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Super-Females in Film: A Brief History

Everyone we know is currently preoccupied with superheroes. And with the onslaught of comic book based films currently being developed and released (Iron Man 2, Thor, The Green Hornet, The Avengers, Silver Surfer), we don’t blame them. While we agree that superhero films are fun, they tend to exalt the male as hero, while the female counterparts are typically campy sidekicks, love interests, or have no powers aside from their oh-so-charming feminine wiles.

However, with this weekend’s release of Kick-Ass, we think things will be changing because of underage badass Hit-Girl (played by Chloe Moretz). Thanks to a red band trailer and Roger Ebert’s moral objection, the character is already the major draw to the film due to her intense potty mouth, seriously sassy attitude, and impressive gun slinging/knife throwing skills. But this diminutive super-heroine isn’t the first female to impress us with her film-stealing abilities.


Back in 1992, Tim Burton’s Batman Returns not only made us afraid of Danny DeVito, but gave us a female villain worth paying attention to — and not just because of the leave-nothing-to-the-imagination costume complete with whip. Michelle Pfeiffer‘s Selina Kyle/Catwoman transformed from a shy secretary into a super hot feminist on a mission to destroy all men who stood in her way — especially her former boss Max Schreck and Batman (despite her romantic involvement with Bruce Wayne). Although the depiction of Catwoman was more sexy villain than sympathetic heroine, she was still more fun to watch than any other super female we had seen.

Then came 2000’s X-Men, boasting established femme fatales Halle Barry as Storm and Famke Janssen as Jean Grey. However, neither Storm nor Jean Gray are the best lady character in the series — that prize goes to the shape shifting Mystique. Model Rebecca Romijn stole the film in a role that was written in a way that capitalized on her loyalty, icy facade, and manipulation skills. While we were happy that Mystique was no shrinking violet, we still weren’t seeing women represented on screen in a complete, well-rounded way.

A game-changer for the depiction of female heroes was Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill. Although Tarantino has a knack for creating great female characters, the Kill Bill series was chock full of strong females who were complex as both heroes and villains. Watching Vivica A. Fox, Lucy Liu, Uma Thurman, Daryl Hannah, Julie Dreyfus, and Chiaki Kuriyama spar both verbally and physically was an adrenaline rush that proved audiences would embrace a film about women who could kick your ass without sacrificing any aspect of their femininity.

In 2009, the highly-anticipated Watchmen adaptation hit theaters, and though the fanboys and girls of the critically acclaimed graphic novel weren’t exactly happy with the film, it couldn’t be denied that Malin Akerman‘s Laurie Jupiter/Silk Spectre stole every scene that she was in. As the most well-rounded super-heroine that we’ve seen on screen, Akerman played Silk Spectre with a balance of female sexuality, emotional vulnerability, and don’t-mess-with-me-in-an-alley-because-I-will-hurt-you confidence that we were excited to finally see on film. And she had fantastic bangs.

This weekend we’re definitely pumped to check out Kick-Ass, but we also have high hopes for the crazy amount of superhero films that will be released in the next year. If the female characters continue on their current trajectory, and casting directors can ignore the siren call of Megan Fox or Jessica Biel, maybe we’ll actually get a Wonder Woman who isn’t a joke.