Are Women Taking Over Male-Centric Action Movies From Within?

This year's movies have featured a lot of surprising, almost secret female protagonists.

Spoilers for "Hitman: Agent 47" follow!

If you go to see the movie "Hitman: Agent 47" in theaters when it opens this Friday, you'll probably expect the film to be about the titular Agent 47 (Rupert Friend) completing a mission and killing lots of unnamed bad guys. And it is -- to a point.

But despite the title, Agent 47 is not actually the most narratively important part of this movie. Instead that honor belongs to Katia Van Dees (Hannah Ware), a character who was created for this film. Though she seemingly starts out as the stereotypical damsel in distress whom everyone's either trying to kill or save, the film pulls a complete 180 halfway through when it's revealed she has the potential to become a stronger and more capable assassin than 47 will ever be. Eventually she team up with 47, who helps her unlock her powers to complete her mission and take down an entire evil corporation in the process.

"It was exciting just to play a a female lead in a big action movie who really stood her ground and thrived and was equal to the men in the film," Hannah Ware told MTV News. "Katia goes on a very physical and emotional journey and she’s a key part to the film as a whole. I think we needed that, to compel audiences to watch it. It can’t be sheer action."

Does all of this sound just a little familiar? Because it's the same thing that's been happening all summer in big blockbuster movies -- franchises that are, for the most part, expected to be about their male heroes have been making way for prominently female characters to shine instead.

Paramount Pictures


Take, for example, "Mission: Impossible -- Rogue Nation," which is currently topping the foreign box office at $400 million globally. While there's no denying that Ethan Hawke (Tom Cruise) is the star of the film, as double agent Ilsa Faust, Rebecca Ferguson brought new life to the franchise's fifth installment and stole every scene she was in. And she did it all while barefoot, opting to sideline -- but not ditch, notably --her heels rather than run in them.

Hannah Ware has a similar moment in "Hitman: Agent 47" where she dramatically pulls her hair back before a climactic fight, because, as she told us, "you don’t want your hair in your face when you’re killing a lot of PSYOPs. It’s just practical girl stuff."

It's also not hard to draw comparisons between Ferguson's shoes and the ones that Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) wore throughout the billion-dollar-earning "Jurassic World." Some critics argued that her footwear was a nonsensical symbol of the movie's sexism, as she kept them on even while running through the jungle from ferocious dinosaurs. Howard herself insisted on the shoes and said they were "her strength." But regardless of how feminist or anti-feminist you thought Claire's arc was, you can't deny that the film devotes much more time and attention to her story than that of her co-lead, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt). Even director Colin Trevvorow calls Claire the hero of the film over Owen.



And, obviously, there was the groundbreaking movie that will absolutely be on every "Best of 2015" list at the end of this year -- "Mad Max: Fury Road," which concerned itself much more with Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron), the wives of Immortan Joe, and the oppressive gender politics of the Wasteland than it did with Max (Tom Hardy) himself.

"I think it’s really exciting, we are seeing a bit of a renaissance with that and I’m pleased to be a part of it," Ware said of this trend, noting the brilliance of Theron's character in particular. "We don’t always have to have damsels in distress, and to have big strong female leads who stand their own physically and mentally is inspiring to me as a woman. I hope to see more of them and I hope to play more of them."

This doesn't necessarily mean that woman are now officially on the same footing as their male co-stars in action movies, of course. It would be nice to see even more women placed front and center as protagonists, and for actresses of different races and body types to get their shot too. (Although the Melissa McCarthy vehicle "Spy" is a great example of the latter.)

But there's something to be said for action movies that actively embracethe opportunity to create interesting, complex female characters who are more than just love interests, overwhelmed damsels, or hardened killers. Women can struggle emotionally, kick ass physically, excel intellectually, or any combination thereof in the real world -- and the fact that their fictional counterparts are slowly being invited to do the same is cause for celebration.

Warner Bros. Entertainment