10 Best Action Movies With Female Directors, According To Rotten Tomatoes

Many consider action movies a “boys’ club.” Unfortunately, female directors have unfairly found it difficult getting hired for big action blockbusters and too few of them have ever been given the chance. Outside of Kathryn Bigelow, only a small handful have been able to tackle this male-dominated genre.

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But action movies aren’t something only men can direct and, as the following action movies prove, women can craft explosive, exciting, and bad-ass movies just as good as men can. The tragedy is that this list is far too short and the fact that several of these films are directed by Kathryn Bigelow shows that Hollywood isn’t taking chances on female action directors, and this needs to change.

10 Punisher: War Zone – Lexi Alexander – 29%

The Punisher looking off camera

Based on the Marvel comic book character, Punisher: War Zone marked the reboot of The Punisher movie franchise. Marvel made cinema history when they hired the director of the violent football drama, Green Street Hooligans, Lexi Alexander. She was the first woman to direct a Marvel movie and her goal was to make the revenge-themed superhero movie a throwback to bombastic 1980s action movies.

However, Alexander constantly battled with the studio over such things as the movie’s shrinking budget and their desire for a more Dark Knight-type tone, when she wanted over-the-top violence mixed with humor. Upon release, Punisher: War Zone bombed, but has since gained a cult following among fans who love how crazy it is. Alexander has since gone on to speak out about gender parity in Hollywood.

9 The Peacemaker – Mimi Leder – 43%

George Clooney and Nicole Kidman under car firing gun

Mimi Leder made the jump from TV directing to big-screen action thrillers with The Peacemaker starring Nicole Kidman and George Clooney, in his first big lead movie role. The gripping story concerned a special forces Lieutenant Colonel and a nuclear specialist who team up to track down missing nuclear warheads.

Impressive for a debut feature, The Peacemaker is a thrilling, edge-of-your-seat action movie that leaves audiences breathless. The movie was a modest hit and received mixed reviews. Leder would follow it up with the epic comet thriller, Deep Impact, the following year. However, she hasn’t made a theatrically released action movie since, despite clearly having the talent for them.

8 Charlie’s Angels – Elizabeth Banks – 52%

The Angels looking off camera

Written and directed by actor-come-director Elizabeth Banks, after the previous male-directed entries in the franchise, 2019’s Charlie’s Angels reboot starred Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, and Ella Balinski as the new angels working for the Townsend agency. In addition to directing, Banks appears as one of Charlie’s assistants, “Bosley.”

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While Banks’ direction was praised, critics found the plot to be tedious and overly complicated. Unfortunately, audiences, including the target audience of young women, didn’t flock to the theaters, and the film proceeded to perform poorly at the box office.

7 Strange Days – Kathryn Bigelow – 63%

Ralph Fiennes looking directing into camera

Co-written by Bigelow’s one-time husband, James Cameron, Strange Days is set in the final two days of 1999 when a former cop (Ralph Fiennes) tries to solve a murder recorded by an illegal technology that allows people to experience other people’s emotions and memories.

While a financial disappointment upon release, Strange Days has gained a cult following for being wildly ahead of its time. Released in 1995, not only does the film touch on relevant instances of race and police relations, but it is also incredibly cinematically inventive, including the opening scene, which was a hand-held POV long continuous take – something now commonplace in today’s cinema with the advent of smaller cameras, but unheard of in 1995.

6 Point Break – Kathryn Bigelow – 70%

Keaun Reeves holding gun and looking at bank robber wearing a Ronald Reagan mask

In 1991, Bigelow directed the classic action movie, Point Break, starring Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze. Reeves plays an FBI agent who goes undercover to investigates a group of bank robbers who are also avid surfers. While undercover, he develops a friendship with the bank robber’s leader.

The movie became one of the most popular action movies of the 90s and critics praised Bigelow for crafting not just a visceral action movie, through its robbery and surfing scenes, but a thoughtful one as well. Point Break would go on to have a large cultural impact, with a poorly reviewed remake released in 2015, and many consider The Fast and The Furious a remake with surfing replaced by drag racing.

5 Blue Steel – Kathryn Bigelow – 75%

Jamie Lee Curtis as cop fire gun in supermarket

Coming off her cult-favorite horror movie, Near Dark, Bigelow directed her first action film, Blue Steel, produced by Oliver Stone and co-written by Bigelow herself. The film starred Jamie Lee Curtis as a rookie cop who kills a robber, however, someone has taken the robber’s gun, making it look like she killed an unarmed man. Meanwhile, the gun is being used to commit murders, so now the rookie cop must find the killer and clear her name.

While the film was not a box-office success, critics praised Curtis’ performance and Bigelow for distinguishing herself as an extremely capable director of action.

4 Birds Of Prey – Cathy Yan – 78%

The Birds Of Prey walk into hideout

After directing an acclaimed quirky indie film, Dead Pigs, Cathy Yan joined the DCEU to direct the Harley Quinn-led Suicide Squad spin-off, featuring the Birds Of Prey. Following her breakup with The Joker, Harley Quinn teams up with the Birds Of Prey to take down a new villain, Black Mask.

While the movie was a financial disappointment, critics enjoyed the film, praising Margot Robbie’s performance, Yan’s direction, and the action scenes, which were choreographed by John Wick’s Chad Stahelski. With Birds Of Prey, Yan proved to be adept at easily slipping into the action movie genre and succeeding.

3 The Old Guard – Gina Prince-Blythewood – 80%

Mercenaries come down steps brandishing their weapons

After previously helming movies like Love & Basketball and The Secret Life Of Bees, Gina Prince-Blythwood took on the task of adapting Greg Rucka’s action-packed comic, The Old Guard. In doing so, she became the first Black woman to direct a comic book movie.

The story concerns a group of immortal mercenaries, led by Charlize Theron, fighting to protect their secret. The movie premiered on Netflix to great reviews who praised the “eye-popping battles and hand to hand combat sequences.” Following the film’s popularity, Netflix has announced a sequel is in the works.

2 Wonder Woman – Patty Jenkins – 93%

Wonder Woman runs through battlefield

Before directing Wonder Woman, Patty Jenkins’ only other movie directing credit was the real-life serial killer biopic, Monster, starring Charlize Theron. Following that, Jenkins worked in TV for many years and, after almost helming Thor: The Dark World, took the reins on the long-awaited adaptation of Wonder Woman.

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Set in World War II, Jenkins delivers mind-blowing action scenes that left audiences exhilarated. Part war movie and part superhero movie, Patty Jenkins proves she was more than capable of handling big-budget blockbusters, following her indie past. Jenkins went on to direct the sequel, which was similarly praised in terms of spectacle.

1 The Hurt Locker – Kathryn Bigelow – 97%

Soldier runs away from explosion

For The Hurt Locker, Bigelow wanted to take audiences up close and personal to war, creating a raw and tension-filled experience. The movie takes place during the Iraq War and follows members of a bomb disposal unit and Bigelow does an amazing job putting the audience in the boots of the soldiers. The film is not only a gripping and realistic look at the war conditions soldiers face but, also, what taking those experiences back home is like for them as well.

The film saw critical acclaim and featured a star-making performance from Jeremy Renner. Ultimately, The Hurt Locker was nominated for nine Oscars, winning six including Best Actor for Renner, Best Picture, and Best Director for Bigelow, making her the first and only woman to win the award. The Hurt Locker set a standard for Iraq War films to come and war films in general. Bigelow would follow it up with Zero Dark Thirty, an acclaimed thriller about the killing of Osama Bin Laden.

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Updated: April 8, 2021 — 3:00 am

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