The reason why most people like action heroes is because, as Wittmier says in his article “The Archetypal Hero in Modern Mass Media,” we try to imagine ourselves in the heroes’ shoes and try to live their lives and adventures through them; it is a way to escape the every day monotonous life and to do, at least in our imagination, what we cannot do and probably will never be able to either. What is still a mystery, however, is why the male audience has decided to change from movies like “Rambo” and series like “Magnum PI” Stephanie Mencimer explains in “Violent Femmes” that this turn to misogyny to masochism, as she calls it, has to do with the fact that men have always felt attracted to a beautiful, sexy woman who has power over man, like is the case of a dominatrix. However, the fact that they like these women does not explain why they do not like anymore the old male action heroes. Moreover, Mencimer wonders why men did not seem to like or accept female action heroes before but they do now when it has been more than ten years since the trend started. where women were usually the victims or the ones to be rescued, to movies like “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” and series like “Alias,” among others.
What occurs in Hollywood’s film industry is that it is always looking for something new. There is a time for everything and the time for the old male action heroes has passed. The new trend now is the female action heroes and it is still strong; however, it will also have its culmination eventually like it has happened to the former type of heroes and many other types of movies that have existed. Like Bou and Pérez explain in El tiempo del Héroe [The Time of the Hero] so clearly, “Hollywood’s movie industry, as the producer of myths for people’s consumption, needs to renovate its product in harmony with the times. Heroes become deteriorated with repetition [...] and their image has to be updated or refreshed.” Interestingly enough, these qualities are the ones that women are usually associated with, these are the characteristics that we can see in Lara Croft (Tomb Raider), Sidney Bristow (Alias) and Charlie’s Angels, among others: they are smaller, slimmer, intelligent and do not look threatening if you do not know them.
These slimmer bodies, like Mencimer says, only make old big male action heroes with all their muscles “look like lumps of heavy, slow-moving steel.” Hence we have now female action heroes, who are the new updated or refreshed heroes (like “new Tarzans”). There seems to have been an indication of the rise of a new type of hero in the movie “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.” Here, the new evil terminator played by Robert Patrick was visually the complete opposite to what the terminator that Arnold Schwarzenegger played in this movie and its prequel. The latter was a very big and muscular guy who at first sight gave the impression of a very strong person and looked even scary, whereas the former was a small, thin man who did not look threatening. However, he was indeed threatening and dangerous plus he was smarter and faster that Schwarzenegger’s terminator.
Ever since the beginning of the female action hero rebirth, which according to Stephanie Mencimer took place in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” with the character played by Linda Hamilton, Sarah Connor, we could see how some of those characters have undergone some sort of transformation. To Sarah Connor the transformation took place in the second installment of the Terminator trilogy. In the first part she was, as Susan Jeffords explains so well in her book mentioned before, “uncertain, frightened, and weak; in her rebirth she is toughminded, fearless, and strong [...]. She wears fatigues, totes heavy weapons, and has a mission to perform.” We can also see transformations in “Catwoman,” where Patience goes through a drastic change after she is revived. Before that happened she was a pushover, she did not stand up for herself and was very insecure; however, when she is revived by the cat she becomes the complete opposite. In “Charlie’s Angels” we are told about the girls’ transformations: Natalie is shown taking a driving course wearing braces and with a silly hairdo, Alex used to ride horses apparently professionally and Dylan is shown as having been a “bad” girl at school. When they became Charlie’s Angels their appearance and self assurance changed, plus they became specialized crime fighters.
This change was the recipe of success for Hollywood especially as regards the female audience. Seeing a woman in control, a woman who can defy gravity and/or overpower men, is like a fantasy for many women nowadays when male chauvinism is still strong. However, no woman likes to see a heroine complaining about irrelevant things such as a mid-life career crisis. In other words, women like female action heroes because they represent all they would like to be: they are strong, fearless and do not let anyone step over them, and at the same time they accomplish incredible missions. Moreover, practically all of the movies and television shows that portray an aggressive or strong female character provide the viewers with an answer or an explanation as to why the character acts that way. Sometimes it is the death of a loved one, something that has been done to her like a betrayal, or an attack on her life, or something stolen from her, etc.
Finally, there is yet another reason why female action heroes came about and received such recognition at this specific time in history in the United States. As Gina Arnold explains in “Badass Girls on Film – Is it a Good Thing When Women Beat the Crap Out of Men at the Movies?,” the roles women played in movies in the late twentieth century were mostly about the woman “terrorized, menaced, raped and sometimes even killed for viewing pleasure.” A theory would explain this as a result to what was known as the “angry white male” phenomenon that took place at that time. This phenomenon was apparently a direct result of feminism, sexual liberation, closed factories and farms in the country, and the stricter penalties imposed on sexual harassment and domestic violence, all of which seemed to have made many men angry. This anger was portrayed in movies by putting men taking their anger out on women. Therefore, the emergence of female action heroes in movies and television series in the last few years is also a response to a social situation, this being exactly what the movies just mentioned were doing with women not so long ago. Moreover, the fact that women in real life have been occupying positions of power in many different areas such as sports, business, politics, and even in Hollywood, has also acted as an influence in the creation of the female action hero figure, since, as we have seen, movies reflect society. But there is more to that, because society also reacts to what it sees happening in movies and it is the one that decides trough acceptance or rejection what movies will and will not be successful. In other words, society is the real ruler of the movie and television industries.