Once a rarity, the badass female hero is now, thankfully, a popular archetype in TV, comics and film. These are women and girls who have taken on aliens, demons, vampires, werewolves, soulless wizard demagogues and so much more. Whether they are incredibly resilient, possess innate super powers, have tremendous fighting abilities or are simply able to weaponize Girl Power, these are fully-developed, three-dimensional female characters who have managed to save the day, win the battle and/or rescue the innocent, on more than one occasion.
Although each of them was called into action under wildly different circumstances, the following women are all tough, skilled and just the right amount of scary. Determining which of these heroes was the most or the least badass proved to be a difficult task, but nevertheless, here are the 15 most badass female action heroes!
15 Sarah Connor (The Terminator)
Sarah Connor’s journey to badassery is pretty unique. Originally played by Linda Hamilton in “The Terminator,” she lives a pretty normal life until a murderous cyborg from the future known as the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) travels back to the ‘80s in order to kill her. Luckily for Sarah, soldier Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) also manages to come back in time to protect her. He explains that, in the future, the military creates an artificial intelligence called Skynet, which becomes self-aware and tries to start the nuclear holocaust known as Judgement Day. Skynet’s only true opposition is the Resistance, a group which her future son, John Connor, will someday lead.
Although she is originally quite helpless, Sarah’s character evolves throughout the “Terminator” films, becoming a hardened warrior who protects her son from Skynet’s multiple time-travelling assassins and raises him to be the man the Resistance will need. It should come as no surprise that Hollywood keeps creating iterations of this iconic character. Her bravery, willpower and fierce protectiveness of her son are awe-inspiring.
14 Leloo (The Fifth Element)
Leeloominaï Lekatariba Lamina-Tchaï Ekbat De Sebat, or “Leeloo” for short, is a Supreme Being, born “before time was time,” who is sent to Earth in corporeal form by a group of aliens called the Mondoshawans. The Mondoshawans’ ship crashes, leaving Leeloo with only the help of a priest, his assistant and a former soldier/cab driver named Korben Dallas (Bruce Willis). Her mission is to fight off something called The Great Evil using four Elemental Stones and her own body to create the Divine Light, a force that will defeat the dark powers approaching Earth at top speed throughout the film.
Played by model-turned-action star Milla Jovovich, the mysterious alien is a “perfect” being who is able to not only learn the English language and world history in one day, but is a literal weapon and unstoppable in battle. During one scene (that is set to a hip-hop-infused opera performance), Leeloo defeats a large group of ruthless warrior aliens called Mangalores, single-handedly and with a smile. So. Badass.
13 Selene (Underworld)
Kate Beckinsale’s Selene arguably deserves a spot on this list simply because she has survived so much throughout the long-running “Underworld” series. The daughter of a talented mason and smith, she was born in Hungary circa 1383. Her father was hired to build a fortress for a vampire general named Viktor, but after the task was completed, Viktor murdered Selene’s father in order to keep the project a secret.
Viktor intended to kill the entire family, but decided to turn Selene instead, because she reminds him of his late daughter, Sonja. He tells her that Lycans (werewolves, to layfolk) are responsible for her family's death and for years, she is a faithful member of Viktor’s top soldiers, the Death Dealers. Stubborn, stoic and determined, she is a fearless warrior who remains unfailingly loyal to Viktor until she begins to realize that she and the other vampire underlings have been lied to about their war with the Lycans.
12 Yu Shu Lien (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)
Any character played by Michelle Yeoh instantly oozes cool, calm capability (which is why her casting as a Starfleet Captain has actually gotten us hyped for “Star Trek: Discovery”), and in none of her roles is this more evident than as Yu Shu Lien in the “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” films. When Yu Shu Lien’s friend and lover Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-fat) asks her to deliver the powerful sword, The Green Destiny, to his friend, Sir Te, she fights in one of the most memorable battles of the 2000 action movie.
In it, she proves her might by fighting against the much-younger Jen (Zhang Ziyi), who has stolen the blade for her maid/secret martial arts instructor, the villainous Jade Fox in disguise (Cheng Pei-Pei), who had murdered Mu Bai’s master long ago. An aging but still formidable warrior, Shu Lien is loyal, intense and noble -- and this scene in particular encapsulates all of those qualities. Though Jen is fighting with a much more powerful weapon and actually destroys both of Shu Lien’s swords, she is still defeated by the older warrior.
11 Hermione Granger (Harry Potter)
The brains of the Golden Trio, Hermione Jean Granger, was a different sort of badass heroine. Born into a non-magical family, she threw herself into learning all she could about magic once she was invited to attend Hogwarts. Initially, her braininess, excitement and insecurity made her come off as a know-it-all who even Harry Potter and Ron Weasley resented. However, as soon as the dangers of the Wizarding World presented themselves to Hermione and her newfound friends, she stepped up to the plate, using her cleverness, deductive reasoning skills and magical studies to assist The Boy Who Lived in the fight against Voldemort and his followers.
Although her intelligence may have initially led some readers to wonder why Hermione wasn’t sorted into the brainy Hogwarts House, Ravenclaw, she proved that she was a true Gryffindor time and again. While getting kicked out of Hogwarts was actually more terrifying to her than death, she was willing to break whatever rule possible, if the fight against You Know Who called for it. Brave, hyper-intelligent and quick on her feet, Hermione was a major asset to Harry (and she deserved a way better future than what the epilogue described, in our humble opinion).
10 Michonne (The Walking Dead)
Played by Danai Gurira in AMC’s “The Walking Dead” series, Michonne is a survivor of an outbreak that turns most of the world into zombies or “walkers.” Just one Google Image search of her alone should prove why she’s on this list -- one look at her and you can tell, this woman will beat dat ass. Michonne, who was formerly an academic type with a love of art, becomes a ruthless fighter after losing her entire family during the start of the outbreak. A sword-wielding, zombie-killing force, Michonne uses these abilities as well as her great intuitive skills to survive. Although she is initially distrustful of Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and the others, she eventually becomes his right-hand before becoming lovers; a nice point of light in a series with so much death.
It takes more than great fighting skills to survive something like the zombie apocalypse, of course -- which is why people love to ponder whether or not they would survive one, in real life. It also requires cunning, bravery and resolve, all of which Michonne has plenty.
9 Princess Leia (Star Wars)
When we first meet Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) in 1977’s “Star Wars,” she is a member of the Imperial Senate who is secretly leading the Rebel Alliance, a group that seeks to take down the tyrannical Empire. The daughter of Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala, Leia is a revolutionary figure who is willing to do whatever it takes to bring down her foes. From the very start, she is wielding weapons and setting up plans to destroy the Empire’s huge battle station, the Death Star.
Years later, in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” we see that Leia has aged and suffered, but has not lost her drive to bring justice to the universe. A general of the Resistance, of which she is also a founding member, she is still just as dedicated to fighting the First Order as she was to defeating the Empire, decades prior. Tactical, brave and often single-minded in her efforts, she is, in short, a certified badass.
8 Ellen Ripley (Alien)
At the start of 1979’s “Alien,” Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is just your everyday Warrant Officer, working on the commercial towing spaceship, the USCSS Nostromo. That is, until she and the rest of the crew are roused from their Hypersleep Chambers to answer a distress call on a nearby moon. Their ship is damaged in the process, and they are forced to stay on there while it undergoes repairs.
Sometime in the midst of this, a vicious alien -- the Xenomorph -- sneaks on board, and eventually picks off each and every member of the crew, with only Ripley managing to survive. This is a woman who is not gifted with any superhuman abilities or carefully honed skills, but does what she needs to do to survive. At one point during the final showdown between Ripley and the Xenomorph, she is actually unarmed, dressed in only her shirt and underwear, but manages to find a spacesuit and finally get that damn alien off of her ship. An unquestionable badass and one of the best “final girls” the horror genre has ever seen, this list would not be complete without her.
7 Jessica Jones
Netflix’s “Jessica Jones” series was a welcome addition to the streaming service’s list of Marvel collaborations. Played with a heavy dose of gravity by the excellent comedic actress Krysten Ritter, Jessica Jones is a former superhero who temporarily retires after being manipulated and forced to commit atrocities by Kilgrave (the expertly cast David Tennant), a supervillain with the power to control people’s minds.
The retired Jones decides to become a private detective and opens up her own agency, Alias Private Investigations. Gifted with superhuman strength and the ability to fly (sort of), Jessica uses her skills to help her clients, but is also struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder due to her experience with Killgrave. She resists taking up her superhero mantle again, afraid of what will happen if she goes up against him. However, once he begins to hurt innocent people, she begins to do everything within her power to bring him down. On top of her abilities, it is her resilience and sense of duty that lands her on this list.
6 Black Widow (Iron Man 2, The Avengers)
Marvel seriously needs to make moves on its long-awaited Black Widow movie. Brought to life onscreen by Scarlett Johansson, Natasha Romanoff (a.k.a. Natalia Romanova and a bunch of other aliases) is a Russian spy and assassin who is first introduced into the MCU in “Iron Man 2.”
In the films, there is a ton of mystery about Black Widow’s backstory (although we do get a peek at her mysterious Black Widow training at the Red Room Academy during a dream sequence in “The Avengers: Age of Ultron”), making her one of the most enigmatic members of the team. However, that does not make it any less clear that she is an asset to the Avengers. She’s an incredibly skilled human who holds her own in a group filled with guys with powerful suits, a super soldier from World War II and a Norse god. Her fighting skills are top-notch, she is an expert spy, a gifted athlete and her duplicitous nature proves itself to be an asset during “The Avengers: Civil War.”
5 Imperator Furiosa (Mad Max: Fury Road)
Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa completely stole the show in 2015’s “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Kidnapped from the fertile oasis of The Green Place 20 years prior to the events of “Fury Road,” she served at the pleasure of the dictator, Immortan Joe, as his top commander. Her main role was to drive his war rig and eventually protect the five women he’d forced to become his “wives.”
She initially doesn’t feel much compassion for The Five Wives, because, although they have been imprisoned and routinely raped by Joe, they are given plenty of food and water, protected from all others and did not have to work. This blinded Furiosa to the fact that they were being abused and held against their will. She eventually has a change of heart and after being assigned a new war rig, she helps the women escape and tries to spirit them off to the nigh-mythic Green Place.
Ferocious, compassionate, a skilled driver and an impeccable markswoman, Furiosa rebels from the only system she’s known, risking all in the face of a dictator followed by brainwashed followers who would literally die for him. Rumor has it that a prequel about Furiosa’s past is currently in the works; if so, shut up and take our money!
4 Gamora (Guardians Of The Galaxy)
A few other Zoe Saldana roles came to mind while making this list (Neytiri in “Avatar,” Cataleya in “Colombiana"), but Guardians of the Galaxy member Gamora is probably her most badass role to date. Considered to be the “deadliest woman in the Marvel Universe,” Gamora is a former assassin and the last surviving Zen-Whoberian alien (at least, she is in one timeline).
Gifted with extraordinary agility and strength, as well as rapid healing, Gamora rebels against her adoptive father, Thanos, and joins up with Peter Quill, Groot and the rest of the Guardians. Despite the fact that she is preternaturally talented, it is that rebellion that earns her a spot on this list. To rebel against the only family you have ever known, rejecting all that they have taught you because you have decided for yourself what is right; that takes a kind of resilience and strength of character that not many -- human, alien, or otherwise -- possess. We are definitely looking forward to “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” delving deeper into Gamora’s past and her relationship with her sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan). There is so much more to her character than meets the eye.
3 Beatrix Kiddo (Kill Bill)
“The Bride” from Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” films (still holding out hope for “Kill Bill: Volume 3”) is driven by a revenge to which she is totally entitled. An assassin who decides to leave the game after discovering she is pregnant with her lover/boss’ child, Beatrix Kiddo (Uma Thurman) is brutally attacked by said lover and her former co-workers at her wedding to another man. When she awakens from a years-long coma, her baby no longer in her belly, SHE TEACHES HERSELF HOW TO WALK AGAIN and sets about taking out Bill (David Carradine) and the rest of his crew.
Not only does she pick off every single person on her list (and teach herself to walk again in less than a day -- we feel like we need to reiterate that), but throughout her quest for revenge she escapes after being buried alive; single-handedly defeats O-Ren Ishii's (Lucy Liu) army, the Crazy 88; and, as the name of the film implies, kills Bill with her bare hands. Driven, artfully talented and practically fearless, she is a complete badass.
2 Buffy Summers (Buffy The Vampire Slayer)
Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Buffy was the first time creator Joss Whedon got to see his true vision of a tiny, feminist, blonde superhero come to life on screen. A member of a secret line of vampire slayers that literally stretched back to ancient times, Buffy was “called” when she was 15 and, after burning down a gymnasium full of vampires at her L.A. high school, ends up at Sunnydale High, an innocuous-looking school that just so happens to sit atop a literal mouth to Hell.
In that time, Buffy proved herself to be a truly original type of hero. Just as likely to behead a demon as she was to complain about breaking a nail, Buffy was physically, emotionally and morally strong. She is placed so high on this list because she single-handedly saved the entire world on several occasions, once even sacrificing her own personal happiness to do so; and she bucked the patriarchal system the Slayers had stuck to for centuries, refusing to mindlessly obey those pencil-pushers at The Watchers Council AND deciding to activate all of the potential Slayers in the TV show’s series finale.
1 Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman is the quintessential badass heroine, which is why she tops this list. An Amazonian warrior princess whose powers come from the Greek Gods, Princess Diana of Themyscira (or Diana Prince, as she is known on Earth) is an impeccable fighter, hunter and strategist who uses both her hand-to-hand skills and an array of powerful weapons, including her indestructible shield, bulletproof bracelets, a Lasso of Truth and an invisible jet to fight off evil, either alone or as a member of the Justice League, of which she is a founding member.
First introduced in “Sensation Comics” #1, January 1942, the character was famously played by actress Lynda Carter in the ‘70s “Wonder Woman” TV show for three seasons. However, it took decades to finally get a real Wonder Woman film to come to life. Although the official “Wonder Woman” film isn’t set to premiere until 2017, Gal Gadot’s first onscreen appearance as the beloved character was a breath of fresh air in the much-maligned “Batman v Superman,” with her few fight scenes demonstrating her bravery, prowess and sheer love of battle.
Who are your favorite female badasses? Let us know in the comments!