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Harley Quinn and the Thrilling Future of Women in Sci-fi/Action Cinema

Harley Quinn and the Thrilling Future of Women in Sci-fi/Action Cinema: Warner Bros. Pictures

Warner Bros. Pictures

Margot Robbie, who steals the show as bat-wielding psycho Harley Quinn in the upcoming Suicide Squad, recently laid down some career ground rules. Her plan, she told Women’s Day, is to hunt for roles “where the main interest will be in the character and her importance in driving a story forward, rather than her relationship with a male character.” For the Wolf of Wall Street and Legend of Tarzan star, that means taking centerpiece parts in projects such as the neo-noir thriller Terminal and the Quinn-centric spinoff that Warner Bros. is hatching just for her.

Robbie is not alone in setting her sites on chief butt-kicker roles. Sure, Sigourney Weaver made history by becoming a female action icon in her four Alien films, as did Linda Hamilton in two Terminator movies and Milla Jovovich in five installments of Resident Evil. They were the exceptions, though; polar opposites of the futuristic sexpots played by, say, Jane Fonda in the campy ‘60 caper Barbarella and like Natasha Henstridge in the also campy space-girl-run-amock '90s movie Species. In the years since Weaver first took to the skies, we’ve had heroic showings by Jodie Foster in Contact, Carrie Ann Moss in the Matrix movies, Sandra Bullock in Gravity, Daisy Ridley in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and, towering over them all, Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road.

Warner Bros. Pictures

Warner Bros. Pictures

These days, many of Hollywood’s other big female attractions are stepping up to carve their own slice of the action pie. Says a studio production executive who green-lit one of the big upcoming female-driven sci-fi epics, “Look, everyone in my position has heard loud and clear what women like Gal Gadot are saying: They’re no longer willing to play damsels in distress. They want to show stronger sides of women. They’re right. Quite frankly, apart from those wieners so insecure in their masculinity that they’re threatened by the very idea of a female Ghostbusters, isn’t it obvious that smart, tough, assertive, complex female sci-fi action heroes are not only more interesting but a lot sexier than standard ‘girlfriend’ roles?”

Later this year, we can look forward to Felicity Jones leading a pack of rebel fighters trying to steal the plans for the Death Star in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Anne Hathaway uncovering her weird personal connection to a monstrous Godzilla-size beast in Colossal and Amy Adams playing a linguistics whiz who communicates with a massive army of intergalactic aliens in Story of Your Life. In 2017, we’ll see Gal Godot lead Wonder Woman as well as Justice League Part One. Scarlett Johansson, who’s already proven her action cred as Black Widow in five Marvel movies and also Lucy, debuts as a cyborg cop in Ghost in the Shell.

At the movies, no more shrinking violets. No more female characters keeping the home fires burning while the men go off to save the world. In space, no one can hear you scream—but fortunately for us, everyone can watch you kick alien ass.

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