Amid all the hubbub about another failure to get a Wonder Woman movie off the ground, a pretty significant milestone was ignored. With the success of "Salt," we now have a true bankable female action star in Angelina Jolie. Most people in the industry are still slow to this monumental development.
There have been female action stars before in Asia. Hong Kong was churning them out steadily since before "Come Drink With Me." But when Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Zhiyi hit American shores no one seemed to know what to do with them besides miscasting them as Japanese geishas. Linda Hamilton beefed up for "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" but never made another action film. And of course Renny Harlin tried to make Geena Davis an action star and failed badly with "Long Kiss Goodnight" and "Cutthroat Island." And let’s not forget Halle Berry who went from "Die Another Day" and "X-men" to "Catwoman." At times action producers seemed to behave like the He-Man-Women-Haters club from the Little Rascals. If they greenlit a female “actioner” it was more along the lines of "Catwoman," a movie that exists solely to put Berry in ripped-up leather pants.
And the attitude still persists in a few areas. A friend of mine was working on an action script. There was a golden opportunity to introduce a female character, but his producers insisted he keep it a sausage fest. This despite the fact that there hasn’t been a male buddy action hit since the "Lethal Weapon" franchise shut down.
To be fair, the number of butt-kicking females has increased exponentially in the last decade after the TV success of shows like "Xena: Warrior Princess," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Alias" to name a few. But now it’s undeniable, action movies with a female lead can sell. "Salt" will end up out-grossing "Sorcerer’s Apprentice," "The A-Team," "Predators," and "Robin Hood." That’s super impressive as "Salt" is not based on any pre-established property.
So the box office success can be attributed pretty much to its star. More than that, Jolie has become a true action movie star; not just someone you buy as a deadly assassin, but someone you have a hard time picturing in a movie without a heavy dose of butt kicking. Sure she won praise for her work in "Gia" and an Oscar for "Girl, Interrupted" and she’s tried her hand in films such as "A Mighty Heart" and "Changeling." But the hits on her resume would do Sylvester Stallone proud: "Gone in Sixty Seconds," the "Lara Croft" franchise, "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," "Wanted," "Salt," even "Kung Fu Panda." Her pop culture image has become that of a lethal, feral warrior woman.
And this comes not a moment too soon for the action genre which is fast running out of twists on the old genre. The buddy action film? The closest thing we have right now is Will Ferrell riffing on the genre with "The Other Guys." The sci actioner is still going strong with "Avatar," "District 9," and "Inception." But present-day action has had a rough go of it lately. Even Matt Damon can’t find success outside of the "Bourne" series.
The success of "Salt" proves that the hardcore action audience doesn’t mind a little femininity mixed with its mayhem. And that may even be the key to Jolie’s success. Take a look at "Wanted." James McAvoy was the star but the one who came out of it with real Action Movie cred was Jolie. McAvoy was fine in the role, but really you could have plugged in any young actor and gotten the same results. Jolie in supporting role stood out because she added sensuality and still was a believable badass.