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5 best female-led action movies like Netflix’s The Mother

Although action movies have made strides made in recent years, they could still use far more female-centered stories. Netflix is adding to that roster with The Mother, which follows an assassin who comes out of hiding to protect a daughter she left earlier in life.

With the arrival of The Mother, and its celebration of women who kick ass and take names, we’ve put together a list of great female-centered action movies that you can watch the second the credits on The Mother start to roll. The movies on this list all have a combination of bracing action, compelling plots, and crucially, great lead performances.

Widows (2018)
Genre Crime, Thriller
Stars Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki
Directed by Steve McQueen
Telling the story of four widows who are left with a debt to repay after their criminal husbands die in a robbery, Widows is a female-centered story that avoids many of the standard clichés of the genre. Thanks to incredible performances from its ensemble, which includes Air‘s Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, and Colin Farrell in a supporting role, Widows is evocative and thrilling, and a reminder that there are hundreds of different ways to approach storytelling in an action movie.
The Old Guard (2020)
The Old Guard
Genre Action, Fantasy
Stars Charlize Theron, KiKi Layne, Matthias Schoenaerts
Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood

Charlize Theron has proven to be one of our great modern action movie heroines, and The Old Guard is a great showcase for everything she can do. Theron stars as a woman incapable of dyning who leads a team of other immortals as they attempt to make the world a better place.

What makes the movie work, in addition to its consistently compelling set pieces, is the weariness that Theron and the rest of the cast bring to their roles. This is a story about people who have lived in the world for centuries, and are getting a little tired of watching humans mess everything up.

Haywire (2011)
Genre Action, Drama, Thriller
Stars Gina Carano, Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor
Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Gina Carano’s politics aside, there was a time when she was one of the most exciting stars in action filmmaking, and Haywire showcases her at the peak of her powers. The film follows Carano’s government operative as she’s double-crossed by the agency she’s dedicated her life to. After she’s left for dead, she vows to find the people responsible and learn exactly why she was betrayed.

This plays out in a series of one-on-one fight scenes that are all inventively staged and involve a series of increasingly famous and compelling men. Haywire is a Steven Soderbergh action masterpiece, and it’s one of the most grounded films on this list.

Hanna (2011)
Genre Action, Thriller, Adventure
Stars Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett
Directed by Joe Wright

Following a teenage assassin who has been trained by her father in the wilderness to become an elite killer, Hanna sees its young protagonist across Europe in an attempt to execute her latest mission.

As the story unfolds, Hanna begins to question the story she’s been told, and realizes that all of her skill may have a more malicious purpose than she once thought. Anchored by a brilliant central performance from Saoirse Ronan, Hanna has the scenic locales and smart fight choreography that make for a truly great action movie.

Salt (2010)
Genre Action, Mystery, Thriller
Stars Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Directed by Phillip Noyce

Angelina Jolie (Marvel’s Eternals) is another staple of the female-focused action movie, and Salt is one of the more underrated films in her filmography. The film was originally written with a male protagonist in mind, but it’s hard to imagine anyone besides Jolie in the title role.

She plays Evelyn Salt, an agent accused of secretly working for the Russians who goes on the run to clear her own name. It’s a tale as old as time in the action movie genre, but one that Salt pulls off well thanks to some inventive plot twists and at least one chase scene that will leave you riveted.

SALT - Official Trailer

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Joe Allen
Joe Allen is a freelance writer based in upstate New York focused on movies and TV.
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