borg’s Best of 2020–Kick-Ass Genre Heroines

Once a year at borg we ask: What makes a great screen heroine? It’s time for borg′s annual look at the Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines in film and television.  Despite delays in releases due to the covid pandemic, nothing kept Hollywood from including great female characters on the screen, even if that meant moving movies to the small screen for a while. We’re highlighting the very best from a slate of fantastic heroines, with characteristics to learn from and root for.  Determined, decisive, loyal, brave, smart, fierce, strong, 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.  (Want to see previous years’ kickass genre heroines to see how 2020 compares?  Here are 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, and 2015). 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, and often badass, character is about.

This year we add masked superheroines, a CDC epidemiologist, aliens, assassins, martial artists, warriors, cyborgs, a telephone operator, an engineer, a bounty hunter, and a frog and a pig–with a roster evenly split between television and movie characters. Credit goes to both the writers, costumers, and other creators of the characters and the actors and performers that brought them all to life.

These are the Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines of 2020:

Bo-Katan Kryze (The Mandalorian, Star Wars: The Clone Wars).  In the animated series she would let nothing stand in her way. In a galaxy with villains like Grand Admiral Thrawn and Grand Moff Gideon, we’re lucky to have Bo-Katan on our side. Leading a team to find the Darksaber and restore Mandalore, she’s also willing to enlist a lone straggler, and help him for his efforts. With Katee Sackhoff, the actress behind Starbuck, in the armor, the coolness factor goes up by a factor of 100. Great heroines are great leaders, and, like Bo-Katan, they wield an incredible arsenal of skills. (Disney/Lucasfilm)

Nicole Haught in Wynonna Earp

Sheriff Nicole Haught (Wynonna Earp).  Katherine Barrell’s tough, savvy, and friendly sheriff is one of the best reasons to watch Wynonna Earp, now four seasons running. She’s the girlfriend of Wynonna’s sister Waverly, she is plugged into the local supernatural happenings, and she’s always available to lend a hand, when she’s not carrying out her sheriff duties. She’s an investigator who is loyal, driven, and smart. She’s also fun and friendly, making her the heart of the series. In a show about supernatural people, she holds her own as law enforcer simply by her own human wits. (Syfy)

Seven of Nine (Star Trek Picard).  More than forty years of Star Trek have revealed some exceptional women leaders. This year we were lucky to see the re-appearance of one of the best, a character who was captured as a child and trapped in what amounts to a technological cult. With the help of a strong captain, Seven was able to break free, and re-learn what it means to be human. This year that meant helping a legendary former admiral, avenge the death of her closest friend, and fight for good long after her call to duty. (CBS All Access)

Yolanda Montez aka Wildcat (Stargirl).  At her high school Yolanda has a long way to go. Bullied, harrassed, and shunned by peers and family–until the new girl comes along. When that new girl brings with her some superpowers, she couples them with her own athletic workouts to first seek vengeance. Ultimately she realizes the town has bigger problems and, without the support of her parents, she joins a team to protect everyone. And Yvette Monreal’s heroine wears a mask, which makes everyone a hero. (Warner Bros./CW)

Alma (The Night Comes for Us).  Cold and emotionless, Dian Sastrowardoyo’s Alma was ruthless as the Triad’s chosen tool to get the job done.  Incredibly skilled in martial arts as well as unique weaponry, including a yo-yo like thread that will kill you before you see it coming, it’s all she really needed to clear the room.  (Netflix)

Illyana Rasputin (The New Mutants).  Known in the comics by the name of Magik, IIlyana must deal with her youth and naivete when she is unknowingly drugged and imprisoned with other superhero mutants like her. Her inter-dimensional powers make her the most powerful of the teenagers, or so she thinks. When her nightmares manifest themselves in reality she enlists the aid of her dragon puppet called Lockheed to come alive and help her, along with her arm that forges into a sword, to save her friends and demolish the woman who controls her. (20th Century Studios)

K.T. (Bloodshot).  Eiza González took what could have been a filler character and through subtlety and well-timed movements she telegraphed to the viewer enough that they could have figured out what was going on before the big reveal. But the ex-U.S. Navy diver turned cyborg makes the heroine list simply by standing up for herself, for an unsuspecting innocent, and at risk to her own life saved them both. She always possessed some useful physical survival skills and intelligence along the way. (Sony Pictures)

Miss Piggy (Muppets Now).  One of the great things about reboots and continuations of beloved characters is they can finally get named to our annual kick-ass heroine list. One of the great things about the Muppets is that they are immortal, and when handled right, as with this year’s Muppets Now, it’s like they never left. What can you say about Miss Piggy that hasn’t been said? She is one of a kind. A true icon.  (Disney+)

Elena (The Night Comes for Us).  One of three fierce women assassins in a violent and brutal underground world of criminals, Alma’s choice weapon was her Nepalese machete, called a Kukri, and her decisive cool nature made sure nobody made it out of the room alive. Hannah Al Rashid’s makeup made her unrecognizable, but the result was a scary, steely villain you won’t forget. Or want to meet in a dark alley.(Netflix)

Reileen Kawahara (Altered Carbon).  Dichen Lachman’s Reileen could have been the greatest warrior in the future world of Altered Carbon, or any other. The duplicitous sister of series lead Takeshi Kovacs, unfortunately she was left behind by her brother when they were young, and that event changed her path. It also made her ruthless. Her strategy would make her nearly impossible to escape if you ended up on her bad side, and the technology of stacks meant uploading her consciousness and creating back-up bodies. That almost made her immortal. Some eye-popping choreography made her among the best fighters ever on the small screen.  (Netflix)

Xian Lang (Mulan).  An outcast for being a powerful witch, she sought vengeance against those who scorned her. Seemingly a villain that couldn’t be defeated and a threat to the general she supported, aid from a young woman posing as a soldier (in a deleted scene!) prompted her to take a second look at what and who she was fighting for. A wise person changes her mind, a fool never does. Played by Gong Li, her skills were without match, but it’s her decisions that she’d be remembered for. (Warner Bros./CW)

Laris (Star Trek Picard).  In a series full of strong women characters, Orla Brady’s Laris was the most intriguing. Her historical backstory was in a comic book prequel for those interested, but on the screen she became a watcher over Admiral Picard. Cloaked as a housekeeper on Earth, she abandoned the Romulan elite Tal Shiar to provide security for the man who helped her people when in need. Notably she could keep Picard in line, and when the security was breached she was ready to act. Well trained, fierce, and loyal, we couldn’t get enough of her. (CBS All Access)

Norah Price (Underwater). You never know who is going to make it out of a big monster movie. But you hope someone like Kristen Stewart’s engineer is there to help. Norah’s world literally explodes due to some deep-sea fracking that causes an earthquake, breaking up the facility and severely minimizing the opportunities to leave for the surface.  And that earthquake releases some kaiju-inspired beasties from down below.  It all allows Stewart to create a character as tough and heroic as Alien’s Ellen Ripley with a modern homage to the original sci-fi survivor. (Netflix)

Rahne Sinclair (The New Mutants).  Known as Wolfsbane in the comics, Maisie Williams’ Rahne is a steadfast believer in her religion. The audience sees her before we even know it, as her power is being able to transform herself into a wolf or werewolf. Even trapped in a prison-like hospital she is able to empathize with her motley group of teen peers. She seems like she is the most weak of the group, but just like a wolf takes care of its pack, so does Rahne when a supernatural crisis arrives. She’s a wolf, she’s a mutant, and she’s Scottish–is there much more kick-ass than that? (20th Century Studios)

Frog Lady (The Mandalorian).   A determined mother-to-be of an unnamed amphibious species (played by Misty Rosas), she would stop at nothing to get her eggs home to rendezvous with her husband. Even if that means hitching a ride aboard a shady bounty hunter’s ship. Although she wasn’t all that successful guarding her eggs from every threat, she ultimately was successful, after a crash landing and surviving some of Star Wars’ most frightening creepy crawlies, and a crash landing in the bay. Anyone who watches after Baby Yoda is good by us. (Lucasfilm/Disney)

Dani Moonstar (The New Mutants).  Dani represents the uncertain coming of age story for a burgeoning superheroine. Played by Blu Hunt, she knows nothing of her powers until prompted and supported by fellow teen inmates at a hospital she finds herself in after her reservation is destroyed by a tornado. But she knows she has some kind of psychic or psionic powers. Her Native American culture makes her unique as comic book superheroines are concerned. Once she understands her powers, she becomes one of the most powerful of all the mutants, known in the comics as Psyche and later Mirage. (20th Century Studios)

Lieutenant Narissa Rizzo (Star Trek Picard).  Peyton List’s Rizzo is a double agent that represents exactly what Star Trek fans want and expect from a Romulan villain. She won’t let anyone get in her way, even if that means posing as a Starfleet lieutenant. The Tal Shiar colonel was also a member of the Zhat Vash. Had she been successful it could have meant doom for the Federation. But along her journey she made a great Star Trek villain. (CBS)

Lizzie Elliot (Altered Carbon).  Hayley Law’s Lizzie Elliot was dead to begin with, practically speaking. But in the immensely rich future world of Altered Carbon, that can’t hold back someone as strong-willed as Lizzie. A stack is your life in the future. Kept in a sort of limbo by her father after a brutal murder attempt where her stack is nearly destroyed, it takes the nudge of a VR entity named Poe to cause her to break away after some therapy and combat training. In a command center in the clouds she is able to save a cop, a warrior, and her own parents, truly saving the day, and returning to something close to her old life. (Warner Bros./CW)

Beth Harmon (The Queen’s Gambit).  Anya Taylor-Joy brought two great characters to life this year. In Beth Harmon, her heroine was a champion chess player. How can someone who plays games be a hero? In America of the 1960s, she was often the only woman walking into a room full of men. And each time, she was the last person standing. On the board she was a world-class winner, but in every step of her life the cards were stacked against her. Great heroines triumph over adversity. Sometimes they even triumph over the things that hold them back the most. (Netflix)

The Operator (The Night Comes for Us).  Sometimes the bad guys make the best good guys. Julie Estelle’s surprise assassin is the high point of a gory action film with spectacular action sequences, and she helps add some of the needed heart necessary for a well-rounded story. Who does she work for? Why does she suddenly appear? Can she help save the innocent little girl and choose the right side to offer some assistance? An incredible character that would be perfect at the center of her own movie. (Netflix)

Commander Jett Reno (Star Trek Discovery).  Attitude. That defines Tig Notaro’s heroic engineer more than anything–a new play on Bones McCoy. She’s also pragmatic. She saved her crew and kept them alive for ten months waiting rescue, and knows her engineering, often the smartest person in the room. She doesn’t mince words–her explanations get to the heart of the matter quickly and she’s not afraid to point out the idiot blocking the way. Always trying to “raise the bar” and ready for chips and salsa, she’s a heroine we all need. (CBS All Access)

Fay Crocker (The Vast of Night).  This is a year where the world learned that the greatest heroes are those who take ownership of their world. In a small town in the 1950s, that meant reporting something strange going on, and dropping everything to see that the issue is followed up on. The best heroines are curious, and the best heroines take action, just like Sierra McCormick’s Fay Crocker. She proves everyone can be a hero. (Amazon)

Mulan (Mulan).  The live-action update to the heroine Mulan (played by Liu Yifei) from medieval Chinese legend revealed a more confident, trained martial artist, brave, loyal and true, willing to risk her own life for the sake of truth and honor. No societal constraints could hold her back. No man could hold her back. The best heroines are skilled, but also brave, loyal, and true. (Disney)

Quellcrist Falconer (Altered Carbon).  Played by Renee Goldsberry, the heroine of what might be the greatest season of science fiction (the first season of Altered Carbon) visualized on television was the total heroine package. An intelligent strategist, she was a warrior and a protector, an inventor and a protester.  The levels of her character were many, once a commander of an elite squad, in love with one of her soldiers, she would catch up with him decades later. And then she tried to repair the world she created. (Netflix)

Courtney Whitmore aka Stargirl (Stargirl).  She’s naive, but she’s eager. She’s not willing to sit by and watch the world go by. When her father turns out to be a superhero who died in the line of duty she doesn’t hesitate to take over. She also doesn’t care if adults won’t help, because she understands the power of kids. She also paid attention in home ec, because she can sew her own costume if need be. Played by Brec Bassinger, her gymnastic skills are put to good use, as she assembles the next generation of the Justice Society. (Warner Bros./CW)

Dr. Abby Arcane (Swamp Thing).  It seems appropriate that the 2020 Kick-Ass Heroines list includes a CDC epidemiologist. The hands-on researcher, played by Crystal Reed, would go to any length to stop the virus spreading in her town, even into the swamp and back, as well as dodging a burning lab and its plant-animal hybrid monstrosities. We could have named her last year for those who saw her show on DC Universe, but with the wider release this year of the series on the CW, we’re glad we waited. (DC Universe/CW)

Ahsoka Tano (The Mandalorian, Star Wars: Clone Wars).  Played by Ashley Eckstein in the animated show, and by Rosario Dawson in live-action, she is the first character from the expanded Star Wars universe to gain as much fame and fandom as the original heroes. The once Padawan of the Jedi who would be turned to become Darth Vader, it only makes sense that she would have inherited some extra-special powers from the Force. And there was no better casting decision than tapping Rosario Dawson for the live-action role. Great heroines are usually not quitters, but her reasons for quitting the Jedi Order proved to be right-on. Now that she has carved out her place in the animated and live-action stories, the only question remaining is: What will she do next? We’ll find out once her new series begins.  (Disney/Lucasfilm)

And that’s this year’s list.  And a great mix: played by four Latinas, three black women, two Native Americans, two Canadians, two British, one Irish, six Asians, eight teenagers–and five LGBTQ characters, four aliens, and a pig. Several characters who made previous years’ kick-ass heroine lists returned to TV and film and could very well make the list again, but we’re looking for new recruits, and we include characters from series or films that didn’t make it up the streaming channel algorithms to gain our attention in past years.  So we’re not forgetting Cara Dune in The Mandalorian, Philippa Georgiou in Star Trek Discovery, Lagertha and Gunnhild in the last season of Vikings, Juliet Higgins in Magnum PI, the 13th Doctor in Doctor Who, Betty Cooper from Riverdale, and Sabrina Spellman and Ms. Wardwell from The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (although each of them changed plenty this season).  Keep coming back the remainder of this week 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 2020.

C.J. Bunce / Editor / borg

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