Red is new this week, the comic book adaptation about ex-assassins who find themselves hunted by their former employers. And one of those assassins is played by Helen Mirren. That’s right, Queen Elizabeth II. You’ll stop snickering when you see her fending off bad guys or manning a giant machine gun, wearing an evening gown, mowing down men trying to take away her right to life, liberty and the pursuit of her own private arsenal.
Gals with guns in the movies aren’t a new thing. Back in the day a lady with a gun on film was allowed to shoot in terrified self-defense or because she was “gun crazy” or Annie Oakley. Guys never needed a reason. They just got to run around aiming and going blammo at anyone who got in their way. Bonnie and Clyde helped change that in the late 1960s. The floodgates didn’t exact swing wide, but it’s good to know that there were enough to require this list being narrowed down to a very cool eight (sorry, Estelle Getty in Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, maybe next time).
Angelina Jolie in Wanted (2008)
With this movie and Mr. & Mrs. Smith and Salt, Jolie has turned into the go-to gunplay woman of this Hollywood moment. It’s not just that she’s great at firing the fake ones in what will surely be a long stretch of work as an action star; she walks that walk on screen even when she’s not got someone in her crosshairs, the kind of cold steel misanthropy you need to be the female Dirty Harry of your time. And why this movie? Because selling action this ludicrous requires a game face that only she has. It’s the flat-out craziest of the bunch, and if you’ve seen Salt then you know that’s really saying something.
Rose McGowan in Grindhouse (2007)
The greatest amputee stripper with a machine gun leg in the history of motion pictures. The scene where McGowan’s boyfriend Freddy Rodriguez fits her with her new ammunition-loaded prosthetic, which she then employs (along with her exotic dancer-trained high-kick abilities) to decimate a roomful of men who want to kill her is a stand-up-and-cheer moment.
Geena Davis in The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)
Sure, sure, Thelma & Louise is a modern classic and this one is modern junk. But the guns Geena Davis twirls like a majorette are way bigger and meaner in this one, and she takes care of business like the cool covert ops agent she is. That is, except for the parts where she floats around on a fluffy cloud of wholesome behavior wearing Laura Ashley dresses, sporting Amy Grant hair and riding on a float in the hometown Christmas parade. Thankfully, that only accounts for like 5% of the running time. The remainder is all smudgy black eyeliner, blunt-cut lady-assassin hair, swinging from ropes attached to helicopters and blowing away everyone in sight with laser-surgery precision.
Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
She tries to blow up a factory and then opts for weapons of the shooting kind later on, even if at first she’s a little timid about murdering one of the bad guys in front of his own family. The great thing about Linda Hamilton, though, is her badass demeanor even when she’s not firing. She knows she’s in a war and adopts a commando pose that fits her like a glove. She could have out-manned Sam Worthington in that last one if she’d shown up as more than a disembodied voice.
Sigourney Weaver in Aliens (1986)
Set much later in the future after Alien, Weaver returns as the heroine Ripley and this time remembers to bring along the right artillery. Good thing, too, because she’s got to save an orphan child and battle a lot of guys who don’t want to listen to her because she’s just a woman. Naturally she’s right about everything and gets to out-Marine a bunch of Marines in this round of monster-fighting. It’s more action-packed than Alien and, in Weaver’s own words, “made the first [movie] look like a cucumber sandwich.” It also helped a lot of college gender studies majors with thesis papers to write.
Pam Grier in Coffy (1973)
Hell hath no fury like a registered nurse who spends all day on her feet tending to the sick who then finds out her own little sister has been tainted with some bad heroin. And like any nurse would do, she sticks a variety of weapons in her afro and embarks on a mission of righteous, murderous vengeance. Along the way she eliminates dope pushers, pimps and mobsters with sassy style. She did it again the next year in Foxy Brown, but this came first. And if you look at either of them you’ll understand pretty much everything you need to know about Quentin Tarantino’s worship of his Jackie Brown star.
Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
“They’re young… they’re in love… and they kill people” announced the poster for this brazen, bold movie that made Bosley Crowther of The New York Times quit his job because he didn’t “get” the American New Wave of filmmaking going on in the late '60s and early '70s. Faye Dunaway was at her coolest here: amoral, remorseless, horny for Warren Beatty and willing to threaten a man’s mouth with her pistol and then strap on a machine gun, whatever it took to get the bank robbed properly. Then she gets killed, but in the grooviest, bloodiest, hailstorm of bullets ever.
Peggy Cummins in Gun Crazy (1950)
When she was 25 (she’s 85 now) B-movie legend Peggy Cummins starred in her most famous film about two young lovers with their minds on the money and the money on their minds. They also really like guns. Okay, maybe she likes the money and the guns a little more than he does, and maybe she is a little bossy about making him join in on her scheme to rob a bunch of people so they can live well. That’s why the alternate release name for this film was Deadly Is the Female, even if that title doesn’t capture Peggy’s singular mania for shooting people until they’re dead enough to steal from. Find this on DVD. It’s a blast.
Got a favorite gun-toting movie gal? Tell us below.