Uma Thurman as The Bride in the "Kill Bill" action movie franchise

Best woman-led action movies

Written by:
May 26, 2021

Best woman-led action movies

Women's roles in films continue to grow and change as cinema evolves. No longer relegated to background characters whose sole purpose lies in supporting and motivating their male counterparts, women are stepping into the forefront in their own right.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the action movie space, with movies like "Kill Bill" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" putting women protagonists in starring roles and quite literally flipping the script on this traditionally male-dominated genre. Women's portrayals in action stories vary widely, from young adventurers and vengeance-seeking heroines to warriors and intergalactic freedom fighters.

To acknowledge and examine this shift, Stacker put together a list of the best woman-led action movies. To do so, we compiled data on all women-led action movies and created a Stacker score representing a weighted index split evenly between IMDb and Metacritic scores. To qualify, the film had to have an indisputable woman lead, classify as an action film on IMDb, have a Metascore, and have at least 5,000 votes. Ties were broken by Metascore and further ties were broken by IMDb votes.

The formula of women-led action movies works: Among the films on the forthcoming list are huge blockbusters, fan favorites, and more than two dozen inspiring tales that offer women around the world a different storyline entirely than anything resembling a supporting role. Keep reading to discover the best women-led action movies of all time.

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1 / 25

#25. The Old Guard (2020)

- Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
- Stacker score: 79.1
- Metascore: 70
- IMDb user rating: 6.6
- Runtime: 125 minutes

A group of ancient mercenaries led by Andy (Charlize Theron), capable of continually healing themselves, travel the globe to help people in need. The group crosses paths with U.S. Marine Nile Freeman, portrayed by actress KiKi Layne, who joins their ranks for their latest mission. "The Old Guard" was directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, known for her work on "Love & Basketball" and "The Secret Life of Bees."

2 / 25

#24. The Hunger Games (2012)

- Director: Gary Ross
- Stacker score: 81.4
- Metascore: 68
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Runtime: 142 minutes

This dystopian film, based on the book series of the same name by Suzanne Collins, takes place in the fictional nation of Panem, where each year volunteers from 12 different districts must fight to the death. "The Hunger Games" follows Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a District 12 resident who takes her younger sister's place in the game and uses her archery skills to survive unthinkable tasks.

3 / 25
Bandai Visual Company

#23. Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004)

- Director: Mamoru Oshii
- Stacker score: 82
- Metascore: 66
- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Runtime: 100 minutes

Loosely based on a manga series, this film follows a cyborg (Akio Ōtsuka) and his humanlike partner (Kōichi Yamadera) who are sent to investigate a spate of murders caused by risque robot dolls. "Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence" takes place in 2032 and is produced by Mitsuhisa Ishikawa.

4 / 25

#22. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

- Director: Gareth Edwards
- Stacker score: 83.1
- Metascore: 65
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Runtime: 133 minutes

This 2016 installment of the Star Wars franchise follows Jyn (Felicity Jones), the daughter of a scientist, who teams up with the Rebel Alliance to gain access to some important galactic plans. The film, produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Allison Shearmur, brought in a whopping $1 billion across the globe and was 2016's second-highest-grossing film.

5 / 25

#21. The Assassin (2015)

- Director: Hou Hsiao-Hsien
- Stacker score: 83.1
- Metascore: 80
- IMDb user rating: 6.3
- Runtime: 105 minutes

"The Assassin" takes place during the ninth century and follows the kidnapped daughter of a general as she is trained to become an assassin. As a final test, she is sent home and forced to choose between killing her betrothed or breaking with her organization. The screenplay was written by Cheng Ah, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, and Chu T'ien-wen.

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6 / 25
Warner Bros.

#20. V for Vendetta (2005)

- Director: James McTeigue
- Stacker score: 83.7
- Metascore: 62
- IMDb user rating: 8.2
- Runtime: 132 minutes

Remember, remember the fifth of November. This Guy Fawkes-inspired film takes place in London under an oppressive government. A vigilante named V (Hugo Weaving) is determined to spark a rebellion and gets help from Evey (Natalie Portman), who becomes his friend and partner against the government during the staging of a public protest. Evey plays a pivotal role in understanding V's motivations and rallying people to fight for their freedoms.

7 / 25
Canana Films

#19. Miss Bala (2011)

- Director: Gerardo Naranjo
- Stacker score: 83.7
- Metascore: 79
- IMDb user rating: 6.5
- Runtime: 113 minutes

Gina Rodriguez stars as Gloria, a woman who gets caught in a cartel's illicit dealings in Mexico. She becomes a gun-toting femme fatale who wants to break free from crime's grasp, trying to escape the cartel as DEA agents close in. Catherine Hardwicke of "Twilight" fame lends her directorial experience to this high-powered action flick.

8 / 25
Twentieth Century Fox

#18. Spy (2015)

- Director: Paul Feig
- Stacker score: 84.3
- Metascore: 75
- IMDb user rating: 7.0
- Runtime: 120 minutes

CIA analyst Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) finally gets out from behind the desk when her lead agent (Jude Law) falls off the grid. Cooper must take matters into her own hands; her revenge mission leads her on an action-packed journey of comedy, vengeance, and self-discovery as she tracks down a dangerous stolen device. "Spy" is written, directed, and produced by Paul Feig.

9 / 25
M.E.S. Productions

#17. Revenge (2017)

- Director: Coralie Fargeat
- Stacker score: 84.3
- Metascore: 81
- IMDb user rating: 6.4
- Runtime: 108 minutes

Jen (Matilda Lutz) goes on a weekend getaway with her married boyfriend, but it ends with a brutal assault. Jen lives through the experience and aims to exact revenge on those who caused her unthinkable pain. The film's small cast includes just a handful of actors with Lutz as the sole woman and undisputed star.

10 / 25
Kate Street Picture Company

#16. Okja (2017)

- Director: Bong Joon Ho
- Stacker score: 86
- Metascore: 75
- IMDb user rating: 7.3
- Runtime: 120 minutes

Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) is a South Korean girl who lives on a farm with her specially bred "super pig," Okja. But when a corporation takes Okja away to the U.S. for its own materialistic reasons, the pig's beloved friend must go on an epic rescue mission to save him. The Netflix action film also stars Tilda Swinton as the CEO of the antagonistic company.

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11 / 25
Paramount Pictures

#15. 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

- Director: Dan Trachtenberg
- Stacker score: 86
- Metascore: 76
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Runtime: 103 minutes

Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) wakes up in a bunker after a car accident. Her captor (John Goodman) convinces her that the outside air is compromised and will kill them. Michelle becomes suspicious of his behavior and eventually decides to uncover the facts for herself. Her race for the truth and for freedom drives this intense drama.

12 / 25

#14. Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)

- Director: Quentin Tarantino
- Stacker score: 87.2
- Metascore: 69
- IMDb user rating: 8.1
- Runtime: 111 minutes

The Bride (Uma Thurman) is a former assassin who wakes up from a four-year coma aiming to get revenge against her ex-lover and anyone who contributed to her mounting losses. The Bride sets on her path and meets nearly impossible enemies along the way. The original film was nearly four hours long, hence its release as two volumes.

13 / 25
Warner Bros.

#13. Wonder Woman (2017)

- Director: Patty Jenkins
- Stacker score: 87.2
- Metascore: 76
- IMDb user rating: 7.4
- Runtime: 141 minutes

This DC Comics film follows the journey of Diana (Gal Gadot), an Amazonian princess who leaves her secluded, all-women island home to stop an ongoing battle during World War I. Diana's journey towards discovering the truth about herself and claiming her status as Wonder Woman unlocks her otherworldly powers.

14 / 25
Color Force

#12. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

- Director: Francis Lawrence
- Stacker score: 87.8
- Metascore: 76
- IMDb user rating: 7.5
- Runtime: 146 minutes

Jennifer Lawrence returns as Katniss Everdeen, the winner of the 74th Annual Hunger Games. Katniss and her co-winner Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) go on a winner's tour but soon realize an uprising is brewing among the districts. Later, another round of deadly games tips off with terrible new rules at play.

15 / 25
Universal Pictures

#11. King Kong (2005)

- Director: Peter Jackson
- Stacker score: 89
- Metascore: 81
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Runtime: 187 minutes

The infamous giant gorilla King Kong returns in this remake of the original 1933 film. An actress (Naomi Watts) is taken by Kong during a movie shoot on Skull Island. Her co-workers launch a rescue mission, battling dangerous animals and elements, while she attempts to ensure her survival by forging a bond with the massive gorilla.

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16 / 25
Cinema '84

#10. The Terminator (1984)

- Director: James Cameron
- Stacker score: 89.1
- Metascore: 84
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Runtime: 107 minutes

This classic action film features Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) caught in the crosshairs of a futuristic humanoid cyborg who is trying to kill her. Sarah must discover why she's being targeted and somehow survive against an unkillable foe. The threats of a nuclear holocaust, artificial intelligence, and '80s flair bring this fast-paced story together.

17 / 25
Walt Disney Pictures

#9. Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi (2017)

- Director: Rian Johnson
- Stacker score: 89.5
- Metascore: 84
- IMDb user rating: 7.0
- Runtime: 152 minutes

"Star Wars: Episode VIII," better known as "The Last Jedi," stars Daisy Ridley as Rey, a woman who shows signs of the force and who seeks out Luke Skywalker for guidance. Rey hopes to hone her skills to aid the Resistance, including General Leia Organa, Poe Dameron, and Finn, in a fight against Kylo Ren. The film is the penultimate installment in the decades-long "Skywalker saga."

18 / 25

#8. Ghost in the Shell (1995)

- Director: Mamoru Oshii
- Stacker score: 90.7
- Metascore: 76
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Runtime: 83 minutes

This animated film follows Motoko Kusanagi (voiced by Mimi Woods), a cyborg agent tracking a villain called "The Puppet Master" who hacks into the minds of cyborg humans. Motoko's quest puts her in a vulnerable place because of her target's ability to alter strangers, and she begins to think about her own identity and what her life could be like if she were more human. "Ghost in the Shell" takes place in 2029 and heavily influenced the Wachowski sisters, who went on to make "The Matrix" trilogy.

19 / 25
Toho Film (Eiga) Co. Ltd.

#7. Lady Snowblood (1973)

- Director: Toshiya Fujita
- Stacker score: 91.3
- Metascore: 80
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Runtime: 97 minutes

Yuki a.k.a. Lady Snowblood (Meiko Kaji) seeks to avenge her family after brutal assaults and murder. Born in prison for a single vengeful purpose, Yuki is trained from birth to impose wrath against those who have wronged her mother. The Japanese film was an inspiration for Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill."

20 / 25

#6. Sicario (2015)

- Director: Denis Villeneuve
- Stacker score: 91.9
- Metascore: 82
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 121 minutes

Emily Blunt stars as Kate Macer, an FBI agent leading an Arizona raid against a Mexican cartel. Macer and her fellow agents enlist an operative to help them take down this collective in a mission that only grows worse after a leader's daughter is kidnapped. Now, the team must race to protect the girl's life and reveal what's going on beneath the surface in this high-stakes situation.

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21 / 25

#5. Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens (2015)

- Director: J.J. Abrams
- Stacker score: 92.4
- Metascore: 80
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Runtime: 138 minutes

Popularly known as The Force Awakens, this film introduces Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger and orphan with a connection to the Force. Rey is loyal, determined, and optimistic, ready to aid the Resistance in their continual fight for freedom. Rey becomes a new leader in the Star Wars saga, although mainstays like Luke Skywalker and Leia also play roles in the narrative.

22 / 25
DENTSU Music and Entertainment

#4. Princess Mononoke (1997)

- Director: Hayao Miyazaki
- Stacker score: 93.0
- Metascore: 76
- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Runtime: 134 minutes

A young woman raised by wolves called San, along with the wolf goddess Moro, work with a young warrior to come to an agreement. Their choices affect a world where animals, humans, and spirits are all at war because of humans' overconsumption of resources. "Princess Mononoke" delivers commentary on the dangers and consequences of capitalism.

23 / 25

#3. Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)

- Director: Quentin Tarantino
- Stacker score: 94.8
- Metascore: 83
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Runtime: 137 minutes

Uma Thurman returns as The Bride, continuing her quest to finish off a hit list of people who have done her wrong. She tracks down her ex-boyfriend, Bill, who tried to kill her at her wedding years ago, and she aims to finish what she started in the previous installment. While the previous film doesn't reveal the real name of The Bride, this sequel lets the secret out, with a character calling her Beatrix Kiddo.

24 / 25
Twentieth Century Fox

#2. Aliens (1986)

- Director: James Cameron
- Stacker score: 97.1
- Metascore: 84
- IMDb user rating: 8.3
- Runtime: 137 minutes

Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) has been stuck in space for 57 years in an escape shuttle. Her original crew is long dead after an alien attack, but Ripley is alive and concerned about a new colony where alien eggs have been found. Ripley meets an abandoned girl, Newt (Carrie Henn), in the colony and takes on a motherly role to defend her from the existing alien threat.

25 / 25
Asia Union Film & Entertainment Ltd.

#1. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

- Director: Ang Lee
- Stacker score: 100
- Metascore: 94
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Runtime: 120 minutes

This wuxia film set during the Qing Dynasty follows three protagonists: Li Mu Bai (Chow Yun-fat), Yu Shu Lien (Michelle Yeoh), and Jen Yu (Zhang Ziyi). Their stories intertwine as they seek freedom for a more unrestrained life, reconcile with love, and eventually find themselves caught in the crosshairs of battle.

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