She’s as wise as Athena, as lovely as Aphrodite, as fast as Mercury and as strong as Hercules.
For most of her 76 years, Wonder Woman has embodied these traits while helping “a world torn by the hatreds and wars of men.”
Created by Harvard-trained psychologist William Moulton Marston (writing as Charles Moulton) and artist Harry G. Peter, Wonder Woman first appeared in “All Star Comics” #8 (1941) and has been published in one form or another pretty much ever since, fighting the good fight in thousands of comic books.
Feminist icon Gloria Steinem put Wonder Woman on the cover of the first issue of “Ms.” magazine, and, during the late 1970s, Lynda Carter played the Justice Leaguer in a fondly remembered television series. Over the years she’s been merchandised alongside Batman and Superman on products ranging from coffee mugs to T-shirts to pajamas to action figures.
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Just recently, Wonder Woman received her own U.S. postage stamp.
Now, after years of speculation and false promises, the world’s most recognizable female superhero is finally headlining a major motion picture. “Wonder Woman,” featuring Gal Gadot in the title role, muscles its way into multiplexes Friday.
To celebrate this momentous occasion, let’s take a look at 10 other prominent female action heroes of film and television.
Supergirl (Kara Zor-El)
Like Wonder Woman, Supergirl is one of the iconic females in the DC Comics pantheon. She first appeared in 1959 in “Action Comics” #252. In 1984, in the wake of the success of the “Superman” films, she was given a movie of her own. Unfortunately, it was a dud, though Helen Slater was good in the title role.
Flash-forward to the CW’s “Supergirl” television series, which has been renewed for a third season. Critics claim — with some justification — that the series too often focuses on characters other than Supergirl (including her stepsister, a fine action hero in her own right), but the show is uplifting and optimistic (unlike many of the DC Comics films), and Melissa Benoist is utterly charming as the Girl of Steel. Her smile is as infectious as her heat vision is fierce.
Black Widow (Natasha Romanova)
She was introduced in Marvel Comics’ “Tales of Suspense” #52 (1964), but non-comic book nerds know the Black Widow from such movies as “Iron Man 2” (2010) and “Captain America: Civil War” (2016). Played with verve by Scarlett Johansson, the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, ex-Russian spy and Avengers team member lacks such accoutrements as Iron Man’s armor and Thor’s magical hammer, but that makes her all the more brave as she battles baddies with her fists and feet, along with a few Batman-style gadgets.
A “Black Widow” feature film has been in talks for years. Let’s hope it happens sooner rather than later.
The star of Suzanne Collins’ popular “Hunger Games” novel series, Katniss Everdeen is played in the movies (beginning with 2012’s “The Hunger Games”) by Jennifer Lawrence, who’s as comfortable wielding a bow and arrow as male heroes such as Hawkeye and Legolas. After volunteering to take the place of her little sister in the deadly games of the title, Katniss becomes the leader in a war against the oppressive ruling class, earning the trust of the common people in the process.
Lawrence also played the changeling Mystique, a nicely realized (if villainous) character in its own right, in three of the “X-Men” films.
Nurse “Coffy” Coffin
When the blaxploitation cult classic “Coffy” hit theaters in 1973, it surprised audiences with its anti-drug message, and with its casting of a female — Pam Grier — in the role of action hero. Disgusted with the devastating effects of illicit narcotics on her siblings, the bold and beautiful Coffy dishes out vigilante justice against dope pushers, pimps and Mafia members, becoming the “baddest one-chick hit squad that ever hit town.”
The next year, Grier played the title character in “Foxy Brown,” cementing her place in movie history as an African-American woman who can stand toe-to-toe with any man.
Princess Leia Organa
Demolishing the princess stereotype, Leia Organa doesn’t sit around hoping that someday her prince will come. First appearing in “Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope” (1977), Leia, played by the late Carrie Fisher, has been a member of the Imperial Senate, a spy for the Rebel Alliance and a general of the Resistance against the First Order.
Leia can wield a blaster with the best of them, and she can hold her own at the helm of the Millennium Falcon. When giant space slug Jabba the Hutt enslaved her, forcing her to wear the now-iconic gold metal bikini, she thwarted her captor by choking him to death with the very chains that held her captive. Talk about girl power.
While Ripley, introduced as a warrant officer aboard the spaceship Nostromo in “Alien” (1979), was far from the first aggressive female in film, she was the first full-bore, straight-up action hero played by a woman — Sigourney Weaver — in a mainstream American movie. Clad in clothes that were far from sexy and not wearing any perceivable makeup, Ripley faced unimaginable horrors in the unforgiving depths of space, showing some fear (giving her relatability) while battling the acid-bleeding creatures of the title, yet never backing down. She’s also smart and scrappy, surviving while many around her die. “Aliens” (1986), the first sequel to “Alien,” saw Weaver nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. She was only the second actress in a horror film role (after Ellen Burstyn for “The Exorcist”) to receive this honor.
If Ripley introduced the concept of a fully realized female action hero, Sarah Connor, played by Linda Hamilton, amped it up to 11. In the first “Terminator” film (1984), she was cute and vulnerable (for the most part), relying on Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) to rescue her. However, in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” (1991), she was a strong, sinewy, tank top-wearing fighter, protecting her son, John, the future leader of the Resistance, with a ferocity that called her sanity into question.
Kristy Swanson played the title role in the 1992 “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” film, but the character truly came into her own in Joss Whedon’s excellent television series, which ran for seven seasons from 1997 to 2003. Bold and beautiful, yet saddled by teenage angst and other trappings of a misfit high school girl with super strength and a supernatural calling, Sarah Michelle Gellar as stake-wielding Buffy not only saved the world — a lot — she gained a fiercely loyal fan following as a feminist icon.
Xena Warrior Princess
Tall, confident and clad in a leather miniskirt, boots and bronze breastplate, the sword-swinging Xena made her debut in 1995 in episode 9 of season 1 of “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.” Played by Lucy Lawless with a gleam in her eye, Xena was given her own show later that year, the comedic “Xena: Warrior Princess,” and it became a cult classic, ultimately outstripping “Hercules” in terms of fan following and fun factor.
Gabrielle (Renee O’Connor), no slouch herself, accompanies Xena on her adventures through a fantasy version of ancient Greece, battling evil warlords and unjust gods.
Called the “most culturally iconic” female video game character since Ms. Pac-Man by “Phoenix IV: The History of the Videogame Industry” author Leonard Herman, Lara Croft has become more famous than the series in which she appears. “Tomb Raider” debuted in 1996 for the PC, PlayStation and Sega Saturn, spawning numerous sequels and introducing the world to Lara Croft, a gun-toting British archaeologist who has since appeared in comic books, novels, theme park rides, toy lines and feature films.
While the movies, which include “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” (2001) and “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life” (2003), won’t make anyone forget “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981), Angelina Jolie does an excellent job embodying the title character.