The 8 Ball 03.04.14: Top 8 Badass Movie Villainesses
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 03.04.2014
From Mystique in the X-Men franchise and Kill Bill's O-Ren Ishii to GoldenEye's Xenia Onatopp, Mai from Live Free or Die Hard and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down the top 8 badass female movie villains!
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!
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Top 8 Badass Movie Villainesses
It's Tuesday, so you know what that means, ladies and gentlemen…it's time for another Movies 8 Ball! I hope everyone made out well on their Oscar prediction pool; I did pretty well with twenty-one out of twenty-four right and tied Chad Webb, John Dotson, Bryan Kristopowitz and Ben Piper for first place among the 411-ites. But Oscar season is over and its back to normal around here. 300: Rise of an Empire hits theaters this Friday and prominent among the film's marketing has been Eva Green's role as the villainous Artemesia. Artemesia looks to be following in the time-honored tradition of badass female antagonists. That brings us to our topic this week, which is the best of those fantastic killer women out there that stand with their chin lifted and a malicious gleam in their eyes against our heroes.
Caveat: Let's define "badass," at least for the purposes of this column. In compiling this list I was looking at those characters that were physically formidable and represented a distinct risk to the lives of our heroes. They don't have to be kung fu experts or gun-toting special ops-trained types (although many of them are); they simply had to be the kinds of women with a certain violent attitude who had the goal of killing or maiming the protagonist. That left some off who were strictly badass in personality (see: Miranda Priestly in Devil Wears Prada) or who were tough but not really a true physical threat. One other example of someone I left off was Mama Fratelli from Goonies; she's certainly tough but she doesn't ever conjure the idea of a true badass due to the comedic elements of her character.
Just Missing The Cut
• Gabriel - Constantine (2005)
• Lori - Total Recall (1990)
• Ma-Ma - Dredd (2012)
• Alex Forrest - Fatal Attraction (1987)
• Bellatrix Lestrange - Harry Potter Franchise (2007 - 2011)
#8: Mai - Live Free or Die Hard (2007)
First on our list is one of the first names that came to mind when I was thinking of possibilities for this list. Live Free or Die Hard is a somewhat divisive film in the John McClane saga; there are some who dislike it for its PG-13 sensibilities, Tim Olyphant's less-physical villain and the inclusion of Justin Long as the hacker sidekick. Others appreciate the film's skill at bringing the film into the modern era and kind of love its over-the-top action attitude. I fall in the latter category. Either way, one character who seems almost universally liked is Maggie Q as Mai. The Die Hard franchise had given us a tough female villain before in Die Hard: With a Vengeance's Katya, but Mai easily had her beat. In a lot of ways Mai is more of a female version of the first film's Karl; she is cool and acts as Gabriel's primary enforcer, and the way she kicks McClane around certainly brings back thoughts of Karl's fight with him. Maggie Q is a fantastic actress for roles like this and she makes it work without chewing too much scenery, which actually makes her all the more intimidating. Mai is ruthless and dangerous in every sense of the word; if not for her end coming in the second act as opposed to the third, she would be higher on this list.
#7: Queen Bavmorda - Willow (1988)
Bavmorda is absolutely an asskicker, even if she's not all martial arts kicks or dual-wielded Uzis. The primary antagonist from Ron Howard's 1988 sword-and-sorcery film is one of the more ruthless villainesses out there. How ruthless is she? Let's see. When she finds out about a prophecy saying that a girl child will be born and bring about her downfall, she imprisons every single pregnant woman within her realm. She turns her own daughter into a pig after she is betrayed due to a love spell. She rules her realm with an iron fist (and no velvet glove to soften the blow, either) and as we've already discussed she brutally suppresses any potential threat to her or her regime. But the Queen isn't afraid to get her hands dirty, either; unlike many queens she takes matters fully into her own hands when she can. Veteran actress Jean Marsh was the pure embodiment of malevolence here as Bavmorda, casting a dangerous shadow over just about every moment of this film. And when her magic comes into play it becomes obvious that she's just as dangerous with it as any action hero is with a machete or an M-16. She may not be the most virile sort, but she's certainly a badass by just about every definition.
#6: Xenia Onatopp - GoldenEye (1995)
The James Bond franchise has had its share of villainous women, but they've always preferred to go with seductresses over full-on combat fiends. Still, you know it was only a matter of time before they managed to combine the two somehow and that's where we got Xenia Onatopp. Xenia is one of the most famous Bond villains for a very good reason. Sure, part of that is the fact that Famke Janssen has never been hotter (and that's saying a lot, by the way) than she was as the Russian sexual sadist who got off (literally) by unleashing pain and death. But another part of that is because she was such a formidable enemy. Xenia didn't have to get someone into bed and make them vulnerable in order to kill them; she had no problem handling an assault rifle or going hand-to-hand, and she gets off (in a very real manner) on that as much as anything. No, she wrapped those legs around a victim and squeezed because she chose to. Even her death is one that she appears to have enjoyed. She's a complete trope, don't get me wrong, but Janssen was amazing in the role and she proved to be one of 007's most dangerous female adversaries over the past fifty years.
#5: Asami - Audition (1999)
Next up on our list is the kind of person who exemplifies "badass" in the scariest possible way. Anyone who's seen Japanese goremaster Takashi Miike's 1999 psychological horror flick Audition can tell you exactly how disturbing it is, though they probably can't do it without twitching uncontrollably. The film tells the story of Japanese widower Shigeharu, who is convinced to try dating again and is set up by a friend in a "audition" session in which young women try out a chance to be his new wife. Enter Asami, who Shigeharu immediately falls for and becomes involved with but soon learns to regret. Eihi Shiina is absolutely terrifying as Asami, who turns out to be a deranged young woman who makes his life a living hell. Asami is absolutely psychotic and does incredibly brutal things in the film, both to Shigeharu and to others. It is a completely unnerving experience to watch and Miike doesn't make it any easier; torture scenes are his bread and butter and he is completely within his element here. Asami is badass because of how brutal and unrelenting she is; yes, she is damaged and is doing it out of a twisted sense of hurt and betrayal but it doesn't make her any less deadly. It's terrifying because there's no supernatural elements; this is a story that could actually happen despite how over-the-top it is. All of the women on this list are deadly and formidable, but Asami is the one I would least want to be in the same room with.
#4: Mystique - X-Men Trilogy (2000 - 2006)
The X-Men franchise left us with some very memorable female villains and, frankly, a few poorly realized ones (see: pretty much everyone in X-Men: The Last Stand). Mystique stands tall as one of the memorable ones for all the right reasons. I and many others were skeptical when Rebecca Romjin was cast in the role. X-Men was her first significant film role and many of us X-Men fanboys wondered how a model could possibly portray a character we all knew and loved accurately. And to be fair, Mystique doesn't have a hefty amount of lines; what's more, some of those are spoken by other actors when Mystique takes someone else's guise. However, for her own part Romjin delivered far above what anyone could expect and delivers a knockout performance, pun intended. She handles the physicality of the role incredibly well and for the amount of dialogue she has, she creates a great impact. When she kicks Robert Kelly's ass saying "People like you are the reason I was afraid to go to school as a child," you're instantly taken aback by the character. This is not the same Mystique as in the comic books, but a very well-done reinterpretation nonetheless. The character unfortunately lost a serious step in X-Men: The Last Stand, but up to that point she was truly great.
#3: Mona Demarkov - Romeo is Bleeding (1993)
Lena Olin has played several great roles in her career, but none of them are quite as exceptional as that of the ruthless, psychopathic Russian assassin from Romeo Is Bleeding. This deeply underrated film stars Gary Oldman as dirty cop Jack Grimaldi, who is sent by his Mafia bosses to eliminate Mona when she gets in their way. Jack is completely in over his head when he comes across her though, and she works her charms around him with ease. Olin's portrayal gave Mona not just a twisted sadism and brutal style but drop-dead sexiness too. She's the classic femme fatale, except that femme fatales are supposed to be damsels who turn out to be dangerous in the end. We never lose sight of how dangerous she is, but we're enraptured just as much as Jack is. And how badass is she, exactly? When Mona loses her arm--by her own choice in order to manipulate Jack--she puts on a prosthetic and just keeps on working her way through the film. Like most villains she gets hers in the end, but by that point she has left quite a mark on the world and given us one of the quintessential badass villainesses.
#2: Catwoman - Batman Returns (1992)
I daresay that of all Batman's villains depicted on film, Michelle Pfeiffer's performance as Catwoman was close to the best. I'd say the absolute best, but Heath Ledger's Joker will always take that spot. She's certainly the best of the film series that Tim Burton began, blowing away even Jack Nicholson's Joker in the first entry. Again, Burton's Batman Returns was a film that relied heavily on gothic overtones and a serious, terse Batman; adding to that was the fact that the Penguin was a very dour character as well (though he did have his fun moments). The movie needed energy to succeed and that was provided in spades by Pfeiffer's sexed-up portrayal of Selina Kyle, a true badass who could vamp it up but also kick serious ass when the time came. Wielding her whip and walking around in that leather outfit, she was a villain that you sympathized with because of her near-death at the hands of Max Schreck but who was undeniably evil. Her lack of inclusion in the later films was a big disappointment, seeing as she's the one Batvillain who survives. Pfeiffer, like Nicholson, had just enough camp in her performance to make it a wonderful portrayal and she tops the list of female cinematic Batvillains with ease.
#1: O-Ren Ishii - Kill Bill (2003 - 2004)
I considered all of the women from the Kill Bill franchise, but really it wasn't much of a competition as O-Ren Ishii was the easy topper for this list. Lucy Liu delivered one of the great female badass roles of all-time here, hero or villain, and from start to finish she is someone that you just do not want to screw with. Where to even start? Should we look at the moment when she beheads someone who dares disparage her mixed-race heritage and then (mostly) politely explains why that's a bad idea? Or the animated origin sequence, where she has a supremely traumatic experience in witnessing her parents' death and then gets her vengeance in her enemy's boudoir? How about the sword fight between her and the Bride Liu played this role to perfection, with both the civility and ruthlessness that makes her believable as a scourge of the Yakuza. To put it simply: no villainess has ever been as badass as O-Ren. End of story.
Disguise of the Episode
Current Series/Season:Season One (2001 - 2002) Episodes Watched: 13 Last Serial Completed:The Box (Part 2) - Sydney and Jack find themselves in the ironic position of having to save SD-6 as former agent McKenas Cole tortures Sloane in order to obtain a mysterious item stored inside the SD-6 vault, while Will finds new leads into his story about the organization. Episodes Remaining: 92
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.