The Awesome Women of Genre Movies

The Awesome Women of Genre Movies

A "genre film" might mean different things to different people. To me it means either a film that can fit into a certain genre like Horror, Action or Sci-Fi but, because of that, it can also mean a movie with maybe a smaller budget, a cult following, or a specific audience.

While genre, b-movies and cult movies can be known for their exploitation elements of nudity, excessive violence, gore etc., areas that are traditionally referred to as male orientated, I actually think it's one of the few areas of western film-making that allows women to be strong, gives them interesting and complex characters and gives them great opportunities where Hollywood might not.

In a day and age where romantic comedies are still horribly outdated, sexist, tedious affairs, comic book movies struggle to figure out how to have a leading lady and the general myth around the studios is that female driven action movies don't sell, genre films and B-Movies have been proving them wrong for years.

Horror films have a 'final girl' for a reason and even if there's no end of gratuitous sexual nudity or running and screaming, who's the one smashing the monsters head in at the end with the butt of a rifle or a shovel? normally a blood drenched, strong, determined woman.

The best female stars of these low budget or cult films are the ones who have owned the experience and made it theirs. If there were exploitative elements they have turned it around and been proud, open and expressive of that aspect of their roles.

To condemn a film outright because it contains women's open sexuality or female's dark and violent sides simply as exploitation and for the luring gaze of males is the same idiotic, conventional wisdom that says "only boys like this stuff". It's utter crap. It's like saying men can't like My Little Ponies unless they're gay or all women must enjoy knitting. Shut it! you're wrong.

So I thought I'd put together a post celebrating, in no particular order, the women I, personally, love, respect and enjoy in the world of genre film. The kick ass, awesome, funny, beautiful, intelligent, energetic, enthusiastic, different, weird and wonderful women.

It may have been International Women's Day when I originally wrote this but women deserve to be celebrated every day so please, keep coming back to this post, add the people you would choose in the comments below, add your own lists, comment on my list... whatever you want...there will be people missing off this list and I could've written a list three times this long, easily, but this is, for now, my personal list.

Just remember, if you comment and we urge you to, please be respectful, be passionate, be kind and, where movies are concerned, no opinion is wrong! ENJOY!

Virginia Madsen

Key genre films:
CandymanHighlander II: The QuickeningThe Hot SpotZombie HighDuneThe Number 23 and The Haunting In Connecticut.

Watching Candyman again recently what struck me is just what a brave, intelligent, nuanced and physically demanding role Virginia Madsen plays. 
Candyman is a fascinating and fairly unique kind of film and, despite being in many other genre films, for me, it's definitely the reason Virginia Madsen makes the cut.

Adrienne Barbeau

Key genre films:
The FogEscape From New YorkCreepshowSwamp ThingThe Cannonball RunCannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death and Two Evil Eyes.

John Carpenter surrounded himself with awesome women, there are some more coming further down the list, but when he wanted someone with strength, sass and smarts, Adrienne Barbeau was it. He wasn't alone either, she would go on to work with horror legends Wes Craven and George A. Romero.

Nichelle Nichols

Key genre films: 
Star Trek: The Motion PictureStar Trek II: The Wrath of KhanStar Trek III: The Search for SpockStar Trek IV: The Voyage HomeStar Trek V: The Final Frontier and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

Nichelle Nichols is an icon, not just a genre icon (although she most definitely is that) but an African American icon and a feminist icon. There is no way to do this list without her on it. Whether you're a Trekkie, a Trekker or can't stand Star Trek, you can't deny the impact of the character of Lt. Uhura when she first hit TV screens in 1966.

Barbara Steele

Key genre films:
Black SundayPit and the PendulumPiranhaCastle of BloodThe Long Hair of DeathTerror-Creatures from the Grave and Caged Heat.

Blessed with mesmerising eyes, Barbara Steele is a captivating and unnerving screen presence who has been scaring the bejebus out of people since the late 50s. She's worked with BavaHitchcockFelliniCorbucciJoe Dante and more.

Gillian Anderson

Key genre films:
The X- Files and The X-Files: I Want To Believe.

While she hasn't chosen to pursue a lot of other genre roles, I just felt I couldn't do this list without adding Dana Scully to it.

While many joke that Scully is merely the nay-saying cynic to Mulder's childish believer, throughout the series and the two films, Gillian Anderson proved time and time again that Scully was a rich, deep, fascinating, intelligent character who had no problem kicking down a door or pointing a gun with the best of them.

Linda Hamilton

Key genre films:
The TerminatorTerminator 2: Judgement DayChildren of the CornDante's PeakShadow Conspiracy andBlack Moon Rising.

In the male-dominated world of 80s and 90s action there weren't many women that Hollywood thought could stand shoulder to shoulder with someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger but Linda Hamilton could and did. She also did the action thing with Pierce BrosnanCharlie Sheen and Tommy Lee Jones.

Linnea Quigley

Key genre films:
Graduation DayFatal GamesThe Return of the Living DeadCreepozoidsSorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-RamaHollywood Chainsaw Hookers and Night of the Demons.

From a self-confessed place of shy, awkwardness Linnea Quigley became a brash, bubbly, energetic and enthusiastic Scream Queen throughout the 80s and 90s. Seemingly willing to do anything, no matter how crazy or weird it was, this means that her roles stand out and are always memorable. Still kicking it in great indie movies and genre roles today!

Hear my interview with Linnea Quigley HERE

Linda Blair

Key genre films:
The ExorcistExorcist II: The HereticHell NightChained HeatSavage StreetsSavage Island and Repossessed.

As bold genre starring females go, Linda Blair must be the child star. Becoming famous through horror franchise The Exorcist at just 13 years old, she would gain a rabid cult fanbase with films like Chained Heat and Savage Streets which would see her do more action work. From a young age always had a strong, take no crap attitude and screen presence.

Michelle Rodriguez

Key genre films:
The Fast and the FuriousResident EvilBloodRayneFast & FuriousMacheteResident Evil: RetributionFast & Furious 6Machete Kills and Furious 7.

Hollywood still can't get to grips with female action leads but thanks, in part, to the enduring Fast & Furious franchise and roles in Machete and Machete KillsMichelle Rodriguez has established herself as a tremendous, no-nonsense, kick ass actor to be reckoned with. There's a sense in every part and with every performance that Michelle Rodriguez is going to do it her way only and that's awesome and appealing on screen. Her fight scene with Gina Carano in Fast 6 is a highlight.

Scarlett Johansson

Key genre films:

Eight Legged FreaksThe IslandThe SpiritIron Man 2The AvengersUnder the SkinCaptain America: The Winter SoldierLucy and Avengers: Age of Ultron.

While, sadly, Marvel have yet to give Black Widow her own movie and while you could hardly call the role she plays in some of the Marvel movies as, exactly, progressive, Scarlett Johansson has, at every step of the way, made the role hers and emphasised the character's resourcefulness, intelligence, strength and fighting abilities over mere leathertte clad, doe-eyed sex appeal. Add to that roles in over-the-top, insane but fun Lucy and weird, thoughtful, quiet Sci-Fi Under The Skin and Scarlett Johansson is a modern genre star to be sure.

Leanna Chamish

Key genre films:
HarvestersStakes, Vampire SistersSwarm of the SnakeheadTerror in the Pharaoh's TombDead HuntThe Boneyard Collection and Ninjas vs. Zombies.

Leanna is Queen of the Baltimore indies. Yes, you may not know this but Baltimore has an insanely thriving and fantastic indie film scene and if you're making a film there, just like it's law that George Stover be in it, now, so should Leanna Chamish. Getting her start in the films of sadly and dearly departed, indie genre film-making legend, Don DohlerLeanna brings an infectious enthusiasm to every performance. The diversity of her roles is also very impressive. Game for anything, strong, intelligent, beautiful and all with a little bubbling mischievousness underneath. She's also a behind-the-scenes documentarian, photographer, musician, voice over artist and bona fide horror host Boo DePest!

Find my interview with Leanna Chamish HERE

The Soska Twins

Key genre films:
Dead Hooker in a TrunkAmerican MaryThe ABCs of Death 2See No Evil 2 and Vendetta.

Directors, writers, actors and TV hosts, there seemingly is nothing that the Canadian twisted twins, Jen and Sylvia Soska, can't do. From their grindhouse-y debut Dead Hooker in a Trunk to their impressive and original second feature American Mary, to making horror and action films with WWE, the Soskas bring great talent, a genuine fandom for genre movies and their own, deliciously twisted sensibility to everything they do. They're all over social media, they're prolific, always announcing new projects and they've also been happy to diversify into TV and comic books. I'd say they are ones to watch but you should be watching them already!

Hear a great Q&A with The Soska Twins on my old show, A Real Horror Show HERE

Kathryn Bigelow

Key genre films:
Near DarkBlue SteelPoint Break and Strange Days.

Her films, these days, may be Oscar bait but just look at that run of awesome genre films that Kathryn Bigelow made. Strange Days is still my favourite, and still an insanely under appreciated film (starring Angela Bassett who, so easily, could be on this list too!) but all four of the listed films are well worth a watch if you haven't seen them. It's sadly all too rare to have a female director and rarer still to find one kicking ass in genre film-making, let's hope she returns to her roots one of these days.

Sigourney Weaver

Key genre films: 
Alien, Eyewitness, Ghostbusters, Aliens, Ghostbusters II, Alien³, Copycat, Galaxy Quest and Alien: Resurrection.

Along with Linda Hamilton, Sigourney Weaver was one of the few women you'd find wielding a weapon and fighting a monster on the big screen during the 80s and 90s. Projecting fierce intelligence, strength, independence, sex appeal and a knowing sense of humour, Sigourney Weaver can do it all. I personally would pay good money to see an Alien Vs. Predator movie with her and Arnie waving about hand cannons and trading one liners. Wouldn't you?

Jenny Agutter

Key genre films:
Logan's RunThe Eagle Has LandedThe SurvivorAn American Werewolf in LondonDark TowerDarkmanChild's Play 2Blue JuiceBurke and HareThe Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Like almost everyone who watched An American Werewolf in London as a youngster, I fell in love with Jenny Agutter and wondered just what the hell she saw in part time knuckle-head, part time killer wolf, David Kessler. There's a sly, knowing, feistyness to Jenny Agutter that Helen Mirren also has. She's got the brains, the beauty and the quick wit to deal with anything. I hope I wasn't the only one that, when Jenny Agutter's character in Captain America: The Winter Soldier appeared to be kicking ass and taking names, was just a little disappointed when it was revealed to be Black Widow. Sign Agutter and Mirren up to a female, British Expendables immediately!

Jamie Lee Curtis

Key genre films:
HalloweenThe FogProm NightTerror TrainRoad GamesHalloween IIBlue SteelMother's BoysTrue LiesHalloween H20: 20 Years Later and Virus.

Killing Laurie Strode off in Halloween: Resurrection remains, to this day, one of the greatest cinematic crimes ever, completely negating her moment of strength, endurance and triumph at the end of H2O where Laurie faced her demon, her serial killer brother and won. Throughout what I call the "Laurie Strode" trilogy in the Halloween franchise, Jamie Lee Curtis made the sensible and practical, exciting. She showed that the straight laced Laurie could take what the world threw at her and survive, no matter what. While H20 might have its flaws, Jamie Lee Curtis is not one of them. Playing a fragile, shaken, alcoholic and scared Laurie who has to put a brave face on every single day, speaks to an experience that, sadly, women are all too familiar with and she did it incredibly well. I got chills when she grabbed the axe, called "Michael!" and the familiar theme started to play and I was rooting for her all the way. In my head, forever, the franchise ends with Laurie's victory.

So that's just the Halloween franchise, Jamie Lee Curtis has showed a mixture of humour, vulnerability, strength, sex appeal, energy and intelligence in all her genre roles. Always admired more by idiots for her body than her personality and smarts, Jamie Lee Curtis is a tremendous actress with some under appreciated gems on her resume just waiting to be rediscovered.

Debra Hill

Key genre films:
HalloweenThe FogEscape from New YorkHalloween IIHalloween III: Season of the WitchThe Dead ZoneClueThe Fisher King and Escape from L.A.

Probably the most unsung woman on the list, producer and writer Debra Hill is, in part, responsible for some of the greatest genre films ever made. People, rightly praise the likes of John CarpenterKurt Russell and even Jamie Lee Curtis but none of them could have done what they did, in the world of horror and Sci-Fi, without her. Sadly she passed away, all too soon, in 2005 from cancer but her legacy are films that will be watched and re-watched for generations and decades to come.

Cynthia Rothrock

Key genre films:
Shanghai ExpressAbove the LawNo Retreat, No Surrender 2China O'BrienChina O'Brien 2Martial LawFast GetawayRage and HonorUndefeatable and Sworn to Justice.

As a five-time World Champion in forms and weapons, an accomplished martial artist with seven Black belts, the first Caucasian woman to be in Hong Kong action films, an athlete, a trainer, an actor, a producer, a mother and to anyone who follows her on social media knows, a world traveller, Cynthia Rothrock has achieved more in her life than most and yet some of you may be reading this and not know who she is. This might be because in America very, very few of her many films made it to the big screen.

During the prime action decades of 80s and 90s, when her male counter parts, Steven SeagalJean Claude Van Damme and even the lesser known Gary Daniels and Jeff Speakman all had movies that made the theatres, Cynthia was knocking out several excellent and exciting movies a year that all went straight to video.

Thanks to Amazon, YouTube and other online services, these films are there to rediscover and enjoy. For a true display of her incredible talents and the most thrilling of her movies are her early Hong Kong ones, which are well worth tracking down.

She's still working today with several movies slated for release in the next few years. Get with it and grow your Rothrock love today!

Hear my two interviews with Cynthia Rothrock HERE and HERE.

Barbara Crampton

Key genre films:
Body DoubleFraternity VacationRe-AnimatorChopping MallFrom BeyondPuppetmasterTrancers IIRobot WarsSpace TruckersCold HarvestYou're NextWe Are Still Here and Road Games.

Barbara Crampton is another 80s actor who found the fertile genres of horror, fantasy, sci-fi and even action, to be the perfect place to hone her considerable talents and also be in some experimental, weird, gross, sexy and thoroughly enjoyable movies. Thanks, in part, to her good choices, the longevity of the films and their enduring, ever expanding, fan base, after taking time off to have a family, Barbara Crampton has recently returned with a vengeance to the genre films that made her name.

After watching You're Next, followed by We Are Still Here it's a joy to say that she is better than ever and just incredible. Her performances are nuanced, deep and engrossing.

Thankfully this means she's now busier than ever with a whole string of movies slated for the coming years. No matter what they are I will see them because she is always incredibly watchable and makes impeccable choices.

Hear my interview with Barbara Crampton HERE

Pam Grier

Key genre films:
The Big Doll HouseWomen in CagesBlack Mama White MamaCoffyScream Blacula ScreamThe ArenaFoxy Brown'Sheba, Baby'BucktownFriday FosterThe VindicatorAbove the LawClass of 1999PosseOriginal GangstasEscape from L.A.Mars Attacks!Jackie BrownFortress 2Ghosts of MarsBones and The Man with the Iron Fists.

I am the biggest fan of Pam Grier. I call her my first lady of cinema. My fandom is not for some immature, boyish reason, like it's only because she's incredibly sexy and beautiful (although she is both those things) but because, from her first movie on, she treated exploitation, genre films and B-movies like they were every bit as deserving of her energy, efforts, talent and passion as any other film (which, of course, they are). In doing so, delivered excellent, believable and empowering performances. In a Q&A, I once saw with her, she talked about learning the method and studying Stanislavsky while in the Philippines to make women in prison movies for Roger Corman.

In movies like that, as in all her roles, she is bold, determined and never once feels like she is being exploited. She's also, to my knowledge, never talked down about or apologised for those films and, in fact, has only been thankful to Corman for the start he gave her. She owned her performances, owned her body, owned her race and owned each and every role with strength, intelligence, glamour and humour.

She's also an incredible actor and screen presence, able to do that Hollywood star trick of being both subtly and crucially different in each role while remaining passionately and charmingly, Pam Grier. Also she's insanely cool, kicks ass, a humanitarian, a women's activist, an African American activist, an animal rights activist and she once stared into my eyes and grabbed a handful of my beard. TRUE STORY.

If you aren't aware of Pam Grier or only know her from Jackie Brown (sidenote: both John Carpenter and Tim Burton worked with her before Tarantino "Re-Discovered" her) then you owe it to yourself, all your friends and the human race as a whole to look into her entire career.

Watch my video of her Q&A at the Lincoln Center

So that is my list, as I said at the beginning, I invite you to make additions, post your own lists or comment below!

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