Lisbeth Salander in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

In David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, we were introduced to a petite female hacker with a photographic memory and a hatred for men who hate women. Not only did she suffer a horrifying sexual assault and got just revenge, but she singlehandedly saved James Bond, solved a decades old murder/disappearance mystery, and stole all the dirty money from a crooked billionaire in the most legit way possible. Sony decided against green-lighting the sequels, which is a shame simply for the fact that most people won’t know the full story of Lisbeth Salander, and are stuck with just this one film’s story.

I am here to implore you to delve deeper. Not only is she one of the greatest badasses in cinema, but Salander is one of the greatest female characters in literature. While we only got to see one brilliant performance by Rooney Mara in the United States, Swedish audiences were fortunate enough to get three brilliant performances by Noomi Rapace. They both are able to showcase a woman who has every injustice imaginable thrown her way, and yet her determination allows her to rise up and persevere. She’s socially awkward and resides in the grey area of the law, but her convictions are so strong and resolute that it’s empowering to both men and women. You can’t help but audibly cheer for her as she is seeking revenge. She’s got the drive of a terminator!

While I’ll always wonder how Fincher would have handled the rest of her story, I am encouraged that we are getting more Lisbeth from Don’t Breathe‘s Fede Alvarez. Until The Girl in the Spider’s Web comes out, however, I urge you to do some homework. Watch the Swedish trilogy on Netflix. Read the Millennium series (a fifth entry is out later this year). She may not have superpowers, but by the end you’ll consider Lisbeth Salander to be an actual hero. (Chase Dunnette)

Ma-Ma in Dredd

The 2012 adaptation of Dredd was an intelligent, unorthodox, ultraviolent comic book film ripe with rich worldbuilding and fantastic characters. While Karl Urban may be the titular protagonist, Lena Headey’s Madeline Madrigal, aka Ma-Ma, is the real star of the picture. Don’t let her warm maternal name fool you, Ma-Ma is nothing short of an amoral, sadistic, sociopathic, fascistic dictator and tyrant, a product of Mega City One’s violent and anarchic environment. Ma-Ma bears a brutal facial scar (a reminder of her and the city’s violent past), is built like a drug addict, and rarely bathes or brushes her hair. But beneath that grimy exterior is a cerebral and commanding persona, one worthy of taking down our heroes and anything else that stands in her way.

Ma-Ma began her ascent as a prostitute and finished extracting her revenge on the pimp responsible for her facial scars, taking over his criminal empire in the process. This kind of “origin story” contextualizes her own ruthlessness in the terror that is Mega City One. While inhumane, she wasn’t born that way. She was socialized into a culture of cruelty through prostitution and violence. These life experiences imparted a crucial lesson for survival in Mega City One: one wields power in proportion to one’s malice. Ma-Ma’s ability to adapt to the rules of the game demonstrate her intelligence and resolve. As despicable as her actions are — she’s introduced in a scene where she orders men skinned alive and thrown to their deaths — there’s something undeniably admirable about her Hobbesian intelligence. She realizes that it’s a “dog-eat-dog” world in the city, and accepts that her own demise will be as brutal as her life.

Which leads me to extol the beauty of her death. Great villains need great deaths, and few are given a more stunning or memorable exit. Dredd tells her the crimes she is charged with and throws her through a window to fall 200 floors to her death. The audience follows that journey mostly from her perspective via slow-motion, with Ma-Ma falling gracefully among the shards of glass, arms out to her side, with seemingly calm acceptance of her fate. It’s visually arresting and mirrors the violence she herself has perpetrated. In short, Ma-Ma is a calculating and intoxicating presence; a genuine female badass worthy of the crown. (Mike Silangil)

Ramona Flowers in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

When I think of a female badass, I think of a woman who is independent, powerful, doesn’t-give-a-shit, and can, well, kick ass. I only had to think for two seconds who my favorite female badass in film is and that would be Ramona Flowers from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. She is the definition of cool — not talking to anyone at parties because she doesn’t have to, changing her hair color every few weeks because why not, and rollerblading through everyone’s subspace highway in their heads like it’s no big deal. You know, exactly what you’d expect from someone so cool. Ramona is a fickle and free-spirited female badass.

Scott is the protagonist in the film, but Ramona informs his actions. In fact, without Ramona, there would be no Scott and therefore no story. And though the movie mainly features Scott fighting Ramona’s seven evil exes, the audience is treated to arguably the greatest fight scene with ex #4, and it is spectacular. Just when #4 is winding up to kick Scott in the face, the camera zooms out, and we see Ramona stick up her hand, stop the kick, and bring the scene to a standstill — all with the stunning visual effects surrounding it. And then the bass groove begins. It is an incredible shot and nothing short of amazing. Ramona reveals herself to be more than a capable fighter, serving up kicks, hits, and wielding a giant hammer to defeat her enemy. This is indeed the definition of a badass.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays this heroine with poise, mystery, and intrigue, and it is no wonder Scott is willing to go through such extreme lengths to win her heart. (Sam Schabel)

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