borg’s Best of 2018–Kick-Ass Genre Heroines

It’s time for borg′s annual look at the Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines in film and television.  This year we selected 25 characters that rose to the top.  Again the studios gave us more to cheer about than ever.  We’re highlighting the very best from a slate of fantastic heroines, with characteristics to learn from and cheer on.  Determined, decisive, loyal, brave, smart, fierce, strong (and, okay, sometimes evil), you’ll find no one here timid or weepy, but all rely on their individual skills to beat the odds and overcome any obstacle that comes their way.  Over the years we have expanded the list to include any tough, savvy, gritty character played by a woman, so villains are welcome here, too.  Some may be frazzled, put-upon, war-weary, or human, but all have fought, some against difficult circumstances, others against personal demons (literally, figuratively, or both), and some against gun and laser fire.  And they all showed what a tough, kick-ass character is about.

In 2018 these characters broke new ground, and unlike last year’s great list, this year’s selections would not have worked as well had the characters been swapped for males.  We had a former MI-5 agent, bounty hunters, assassins, doctors, defenders, advanced superhumans, superheroines, warriors, witches, and even a few cyborgs–with a roster evenly split between television and movie characters.

Better yet, here’s something we haven’t said before.  Several of our selections this year were played by women over 50.

These are the Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines of 2018:

Enfys Nest (Solo: A Star Wars Story).  For the first half of Solo: A Star Wars Story, Enfys Nest was the leader of a band of pirates, a character as cool and ruthless as anyone Han Solo ever faced.  But once she took off her mask,  it became clear how important she was, how significant her mission was–even more so than Han Solo’s own pursuit of mere wealth.  She foreshadowed what Han would later find with Leia, an early glimpse at a rogue and scoundrel who actually had some good in him.  When they joined forces, it made their characters even better.  And she became one of the best warriors in the Star Wars universe since the original trilogy.  (Disney/Lucasfilm)

Okoye (Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War).  Is there any woman warrior as powerful and impressive in a fantasy movie this year as Danai Gurira’s Okoye?  We can’t think of any.  A smart commander, a brave soldier, a loyal ally.  Stalwart, devoted, steadfast, strong physically, intimidating and wise, with a keen unwavering ferocity, she represented the best of Wakanda, and fought bravely to defend the world at the last stand against Thanos.  (Disney/Marvel)

Higgins (Magnum PI).  Few television characters are as beloved as Jonathan Higgins in the original Magnum, p.i.  So it was going to be risky having any actor step into the role John Hillerman made famous.  So when the show honored the original character and late actor with such a finely tuned, updated character and actor, we took notice.  Perdita Weeks’s Juliet Higgins is everything Robin Masters was–the character we all thought Higgins was in secret.  We don’t know whether we’ll learn the truth this time around and what that truth will be, but as an ex-British secret service agent, she’s a James Bond for Thomas Magnum to partner with–literally running alongside the show’s star and fighting and shooting her way as an equal.  And the result?  Every episode of the first season was full of great action and fun.  (CBS)

Baldwin (Counterpart).  Sara Serraiocco’s assassin is as complex a character as you’ll find on television.  On the one hand she is ruthless, raised solely for the duties she would have thrust into a parallel world.  On the other hand she is alone, and longs for love and companionship.  In the form of her counterpart, she saw all that she could have been: an incredible musician, with none of the darkness that suffocated her while living on the other side.  Along the way Baldwin remained decisive and cool.  Who will be on her hit list next?  (Starz)

Hope Van Dyne/The Wasp (Ant-Man and The Wasp).  Evangeline Lilly’s Hope Van Dyne was even tougher just getting to the point of playing the first Marvel superheroine in a title role.  But now that she has her supersuit to transform into The Wasp, she proved she should have had it all along.  Some of the best sequences in this year’s sequel to Ant-Man featured The Wasp running tiny across the blade of a knife and fighting the bad guys.  In another year of big superhero movies, she carved her own niche.  (Disney/Marvel)

Laurie Strode (Halloween).  We were excited when Jamie Lee Curtis returned 20 years ago as the original scream queen in her role as Laurie Strode.  But another 20 years later the writers created an even better part for her.  This time she returned as a hardened woman, prepared, smarter, better trained, and more equipped to face the inevitable return of evil.  Her fortress was as good as it gets, and her defense of family was second to none (son-in-law excluded).  A great John Carpenter creation, given a worthy follow-up this year.  (Miramax/Universal)

Alisa Jones (Marvel’s Jessica Jones).  Janet McTeer stepped into the second season of Marvel’s Jessica Jones to become the mother that series lead Jessica never had.  But she had been damaged by another, so far that Jessica and Alisa only had moments to be a family.  But the illegal tests that gave Alisa superpowers also led to her insanity and murder streak, first to protect the very man who changed her, and then to murder the person she thought killed him.  McTeer made Alisa one memorable badass in a year full of great TV characters.  (Netflix)

The Nurse (Hotel Artemis).  Jodie Foster has been around as a star actor for decades.  But only this year did she play a sci-fi role where she got to act beyond her past work.  Here she wasn’t another lead protagonist, she played what is typically a supporting role character as the film lead.  And that doesn’t happen every day.  She created a nurse that every real nurse could strive toward.  Her weaknesses only reminded us she was human, not the superheroine she appeared to us to be.  To moviegoers, taking charge of a hospital full of criminals might seem a daunting feat.  But to her character, her heroism was being able to walk out the front door.  That makes for one memorable heroine.  (Lionsgate/Global Road Entertainment)


Lt. Kristin Ortega  (Altered Carbon).  Martha Higareda’s future cop Kristin Ortega lost her partner Ryker under suspicious circumstances.  When a soldier from 250 years ago takes over his body, she makes it her mission to protect him, trying to solve the murder of the guy who brought him back, while uncovering the bad cops in the bureau. Ortega is a badass character in a small package who gets in and out of several fights that would take down anyone else in any other story, and she is the high point of the series–at one point an incident results in a loss of an arm, soon replaced by a powerful cybernetic arm. (Netflix)

Lagertha (Vikings).  Over five seasons we’ve watched Lagertha’s rise to power as queen of the Vikings.  Unlike every other queen in every other context, she’s on the battlefield with the soldiers.  And as much as she seems to make her share of mistakes and bad alliances along the way, she is always ruthless and wise.  Whether or not she makes it to the end of the series (history dictates what happens), Lagertha is why many continue to return to this History Channel series.  (History)

Sabrina Spellman (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina).  Kiernan Shipka’s Sabrina Spellman merged a decades old comic book character with the modern version of the comic book series, to deliver the next step in television heroines, a rare class that includes Buffy Summers, Veronica Mars, and Liv Moore.  Because she is a teenager, like Buffy and Veronica, she has plenty to figure out.  She is a human in a world full of supernatural stories come to life, and like Buffy and Liv, she must determine whether she is going to take charge of her life or accede to the wishes of others.  Because she is young she continued to step into traps created by shadow forces, but we think she’s going to get smarter, and hopefully not lose everyone she cares about on the way.  So far she has faced each challenge head on, and whether she’s making the right decisions, she’s bravely taking each new battle one day at a time.  (Netflix)

Domino (Deadpool 2).  Zazie Beetz’s Domino was unmatched as the best woman superhero of 2018.  Not only does she have the greatest of superpowers, she was the only superpowered character that never missed a step this year, succeeding in her heroics in every scene.  She also could take on Deadpool one on one.  She was absolutely his best pick for his team of superheroes.  She is cool and confident, with style and effortless feats she makes the world revolve around her.  (20th Century Fox)

Lara Croft (Tomb Raider).  In this year’s reboot of Tomb Raider, finally fans got to see an incredible, adventurous video game tie-in heroine that anyone could look up to.  Academy Award winner Alicia Vikander made her Lara Croft into another Indiana Jones, beginning with something as simple as a bicycle race through the busy city streets, and ending up hanging, jumping, kicking, punching, and surviving with the best of them.  And the producers made sure that this Croft matched the action of the video game, even emulating screen grabs from the game to get everything just right.  This Lara Croft was a real-life video game heroine come to life.  (Warner Bros./MGM)

Mia (Humans). Gemma Chan’s Mia started at the bottom, as nothing more than a servant robot without sentience or purpose at the beginning of the series, and she reached the pinnacle of her growth to be like a real human by the end of this season.  She became a true leader, she tried to show the other Synths what it meant to survive and avoid striking back against the humans.  Was she ultimately successful?  We can’t wait to find out next season what the other Synths learned from her.  (AMC)

Spider-Woman aka Spider-Gwen (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse).  The only Spider-Woman of her universe, Gwen Stacy (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld) made a big entrance in her first major motion picture this month.  A new friend to Miles Morales, who lost her best friend in her own dimension, she is a crimefighter that works alone.  Among the Spider-pals she took center stage a few times, fighting off Doc Ock and the rest of the supervillains thrown in her path.  (Sony Pictures Animation)

Art3mis/Samantha (Ready Player One).  Wade never could have made it, capturing the three Oasis keys, without Olivia Cooke’s Art3mis showing him that this strange virtual world that took over the real one wasn’t merely about winning a game.  As Art3mis she was the impressive player that the lead guy aspired to be like, and in the real world she became the motivation for all his actions.  Sure–we wish she had been given an even greater role than support for the male hero.  In the end they seemed to become two halves of the same coin–with common goals achieved, and some romance to boot.  Ultimately, the better part of the character was meeting her outside her heroic avatar.  (Warner Bros./Amblin)

Mera (Aquaman).  A high point of the spectacular underwater adventure full of male warriors vying for power in a comics universe full of duds was the arrival of Mera.  Equal in stature and skills to Aquaman, and smarter than everyone else in the room, and so far superior to every other superheroine in the DCU (Wonder Woman included), Mera actually upstages her male counterpart more often than not in scene after scene.  The comic book character that has had legions of fans for years at last got a worthy onscreen counterpart this year.  (Warner Bros.)

Ghost (Ant-Man and The Wasp).  We knew Hannah-John Kamen best as the incredible lead in the Syfy channel’s Killjoys series.  But as the would-be villain of the Ant-Man story, she became one of Marvel’s coolest women characters.  We’d find that in truth she was a victim of an attempt to rebuild the very technology that made the Ant-Man and Wasp possible, and the real villain was someone she thought she could trust.   Moving almost like the invisible man of past sci-fi stories, she was truly alone in her universe, so now it’s up to Marvel to see what else they can do with this character.  (Disney/Marvel)

Ms. Wardwell (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina).  The most complex and creative character of the series wasn’t Sabrina or her aunts, but Michelle Gomez’s master manipulator, with a boss as dark and evil as they come pulling her strings.  Yet along the way she really did help Sabrina even as Sabrina completed every step in Ms. Wardwell’s mysterious plan for her.  Anyone may have been able to take on the role of Ms. Wardwell–or the demon that possessed her–but nobody was Michelle Gomez, and nobody else had past acting chops at playing the arch-nemesis of the Doctor Who series.  (Netflix)

Trish Walker (Marvel’s Jessica Jones).  Rachael Taylor’s Trish Walker switched gears this year from a sisterly figure to a superheroine with a mission in her own right.  She risked her health to become powerful enough to save the day, even if she got in a little too far and lost some control along the way.  Only at the end of the season did we see what this could mean for Trish next year in the series’ final season: Will the writers transform her into the superheroine of the comic books?  That would be Marvel’s Hellcat.  Marvel fans only have series from Jessica Jones and Punisher to look forward to next year on the small screen, so hopefully we get to see her take on an even greater role.  (Netflix)

Juliana Crain (The Man in the High Castle).  Alexa Davalos’s lead character is surprisingly multi-layered, in a world twisted into a parallel dimension where the Nazis won World War II.  Viewers can’t help but want her to forge ahead and eliminate everyone in her path, but she keeps her eyes on the ultimate target–turning this strange world into a better one.  No character has likely ever had such significant stakes to contend with based solely on her day-to-day actions.  Once she confronts her old flame Joe then she really locks into the heroine role, setting viewers up for a fourth season where anything can happen.  (Amazon Studios)

Liz Dudley (Lodge 49).  Sonya Cassidy’s Liz is a different kind of hero.  She is stuck because she co-signed on her father’s $80,000 loan and then he died.  All of her money goes to repaying the debt and she will never get out of it because of her garnished wages.  So she works for cash tips to get ahead at a crappy local chain restaurant, while supporting her homeless and jobless twin brother.  So why is she a kick-ass heroine?  She proves she can win in the business world, but she rejects it just the same–it’s not her world.  Only when she uses her own best asset–her brains–does she concoct a way to eliminate her problems, and the payoff is perfect.  She becomes an inspiration to anyone and everyone stuck in any kind of daily rut.  (AMC)

Qi’ra (Solo: A Star Wars Story).  With cocky, fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants Han Solo taking center stage, Emilia Clarke’s Qi’ra manipulated everyone, ultimately getting everything she was after, moving up the ranks of Crimson Dawn to presumably become #2 under Darth Maul in the next chapter of the Star Wars story.  In hand-to-hand combat she killed Dryden Vos, and chose her own path instead of becoming tag-along to Solo or Lando going forward.  Is she destined to become the “Emperor’s Hand” in future films?  We hope so.  (Disney/Lucasfilm)

Nice (Hotel Artemis).  Sofia Boutella has the record of portraying more kick-ass characters on our annual list than any other actor.  This year she proved to be the best villain in a building full of criminals and thugs as the tough assassin who went by the name Nice (named for the city in France, and the room of the hotel).  She is the coolest and grittiest of all the entries on our list this year.  If they all had to face off, she’d probably be the one last standing.  (Lionsgate/Global Road Entertainment)

The Doctor (Doctor Who).  Jodie Whittaker had the year’s toughest job.  Stepping into the shoes of a 55-year franchise as the first woman  Doctor was as big an event as we’ve seen in the history of genre television.  And she took on the role and settled in more smoothly than any of her predecessors, instantly becoming likeable and the hero everyone expects from Doctor Who.  Like a Jedi Knight, she even constructed her own sonic screwdriver, perhaps a message that–like the other big sci-fi franchise–this new iteration of the character is worthy of the top title.  (BBC)

And that’s this year’s list.  Keep coming back the remainder of this month as we reveal the rest of our Best in Film, Best in TV, and Best in Print, and our borg Hall of Fame inductees for 2018.

C.J. Bunce

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