Will 2014 Be The Year Of The Lady Villain?

The hottest movies on deck have big, bad women standing square in the spotlight.

Back in 2004, a wise bartender told a befuddled Ron Burgundy, “Ladies can do stuff now, and you’re going to learn how to deal with it.” A decade or so later, it looks like both Ron and the good folks in Hollywood might have finally caught on to that all-important fact.

From raunchy bridesmaids to wisecracking lady cops, from Katniss Everdeen to “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” the past couple years in film have been a breath of fresh air when it comes to complex female protagonists. But for all their butt-stomping, bank-robbing, demon-slaying heroics, there’s one thing the good women of Hollywood still mostly don’t do: go bad.

Which is why we’re so very excited for 2014, because many of the most-anticipated films of next year have female characters doing just that. In “Serena,” starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, the titular character is the cunning wife of a 1930s timber baron whose ambitions drive her husband’s success; a sweet-natured lady, she’s not.

Gone Girl,” based on the novel by Gillian Flynn, will introduce audiences to one of the most unnerving and unlikeable women ever to carry a story, on screen or in print.

In “Divergent,” heroine Tris — a strong, multifaceted girl in her own right — will face off against a smart, strong, commanding antagonist played with steely resolve by Kate Winslet.

And Maleficent, a woman so cruel and unhinged that she responded to a royal party snub by putting a death curse on a baby, is not just the star of her very own film but also getting fleshed out with a backstory that puts her abominable behavior in perspective.

The sudden rise of the well-rounded villainess is an exciting development in a landscape where truly interesting female baddies are so few and far between. Even after the dissolution of the classic Hollywood strictures requiring that morality-flouting women characters had to repent or die, most ladyvillains have remained mere one-dimensional stereotypes: Sex-Crazed Jezebel (“Fatal Attraction”); Materialistic Post-Menopausal Prune (Cruella deVille); or Mean and Crazy for No Apparent Reason, a category in which the evil fairy of “Sleeping Beauty” has long been included.

For someone like Maleficent to now not only headline a movie, but to be given the same sympathetic origin-story treatment as, say, Wolverine — and with Angelina Jolie in the lead role, no less — is a first.

Whether complex female antagonists are poised to become the new queen bees in Hollywood remains to be seen. These movies could be the first wave in an amazing new trend of Big Bads Who Wear Bras, or they could be an isolated phenomenon that eventually vanishes beneath a sea of more standard-issue characters.

But with at least four villainesses ready to eat up the screen this year, we’re optimistic that 2014 will be a very good year for very, very bad girls.