‘Killing Eve:’ Check out the ten most ferocious female assassin films
Assassins are so hot right now – it seems they’re everywhere on our screens. From the Cold War chic of The Americans to the comedy farce of HBO’s Barry, to the cat-and-mouse assassin thriller Killing Eve. Elsewhere on the big screen, female assassins are the contract killers du jour, with the movies Terminal and Atomic Blonde dropping last year.
Vaughn Stein’s Terminal follows the twisting tales of two assassins carrying out a sinister mission. Starring Margot Robbie (I, Tonya) as a central hitwoman, the film received mixed reviews ahead of its big-screen opening, with IndieWire describing it as a mess of dead tropes put together in a crime saga in need of a soul and a story:
“An effective cure to whatever lingering nostalgia you might have for the chintzy, winking, hyper-stylized neo-noirs that flooded the indie film market in the wake of Pulp Fiction.”
Not sounding too promising so far, but if you’re a fan of Stein’s or you just wanna see Robbie take out a bunch of drooling gangster wannabes, it might still be worth a hit. However, if you think the film sounds like it deserves the bad reviews it’s received so far, perhaps check out these other films about female assassins that are likely far better than Terminal. Ready, aim, fire!
Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird) stars as a teenage girl named Hanna whose upbringing by an ex-CIA agent left her with the strength, stamina, and skills of a deadly assassin. Dispatched on a mission across Europe, Hanna must stay under the radar as she is tracked by a ruthless intelligence agent and her operatives. It’s a pretty outrageous concept, but one that is made believable thanks to Ronan’s sturdy performance and director Joe Wright’s skills as a filmmaker.
In Olivier Megaton’s hard-hitting crime drama, a young woman (Zoe Saldana) grows up to be a ruthless assassin after witnessing her parents’ murder. In a classic tale of vengeance, Cataleya balances work as a hitwoman with vigilante murders that she hopes will lead to her goal target – the killer responsible for her parents’ death.
Proud Mary (2018)
Kind of like a reverse Léon but with less plants and more sass, Proud Mary tells the story of a hitwoman, played by Taraji P. Henson (Hidden Figures), whose life and career is turned upside down when she comes across a young boy in a hit gone wrong. Directed by Babak Najafi (Sebbe) and written by Steve Antin (Burlesque), John Stuart Newman (Get Shorty), and Christian Swegal (Stasis), this female-centric action drama is a strong showcase for Henson’s skills both as a producer and film lead.
Nikita centers on a convicted felon with a troubled past who, instead of going to jail, is given a new identity and trained as a top secret spy / assassin. The film stars Anne Parillaud (The Man in the Iron Mask) as Nikita, while actor Jean Reno plays a similar character to the one portrayed in Luc Besson’s later film Léon (more on this to come).
Ms. 45 (1981)
At a time when women were treated as second-class citizens in society, director Abel Ferrara (Bad Lieutenant) unleashed his shocking crime thriller into the cinematic realm, about a timid and mute seamstress who goes insane after being attacked and raped twice in one day. Filled with rage and vengeance, she takes to the streets of New York and takes down men with the titular .45 caliber pistol.
It’s not exactly the progressive female lead we’d like to see on our screens now, but all in all Ms. 45 is more enjoyable than it has any right to be and beneath the provocative scenes, the film contains a surprising level of intention and purpose.
The Villainess (2017)
The Villainess, a.k.a. “the craziest action movie of last year”, is a riot of a journey filled with South Korean gonzo junkiness allegedly all hatched from director Byung-gil Jung’s own “demented” imagination. Following a female assassin (Ok-bin Kim) who leaves a trail of bodies behind her as she seeks revenge, it’s got murder, violence, and a scene reminiscent of the hallway fight from Oldboy, but is thrice as long and thrice as savage. Yikes!
The Assassin (2015)
Filmed with lush cinematography and grandiose locations, Hsiao-Hsien Hou’s classic period drama is a visual feast, centered on a general’s daughter named Nie Yinniang (Qi Shu) who is kidnapped and initiated into the masterful world of martial arts at a young age.
Shaped into a powerful assassin whose sole purpose is to eliminate corrupt local governors, when she is sent to kill a nobleman she was previously engaged to, Nie is forced into making the difficult decision – take out the man she loves or break free from the sacred way of the assassins.
Director Luc Besson blew us away with this sucker punch of a film, filled with surprisingly sweet sentiments. Centering on a young girl (Natalie Portman) who strikes up an unlikely relationship with a professional assassin (Jean Reno) after her family is murdered, this film might not strictly focus on a female hitwoman, but Portman’s character is later shown to be trained up by Leon and to some extent, Léon is an expansion of an idea in Besson’s aforementioned film, Nikita.
The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)
Renny Harlin’s crime drama stars Geena Davis (Thelma & Louise) as a suburban mom whose past life as a lethal, top-secret agent comes to light following a nasty blow to the head. Enlisting the help of a detective named Mitch (Samuel L. Jackson), she embarks on a mission to stop her previous counterparts who are out to kill her, growing deadlier and more resourceful along the way.
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)
In Quentin Tarantino’s homage to Japanese genre films, we see an entire host of ruthless female assassins who make up the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad – The Bride (Uma Thurman), O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu), Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah), Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox), and who can forget the cosplay-dressed, flail-swinging thriller killer Gogo Yubari (Chiaki Kuriyama)? All women, all badass!