[Author's Warning: This article is hopelessly un-P.C. Although it is about some of the strongest, most independent, self-confident, and self-assured female characters ever written for the screen, it may seem that I am objectifying them, but in fact it am celebrating them; after all, in addition to their excellent acting skills, they cannot help being gorgeous and in great shape. Pointing that out -- and admiring them (and, yes, occasionally lusting after them) for it -- is a simple matter of human male chemical response. Feel free to report me to #MeToo, if you must.]
There is a subgenre of action and sci-fi films that has always held a special place in my heart (and occasionally, my loins). I call it "Gorgeous Gals in Form-Fitting Leather or Latex Kicking Butt." And surprisingly, it is a somewhat broader category than one might imagine. Although there are a couple of early (pre-2000) entries, it did not actually come into its own as a subgenre until 2000, when new entries began appearing fast and furiously. Oddly, perhaps, at least three of these fatal femmes are vampires and/or vampire-killers. (I suppose it goes with the territory.) Herewith, the list, in chronological order of release.
Aliens (1986). Sci-Fi. Butt-kicker: Sigourney Weaver
The original Alien was arguably the first true “woman kicking butt” film, but no form-fitting leather or latex was evident. The first sequel of the franchise is the best of the series, with the most butt-kicking by Weaver, who now gets to wear that leather. The setting is a future in which a task force, led by Weaver, has been sent to eliminate a hive of the particularly pesky chest-bursting aliens discovered in the original film. Weaver is "in command," and handles the aliens (and the sometimes dismissive macho men) with no problem. Weaver returns in butt-kicking leather in 1977's Alien Resurrection.
Demolition Man (1993). Action/Sci-Fi. Butt-Kicker: Sandra Bullock
Set in a serene, pacifistic 21st century West Coast city, a 20th century psychomaniac (Wesley Snipes) is unthawed from cryogenic detention. The only person who can stop him is the 20th century policeman (Sly Stallone) who put him in detention in the first place. Stallone and Snipes are great, and Bullock, as Stallone's 21st century sidekick, is a pretty good but-kicker (and delicious in one of her early roles).
The Avengers (1998). Action. Butt-kicker: Uma Thurman
No, not the Marvel series (we'll get to that). John Steed (Ralph Fiennes) and Emma Peel (Thurman) take on megalomaniac August DeWynter (Sean Connery, in a juicy turn as a villain), who has developed a machine to control the weather. Although Thurman does not wear her form-fitting leather bodysuit for the entire film, when she does wear it, she is doing some serious butt-kicking.
The Matrix Trilogy (1999, 2003). Action/Drama/Sci-Fi. Butt-kicker: Carrie-Ann Moss.
If you are not aware of The Matrix, or of the character Trinity, you probably live under a fairly large rock (or are still connected to the Matrix). The trilogy is brilliant -- though it does have the highest MJQ (mumbo-jumbo quotient)) of any movie, with lots of interesting ideas and philosophy (blue pill or red pill?). And although the films are centered around Keanu Reeves as Neo, Moss, as one of his resistance compatriots, is one of the best latex-wearing butt-kickers in recent memory. And when you are taking on lethal and invincible "agents," you really need to be an extraordinary butt-kicker.
Charlie’s Angels (2000, 2003). Action. Butt-kickers: Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu, Cameron Diaz.
These two films, based on the TV characters, are little more than action movie eye candy, but they are nevertheless quite amusing and fun to watch. The second is slightly better, not least because Demi Moore makes such a great villain, and we get to see all four gorgeous gals wear those leather or latex bodysuits and kick ass (sometimes each others').
Kill Bill Vol. I (2003) and II (2004). Drama. Butt-kicker: Uma Thurman.
Quentin Tarantino's superb duology about a female assassin who “opts out” of her profession by pretending to have been killed, only to be found by her former boss and colleagues just as she is pregnant and about to be married. And although they kill the entire wedding party and leave her for dead, she survives and seeks personal vengeance on the entire crew. With a one-of-a-kind tour-de-force performance by Thurman (the only woman to appear twice on this list), who kicks butt with anything on hand: her body, doors, broomsticks, and swords - lots of swords.
Underworld (2003). Action/Drama. Butt-kicker: Kate Beckinsale
Underworld: Evolution (2006).
Underworld; Awakening (2012)
Underworld: Blood Wars (2016)
Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009). Action/Drama. Butt-kicker: Rhona Mitra
Kate Beckinsale is arguably the best (and definitely most gorgeous) of the "beautiful babes-in-leather-or-latex-kicking-butt" butt-kickers. This quintet of films tells the story of a centuries-old feud between the vampires and the “lycans” (short for lycanthrope, or werewolf). In the first two and last two films, Beckinsale is Selene, a “death-dealer” (a vampire who hunts werewolves), who begins to get a conscience, causing all kinds of havoc. This is one of the most intelligent film series of its kind, and is so much more compelling than it had any right to be. And Beckinsale is simply phenomenal in every way. As an aside, kicking werewolf butt is infinitely more challenging than kicking human butt (though she does both).
In the third film (actually, a prequel to the other four), Rhona Mitra is Sonja, daughter of the vampire elder, Viktor (Bill Nighy). When Sonja falls in love with Lucian (Michael Sheen) -- a new breed of lycan -- all hell breaks loose. Mitra was a truly inspired choice, given how much Beckinsale is associated with the series. And she also looks fabulous in a form-fitting bodysuit, and kicks some very serious butt.
Blade: Trinity (2004). Sci-Fi. Butt-kicker: Jessica Biel.
The Blade series is among the best (if occasionally uneven) comic-book-to-film series ever done. It deals with vampires, but there is actually very little “vampiric” activity in the films, and most of that is more laughable (or at least silly) than scary. The series deals with the war between Blade (an anti-vampire vampire) and the other vampires. In this third and final installment, Blade is joined by a small team of humans, of whom Biel is one. Her preferred weapon is a bow and arrow, but she can kick butt with the best of them, and wears her leather better than most.
Aeon Flux (2005). Sci-Fi. Butt-kicker: Charlize Theron
The setting is a future in which most of humanity has been wiped out by a nasty virus. The remaining people live in a “sanitized” city behind walls, away from the still-contaminated (?) remainder of the planet. Not everyone is happy with this arrangement, and many believe the outside is no longer contaminated. Aeon Flux is a member of a resistance group that communicates via telepathy. When she is tasked with assassinating the Chairman of the Council that runs the city, things do not go as planned. Second silliest of this genre, it is nevertheless quite interesting and fun to watch if you pay attention and take it on its own terms. And with her hair cut short, Theron is one freaking gorgeous bodysuit-wearing butt-kicker.
Elektra (2005). Drama. Butt-kicker: Jennifer Garner.
Another fabulous (and unfairly maligned) comic-book-to-film movie, about a female assassin who detects something wrong with her latest assignment, and ends up getting both herself and her targets in trouble with some very scary people with otherworldly powers. (Terence Stamp has a wonderful small role as a blind martial arts teacher.) And, of course, Garner is particularly sizzling in bright red leather, and kicks major butt, sometimes using her own otherworldly powers.
Ultraviolet (2006). Sci-Fi/Drama. Butt-kicker: Milla Jovovich.
The silliest of this genre, it is nevertheless really fun, not least because almost the entire film is an extended “woman kicking butt” action sequence. Jovovich is a one-woman vampire army, taking on the soldiers of the Ministry, who are protecting its leader (Nick Chindlun), who is developing a weapon to wipe out all the vampires. And she has to do all this while protecting a young boy who holds the key to both sides' hopes. And her color-changing form-fitting bodysuit is a sight to behold.
The Avengers series (2012-2019). Action. Butt-kicker: Scarlett Johansson
In this magnificent Marvel film series, Johansson is the Black Widow, a former Soviet agent turned good guy (oops, good gal). And although she does not have any special powers like those of her comrades (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk), she is a very deadly woman. And with flaming red hair, Johansson has never looked more luscious kicking butt than she does in black leather.
[I can hear the #MeToo police sirens in the distance….]