Word is that Lionsgate is going to expand its popular and profitable The Expendables franchise by launching a female driven version of the series. Currently titled the cringe worthy The ExpendaBelles with a plot outline that is more likely to go horribly wrong than right and a director more at home in RomComs than action, the idea for the film is at its core, exciting. However, the only way this film works is if, like its male counterpart, it casts well-known female action stars from the 80s and 90s. The following is a list of 4 actresses whose inclusion would be a must for any female version of the Expendables to be something more than an exploitative cash grab. There are others, but the inclusion of these four would make the film a must see for me.
1. Sigourney Weaver
Resume: Alien, Aliens, Alien 3, Alien Resurrection
The original Expendables owes its success to Sylvester Stallone. Not only did he direct the film, but Stallone’s persona as 80s action hero John Rambo is what people initially came to see. If you want a female John Rambo, the best parallel is Ripley, from the Alien franchise. When Alien came out in 1979, a slew of horror films had already pitted a young femme fatale against a maniacal, blood thirsty, stop-at-nothing killer. Ridley Scott’s brilliant film set such a drama in space, but offered us a glimpse of a future where a woman could be more than a screaming, crying, hysterical mess. Like Rambo, Ripley is smart, capable and cool under pressure. Ripley comes to us in Alien, much as John Rambo in First Blood, she is turned into a reluctant survivalist, in a situation she didn’t choose, but one she can fight her way out of. But by the time of the sequel, she is a bad ass alien fighter transformed into stoic bringer of death returning to fight her old enemy with motives that do not coincide with those of her superiors. Sound familiar? That’s also the plot of Rambo: First Blood Part II. You want to make a female Expendables? You need Weaver as much as the male version needed Stallone.
2. Linda Hamilton
Resume: Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day
You want action stars? How about the woman who took on Arnold and won? No brainer right? Like Weaver’s Ripley, Hamilton’s Sarah Connor makes her debut in a film where she finds herself the unwitting target of a stop at nothing killer, this time a futuristic, assassin robot. Like Ripley, though Sarah Connor is aided by a man, in the end her salvation comes through her own perseverance and intellect. What’s great about Hamilton is how she changes from the femme fatale of Terminator into the slightly crazy, paranoid, survivalist bent on something like revenge in the sequel. Sarah Connor learned her lesson well and that lesson was know how to fight. Hamilton, based on this character, would play the slightly off kilter, obsessive weapons expert that every good action film needs. The ExpendaBelles (ugh) needs Hamilton.
3. Uma Thurman
Resume: Pulp Fiction, The Avengers, Batman and Robin, Kill Bill: Volume 1, Kill Bill: Volume 2
First, it wasn’t Marvel’s Avengers that Uma Thurman was in, but the oft forgotten film adaptation of the British Spy television series. Why include it if no one remembers it? The same reason I include Pulp Fiction and Batman and Robin, despite her less than action movie personas within both. Uma Thurman just exudes a kind of cool sexuality throughout everything she does, and sometimes what she does is fight, and sometimes what she does is uses sexuality to fight. If you can get through the ridiculous plot long enough to pay attention to Thurman’s on screen presence in The Avengers, you’ll find an actress with enough Charisma to leave you slack jawed, subservient in a way that no Bond Girl ever quite inspired. Yes, we know she can fight from the Kill Bill franchise (she probably has more on screen kills than the other actresses here combined), but what she would add to this all female line up is what Dirk Benedict was supposed to bring to the A-Team, more than sex appeal, more than good looks, but something like hypnotic seduction. Benedict never really moved past camp, but Thurman, whether she’s in a dance contest or fighting the Yakuza always brings it.
4. Pam Grier
Resume: Coffy, Scream Blacula Scream, Foxy Brown, Jackie Brown (Literally too many to list)
When there were no female action stars, Pam Grier was a female action star. The Godmother of all would be ass-kicking women, Grier found her niche in the world of what are commonly referred to as “Blaxploitation” films. Personally, I hate that term. There is, as with all Hollywood action films, an element of exploitation, and of course many characters are black with the film intended for black audiences, but to refer to the films as such misses a good deal of what the genre is about. Grier’s films especially are driven by deeply moral themes. In Coffy, Grier takes on the drug dealer that hooked her sister, in Foxy Brown she seeks to avenge her murdered boyfriend by taking on the mob. Grier’s action persona is that of a first class bad-ass with a moral compass that points straight to justice. In The ExpendaBelles, I envision her as the leader of the group, as she was the leader in the genre. I doubt she’ll get that kind of respect, but she deserves that and more. No one but Grier could have said that vigilante justice is “As American as Apple Pie,” conveying the necessary righteousness of a Black Woman standing up for herself and her loved ones while understanding the irony of how vigilantism has historically been a tool of oppression. Without Pam Grier there is no such thing as a female action star. And without Pam Grier, I have to say, a female Expendables would be disappointing.