Twenty years ago, an unassuming little movie showed up in theaters that eventually led to one of the biggest pop culture breakthroughs in TV history. The film was “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” starring Kristy Swanson, Luke Perry, and Donald Sutherland. It was the story of a high-school cheerleader by day who finds out that she’s destined to hunt vampires by night.
The movie had elements of action and horror, but primarily it was a comedy, spoofing the generation of teen slasher flicks that came before it. It wasn’t at all what creator Joss Whedon had envisioned, so when he was offered a chance to remake the idea for television, he went for it.
“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” the series was darker, richer, and wittier, and it truly captured the concept of high school as a horror movie. Buffy not only kicked vampire butt, but she did it while juggling home, school, and relationships. She proved that women can have it all, as long as they’re well-trained and well-armed with either a deadly weapon or a razor-sharp wit.
Lara Croft from “Tomb Raider”
The ultimate kickass video game heroine comes to life in “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.”
Angelina Jolie plays the double-pistol-packing, high-flying, fearless adventurer who appears to have trained at the Indiana Jones school of archeology. Just watch her take on an army of assassins with nothing but a knife and bungee cord.
What she can’t conquer with her fighting skills, she deals with using her brains and her beauty. Never have shorts and a T-shirt looked so badass and yet so sexy. But don’t take our word for it — watch “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” online for $2.99 through YouTube or Amazon 24-hour rental and see for yourself.
Ripley from “Alien”
As Buffy changed the role of women in horror movies, Ripley changed the role of women in science fiction films.
In “Alien,” Sigourney Weaver plays Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley, one of the crew members of the commercial spaceship Nostromo. After a short stop on an alien planet, the crew discovers they have a monster growing in the hold of the ship. Oops. When the creature begins stalking them, it’s up to Ripley to stop it before the thing kills them all and ends up on Earth.
Unlike many of the other kickass women on our list, Ripley isn’t about the beauty, just the brains and the brawn. She gets filthy and sweaty, her hair is a mess, and those combat clothes don’t exactly show off her curves. She’s the most realistic kickass heroine on our list, and that’s why we love her.
Want to see Ripley get down and dirty? Rent “Alien” on Amazon for $2.99, or buy the download and own it for $9.99. Which ever you choose, don’t worry — you’ll get whatever is coming to you.
Trinity from “The Matrix”
Trinity (Carrie Ann Moss) is a fictional character from “The Matrix” series — or is she?
She may be a computer nerd, but this high-class hacker also knows how to get physical. Her martial arts moves are so fast, you have to slow the film down in order to see exactly what just happened to those bad guys. Good thing she hangs out in The Matrix, where ultra slow motion and 360-degree camera wrap-arounds are commonplace.
Are you prepared to enter “The Matrix”? Log on to Amazon, pay $1.99, and you’re in.
Princess Leia from “Star Wars”
Not long before Ripley did battle in space, another female warrior took up arms to defend the galaxy in “Star Wars.”
Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) led with her spunk, back-talking the evil overlord Darth Vader, then slinging sarcastic barbs at would-be rescuers Han Solo and Luke Skywalker. But when the bullets began to fly, this pretty princess didn’t cower behind the men; she grabs a gun and gives those stormtroopers a reason to run.
In “Return of the Jedi,” we got a look at Leia’s other assets when she traded her royal robe for a revealing slave girl costume. She used her feminine wiles to beguile jelly-belly Jabba, then took him out with the chain he’d used to hold her captive.
Leia may be the Princess of Alderaan, but she’s also the queen of quick thinking.
The women of “Firefly”
In another part of the galaxy, the crew of the Serenity, a Firefly-class spaceship, is doing all they can to survive after the population of Earth is forced to recolonize in space. They earn their keep hauling things from here to there — some legal, some not. They try not to ask questions, but when they get stuck between the devil and the deep void of space, Zoe Washburne is there make sure they all get out alive.
Zoe (Gina Torres) is a born and bred soldier, handy with a gun, calm under fire, and loyal to her commander, even when he’s the one who got them into trouble.
Another source of trouble is the mysterious stowaway River Tam (Summer Glau). River may look and act like a child, but she’s a fierce fighting machine fueled by the waking nightmares of her past.
And though they don’t often get physical, honorable mentions go to the other two women of “Firefly,” the sensuous Inara (Morena Baccarin), for her ability to manipulate men with a smile and a glance, and sweet Kaylee (Jewel Staite), who will do anything for the sake of her friends.
Want to see how they all fit together? All 14 episodes of “Firefly” are available now through Netflix, as is the spin-off movie “Serenity.”
Yu Shu Lien and Jen Yu from “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”
Speaking of women who can suspend themselves in mid-air, we now give you the ladies of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” Though it’s true that only one of them is actually the heroine of the story, it takes two to tango, so we gladly include Yu Shu Lien’s (Michelle Yoh) opponent Jen Yu (Ziyi Zhang) in our countdown.
When Jen Yu steals a sword entrusted to Yu Shu Lien by her lover, the women go into flying tiger mode, doing battle in the treetops, performing gravity-defying wall walks, and wielding weapons at a speed that’s hard to comprehend. They embody the bravery and skill of an ancient Chinese warrior, but they’re a whole lot prettier.
Want to own the best female martial arts fights ever committed to film? Download “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” through Amazon or YouTube for 3,000 cowrie shells, which works out to be about $9.99 in cold, hard U.S. cash.
Xena from “Xena: Warrior Princess”
From ancient China we move over to ancient Greece, where we pay homage to “Xena: Warrior Princess.”
Xena (Lucy Lawless) started out as an enemy for the mighty Hercules, riding through the land with her band of outlaws, murdering and pillaging without remorse. But once she saw how quickly her own forces would turn on her, she decided to change her life around and set out on a quest to atone for her sins.
Traveling from village to village with her gal pal Gabrielle, Xena uses her considerable fighting skills, sharp wit, and nifty chakram to defend the innocent and conquer all evil-doers. Though Xena looks pretty sexy in that well-fitted body armor and thigh-high boots, she’s not what you’d call a girly girl. Muscular and mischievous, this kickass heroine is a cult hero that all kinds of women (and men) can look up to.
You can stream all six seasons of “Xena: Warrior Princess” on Hulu.
The Bride from “Kill Bill”
Another kickass killer on our list is The Bride (Uma Thurman) from “Kill Bill,” who also has a lot in common with those “Crouching Tiger” ladies.
All The Bride wants in life is to get married and raise a family. Unfortunately, her violent past catches up with her in the form of her scorned lover, Bill. He orders her wedding party killed, then puts a bullet in her head. Incredibly, she survives and wakes up with both a terrible headache and a thirst for revenge.
The Bride is one of the more cold and calculating kickass women on our list. More of an antiheroine, she slices and dices her way through the film with touch of crazy that makes her all the more appealing. She’s great at hand-to-hand combat, but the real thrills begin when she dons that iconic yellow jumpsuit and picks up a sword.
You never saw this on “Bridezillas.” Rent “Kill Bill” on Amazon for $1.99.
Sarah Connor from “The Terminator”
When we first met Sarah Connor, she was a carefree waitress who loved to party on a Saturday night. One year later, she was a lean, mean, fighting machine, prepared to do whatever it takes to protect her child from the futuristic monsters known as Terminators.
We love Sarah because she’s proof that we can all handle more than we think we can. She develops a unique set of survival skills out of fear for her own safety, then the safety of her son. Like The Bride in “Kill Bill,” she goes from victim to hunter, and though she’s smart, she’s also a little crazy.
Sarah Connor has that never-say-die spirit that allows her to keep going, even if it means crawling on her hands and knees through molten glass in order to survive. This is one mean mother — and for that, she ranks high on our list.
See how Sarah’s story began when you watch “The Terminator” on Netflix. Then switch over to The WB to watch full episodes of “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” which include a kickass bonus in the form of Summer Glau as John Connor’s Terminator pal.
Nikita from The CW’s “Nikita”
As a teen, Nikita was given a choice: death row or go to work for The Division. Anxious to get out of jail, she didn’t ask too many questions — not that she would have gotten straight answers. Spies are bad about telling the whole truth.
Nikita soon rose to the top of her class in assassin training school, but she then used those skills to escape from The Division after they had her fiancé murdered. Now, she’s got her own little army of spies, and together they’re going to take down the people who turned her into a killer in the first place.
Nikita (Maggie Q) is the queen of covert operations. She can get in and out without a sound or take down a building full of bad guys with bombs and bullets. In camo pants and combat boots or a couture cocktail dress, Nikita is sly, slick, and very dangerous. Good thing she’s on our side.
Watch full episodes of “Nikita” on Hulu and The CW.
Selene from “Underworld”
Finally, we move on to two heroines who kick supernatural ass, like Selene from the “Underworld” franchise.
Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is a vampire who hunts Lycans for a living. Like many of the women on our list, her passion to kill is fueled by a traumatic event — in this case, the slaughter of her entire family when she was a child. Now, she’s a Death Dealer with a thirst for werewolf blood.
She’s fast, she’s focused, and she’s also in love with a Lycan/vampire hybrid, and that makes things sticky. She also does that two-handed gun thing that never gets old, no matter how many times we see it. And make no mistake, that’s not sparkle you see on this vampire; that’s good old-fashioned action movie sweat.
Download the original “Underworld” and the rest of the series on Amazon for $9.99 and under.
Buffy from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”
We end our list of favorite kickass heroines where we began, with that unassuming high-school girl who is destined to fight vampires — and ghosts, and ghouls, and monsters of all kinds.
The TV series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” begins where the movie ends but takes us further than we ever imagined it would. Over the course of seven seasons, we see Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) go from a relatively happy, irresponsible teen to a serious young woman heavily burdened by the weight of the world.
We love her because she’s not your typical kickass heroine. She’s not a lithe body poured into a leather catsuit. She doesn’t have dual guns on her hips. She’s not emotionally hardened by a past trauma, and she’s neither cold nor calculating. She’s a girl who knows that if she doesn’t do something, people are going to die. So she postpones her life and chooses to fight evil, even when it makes her heart ache. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is just one paranormal step away from the real-life heroines who save one life or hundreds by their actions.
You can watch full episodes of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” on Hulu.
That’s our list — now let’s see yours. Which TV or movie heroine is at the top of your kickass list? And who did we miss who’s deserving of the honor?