“History shows there haven’t been many female action heros [sic] because men fight wars,” read an online response to Felicity Jones’ comment that female action heroes are the new norm. “Try sending 100,000 women instead of men to next war [sic] and see what happens.”
Contrary to belief, there have always been female-led action movies but before James Cameron introduced Linda Hamilton and Sigourney Weaver to machine guns, they existed mainly at the fringes of cinema. That’s where you’ll find films starring the likes of Angela Mao, Margaret Markov and Pat Anderson, as well as such cult oddities as Wrestling Women Vs The Aztec Mummy.
Typically shot on the cheap in some far flung locale (usually the Philippines), these films played America’s exploitation circuit where they caught the attention of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, who later paid homage to them in Grindhouse. Astute viewers will recall that in both Planet Terror and Death Proof, it’s the women who emerge triumphant.
Female action heroes are usually better-rounded characters than their male counterparts – they’re not monosyllabic bodybuilders, bulletproof cops or indestructible killers with a single facial expression. They have to overcome prejudice and cling to the roof of a speeding car, and there’s fun to be had watching them use their resourcefulness.
Here, then, are eight movies that every true fan of action cinema needs to watch. Note how many later films they influenced.
8. Doctor Of Doom
Movies about masked wrestlers fighting supernatural antagonists were big business in Mexico during the 1960s, their popularity opening the floodgates for a series of films featuring the country’s wrestling women. If you only see one luchadora movie in your lifetime, make it Rene Cardona’s Doctor Of Doom (1963).
Words alone cannot express how much dumb, delirious fun this movie is to watch: as well as the expected bad dubbing and obvious stunt doubles, there’s some hilariously awful makeup and a hammy villain whose motivation appears to have been to give Vincent Price’s Dr Goldfoot a run for his money.
The acting, writing and direction are all on the level of (yet weirdly predate) Adam West-era Batman, with a monster that’s supposed to be “half man half beast” but looks more like a strongman with fur glued to his chest and arms. If it’s camp entertainment you’re looking for, put this movie at the top of your watch list.