Here’s a little tidbit that won’t surprise almost anyone, but some of the best action movies of all time were made by trailblazing filmmakers who proved the genre isn’t just for their male counterparts. Over the years, Oscar winners like Kathryn Bigelow have come and released some of the most transformative action movies, like point break, which we are still talking about more than 30 years later. But she’s not alone…
In the past, we’ve talked about all the great horror films from female directors, as well as some of the best superhero movies told from a female perspective, so now is the perfect time to point out a dozen Badass action films from female directors and what makes each one so great.
Point Break (Kathryn Bigelow)
Although Kathryn Bigelow’s 1991 action thriller, point break, starring Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze was not the biggest hit with audiences or critics upon release (it opened just a week after her then-husband James Cameron’s). Terminator 2: Judgment Day was released), it has since earned a reputation as one of the best action films of the early 1990s, and possibly of all time.
The film centers on Reeves’ FBI agent Johnny Utah as he goes undercover to take down Bodhi (Swayze), the leader of a group of surfers who fund their way of life by committing robberies of exaggerated bank while they are dressed as former American presidents. . With heart-pounding heist scenes, daring skydiving sequences, and one of the greatest movie villains of all time, there’s a lot to like about this cult classic.
Wonder Woman (Patty Jenkins)
A few years after leaving the production of Thor: The Dark WorldPatty Jenkins took her talents to the DCEU with the 2017 hit, wonder womana film that not only made the Freak director one of the most sought-after names in Hollywood, but helped take the growing cinematic universe to the next level.
wonder woman is nothing short of a comic book movie masterpiece, with exquisite action scenes (especially the epic “No Man’s Land” sequence), a rich and detailed story, and an outstanding performance by Gal Gadot, who first took on the role of Diana Prince a year earlier in Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
The Old Guard (Gina Prince-Bythewood)
Director Gina Prince-Bythewood and her 2020 Netflix Original, the old guard, has made great strides in Hollywood, especially when it comes to portraying the LGBTQ+ community in an action movie. This, combined with Prince-Bythewood’s unique take on the genre and source material, created a hellish and thrilling action spectacle that did a lot without ever feeling overworked or unnecessary.
In case you are unfamiliar, The old guard centers on a group of age-old warriors who all have amazing regenerative healing abilities that essentially allow them to come back from the dead again and again. After fighting together for nearly a millennium, the group finds themselves the target of a mysterious party, while welcoming a new member to the family.
Matrix (The Wachowskis)
The action movie landscape changed forever in 1999 when The Wachowskis released the groundbreaking, mind-blowing box office hit, The matrix. With the film and the directors mixing heavy philosophical questions about truth, freedom, and identity, it’s easy to see why it’s still held in such high regard more than 20 years after its release.
On the surface, The matrix is about a man – Neo (Keanu Reeves) – saving humanity from being enslaved by machines and used as a power source, but the more you peel back the layers of that onion you find all kinds of statements and questions which make it anything but a simple and banal action movie.
Birds of Prey (Cathy Yan)
It’s easy to feel bad for Cathy Yan’s female-centric comic book movie, Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Story of Harley Quinn), given that the global theater market crashed just weeks after its February 2020 release, but don’t let that take anything away from the criminally outrageous and fun action flick that it is. Simple and clear, this movie rocks!
In the aftermath of Harley Quinn’s (Margot Robbie) split from the Joker, the Suicide Squad member finds herself with an old target on her head, as just about every big baddie (and pretty much everyone she has injured over the years) come seeking revenge, including Black Mask (Ewan McGregor). But don’t count her, because Harley has her own friends; very badass friends with equally great stories.
Tank Girl (Rachel Talalay)
If you are a fan of madmax films, the punk rock mentality and a heavy dose of feminist themes, then Rachel Talalay’s 1995 cult sci-fi classic, tank girl, worth the detour. This movie is absolutely and undeniably bonkers, but that’s a good thing, a very good thing. Set in the year 2033, when most of the planet’s fresh water is controlled by an evil corporation, Rebecca Buck, aka Tank Girl (Lori Petty), seizes the opportunity to save her friends and humanity from a blow.
There’s so much to love here, including Petty’s take on the underdog comic character, the insane action sequences, the outstanding soundtrack, and those human-kangaroo hybrids (your eyes aren’t deceiving you). . But overall, it’s a fun, silly movie that’s not afraid to tackle big topics.
Punisher: Warzone (Lexi Alexander)
Not to be confused with the Thomas Jane-led The Punisher which came out a few years earlier, 2008’s Lexi Alexander Bonkers and the highly rated R-rated comic book movie, Punisher: Warzone, is an absurdly fun and ridiculous film. Is a great movie? Not really. Is it an explosion? You bet!
The film centers on Frank Castle (Ray Stevenson) as he attempts to battle the legions of criminals, goons and psychopaths hired by Jigsaw (Dominic West) to take down the Punisher after leaving the crime boss horribly disfigured. But don’t worry about the story, because the action sells the movie, especially the parkour scene where the Punisher blasts a guy mid-spin.
Blue Steel (Kathryn Bigelow)
A little over a year before the release of Kathryn Bigelow Breaking pointthe future Oscar winner came out with an equally impressive action-thriller called blue steel, which happens to be one of Jamie Lee Curtis’ best films. The drama in this one picks up after rookie cop Megan Turner (Curtis) puts an end to a criminal, but inadvertently triggers another reign of terror when a psychopath (Ron Silver) retrieves the dead man’s gun.
Although more toned down (in scope, not in violence) than the film that would be released a year later, blue steel is not for the faint of heart. The great game of cat and mouse between cop and criminal is brilliant throughout the film and adds a lot of tension.
Sprinter (The Wachowskis)
Despite being a box office bomb and being poorly received by critics, the 2008 adaptation of the Wachowskis’ classic Japanese manga and anime, sprinter, is a dazzling display of cinematic grandeur. Sure, an appreciation (or obsession) for IP helps in this regard, but it’s never too late to give it a second chance.
The film looks and feels like the old animated series and features multiple aspects including those outrageously treacherous races with danger around every corner, the identity of Racer X (Matthew Fox) and so much corporate greed , which make you think you’re watching an HBO drama.
The Peacemaker (Mimi Leder)
1997 political action thriller by Mimi Leder, The peacemaker (no, not the HBO Max 2022 show starring John Cena), is one of those movies that isn’t necessarily the best the genre has to offer, but is fun and engaging enough to keep you happy with having looked at it. When a train containing nukes goes missing after a shipwreck in Russia, nuclear specialist Dr. Julia Kelly (Nicole Kidman) and US Army Ranger Thomas Devoe (George Clooney) try to find the missing weapons, which is more easily said than done.
Kidman and Clooney’s pairing works great throughout The peacemaker and adds another level of drama and discord as the two characters, who are polar opposites, learn to work together. Quarrels, jokes and many explosions are found everywhere.
Eternals (Chloe Zhao)
Chloé Zhao has become the second filmmaker (the first being Kathryn Bigelow) to win a Best Director Oscar with her 2020 sensation, nomadic land, and immediately followed it up with one of the most ambitious entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date. This film, Eternalsintroduced audiences to some of the MCU’s most interesting and powerful heroes to date.
While it’s not everyone’s favorite Marvel movie, there is a case for Eternals being the most beautiful entry in the saga over the years, and it’s mostly because of Zhao’s eye for great photos and his insistence on shooting on location whenever possible. When Zhao said she was from “Terrence Malick Film School,” she really meant it with this one.
Aeon Flux (Karyn Kusama)
Just over a decade and a half before directing the pilot episode of the popular drama series, yellow jacketsKaryn Kusama directed the 2005 live-action adaptation of the MTV animated series, Aeon stream, with Charlize Theron taking on the role of the titular heroine. Set 400 years after a deadly pathogen wiped out most life on Earth, the film features flashy action and multiple twists before Aeon Flux can complete its mission.
Aeon stream didn’t do very well at the box office, with critics or fans of the original series, but Theron’s take on the iconic ’90s character is amusing enough to make for a fun cinematic experience.
Hopefully this all sheds some light on some of the most forgotten films on this list as well as the female directors who brought the stories to the big screen. And, with so many female filmmakers leading some of 2022’s upcoming movies, expect this list to grow as time goes on.