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Octavia Spencer as Tonya,
There are several women in Snowpiercer who could be considered ass-kickers you probably want to steer clear of on this very crowded train, including Allison Pill’s maniacal teacher or political Tilda Swinton as Mason. But a desperate mother is a pretty good weapon, especially when played by a spitfire like Octavia Spencer. Tonya wants her son back and she’s willing to join the men planning the uprising to do it (lead pipes in hand). Spencer draws plenty of blood as the no-nonsense tail section dweller, especially when fighting a vengeful assassin.
Ingrid Bolsø Berdal as Atalanta,
Hercules definitely wasn’t a perfect movie (it is pretty ridiculous sword and sandal camp) the bow and arrow powerhouse of Atalanta is probably the highlight of the action sequences which include the Rock. Arrows on her back, bow by her side, riding a horse into enemy territory, she is the one taking down the enemies in this new take on Hercules. Better yet, she’s the only person who can teach the Thrace citizens to use these all important weapons. And any film in this genre which has a woman as “just part of the team” without making her defining characteristic be “the girl” deserves some bonus points.
Mia Wasikowska as Robyn Davidson,
There were two movies this year about women venturing into the wilds alone to find their place in the world. And while Reese Witherspoon’s
Wild is an excellent look at woman in recovery, Wasikowska’s driven, feisty Robyn Davidson is part of a remarkable story of courage and individuality which got overlooked at cinemas this year. Davidson was journeying into the wilds of the Australian outback out of a pure love of finding adventure in solitude, with just a dog and four camels. She is the embodiment of a complicated woman who can be truly alone in the world, without being sad or lonely. Davidson is a woman in the tradition of men in cinema who are more at home alone in nature than anywhere else in the world.
Kristen Bell as Veronica Mars, in
There is a reason Bell’s signature role is still her teen detective Veronica Mars. Rob Thomas’s signature meta-commentary of classic detective stories is in high gear in the film version. Mars continues to unapologetically show her smarts and resourcefulness, even when dealing with a murder case years after giving up the private eye game for a law degree. And Mars' search for justice in her home of Neptune, and her loyalty to her friends, makes her one of the best heroines to come out of cult pop culture in decades.
Maika Monroe as Anna Peterson,
There were two things we got out of The Guest which really pushed it over the edge of greatness: a new lean, mean, psycho-fighting machine version of Dan Stevens (talk about gratuitous filmmaking, that show scene was nuts), and a new spin on the teen scream queen. Despite initially being introduced as a trivial girl with a stoner boyfriend, the only person capable of bringing down the government’s secret weapon gone bad (Stevens) is that cute blonde in the short skirts. Considering Monroe next stars in the festival cult horror film
It Follows, things are looking pretty good for the rising star.
Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Dido Elizabeth Belle,
Born of mixed-race parentage, a poverty stricken mother from the West Indies and a British Admiral, Dido is brought to court as a child - and convinces men with power to change policy regarding the slave trade. Despite the social confines for women at the time, corset and all, Raw is completely believable as a woman who would use the voice she did have, and connections her family offered, to make significant social change.
Angelina Jolie as Maleficent,
Maleficent didn’t receive overwhelmingly good reviews, but compared to some of the other broad summer blockbusters, might have gotten unfairly attacked for it’s delightful camp and fantasy. Behind this retelling of classic fairytale was a dark story of a woman betrayed by a power hungry man, including a surprisingly disturbing rape metaphor. Jolie plays the witchy Maleficent with cool delight in bringing vengeful hell to the royal kingdom that makes a vicious warrior their king, and stops at nothing to take her kingdom back. But what was unexpected was the sincere love story between Maleficent and her surrogate daughter, Sleepying Beauty (Elle Fanning) which results in a corny but emotionally rich conclusion about platonic love between two women.
Cate Blanchett as Valka,
How To Train Your Dragon 2
Who but Cate Blanchett could be the Queen of the Dragons? Calm, cool Blanchett lends her voice to the mother Hiccup never knew. And it turns out, he got his dragon whispering abilities from her, the woman living among the dragons like a mythical Jane Goodall, desperate to protect them from her people, despite regret for leaving her family. And she is pretty great at that whole “commanding” the dragon army thing.
Zoe Saldana as Gamora,
Guardians of the Galaxy
Personally, I had some problem with the way women were portrayed in Guardians of the Galaxy; they fell into “wet blanket” and “group mommy” roles pretty fast. But Zoe Saldana is one of the go-to female action franchise actresses for a reason, and she certainly brings it as the assassin Gamora. Her first fight scene alone was pretty impressive (as was her fight with equally capable Karen Gillan). I just wish we could have seen her fight back in that prison rather than having to be rescued by Star-Lord.
Sheila Vand as The Vampire, in
A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
The title says a lot about what we expect of women living in dangerous cities alone, and the expectations of seeing an Iranian woman wearing a chador adds an additional layer. Sure she seems all innocent and fragile, but when she sees a bad man, particularly men abusing women, she strikes. The fangs come out, and revenge is had on all the thugs she can find. She isn’t a good person, but she certainly holds her own against any man in Bad City.
Emily Blunt as Rita,
Edge of Tomorrow
True, we are introduced to Rita with one hell of a gratuitous ass shot, but she is also the most capable and skilled fighter on the planet, and the only person who can train that loser Tom Cruise. No-nonsense from the start, Rita's more than happy to get rid of him when training goes bad so she can restart day after day. Who knew funny, sexy, brilliant Emily Blunt could also be one hell of a fighter? Is there anything she can’t do? (Having seen
Into the Woods, I haven’t found anything yet).
Elizabeth Moss as Ashley Kane,
Listen Up Philip
I’ve never found myself wanting to say “good on you” to a character more than when Elizabeth Moss’s Ashley finally rids herself of all the toxic waste ex-boyfriend Philip brings to her life. Sure the break up leads to her causing some drama (hey, we're allowed), but she’s also the only person in the film to evolve from the relationship. With a new cat in arms to wave Philip away, the realization that she’s better off alone than with a jerk like him is one of the best lessons for a woman to learn.
Tessa Thompson as Sam White,
Dear White People
Sam White isn’t just one of the most tenacious woman of color on screen in 2014, she was also one of the most quick-witted and capable women - and just college-aged. Speaking openly about her experience with race and gender, Sam is one of the most articulate characters in recent films, and uses the radio airwaves and camera as its own source of power. No wonder she won an election, and was seen as a threat by so many.
Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff,
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
No doubt that Johansson had a pretty great year herself both onscreen (three movies) and off. And while she could be included on this list for
Under the Skin or Lucy, there is something especially great about seeing Marvel finally getting so much right with her criminally-underused character. Despite lacking Steve Rogers super-powers, all Natasha needs to take down the enemy are weapons, guts, and brains. Plus, getting to see an actual platonic friendship of equality on screen in a superhero movie was desperately needed this year. Now the question: when are we getting that Black Widow movie?
Génesis Rodríguez as Honey Lemon and and Jamie Chung as Gogo Tomago,
Big Hero 6
Two female superheroes in one movie was good, but two women superheroes who are also scientists AND played by women of color made
Big Hero 6 one of the most delightful family films of the year. And they are wonderfully specific, developed characters which show two different sides of strong women to youngsters. While Honey Lemon (who is usually the ditzy blonde in the some sexist manga) is all optimism and sunshine, she is still a tough, resourceful girl who knows how to use chemistry to her advantage in a fight. By comparison, cynical Gogo is unwilling to suffer fools and fights as well as any man (and drives way better than any of her male counterparts). Plus, Big Hero 6 gave us Gogo’s signature line, “woman up. About time.
Ashley Bell as Lady Heavenly,
A big part of
Sparks, the indie comic book movie, was seeing “supers” with all the best intentions slip into the dark side when the opportunity arouse. The only person who stays on the right path of justice is pin-up Lady Heavenly, who starts the whole citizen-taking-back-the-city movement. And even when she the victim of crime herself, she never loses her moral center. She might not be the lead, but she is definitely the ideal for our anti-hero Sparks.
Jessica Chastain as Anna Morales,
A Most Violent Year
In a world of money, power, politics, oil, and men, the one person no one wants to mess with is none other than a blonde-haired, well-dressed Jersey princess. As she tells her husband (played by Oscar Isaac), “everything you have is because of me.” And she means it. Ruthless, dangerous, and more than willing to tell people exactly how things are in the real world, including a cop (David Oyelowo) who “disrespected the family,” this is Chastain as you haven’t seen her before, using all those feminine charms to make sure everyone knows the power is in her hands.
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2014 was an excellent year for women in film, and we couldn’t go without acknowledging the most badass ladies to grace the silver screen over the past twelve months. If you missed any of these – flee, flee to your Netflix. You won’t be sorry.
Lesley Coffin is a New York transplant from the midwest. She is the New York-based writer/podcast editor for Filmoria and film contributor at The Interrobang. When not doing that, she’s writing books on classic Hollywood, including Lew Ayres: Hollywood’s Conscientious Objector and her new book Hitchcock’s Stars: Alfred Hitchcock and the Hollywood Studio System.
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