Full Metal Bitches – Why Women In Action Movies Are Shit (apart from this one)

Edge-of-Tomorrow-Poster1

I’m going to come out and say it – female characters in action movies are almost always shit.  Now before you throw anything at me let me explain.  I watched Edge of Tomorrow the other night and one of my first thoughts when I came out of it was ‘that’s strange, the lady in it wasn’t annoying or pathetic, something’s wrong here’. You see, I’ve become used to the following three types of women in action films:

  • The damsel in distress who needs to be saved by the hero
  • The hard-ass sexy martial arts wielding companion character
  • The tough, foul-mouthed angry chick (who never survives the film)

However Emily Blunt’s character Rita Vrataski known as the ‘Full Metal Bitch’ didn’t fit into any of these categories. She was definitely a woman, but didn’t need saving. She was a bad-ass but wasn’t super-powered. And she was tough but not an overtly masculine ball of rage.  My point is Vrataski is a heroine who isn’t a lazily written object to be saved or teenage wank fantasy. She’s just a woman who happens to be a war hero and respected squad leader. I talked about this with Lauren from My Kind of Movie and she agreed and went as far as to suggest a spin-off Vrataski film, an idea I’m very much in favour of.

She bends over a lot in this films. Seriously, look it up
She bends over a lot in these films. Seriously, look it up

Take for example Black Widow from The Avengers. You might think she’s a progressive portrayal of a strong woman but look a little closer (I know I have! Hey guys? Guys?). Yes she can handle herself (er…hey guys?) but she’s also dressed in a figure hugging catsuit for no apparent reason. She must rely on her acrobatic kung-fu moves to fight. And she also happens to be the only Avenger to get overly emotional or get scared (seriously, spot any of the male characters tearing up or being frightened). Plus she crashes that airplane thing she’s flying. Vrataski in contrast wears the same battle uniform as the men in Edge of Tomorrow and fights dirty, usually with a big fuck-off sword she carries around. I’m not saying action movie girls shouldn’t look sexy but ‘sexy’ is about more than cleavages and skin-tight ass fabric, its about personality and respect.

It was the strangest lap dance he ever had
It was the strangest lap dance he ever had

Exhibit B is from that other massive action blockbuster this year X-Men: Days of Future Past. Here the chief female character is Mystique, a naked blue shapeshifter. I’ll ignore the fact she’s nude (I never thought I’d ever say those words) and focus on her character. In DOFP the main thrust of the story is that Mystique is an emotional and irrational women who the guys have to stop before she does something stupid. Put like that it sounds pretty bad. She is essentially the villain of the piece and the male characters must talk her down from her hysterical state because you know how woman can get when they’re pissed off (not my belief, just explaining what I took from the film!). It might be a harsh reading of the situation but it’s an aspect of the story that got me thinking.

Is that a gun in your hand or are you ... ah fuck!
Is that a gun in your hand or are you … ah fuck!

I think if I was a girl I would be more drawn towards the female action character who was tough yet grounded. If I had a daughter I’d prefer if they looked up to cool characters like Vrataski instead of the next production line sexy assassin type woman or tough girl that is basically just a male character with boobs. Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow kicks all kinds of ass yet she never has to display traditionally male traits like hyper-aggression, cruelty, or chivalry. The film demonstrates this well with no one alluding to the fact that she’s a girl, they just see her as another soldier, and a brilliant one at that. And a pro tip to filmmakers from a male perspective – a character like this comes across as a lot sexier than a thousand Black Widows (and you know how much I like Scarlett).

Its OK Emily, we've all had this fantasy
Its OK Emily, we’ve all had this fantasy

So take heed Hollywood, stop relying on age old stereotypes of females. They don’t all have to fit some prearranged mold you’ve created. They can be crucial parts of your action movie, not because they are a woman, but because they are a person. And people kick-ass.

What do you think? How do you like your women? Do you agree or have I thought into things too much? Let me know below!

89 comments

  1. Yes! Awesome post. I am really excited to see “Edge of Tomorrow” now (and I already liked Emily Blunt). I’d say that Katniss from Hunger Games is also a pretty good example of a female action hero. And possibly also the two fighters in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, although it’s been a really long time since I’ve watched that movie and I can’t remember it that well.

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  2. Sounds like a welcome change of pace – the ‘damsel in distress’ character doesn’t get much more obnoxious than the girl from Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom!

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  3. (Standing Ovation!) Great read, and so very, very true! This is I think the first article from any movie site that has brought up the lack of strong female characters in films. As a male viewer im so sick and tired of seeing women characters have to be saved or stand in a corner and cry.

    Remember Gina Davis in “The Long Kiss Goodnight”? Great character, you bought her as a bad ass. I want to actually see more of those. At least Stallone sees this as a problem and is hiring strong female leads in the Expendables movies. There is just not enough of them and the “damsel in distress” shit is getting old. I think we are now at a crossroads where the tides on turning. There needs to be heroes for women to look up to as well.

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    • Thank you so much! I think these things tend to work in cycles. Back in the mists of time we had people like Cynthia Rothrock but now in the era of superhero films women tend to get sidelined for the men.

      Yeah Gina Davis was fantastic in The Long Kiss Goodnight. The only other great recent one I can think of is The Bride from Kill Bill

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  4. Great post, Mickey! Very interesting to read. I had never thought of this before, but it’s very true. I suddenly want to see Edge of Tomorrow now, too…

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  5. Excellent post (and thanks for the mention!). You’re right that Blunt’s character works becuase she doesn’t fit into the normal sterotypes that we see from women in action roles. Most of the time these characters don’t work becuase of the reaosns you gave. Although I do have a few example of good action roles for women.
    Ripley especially in Aliens. River Tam in Serenity. Katniss in The Hunger Games, and Gina Carano’s character in Haywire. Interesting how most of them are in sci-fi films.
    It’s a pity that there is only a handful of examples though.

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  6. Ooo provocative post!
    Jean Grey in X3 was a really good example of a very poorly written female. She’s having her special little emotional problems and is going to destroy the planet bc we all know that women just go batshit crazy and want to destroy everything when they’re angry…

    Linda Hamilton in T2 on the other hand, now that’s a female character that I always enjoyed. She evolved. She was sort of a token damsel in distress in the first movie, but come T2 she’s ready to rock!

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  7. “female characters in action movies are almost always shit” Wait, what?? How about TDKR’s Catwoman/Selina, Lara Croft, I mean heck, Ellen Ripley??! I’d agree w/ Black Widow though, she’s not as tough as she thinks she is, ahah. I hope to see Edge of Tomorrow this weekend, love miss Blunt!

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    • Thanks for the comment Ruth. I think my point is there are tons of action films and very few good female characters. The three you suggested are from three different decades! I just think it should be more common to have cool female characters

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  8. Got quite worried with that title but I do agree after reading. Its the same view I have had for ages. You can count good strong female character in one hand. Really looking forward to The Edge of Tomorrow now 😀

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  9. This is a great post Mikey, you have a great point. Rita is one of only a very select few examples of three-dimensional people played by actresses. I think it’s been mentioned already here but I think Katniss is a decent actress and I also find The Bride more than capable of standing on her own without a big sugar daddy backin her up. But 99% of the time they fall into cliches. Its crazy to think about, but yeah. I think I would agree that most other roles that women fall into are some form or other cliched

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  10. Great article mate and very, very true! I haven’t seen Edge of Tomorrow yet but I’m glad Blunt’s character is decent. I think poorly written female characters is just lazy writing. It’s probably dead easy to rely on cliches and just churn them out as that’s precisely why they become cliches in the first place. It takes a bit more skill to actually go against these conventions and write something with more substance.

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    • Thanks mate, glad you liked it. It was hard to put my finger on why I liked Blunts character so much but then it dawned on me that it was for all the same reasons I would like a male character. You should definitelt go see the film, it was such a pleasant surprise for me.

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  11. Can’t wait to see the film now. Going tomorrow. Sad that films from so long ago i.e. The Terminator and Aliens are still the only ones that immediately spring to mind that have decent female roles/characters. I always knew Mikey was a feminist Cindy. He never stops telling me 🙂

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  12. Really fascinating article. I must say that I love Black Widow and that I would not want her changed in anyway! However, I do notice what you are saying with Mystique. Going to view Edge of Tomorrow today so perhaps I will gain a new favorite!

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  13. I agree with this post fully. The only other female action hero I fully respect and love was The Bride from Kill Bill. Edge of Tomorow is looking better and better the more I read about it

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  14. Great post, and I was thrilled with Blunt watching this movie (which surprised me with how good it actually was). She owns the room and doesn’t have to be seductive to do so. And, I’ve never really thought about Mystique being nude, and then you have a picture of her kicking ass spread eagle and I think that must be… distracting?

    With the “we have to stop the woman before she does something stupid,” it makes me think of Catching Fire, where the whole story hinges on keeping the plan a secret because otherwise Katniss would f it up because she couldn’t handle keeping it on the DL. How insulting.

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    • Thanks for the great comment Anne. Knowing me I probably read into films too much but I did get the impression that Mystique was acting like an irrational person when all the guys were level headed.

      And I think Edge of Tomorrow has been a big surprise for loads of people with how good it is

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  15. This is wonderful, and important too. And it needs to be said that we don’t just need tough heroines on screen, but all types of women. To start with, Hollywood needs more women in film in the first place. Representation has plagued the industry for the longest time, and there needs to be more attention paid to diversity.

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    • Thank you so much Jade 🙂 I’m so happy you enjoyed it. I agree there should be more women in films in general, maybe then the writers would actually have to work on giving the females a personality instead of falling back on tired stereotypes

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  16. She’s no Bella Swan.

    I’ll get my coat.

    In all seriousness, GREAT post and you already know I agree wholeheartedly with you. Emily Blunt seems to strike the perfect balance between pretty and relatable. She’s not so sexualised that you can’t think about anything else when you look at her and you’ll actually listen to what she has to say, but she’s still beautiful.

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  17. I’m heeeeeere! 🙂 A great, thoughtful write-up, buddy. I agree–it bothers me that all these tough ladies automatically have to be dressed in skintight clothing and/or overly emotional. Somewhere out in the interwebz are a series of pictures drawn by an artist who re-imagines the costumes of female superheroes so they show a lot less skin. Have you seen these pics? Most of the costumes are just as cool-looking–if not better. One day, Hollywood will get its head out of its ass when it comes to this stuff…or at least let’s hope so. :/ Nice job, Mike!

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  18. I totally agree. Movies need more Vrataski’s. The usual tropes of female action stars is boring and makes the genre feel stagnant at times. Emily Blunt gives us a great real-life story arc starting from “The damsel in distress who needs to be saved by the hero” in The Adjustment Bureau, moving to “The tough, foul-mouthed angry chick (who never survives the film)” (well, sort of like this) in “Looper” to this amazing role.

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    • Sorry for the double reply but I wanted to show the posters for “The Adjustment Bureau,” “Looper,” and “The Edge of Tomorrow” which show Emily Blunt first being led hand-in-hand by Matt Damon, then standing behind a shotgun-wielding Joseph Gordon Levitt, and finally carrying that massive sword thing shes uses in The Edge of Tomorrow. The posters alone show the progression of her bad-ass-ness, although incompletely. I couldn’t figure out how to put images in a comment so this long-winded explanation is all I can provide.

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  19. Well, hello fellow feminist!
    What a great, refreshing post. I completely agree. I usually shudder when I think more deeply what the female leads are actually telling young girls with their storylines.
    I am not sure if the movie fits a 100% into your genre here, but I thought Lucy was a great example of a girl kicking some major ass. Although she did kiss the cop for now apparent reason, Lucy was a girl doing it for herself.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. LOVE the post Mikey! I am so on board with what you have to say. It is sad that it is more often than not the female characters in movies that annoy me because, more often than not, they are such insipid characters. It is always refreshing when there is a woman who can stand on her own, does NOT need saving, and isn’t portrayed as a sout bitch because she doesn’t need a Prince Charming.

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  21. That’s a really ignorant article
    Don’t get me wrong,I agree to everything you said about ‘Edge of Tomorrow’.Its that you used Black Widow and Mystique as counter-arguments,those two are the best female characters in Comic Book Movies,should we go back to Peter Parker saving MJ three times in the same movie?

    Yes Black widow wears a skin-tight suit,but so does Captain America and Spider-man.Hawk-eye and Thor are sleeveless most of the time.It just a requirement of the CB costumes since spandex is supposed to be better in combat.Marvel actually does a great job of not having Black Widow show cleavage or any butt shots.Its actually the exact opposite for Marvel movies nowadays,there is an obligatory shirtless scene of Hemsworth and Jackman in every Thor and X-men movie
    About her being emotional and scared.No,she was acting emotional to trick Loki into giving up his plan,and she succeeded,she tricked Loki who is the ultimate trickster.About her being afraid,she was scared of the Hulk and EVERYBODY is scared of the Hulk,that thing is unbeatable.About her crashing the plane,Really? So you want the female characters to be flawless too?

    About Mystique,her being naked is an important part of her identity(she believes she shouldn’t have to hide her true form)and they never showed unnecessary boob shots.And being compassionate for her fellow mutants who Trask killed and experimented on is being irrational and emotional? She wasn’t the Villain,did you even watch the movie? The real Villain were the Sentinels and Magneto,she even disagrees with Magneto when he says they need to start a war against the Humans

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  22. And ‘bends over a lot’? Seriously? Why do you need to see everything so sexually,how else is she supposed to operate a laptop? Squatting

    ‘Strangest lap dance’? Please go pick up a comic book,mystique is a master gymnast and uses those skills to take out enemis

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  23. I completely agree about Edge of Tomorrow.
    Here is a summary of the suggested films in the thread that I agree have cool women leads:
    – The Edge of Tomorrow
    – Alien 2, 3, 4 (don’t remember the first maybe that one too)
    – Long Kiss Goodnight
    – Terminator 2
    – Resident Evil movies (one of them or many, don’t remember)
    – Hunger Games (agree, that this is a teen flick thought. I just feel to old when i watch it.)
    – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Cool women characters, however as most characters in most hong kong martial arts movies, it has the physics problem described below and almost doesn’t qualify.

    I haven’t seen (are they B-Movies?):
    – Haywire (This one should’nt have the physics drawback considering the actors background in Martial Arts)
    – Serenity

    Does not completely qualify to the list in my opinion:
    – Kill Bill, Uma. Most of the Time she looks like a fly hitting a steel door, and that completely destroys the sensation of coolness. Also I feel that this character has some sort of “Hey! Lets make a strong woman character!”-air to it. The strength doesn’t come naturally like the characters in alien (ripely) or Edge of tomorrow (rita) or even crouching tiger (yeoh).

    – The dark knight rises: Catwoman. I think close but no cigar. Not 100% believable, but maybe that was not the fault of the script. Either acting or direction made the character unbelievable. Problems similar to Kill Bill.

    The Physics Problem: Even if the if the character is well written and the role well played, emotion-/dialog-wise many films fail because of the problem of unbelievable physics, which rips you out of the the illusion. For example, if a fly weight champion hits a heavy weight champion in the face, mostly nothing happens in real life. There is just not enough momentum in the punch to send the big meatball flying to the ground. Similar with body motions, if a punch does not seem to use force from the whole body, there could not possibly be much force in it. You cant simply flick your hand to decapitate someone. This is a problem in loads of action movies for both men and women. But women actors often seem to lack the proper training to move believably of get scenes with impossibly big opponents for hand to hand combat.

    There are great ways to avoid this. If the actors are to small, give them a gun, or a hammer or some other dangerous tool like in long kiss goodnight of hunger games. If you want them to use big ass weapons, show of some muscles before like in Edge of tomorrow. If you want them to fight use muscle actors like ripley in alien or Sarah in T2. If the story has supernatural elements, you can use that instead but that also requires a lot from the effects, cutting, acting and so on – like in resident evil apocalypse (or the complete powerhouse Galadriel in lord of the ring).

    @Daredevil. I think your arguments are valid if you are a comic-fan with all background stories, but to most of us who just watch the films with no previous knowledge of the story the characters come of as silly stereotypes. And in our experience, the comic industry doesn’t have a great track record in cool women portrayals. Mystique being nude because she believes in not hiding? I am all for making nudity more acceptable, but if that is the case, maybe she should have been portrayed in another way than a killer gymnast, who just comes of as a strange lapdancer to the uninitiated. Also, I know men in many comic books/films are also boring stereotypes but that is another issue (even if I agree that it is an issue) but still the relative proportions of cool film guys/girls is extremely uneven.

    I like this blogpost and thread!
    Can you think of any more films that qualify?

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  24. I wrote a review of “Edge of Tomorrow” and one of the major points I made was that Blunt should do more action movies and say “no” to those pathetic roles she gets in films like the Adjustment Bureau. Here’s to that. Thanks. PTxS

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  25. I definitely liked this movie for the same reasons, and have heard that the lady in the new Mission Impossible is also pretty worthy. Seen it yet?

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  26. […] I don’t want to get bogged down in a debate about gender politics as that would be a) extremely subjective and b) fucking tiresome but this show got me thinking about women. The thing that makes Jessica Jones such an interesting female lead is that she has many many flaws. She has a drink problem, she’s a surly cow, and most importantly she’s incredibly stupid. It’s these personality traits that flesh Jessica out. She avoids all of the pitfalls that women in action movies and shows tend to fall into (as expertly detailed in my post Full Metal Bitches). […]

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  27. Fascinating piece; I only just finished doing a “Sicario” review, praising the fact that Emily Blunt (again!) was neither damsel in distress nor tough-as-nails warrior, simply grounded, strong and human.
    Guess that Blunt is leading the field for female role models!

    Like

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