitomizes the female pushed-to-badassness in Once Were Warriors. It's a pretty powerful film, and kind of brutally violent, but her character's development is superbly done, and both the writing and the story are above par.
posted by Graygorey at 6:16 PM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


There were all those Cynthia Rothrock kung-fu movies from the '80s....

(I know, I know....)
posted by Thistledown at 6:21 PM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


All the female characters on Farscape. Every single one. Even Jool.

(... ok probably not Jool.)
posted by billybunny at 6:37 PM on October 30, 2011


San, the Princess Mononoke. (A lot of Studio Ghibli films involve young girls getting pushed into difficult situations.)
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 6:38 PM on October 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have only read the first book of many in the series, but I get the impression that David Weber's character Honor Harrington is pretty bad-ass.

I love Samantha Carter on SG:1 but I think Amanda Tapping is even more bad-ass as Dr. Helen Magnus on Sanctuary.

Yeah, it's hard to make a case for Jool. But Aeryn, Zhaan, Sikozu, Chiana, and even Noranti are super bad-ass.
posted by Squeak Attack at 6:43 PM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Manga:
Battle Angel Alita (cyborg martial arts!)

Anime:
Princess Mononoke
Shikabane Hime
Cyborg 009

Movies:
The Terrorist by Satosh Sivan
Avalon by Mamoru Oshii

Books:
Gods War by Kameron Hurley (biopunk sci-fi)
Sasha by Joel Shepard (low fantasy, the rest of the series is also good)
posted by yeloson at 6:45 PM on October 30, 2011


I'd also say that Toph Bei Fong from Avatar: The Last Airbender (the epic Nickelodeon cartoon, not the awful, awful Shyamalan film) qualifies as a junior-varsity Well-Written Female Badass, for reasons that probably merit a spoiler warning for anybody who hasn't watched the whole series yet.
posted by Strange Interlude at 6:47 PM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


San , the Princess Mononoke. (A lot of Studio Ghibli films involve young girls getting pushed into difficult situations.)

There's another one! My favorite Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli heroine is still Nausicaa, because of how perfectly Miyazaki balanced her warrior-princess badassery with a generous helping of caring nurturance. Also, she had a cool glider.
posted by Strange Interlude at 6:55 PM on October 30, 2011


Gloria -- the version staring Gena Rowlands (1980) --definition of female bad-ass fiercely protecting a child from the mob.
posted by I'm Brian and so's my wife! at 7:14 PM on October 30, 2011


Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon -- 2 female badasses played by Michelle Yeoh and Ziyi Zhang
posted by I'm Brian and so's my wife! at 7:21 PM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, totally and completely cheesy but Cleopatra 2525 actually has decent portrayals of strong/badass women, especially the "Sarge" character.

I enjoyed the Honorverse novels, but <grimace> Honor Harrington isn't very believable. It's almost like a caricature of a "strong female lead" character, sometimes.

The Lost Fleet series of novels is wirtten even more poorly than the Honorverse novels, but feature pretty strong female characters.

Gabrielle Anwar plays a seriously badassed ex-IRA sniper/explosives expert in Burn Notice.

Katey Sagal voices Lele in Futurama - legitimately badassed captain of a starship and daughter of mutants. She handily physically beats Zap Brannigan (Captain Kirk caricature) often and with flair.

Speaking of Katey Sagal, her character Gemma in Sons of Anarchy is tough, capable, and ruthless.

Anna Silk plays Bo on Lost Girl who's a succubus who can suck the life force out of people. The show definitely passes the Bechdel Test... which is a decent qualifier for "well written" and "badass" in mainstream media.
posted by porpoise at 7:48 PM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


KICK ASS
posted by ethnomethodologist at 7:49 PM on October 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Books, I liked Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson, where the main character is a girl learning to kick ass.
posted by lundman at 7:52 PM on October 30, 2011


Williams Gibson's cyberpunk thriller "Neuromancer" features a female character who is neurally augmented, has mirrors for eyes, and razor blades under her finger nails. Her name is Molly Millions, and she does not take shit from ANYBODY.
posted by cosmicbandito at 8:15 PM on October 30, 2011


Rhona Mitra in Doomsday
posted by Schlani at 8:22 PM on October 30, 2011


Nikita, the current series on the CW. Please don't let the fact that it's on the CW let you think it's some teenage soapy drama. The women on this show (both antagonists and protagonists) are badasses, and the twists/turns in the plot are compelling--turning cliched situations into good drama (with explosions and fights!). It has low ratings so far so I'm really hoping people will give it a try. I would hate for this show with its awesome women to get canceled because of a bad time slot and because people associate CW with teen soaps.

Sarah from Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles is quite the badass herself, along with Cameron the Terminator. I think if you like the women of BSG, you'll definitely like the both of them.

I miss TSCC a lot and I hope Nikita doesn't share its fate of being canceled too damn early.
posted by jyorraku at 9:39 PM on October 30, 2011


In addition to Zoe, who is badass all the way through, I love watching River develop into her badass self during the (all too short) Firefly series, culminating spectacularly in Serenity.
posted by platinum at 12:08 AM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you don't mind procedurals, I think Criminal Minds portrays its female characters as pretty bad-ass and just as capable as the male characters.
posted by Defying Gravity at 1:20 AM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


The remake of Bionic Woman wasnt as terrible as you might think. Bonus for moar Katee Sackhoff!
posted by Iteki at 1:42 AM on October 31, 2011


Tank Girl - beloved bad-ass comic heroine of my teenage years but I never saw the film adaptation so not sure how the characters translated to screen.
posted by freya_lamb at 2:01 AM on October 31, 2011


For more comics recs, you can't go wrong with comics by Greg Rucka. You can go with Tara Chace from his Queen & Country series, if you prefer espionage. Or you can go with his Batwoman run.

And if by badasses you also mean punks and the occasional wrestling stories, you can do no wrong picking up the Love and Rockets books by Los Bros Hernandez.
posted by FarOutFreak at 3:34 AM on October 31, 2011


Simon R Green always writes a bad ass female character - Isobel Fisher not only bts the shit out of people, in a little tell I didn't get for a long time, weights down her long braid with a metal ball and weaves spikes into it. And has been known to fight really dirty. And if I told you why she's such a bad ass, it'd be a spoiler but suffice to say, one of my all time favorites. Most of his work is the same vein - lots of violence, honor and totally awesome shit.

Kerry Greenwood does a female James Bond in her Phryne Fisher series. Total bad ass, utterly fantastical but fun to read.

Lois McMasterBujold does a nice range of bad ass women - from the restrained Ekaterin to Cordelia's descent into vicious retribution. I love Taura the most. Her Chaliion series has a whole book with a middle aged ex-crazy heroine who is also bad ass and one of my favorites as well.
posted by geek anachronism at 4:10 AM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thirding Alias.
posted by reductiondesign at 4:12 AM on October 31, 2011


Anna in the V 2009 TV Series.
posted by rom1 at 6:20 AM on October 31, 2011


I know this is a trendy answer, but Lisbeth Salander from The Millennium Trilogy is awesome.
posted by radioamy at 7:06 AM on October 31, 2011


Ziva in NCIS was a badass once upon a time, being all part Mossad, part Ninja badass and was referenced quite a bit. But they've toned down her down over the past few season.

Kensi from NCIS:LA is that show's resident female badass, who seems to have a thing for taking chances just because she can.
posted by jmd82 at 7:56 AM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cathy Gale, Emma Peel and Tara King from The Avengers. Considering the times, these girls are generally bad ass (though they occasional lapse into damsel in distress, moreso in the later seasons).

(it's a crying shame that the female leads in that show got paid less than the cameramen, as the story often goes)

Also, Servalan in Blake's 7. Which, by the way, is a very interesting show. It's almost anti-Star Trek, with an extremely bleak view of humanity.

Also, Amy from Doctor Who seems pretty bad ass. She's almost the main character (Amy and her boys). I'm glad she had her moment of revenge in the last episode.
posted by Harry at 8:26 AM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


chengjih: "No one has yet mentioned ... Xena?"

"What other movies, games, books, and TV shows would I like that feature well-written female badasses?"
posted by Deathalicious at 8:30 AM on October 31, 2011


Sharrow in _Against a Dark Background_, by guess who

Maybe Diziet Sma, Perosteck Balveda, or Ashley Watt from his other stuff. Ash doesn't beat people up or anything, but she's strong and independent and suchlike.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:46 AM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


River Song from Doctor Who.
posted by Windigo at 8:53 AM on October 31, 2011


Lyra Belaqua from the His Dark Materials series by Phillip Pullman (The Golden Compass was book 1). Nothing keeps her down, she is smart, resourceful, and has the fierce bravery only young children can have.
posted by arcticwoman at 9:27 AM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


More comics recs:

Alias
Y: The Last Man (plenty to draw from here, since it takes place in a world where all the men but one die suddenly)
posted by mkultra at 11:22 AM on October 31, 2011


I am SHOCKED that no one has mentioned Dana Scully yet.*

* The Longevity of Dana Scully's Badass was shorter than the duration of the entire series proper. BUT SERIOUSLY, PEOPLE.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:30 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am SHOCKED that no one has mentioned Dana Scully yet.*

Dude, as much as I would *love* to call her a badass, the number of times she has lost her weapon makes me say "no way". Also...I consider her to be more of a scientist/doctor than a badass. No judgment...but she's not a badass. And I say that with sadness...because she had so much potential...
posted by hal_c_on at 12:57 PM on October 31, 2011


Also...I consider her to be more of a scientist/doctor than a badass.

Why do you consider the two to be mutually exclusive?....

Also, you can't tell me that someone who orders the total evactuation of a building in five minutes, and then cuts of his protests by barking, "DON'T THINK! JUST PICK UP THE PHONE AND MAKE IT HAPPEN!" isn't badass.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:59 PM on October 31, 2011


How could I forget: Miranda Zero of Global Frequency!
posted by yeloson at 4:52 PM on October 31, 2011


No one's talked about the Wire yet. Badass female's from the wire include:
Kima
Snoop
Kimmy & Tosha (from Omar's gang)

Probably some more I'm forgetting.
posted by brevator at 7:30 PM on October 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ok, so I marked a bunch of 'best answers' for shows I had seen but neglected to mention in my post (The Wire, Veronica Mars, BSG, Firefly, a few movies).

I also wound up ordering the first season of both The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Alias, and I'm considering Farscape (although I'm turned off by some cheesy elements of it). I'm also going to grab Futurama (which I've never seen). Grabbed Priuncess Mononoke and I'm going to be working through all the rest of the suggestions (albeit slooooowly).

Thank you all so much!
posted by flibbertigibbet at 6:08 AM on November 1, 2011


Portal!! Chell AND GladOS are total badasses. Portal2 is even better than the original.
posted by audacity at 9:44 PM on November 1, 2011


I also personally admire a lot of the female characters in Star Trek: DS9, and think they are totally badass. YMMV.
posted by audacity at 9:45 PM on November 1, 2011


Farscape takes a while to warm up, I think. I don't know if Television Without Pity recaps are your sort of thing, but Jacob's recaps over there helped me appreciate where Farscape was going before anything I was seeing had really gotten there yet. If that makes any sense. Anyway, I think they're worth checking out. He doesn't write the recap for the first episode, so start with the second one.
posted by colfax at 10:52 PM on November 1, 2011


Argh. I meant: before anything I was seeing on my screen had really gotten there yet.
posted by colfax at 10:53 PM on November 1, 2011


100thing Alias and Kara Thrace.

I am SHOCKED that no one has mentioned Lara Croft. SHOCKED.

And in terms of Dana Scully NOT being a badass, I completely disagree. I have yet to see someone sprint like that in high heels.
posted by northxnorthwest at 1:32 AM on November 2, 2011


Sigorney Weaver, in Alien and Aliens, pretty much invented the genre of badass female action movie star.
posted by talldean at 8:33 AM on November 2, 2011


The Lady (Sharon Stone) in The Quick and the Dead is a total badass.
posted by mkultra at 7:30 PM on November 3, 2011


The TV tropes archetype "Action Girl" seems to fit the bill pretty well. Warning, timesuck.
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 1:48 PM on November 6, 2011


If you like 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo', I recommend 'Smilla's Sense of Snow' (book) and film.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 8:55 PM on November 7, 2011


For extreme bad-assedness, there's 'Baise-Moi'.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 9:00 PM on November 7, 2011


And in terms of Dana Scully NOT being a badass, I completely disagree. I have yet to see someone sprint like that in high heels.

To be fair, she didn't have, like, stiletto pumps or anything. Scully's shoes where typically more sensible than you would expect while still needing to make her look taller.

And while it didnt happen often, when she had to go toe-to-toe with a man with her life on the line, she would give good accountings of herself. Not sure if that constitutes "bad-ass" or not.
posted by Billiken at 8:43 AM on November 11, 2011


The mysteries about female PI V.I. Warshawski are seriously badass (hah, I just realized someone above already recommended her).

The female lead of In Plain Sight is seriuosly asskicking.

Nicola Griffith's characters are all extremely strong asskicking women.

Karen Travis's Shan Frankland character is awesome if you like sci-fi.

And if you have a tolerance for post-apocalyptic or alternate history, SM Stirling writes badass women into all of his books, and he does it well.
posted by thelastcamel at 12:14 AM on December 11, 2011


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