When I think of a female action hero, my mind does not go to Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, or the few shining moments Black Widow receives in the Avenger movies. No, as a child of the ‘80s and ‘90s, I immediately picture those powerhouse women who didn’t need leather or tight clothes to kick ass. Think Ripley in Aliens, or Sarah Connor from Terminator.
It’s no coincidence that both of those characters came from James Cameron films. Not only is he one of the most successful living directors, he’s also the father of the female action hero—one of the first mainstream filmmakers to feature strong women who don’t back down in the face of killer robots or nightmare-inducing aliens. He does not feature the kind of simpering leads who still crowd our screens, acting as arm-candy to the real male hero. No, his movies let women be tough, and they get to do it in loose pants and logical footwear.
The new Terminator movie, Terminator Genisys, opens this week, and just like its predecessors, this one promises female characters who are more than just love interests including a reboot of the mother of all action movie heroines, Sarah Connor, this time played by Emilia Clarke. Check out the trailer:
Gun-toting, destiny-enforcing Sarah Connor has never let the machines determine her future. And while she’s definitely the star, she’s not the only tough female fighter in the franchise. So from robots to saviors, here’s a guide to the badass women of Terminator:
She’s been played by a handful of different actors across a handful of ages. But no Sarah quite compares to Linda Hamilton’s original. She starts off as a young girl whose life is flipped upside down when a robot from the future comes to kill her. By the second movie, she’s a gun-toting badass who regularly puts her son’s safety above her own. From then on, Sarah is never less than a survivor, fighting for her family in the film franchise and television show.
A different kind of fighter, Katherine never quite reaches the level of warrior that some of the other women do. But she’s smart – a vet and eventually a doctor who is integral to the survival of the human race. She’s the heart behind the resistance, and not just because she’s married to John Connor. They rely on each other to survive and it’s through their relationship that humanity is able to form a resistance movement in the first place.
Who said a woman has to be the hero to be tough? The T-X was the first female Terminator, a blonde killing machine who chased down John and Katherine in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. She’s tough, taciturn, and in no way lenient when it comes to killing off humanity.
I might be one of the few people in the world who genuinely liked Terminator Salvation, but part of my appreciation stemmed from Moon Bloodgood’s Blair Williams. From the first moment she steps on screen, we know this woman is a hardened warrior. But as the only character willing to trust hybrid Marcus Wright, she never loses her humanity. A perfect example of how a female character can be tough but still retain her compassion, even in the face of war.
Played by Summer Glau, Cameron is a reprogrammed robot sent from 2027 to help John and Sarah in the short-lived TV show, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. In some ways she’s a cold robot, struggling to understand the ways of humanity. But she’s also a badass fighter, as seemingly-invincible as the other Terminators, and devoted to helping the Connors survive.
Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors by Jennifer K. Stuller (I.B. Tauris, 2010)
Want to find out more about female heroes? Pick up Stuller’s nonfiction look at how women warriors are portrayed on screen. Part history book, social critique and reference guide, this comprehensive book will change the way you look at superheroines and female action stars. Stuller explores the ways in which female characters are more than just love interests, mothers or sidekicks, and how women have carved out an essential place in the male-dominated action world.