I am La Femme Picky-ta
October 22, 2009 4:20 PM   Subscribe

Serious movies with a female spy or secret agent as the main character, preferably about her working solo to solve a case/perform a mission --that somehow involves her own past?

I know this is a pretty specific set of parameters. I've already watched:

La Femme Nikita
Point of No Return
The Long Kiss Goodnight
Aeon Flux
Mr & Mrs Smith
Wanted (which isn't really good since Jolie isn't the protagonist)
Tomorrow Never Dies (again, female spy not the protagonist)

D.E.B.S and Charlie's Angels are too light-hearted for what I'm looking for, which is more like "Bourne Identity" but with a female lead, (and amnesia is optional.)

And no silly comedies-- I am looking for straight up action/thriller genres. Please help! Thanks.
posted by np312 to Media & Arts (25 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
In addition to spies, would you consider criminals and gangsters?

The Last Seduction
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:23 PM on October 22, 2009

Perhaps V.I. Warshawski, although she is a private investigator rather than a spy.
posted by sueinnyc at 4:44 PM on October 22, 2009

Azumi is the Citizen Kane of female samurai movies. There's a part I and II... they're both rad.
posted by ph00dz at 4:48 PM on October 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Modesty Blaise. (It's not very good and very kitschy)
posted by cazoo at 4:53 PM on October 22, 2009

So Close / Chik yeung tin si has three main characters, all female, not all on the same side as each other - they're not technically spies (it's been a while since I saw it, but imdb suggests they're assassins) but it feels like a spy movie. It's pretty good, with lots of fights and ducking behind things and angst.

Perhaps Mata Hari? And other movies based on real women spies, who have often been pretty widely fictionalised - Violet Szabo (Carve Her Name With Pride, kinda Charlotte Gray), Odette Sansom (Odette). I haven't seen these ones, so am mentioning rather than recommending, I guess.

If by Avengers you mean the movie based on the 1960s TV series, then definitely try the series, if you haven't already - admittedly there is a male lead as well, and some of the episodes are pretty silly, but by no means all of them, especially if you go for the pre-Diana-Rigg era.
posted by severalbees at 4:53 PM on October 22, 2009

I'd add Paul Verhoeven's Black Book. It's about a Jewish Dutch woman who has to infiltrate the Nazis.
posted by hnnrs at 4:57 PM on October 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

Cool Papa Bell: I'm really only looking for spies, secret agents, or assassins. Highly-trained operatives being the key point.
posted by np312 at 4:58 PM on October 22, 2009

Notorious, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. It's one of the all-time great films.
posted by alms at 5:03 PM on October 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Are you interested in TV programmes as well? If so, Alias definitely fits your criteria. The main character is a female CIA operative and there are several big story arcs involving her investigating her past.
posted by badmoonrising at 5:35 PM on October 22, 2009

Charlotte Gray
posted by thivaia at 6:00 PM on October 22, 2009

Also the Shoshanna subplot of Inglorious Basterds comes to mind.
posted by thivaia at 6:02 PM on October 22, 2009

This sounds like Kill Bill. A highly trained assassin working alone to perform a mission based on her past.
posted by amethysts at 6:09 PM on October 22, 2009

Serious is a bit of a stretch, but Kill Bill?
Perhaps more on your desired path - Lust, Caution. It's about a spy in WWII-era China. Communism, sex, spying, pasts ... it's all there!
posted by ChuraChura at 6:12 PM on October 22, 2009

Femme Fatal. I keep recomending it to people who like noir/spy thrillers cause it's a kind of dreamy, free-association take on what that genre actually means. It's very much a movie movie, not a comedy but I wouldn't call it a thriller either. It could be a good chaser to a night of harder movies.
posted by The Whelk at 7:13 PM on October 22, 2009

and the Kill Bill movies are kinda this idea distilled into 150% proof form and shaken around with other genres.
posted by The Whelk at 7:14 PM on October 22, 2009

The Avenger's episode "The House That Jack Built" has Dame Diana Rigg at her best and has her working mostly alone to solve a mystery about her past.
posted by The Whelk at 7:15 PM on October 22, 2009

The movie version of Smilla's Sense of Snow was basically a straight-up action/adventure/mystery film from what I remember, and while I guess Smilla is technically an amateur, you'd really never know it from the amount of butt-kicking she does. Otherwise I think it hits all your criteria. I'm not saying it was a good movie, mind.
posted by posadnitsa at 7:32 PM on October 22, 2009

I haven't seen the film version of The Little Drummer Girl, but the novel is terrific, and the narrative matches your requirements.
posted by hot soup girl at 1:31 AM on October 23, 2009

The Italian Job, but the remake. One of group is Charlize Theron, and she has a pretty central role, and it has a lot to do with her ability to crack safes and with her personal history.
posted by alon at 2:51 AM on October 23, 2009

You know what, the original Italian Job might also have a female lead, but I haven't seen it and the imdb page doesn't give too much information.
posted by alon at 2:54 AM on October 23, 2009

Domino fits this, and is apparently true to some extent. It's beena while, but I recall that it's kind of that super-stylish french nouveau, almost possibly parody kind of thing.
posted by cmoj at 9:57 AM on October 23, 2009

Motherfuckin bassass connie neilsen in Demonlover: for the first 10 minutes, the ultimate rad corporate-esponage type thriller........... and then it gets weird.
posted by lalochezia at 11:48 AM on October 23, 2009

Lucie Aubrac is a wonderful and moving story about a woman in the French Resistance.
posted by invisible ink at 1:26 PM on October 23, 2009

Would you consider anime? Ghost in the Shell is a good fit. The protagonist works along with a team, but she's the leader and the most intelligent of them all. Part of the story focuses on her past and her conflicted feelings from having an almost fully cyborg body.

The TV series is pretty good too.
posted by clearlydemon at 2:02 PM on October 23, 2009

seconding domino and kill bill.

i strongly disrecommend 'demonlover'. maybe the first 10 minutes, and the clip of gina gershon walking off the plane in her "i *heart* gossip". the rest of the film should be consigned to a trash bin.
posted by rmd1023 at 4:47 PM on October 23, 2009

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