Women assassins are having a moment. From modern films like Atomic Blonde and The Avengers, to small-screen adventures like Killing Eve and Amazon’s Hanna, audiences can’t get enough of characters layered in strength and intrigue. That’s part of why we love assassins; because they’re so knowable. The mystery is the draw. And we can’t get enough.
That’s why it’s the perfect time for Lionsgate’s upcoming feature film, Anna, from director Luc Besson. Anna stars Sasha Luss as the titular character and features Luke Evans, Cillian Murphy, and Helen Mirren in supporting roles. Anna is a woman holding a secret that could unleash indelible strength and makes her one of the most feared assassins on the planet. The source of her killer instinct is a bit of a mystery, but the journey to find out looks like an insanely well-choreographed action thriller that’s deeply embedded in a world of lies and espionage. See what we mean in the below trailer for the sleek, sexy film, which showcases the dichotomy between Anna’s startling beauty and her impressive ferociousness.
Awesome, right? So in honor of Anna, which hits theaters on June 21, we’re counting down seven of the best cinematic female assassins of all time. Here are our picks.
Perhaps the most recognizable entry on the list is Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff, a.k.a. Black Widow, the redheaded Russian dancer-turned-killer who appears in a handful of Marvel Cinematic Universe films. A good person with a troubled past, Black Widow spends the Avengers franchise trying to wipe the red from her ledger—righting past mistakes with the help of her fellow superheroes. Unlike the rest of the Avengers, Widow has no powers, but her intense training and cunning sensibilities make her just as powerful.
May Day (Grace Jones), A View to Kill
Grace Jones is an icon of beauty, but she’s also an incredible action actress, as evidenced in this 1985 James Bond film, the last to feature Roger Moore in the main role. The lover of a powerful Soviet businessman, May Day is also a powerful assassin with what appears to be superhuman strength. Loyal—perhaps to a fault—and full of beguile and intrigue, she’s a true icon of the genre, and one of the more memorable female characters in the pantheon of James Bond films.
Nikita (Anne Parillaud), La Femme Nikita
Anna isn’t director Luc Besson’s first film to feature a powerful female assassin. In fact, he has a library of characters who fit the bill (as you’ll see elsewhere on this list). One of his most beloved characters is Anne Parillaud’s Nikita, the eponymous hero of this 1990 action-thriller. After she’s sentenced to a life in prison, a French teenager is given a choice: become an assassin or die. Nikita chooses life, and is fast-tracked into a world of immeasurable violence and betrayal, but she’s more than up for the task. This underdog story is full of Besson’s trademark sensual appeal. It’s still a classic of the genre, three decades on.
The Bride (Uma Thurman), Kill Bill
Quentin Tarantino has given us a number of wonderful female characters, but chief among them is Uma Thurman’s Beatrix Kiddo, a.k.a. The Bride, a vengeance-fueled ex-assassin who comes for the former co-workers who ruined her wedding day. The premise is simple, but it’s told epically across two volumes (which Tarantino considers one feature film), and Thurman is masterful in the language of both action and emotion. The violence is near-operatic, but never isolating. You’ll never forget The Bride.
Charly Baltimore (Geena Davis), The Long Kiss Goodnight
Geena Davis is a name that’s synonymous with so many major motion pictures of the ’80s and ’90s, but who could forget her turn in this 1996 thriller? After suffering a head injury in a car accident, a woman named Samantha Caine realizes she isn’t the suburban schoolteacher she thought she was, but is in fact Charly Baltimore, a top-notch CIA assassin. Director Shane Black infuses Charly’s journey for self-rediscovery with wit and prowess, and Davis is perfectly slick in the role, and has phenomenal partner chemistry with Samuel L. Jackson.
Mathilda Lando (Natalie Portman), Léon: The Professional
This pint-sized character is another creation of Luc Besson’s, and has cemented a place in culture thanks to the strong performance by a very young Natalie Portman. After her family is murdered by a drug addict in their New York City apartment, Mathilda is taken in by hitman Léon Montana, who trains her in his ways. With her mind set on vengeance, Mathilda becomes a ferocious fighter. But her precociousness never betrays her humanity, and that duality is why she remains such a fascinating character.
Mei (Zhang Ziyi), House of Flying Daggers
This Chinese action film about family and betrayal is a powerful showcase for Zhang Ziyi, who plays the mysterious Mei, a woman caught in a love triangle between two police officers. In the decline of the Tang Dynasty, Mei works to protect her house, the Flying Daggers, from the strict government that wants them dead. Though she initially pretends to be blind, it’s an act—one of her many secrets. The action and beautiful art direction of this wuxia made it singular, and Mei is an all-time great duplicitous hero.