Top 10 Badass Genre Movie Anti-Heroines!

Last Updated on August 3, 2021

So, who’s getting caught up with THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB this weekend? Can’t speak for all, but we’re guessing those who are will do so primarily to see the kickass Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy) continue her fierce foray into the criminal underworld. And why not, Lisbeth is all kinds of badass. Thing is, she isn’t quite a hero and isn’t quite a villain, which places her in the rarified air of being a cinematic female anti-heroine. More of these kinds of characters exist in television than film at the moment, but that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a rich history of anti-heroines on film. And just to clarify, we’re talking about women who operate in the gray area of moral ambiguity. They might start good and end bad, or conversely start bad and end good, but there’s always an ethical ambivalence to what actions they take. Ah hell, to get a better view, cop a peek at our Top 10 Badass Genre Anti-heroines!


If including Melanie here means more eyeballs will attract to the superb Colm McCarthy film THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS, than it’s all worth it. But the truth is, Melanie is also one of the most tried and true female antiheroes in any genre joint, big or small, domestic or foreign. For those who know not, Melanie is the titular girl whose special physiological makeup puts her in the unique position as being both humanity’s greatest threat and only hope. That’s because Melanie has been infected by a strange fungal virus – putting her in the precarious position of a zombified killer, but also sentient enough to lead her teachers through a dystopian wasteland. As horrifying as her actions are at times, in the end, Melanie makes the ultimate sacrifice!


Can we just get this out of the way right up front: Melanie Lynskey is one of the best and most underrated actresses working today. In 20 years I’ve never seen her give a bad performance. Of course, to say the same for Kate Winslet would come as no surprise, and together as teenagers in Peter Jackson’s daringly disturbing HEAVENLY CREATURES, both absolutely shine in their antiheroic alchemy. What’s more, the film is based on the true case of Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme, two troubled teens who conspired to kill Pauline’s mother in 1954 New Zealand. In the film, we side and ride with the two girls all the way through to the homicidal final shot, coming to the stark realization that their teenage angst and homicidal fantasies were more than mere bluster.


If you view BASIC INSTINCT through the eyes of Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) as the protagonist, Catherine Trammel (Sharon Stone) can be seen as a seductive siren and femme-fatale. However, if viewed through the prism of Catherine as protagonist (which is equally plausible), Catherine comes off far more as a misunderstood antiheroine. Granted, it’s hard to suss the difference while watching the film for the first time, as you aren’t quite sure if Catherine is the suspected killer or not. But in hindsight, after the revelation of the culprit, the actions and motivations Catherine demonstrates are mired in a moral opacity. The ambiguity of the ending adds to the vagueness of her heroism, leaving us with the notion that Catherine is very good at being very bad!


HEATHERS will always be one of my favorite movies, just as it was my late cousin’s favorite growing up (miss you Bren). “Teenage suicide…don’t do it.” And really, if Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder) isn’t a tried and true antiheroine, who is? Remember, after breaking from the conformity of her popular high-school clique (in which she is the only non-Heather), Veronica becomes inculcated by her ultra-cool new boyfriend JD (Christian Slater) as a sick and sadistic serial slayer. They conspire to poison Heather Chandler (Kim Walker), then kill Kurt and Ram in a double-suicide murder, and vow to blow up the damn high-school in the end. Veronica does deplorable things, but ultimately wakes up and staves off her evil influencer by blowing JD to smithereens.


Ridley Scott’s highly amusing THELMA AND LOUISE has been discussed breathlessly as it relates to feminist cinema. Rightly so, but there’s also a huge element of antiheroic behavior the women showcase in the movie that transcends gender on the way to bolstering a sense of true friendship. That is, Thelma and Louise genuinely love each other, and when viewed from that prism, their actions shouldn’t be seen as women merely doing macho things, but women doing whatever it takes to maintain their kinship to one another. Susan Sarandon will always be one of my favorite actresses, and of the two, she’s probably the more antiheroic (Louise that is). The two women not only end up evading cops after an unintentional killing spree, their most noble act of antiheroism comes in the final shot!


Gillian Flynn’s novels tend to be populated with female anti-heroines, be Libby Day (Charlize Theron) in DARK PLACES, or the far superior Amy Dunne in David Fincher’s exquisite adaptation of GONE GIRL. It’s such a slickly made yet mordantly trenchant black comedy, A-list thriller and social commentary all wrapped in one. Amy, who concocts the most elaborate of schemes to exact payback on her philandering hubby (Ben Affleck), does the most wickedly unimaginable acts of manipulation, coldblooded calculation, icy precision and deeply dispassionate murder. She’s both victim and victimizer, which squarely forces the viewer to decide how much they’re willing to forgive Amy or spur her on to do more damage. Doogie? Not so much!


To be totally honest, we could have elected any number of female Tarantino characters as being iconoclastic anti-heroines. Alabama Worley of TRUE ROMANCE (my favorite movie), a yayo-running fresh-faced prostitute who kills Tony Soprano with a shotgun and toilet-lid is one example. Shoshanna of INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is another. But when all is tallied, since KILL BILL’s Beatrix Kiddo (Uma Thurman) gets her own two-part feature as the main star, she wins the day. Besides, she not only belongs to the Samurai-like Deadly Viper Assassins Squad, she is out to avenge the death of her daughter by killing her baby daddy – and any army that dare step in her way. Kiddo’s mission is ultimately one of goodness, but the road is paved with bad intentions!


Damn, if ever there was a chick too cool for school, it has to be Lisbeth Salander. Three mighty fine actresses have played the role to date (Noomi Rapce, Rooney Mara and Claire Foy), but we’re always going to ride with the OG. Not only does the character – a criminal hacker with very little legal scruples – wade her way through the moral murk of a government conspiracy, Noomi Rapace has the perfect physical balance of beauty and brawn, soft and hard, that allows the character to be utterly believable. The Gothic steampunk attire rightly adds to the mystique, putting the audience in the uncertain position of rooting for or against her. The brilliance is in the balance.


Luc Besson’s LA FEMME NIKITA is not only one of the coolest, sexiest and most stylish of all female-assassin flicks, it features easily one of the most complex and morally complicated characters in the titular Nikita, aka Marie Clement (Anne Parilluad). The convicted felon, already with a sordid criminal past, is given the chance to avoid jail time by wiping her identity and becoming a top-secret emissary and assassin. This is a bad, bad woman whom every girl wants to be and every boy wants to bed, also laying the groundwork for a whole spate of female assassin joints like WANTED, ATOMIC BLONDE, HANNA, COLUMBIANA, etc. The 1993 redo with Bridget Fonda is solid as well, but Luc Besson’s is the better!


If Carrie White isn’t the quintessential horror film anti-heroine, I don’t know who is. Yet, what earns Carrie the gold medal is her reverse moralistic descent from a shy, demure, innocent teenager to a totally justified and empowered purveyor of telekinetic destruction. Most on our list work the other way, as they start off sort of shady and redeem themselves through various acts of ostensible goodness. Carrie’s the opposite. She’s not only tormented at home and brutally bullied at school (the level of empathy De Palma and Spacek elicit is unmatched), her possessive supernatural powers come less as a means a vengeance and more as mere self-preservation. We full-throatedly howl for Carrie to triumph no matter how terrifying she becomes!

Tags: Hollywood

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