We have a soft spot for women who carry weapons. There has never been a shortage of eager moviegoers eager to get a bucket of popcorn, crack open a bottle of their favorite beverage, and watch a smart, and often very beautiful, woman take the bad guys down a peg or two, whether it’s Alita or Oceans 8.
Hollywood’s power brokers listened attentively and were eager to oblige. However, a distinct sub-genre has begun to emerge in recent years. In a subgenre, female protagonists with guns are more often than not spies or assassins, which is the premise of the entire film.
Consider the case of Red Sparrow. After suffering a career-ending injury, prima ballerina Dominika Egorova (played by Jennifer Lawrence) joins the secret intelligence service known as the Sparrow School in the 2018 spy thriller based on the same name book. It’s a group tasked with teaching gifted children and teens how to use their bodies and minds as weapons. Does this sound familiar to you?
After undergoing the torturous training, Egorova has become the most lethal Sparrow yet. Things really pick up once she realizes how much her actions have changed her and how much they have affected everyone in her life. Although her life has taken an unexpected turn, she must still deal with her feelings for an American intelligence officer whom she has only recently met.
The critical response to Jennifer Lawrence as the film’s central protagonist was positive. The movie, on the other hand, has an IMDB rating of 6/10 and a Rotten Tomatoes score of 46%. Believe the critics and you may be discouraged from watching, but let Google tell you the truth and you’ll be inspired again to check it out. It was well-received by the majority of the audience (85%). One thing is for certain with such a divided and clearly engaged crowd. The hunger for this new sub-genre hasn’t lessened one bit.
It’s easy to overlook some of the genre’s hardcore heroines who have made significant contributions before the arrival of the new breed, such as Jessica Chastain, LupitaNyong’o, and Penélope Cruz in The Rhythm Section, the third installment of Eve, and 335, which is expected to star these A-listers.
Here are ten films like Red Sparrow featuring strong female spies and assassins (and maybe even more so).
1. Black Book (2006)
The genre’s most recognizable film is Black Book, which isn’t set in the United States. Inspired by true events and “rated R” because of “many gunfights, crude language and nudity,” the movie transport us back to the Second World War era. There’s a young Jewish spy in the Netherlands who has to abide by the rules like it’s her life depends on it.
Despite being ordered by her superiors to seduce a Gestapo officer, she soon finds herself falling in love with her deadly enemy. Director Paul Verhoeven (known for such cult classic films as Showgirls and Basic Instincts) brings the same raunch and violence to the big screen in Black Book. It was the most expensive Dutch film ever made when it came out.
As a result of its success at the 2006 Netherlands Film Festival, the movie was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Language Film. For her role, actress Carice van Houten received critical acclaim from around the world, earning her and the film three Golden Calves. This film was also selected as the best Dutch film of all time by the Dutch public in 2008. In the history of the femme fatale spy/assassin genre, Black Book has unquestionably set the bar high. It should be on your must-see list.
2. Salt (2010)
It’s difficult to picture anyone else in Angelina Jolie’s role as Evelyn Salt because she brings the character to life. What’s even stranger is that it was written in the first place for a man.
A Russian defector has accused American CIA officer Evelyn Salt of being a spy, putting her in the sights of some very powerful people. As a runaway fugitive, Evelyn Salt is forced to use all of the skills she’s learned over the years to stay one step ahead of the authorities while trying to prove her innocence. Although she tries so hard to prove her innocence, the more guilty she feels.
For its action sequences and Angelina Jolie’s performance, Salt brought in $294 million worldwide at the box office.
3. Nikita (1990)
The female spy/assassin genre would be incomplete without mentioning Nikita. Following Nikita, a nihilistic teenager who seems hell-bent on making terrible life choices, such as killing police officers, the film also goes by the name La Femme Nikita.
As an alternative to being executed, Nikita can become an assassin instead. It’s a straightforward decision, and she’s succeeding as a skilled assassin until something goes horribly wrong on a mission. This 1990 classic, dubbed the “birth of the spy/assassin genre” by some, was directed by Luc Besson and uses the full force of his directorial generosity.
Because the plot, characters, and performances are all so well-done and cohesive, this is a must-see for anyone who wants to check all the boxes for both what this genre demands and what a great film is.
When it comes to films like Red Sparrow, Nikita is your best bet. You can get this sneaky feature on iTunes for a small fee.
4. Atomic Blonde (2017)
A lot of people will recognize Atomic Blonde more than any other film on this list, thanks in large part to the film’s extensive marketing. There’s no denying Charlize Theron’s incomparable star power can bring any character to life, and she does so brilliantly as MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton.
Atomic Blonde is set in 1989 and is based on the graphic novel “The Coldest City,” which tells the story of a spy on a mission to find a list of double agents just as the Berlin Wall is about to fall. The similarities between Atomic Blonde and Red Sparrow end with spies and pre-existing source material.
Instead of building suspense slowly like Red Sparrow, Atomic Blonde grabs you by the collar and throws you into the thick of the action from the get-go. Kurt Johnstad is the screenwriter, while David Leitch directs for the first time as a sole director (most known for writing such cult favorites such as 300). James McAvoy, John Goodman, and Toby Jones round out the film’s impressive cast.
Theron and McAvoy’s performances, the soundtrack, and the film’s action sequences all drew comparisons to the now-iconic – and super-efficient – assassin John Wick. Atomic Blonde opened on March 12th, 2017, made $100 million worldwide, and received mostly positive reviews from critics.
You’d be remiss if you didn’t see how the plot unfolds before the sequel to Atomic Blonde is finished.
5. Peppermint (2018)
Peppermint is one of the most divisive films we’ve seen so far, based solely on how it was received. Riley North, played by Jennifer Garner, wakes up from a coma after a brutal attack that killed her husband and daughter, taking a break from the Russian spy trope while remaining a full-on assassin. After a corrupt system shields the murderers from accountability, Riley must go into hiding. Her revenge on her captors comes years later, when she’s an effective killer and an unstoppable force. Riley sets out on a mission to exact vengeance while evading capture by the criminal underworld, police, and the FBI. This sounds like the basis for some exciting action, don’t you think?
So what’s the deal with the split? Critics, on the other hand, panned it, with scores as low as 13% on sites like Rotten Tomatoes. However, it was a huge hit among the audience. In spite of the low rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an audience approval rating of over 72%, with some platforms recording up to 92% of those polled saying they enjoyed it.
There’s no denying that Jennifer Garner gives a strong performance in this emotionally compelling story that stays true to the cold-blooded female assassin theme. You can buy Peppermint from the iTunes store.
6. The Villainess (2017)
Those who enjoy heart-pounding fight sequences, crisp camera movements, and a compelling backstory will enjoy this film. The film was so well-shot and choreographed that it received a four-minute standing ovation from the Cannes Film Festival audience.
Jung Byung-gil directs this South Korean action film about assassin Sookhee, who has been training since he was a child. Recruiters lure her in with the promise of eventual release as a sleeper agent. She jumps at the chance because she longs for some semblance of normalcy. However, she soon discovers that secrets from her past are returning to haunt her. In an effort to finally gain her freedom and escape her past, Sook-hee goes on a rampage of violence and vengeance.
The Villainess is a great example of how popular female spies and assassins are outside of Europe and the United States.
Red Sparrow fans won’t be dissapointed by this film’s enthralling qualities. Netflix subscribers can watch The Villainess right now.
7. The Assassin (2015)
This deeply cinematic film about a female spy/assassin from outside of Hollywood is another great one. However, this film’s stunning visuals aren’t its only selling point. The Assassin takes place in the ninth century and is about a general’s young daughter who is kidnapped and trained to be an exceptional assassin.
As a result of failing to complete a mission, she is forced to kill her fiancé, which forces her to make a difficult decision between love, family, and the group of assassins she has joined. In Rotten Tomatoes’ “Certified Fresh” category, the film has an approval rating of 80%.
According to Metacritic, the film received an overall score of 80 points.
8. Hanna (2011)
With no access to modern day resources, parents are forced to educate their daughters on how to become lethal killing machines. The results are horrifying. Hanna, a 2011 action-adventure thriller film from the United States, is based on this premise.
The film is directed by Joe Wright and stars Saoirse Ronan as Hanna, a young woman raised and trained as an assassin by her father, a former CIA operative, in the wilderness of northern Finland (Eric Bana). In order to complete the mission, her father assigns her to covertly travel across Europe while dodging the attention of a ruthless former colleague of her father’s named Marissa (Cate Blanchett).
In the course of her investigation, Hanna discovers startling details about her past and begins to have doubts about her humanity. She also has to deal with Marissa, who is hellbent on seeing her dead for some reason. Hanna is an obvious addition to the collection of films in this genre because it takes its audience on an emotional roller coaster while also delivering gritty action sequences.
Hanna can be purchased from Amazon for $14.99.
9. Haywire (2011)
Steven Soderbergh directed the 2011 action thriller Haywire, which starred MMA star Gina Carano. A government security contractor sends Mallory Kane on missions that take her to some of the world’s most dangerous locations, and the movie follows her adventures there.
Mallory is betrayed and left for dead by someone in her own agency after she successfully frees a hostage journalist. Mallory uses her black-ops experience to set a trap for herself, knowing that only by discovering the truth will she be able to live. Mallory is on the verge of dying if she doesn’t figure out a way to turn the tables on her enemies.
In the same way that Red Sparrow’s web of secrecy, lies, and tragic consequences sells this film, so do the plot twists and turns in this one. Haywire is a great choice for fans of high-octane black ops action movies. Additionally, Carano uses her mixed martial arts skills to perform some of her own stunts in addition to a stellar cast that includes Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Bill Paxton, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas, and Michael Douglas, making this one a standout for genre fans.
As close as you’ll get to seeing a film like Red Sparrow without actually seeing one. Netflix has the movie Haywire available to watch right now.
10. Colombiana (2011)
Colombiana star Zoe Saldana has starred in blockbuster films like Avatar and Pirates of the Caribbean. In Colombiana, she shows why she is one of the most sought-after actresses in the world.
Formerly known for another action-packed franchise Taken as well as iconic projects like The Fifth Element, Transporter, and Nikita by Luc Besson (who also directed this film), Colombiana is about an orphaned young girl who witnesses her father’s murder and later grows up in the United States working for a Colombian drug cartel as a contract killer.
Cataleya (Zoe Saldana), a contract killer for her uncle, executes her tasks with a cold, calculating efficiency while secretly plotting vengeance against her family. With this performance, Zoe Saldana stands out among female contract killers because she completely owns the role. Colombiana can be seen on Netflix.
For the time being, this concludes the conversation. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t compile a comprehensive list of films that are comparable to Red Sparrow. Please let me know in the comments if you believe I omitted any important information.