J-Law: ‘Nobody had ever put a woman in the lead of an action movie’ before me

Variety’s Actor on Actor series is out this week and next week. It’s where they put two actors in a room and they fight to the death talk about their careers and the awards season and such. This year, Variety paired Jennifer Lawrence with Viola Davis. It worked out okay, in general – Jennifer was very respectful of Viola and Jen even seemed awed by Viola. Early in their conversation, they talked about The Woman King and what it’s like as a female lead of an action movie. J-Law is currently in big trouble for what she said about female-led action movies. Here’s that section:

Davis: What I have going for me is I’m a Black actress. And I understand how people perceive that. I don’t see it as a hindrance. But when have I ever seen anything like “Woman King,” not just with me in it, but with anyone who looks like me in it? What studio is going to put money behind it? How are they going to be convinced that Black women can lead a global box office? So, yeah, I said, “That’s not going to happen, because you don’t see it.” And, listen, it’s wonderful to sit with you. Because I see us as sort of the same type of actress, in a way. We don’t look alike, I know that.

Lawrence: I don’t feel worthy to be in the same room as you, but please continue.

Davis: But I feel that what you bring to your performances is exactly what an actor is supposed to bring, which is life. Which is the depth of human experience, the minutiae of it, the joy of it, the tragedy of it, the paradox and contradiction of it in every moment. And that’s what you’re supposed to do as an actress. Yes, there is a technical-proficiency aspect of acting. But with you, that’s what I see. And I think that’s why people are drawn to you. And I think that’s why people are moved by your performances.

Lawrence: Goodbye! I want to circle back to you being “The Woman King.” I remember when I was doing “Hunger Games,” nobody had ever put a woman in the lead of an action movie because it wouldn’t work — because we were told girls and boys can both identify with a male lead, but boys cannot identify with a female lead. And it just makes me so happy every single time I see a movie come out that just blows through every one of those beliefs, and proves that it is just a lie to keep certain people out of the movies. To keep certain people in the same positions that they’ve always been in.

[From Variety]

Yeah, Jennifer Lawrence is completely wrong about her own place in film history as a female lead in an action franchise. While the Hunger Games franchise was a huge achievement and I’m not minimizing it, she wasn’t the f–king first woman to helm an action franchise successfully. She’s erasing a big chunk of the careers of Sigourney Weaver and Angelina Jolie, for a start. It was a huge deal at the time that Angelina – fresh off her Oscar win – signed on to play Lara Croft and really committed to getting physically strong to be “believable” as an action heroine. Sigourney IS the Aliens franchise too, and while she wasn’t doing crazy stunt work, those are still action-sci-fi-horror movies. What else? Linda Hamiliton in Terminator 2. Uma Thurman in Kill Bill. Pam Grier in Foxy Brown. Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi. This is ridiculous and Jennifer Lawrence is too old to play this “nothing existed before me” game.

Photos courtesy of Backgrid, Cover Images, cover courtesy of Variety.

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99 Responses to “J-Law: ‘Nobody had ever put a woman in the lead of an action movie’ before me”

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  1. Becks1 says:

    Huh. wow. Okay. that’s an interesting take J-Law. An incorrect one, to be sure.

    What I did think was a big deal at the time – if I’m remembering correctly – is that she kind of ushered in this era of YA dystopian books with female leads being made into movies. Like I don’t think we would have had Divergent if Hunger Games hadn’t been so successful (and maybe we would have been better off, bc man that series did not end well.) so maybe she thought she was the first bc of that, bc of the teenage aspect of HG? (but even then I’m sure I’m forgetting a ton of action movies with teenage girls as leads, right?)

    I’m scratching my head because that’s kind of the only thing I’ve got. Reading the headline, my mind immediately jumped to Jolie and Weaver.

    • Frippery says:

      The Hunger Games films were only made because of the success of Twilight though. She is problematic as hell, but Bella Swan clumsily stumbled so Katniss could run.

      And those were only piggybacking over the juggernaut of Harry Potter. You are correct about the dystopian aspect though.

      • Becks1 says:

        ohhhhh I forgot about Twilight. I feel like we should all forget about those movies, LOL. Were they considered action movies though?

        I should admit here that I did see the first Twilight in theaters on opening weekend. LOLOLOL. and I was 25 or 26 I think lol.

      • Ana170 says:

        That doesn’t follow. Studios at that time had been mining YA books since HP and The Hunger Games were very popular books on their own. Aside from being best sellers, there’s nothing in common between the series. THG is dystopian science fiction (not really action), while Twilight is fantasy romance.

        That all being said, JLaw is exhibiting Gwyneth Paltrow levels of self-awareness here.

      • C says:

        No, I think Frippery’s right. Twilight is problematic but a lot of Twilight readers also loved The Hunger Games and in particular the Mockingjay films followed a similar release pattern as Breaking Dawn Parts 1 and 2. And the films also leaned into the love triangle to echo Twilight.

      • Frippery says:

        No, I didn’t mean they had much in common, just that the Hunger Games films, even splitting the last book in to two films, got made because they wanted another franchise as successful as the Twilight movies has been. Twilight also owed a lot to the Harry Potter movies in terms of studios searching for that next big pile of money.

        In turn, The Hunger Games got studios looking at their next big teen girl franchise so we got the Divergent movies, Beautiful Creatures, The Mortal Instruments, probably some others I can’t remember…….

    • DouchesOfCambridge says:

      Gwyneth, get out of her body

    • Josephine says:

      Is she talking about movies that are marketed specifically to tweens and teens? Alien was rated R although Tombraider was only PG-13. Still, both had leads that were old enough to appeal to adult males (and teens too, for sure). But maybe she’s talking about a female lead in a movie made specifically for the kids/teen audience.

  2. Smile says:

    Sigourney Weaver 20 years before her.

  3. Sumodo1 says:

    In 1997, The Fifth Element was released. After that, Milla Jovovich headlined more action movies. J Law, take a seat.

    • Yvette says:

      @Sumodo1 … Yep, and in 1986 when the film “Aliens” was released with Sigourney Weaver.

    • bananapanda says:

      Also, Kate Beckinsale in the Underworld series movies.

      There are SO many examples from Aliens (1980?) onwards.

      If JLaw had said she was the first to lead a major Book Series franchise (and frankly be underrated/undrepaid vs, say Toby Maguire’s snoozefest Spider Man) then I’d understand what she’s claiming.

      • Jess says:

        All of this! There were so many women who have led action movies before her (Geena Davis was a bad a$$ action hero too, esp in my favorite Xmas movie: The Long Kiss Goodnight). That being said, I do think her point about executives still hesitating about female leads (because they think boys won’t identify with female leads) is a valid one, and one that we still struggle with (just look at how long it took Marvel to make a female-centered movie).

    • Vexxy says:

      I know I’m one of the ten people in the world who love the Resident Evil franchise (and one of maybe 3 RE fans who do lol). It’s not because it’s a good adaptation of Resident Evil, because apart from accurately replicating monster designs it’s a huge mess but I love the movies because of Mila and what she brought to the role (even though Alice is definitely a Mary Sue, I like her). Ali Larter as Claire was really good too.

      There are so, so many action franchises led by women. Amazing ones.

      I started reading The Hunger Games back when Catching Fire first came out (the novel, not the movie) and it was already super popular with teenagers. My ex suggested I read it because her students were reading it and she knew Battle Royale is one of my favourite books. It would have succeeded as a franchise no matter what because it was so popular.

      Not that Jen isn’t a great actress, she is. And she played a good Katniss. But you lose so much of what makes Katniss likable when you divorce her from her inner monologue. I didn’t like movie Katniss at all (tbf I don’t really like book Katniss too much either) and god knows the last thing Mockingjay needed was to be divided into two parts. She definitely did lead an action franchise but that’s something the Sigourneys of the world did first.

  4. Heather says:

    Huh, that’s interesting because I thought Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider came first, but sure, JLaw was the first.

    • Flowerlake says:

      Red Sonja?

      Don’t know if that was a big hit then, but it’s 1980s with a female lead.

    • Jaded says:

      Sigourney Weaver in Aliens. Pam Grier as Foxy Brown. Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia. Linda Hamilton in Terminator. Uma Thurman in Kill Bill. Michelle Yeoh in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

      What an utterly dumb and uninformed thing to say.

  5. GOBO says:

    The Hubris of it. Utterly ridiculous statement.

    • teehee says:

      Not necessarily hubris, but definitely ignorance (in the kindest way)– she’s not that old and don’t necessarily know of wonder woman or bionic woman or or or….?
      We’re seeing a heck of a lot of ignroance from the TikTok generation nowadays. I’d file it under this.

      • A says:

        She’s thirty two, not twelve. And she acts for a living. There’s literally no reason she wouldn’t have some idea that other women had her job before her.

  6. MacDuffer says:

    Way to step right in it, Jennifer. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) from Alien/Aliens would like to have a word, not to mention Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider movies, and there’s lots of other examples too.

  7. els says:

    Thank you. The problem with this generation of actors is that most don’t acknowledge the past. And it comes across as performative. You don’t see Angelina Jolie praised herself as “First action female lead”, they just do their thing and that’s why they’re iconic.

    A bit of research wouldn’t hurt.

  8. Twin Falls says:


  9. Alexandria says:

    Wow I thought she was smarter than this. Does she know Angelina Jolie exists?

    How about Sigourney Weaver, Milla Jovovich, Uma Thurman?

    Oh god Twitter is roasting her hard.

    • Nem says:

      People forget she stopped her education at 14.
      And it seems nobody was there to support and help her continue to educate herself by others means…
      Her management privileged her being cash money and oscars favorite on the short term, when it isn’t a good look for her to lack knowledge about her craft , and not being articulate enough at such a level.
      She needs Hollywood gold era media training, or to select an easier way of communicating.

      • M says:

        The way we respond to her inaccurate statement can either help misogyny or abate it. What do you choose?

  10. Lilllian says:

    My favorite is Geena Davis in A Long Kiss Goodnight.

  11. Fleur says:

    Ignoring one of the best movies ever made, aka Aliens with Sigorney Weaver, and Alien it’s excellent predecessor. There’s also Resident Evil, which a woman carried, the Kate Beckinsale series where she plays a vampire hunting warewolves , Aeon Flux with Charlize Theron, Barbarella with Jane Fonda, the list is so long lol

  12. CJ says:

    This is just privilege in action. She so desperately wanted a me too bonding moment with Viola Davis, who is speaking about not just representation as a woman, but as a Black woman in film, and JLaw said the first thing she could thing of to say they’ve had the same experiences of representation.

    No. Yes there is a huge history of YA novels and films not having female leads because it wasn’t seen as saleable to boys, but nothing JLaw does is a breakthrough to a new age for attractive blonde females in film the way girls and women of colour (and broadly, POC from cultures based outside of America) are finally starting to see themselves represented in the mainstream cinema in roles outside the stereotypes.

  13. HeyKay says:

    I am not a fan of her. I haven’t watched any of the Hunger Games movies.
    She seems pretty full of herself and comes off as not too bright, IMO.

    Aliens, Sig. Weaver, Gena Davis in The Long Goodnight was almost a female Bond, etc, etc
    What about Pam Grier? She headlined action movies in the ’70’s?

    • Michael says:

      She did not even go to high school so she is not well educated. She dropped out of school at 14 to pursue acting and was living in NYC at 16.

      • Susan says:

        Respectfully, it isn’t about education. She’s been a working actor for years. And she’s in her 30s, she’s not a fresh new teen starlet.

  14. ML says:

    I get the feeling that JLaw’s foot misses being in her mouth every once in a while, so she reinserts it.

  15. Mel says:

    I’ve always found her to be extremely irritating. I see nothing has changed……….

  16. Lightpurple says:

    Her Royal Highness Jane Barbarella Fonda would like a word with you, Ms Lawrence. See Ms Meryl River Wild Streep and Ms Sigourney Aliens Weaver to schedule your appointment.

  17. Kateee says:

    Maybe she meant teenage girl? I’m certainly no authority, but I can’t think of a teenage girl-fronted action movie prior to the Hunger Games. Teen girls in horror movies, absolutely, teen girls in romances, comedies, yes, but I’m blanking on action.

    Either way, more Viola Davis please.

    • Frippery says:

      I had to look up when it came out, but Hanna was in theaters a year before The Hunger Games (Saoirse Ronan as a teenage assassin). And Kristen Stewart’s Snow White movies came out the same year as The Hunger Games.

    • Michael says:

      The original movie for Buffy The Vampire Slayer was a female action movie. This was before the series

      • michyk says:

        thanks, michael! i came here specifically to mention the original buffy movie, which was from 1992.

    • NM says:

      I really loved the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie when I was a kid. And that was a vampire butt-kicking teen girl action movie.
      She really wasn’t the first, ever.

      • Lex says:

        She’s obviously wrong but comparing the original BtvS is a bit of a stretch haha. Surely it needs to be successful action films, not just any old rubbish

  18. Izzy says:

    Sigourney Weaver has entered the chat.

  19. Allygator says:

    IDK, to me it seems clear she’s talking about a kids/teen movie. And I can’t think of many others that fit that category.

    • Wilma says:

      I think so too, because she specifically says ‘boys’ and ‘girls’.

    • Shai says:

      If she was referring to teens/kids movies she should have said that, but I doubt she was.

      • Josephine says:

        she used the words boys and girls. i get that people do not like her and that’s totally fine, but I don’t see the value in degrading her without wondering if she meant something more narrow. as women i was thinking maybe we could give other women a little grace before tearing her apart, mocking her education, etc. etc.

  20. Case says:

    While she’s obviously not correct in saying she was the FIRST by a long shot, I do think Katniss ushered in a new era that saw many more female-led action/adventure films with consistency.

  21. Veronica S. says:

    She’s incorrect historically, but it’s not surprising she thinks that because I would argue we’ve actually regressed there in the last twenty years. Most of the women we are listing are 80s/early 90s. It should stand out that there are few, if any, that we can name in the last two decades. Angelina in Lara Croft comes to mind, as does Kate Beckinsale in Underworld, but they were nowhere near the smash hit that THG was.

    Her comment isn’t about tooting her own horn, IMO, but highlighting how women are locked out of those huge franchise opportunities and denied lead roles at the same pace as men. Just take a look at how long it took to give Black Widow a movie. Women can get franchises…..provided they aren’t at the same level as men.

    • Ameerah M says:

      Tomb Raider came out over 20 years ago. No films were turning in huge box office numbers like the films of the mid 00’s with the exception of Titanic. The franchise still made near 1bil at the box office in 2001. And adjusted for inflation it’s numbers wouldn’t be that far off from THG. Her comment definitely was about tooting her own horn.

    • Lady Esther says:

      Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde (2017) would like a word (one of the best fight scenes ever put to film, IMO). And yes, absolutely, Michelle Yeoh in Everything Everywhere All At Once which was (checks notes) out this Year of Our Lady 2022. JLaw is an idiot.

    • Tiffany:) says:

      I agree, Veronica. She’s incorrect about “the first” thing, and there are important performances that she erased with her comment….
      But look at these responses.
      There are only a handful of women as leads in action films over the last 40 years!!!! 4 DECADES! And we should feel lucky because there are maybe a dozen women who were able to lead action films?

      Come on. People shouldn’t do the work of the patriarchy for them, and pretend like the film industry has a solid history of putting women as leads in action films. It’s sporadic at best.

  22. Noki says:

    She is at least young enough to recall Charlie’s Angels reboot.

  23. MNgirl says:

    Would like to throw out Pearl White and the Perils of Pauline serials and others of the 1910s here… Girl bye 🤣

  24. Concern Fae says:

    Look, it’s an oof, but she’s not as wrong as y’all are making her out to be.

    She’s the first in the current post-Marvel era, where someone is cast not just for one film, but an entire series of films, with all of them expected to gross in the half-billion range. That’s something new and that the other actresses you are mentioning didn’t face.

    I saw Alien first run in the theater. Amazing and a breakthrough, but it was a gritty sci-fi horror film made when there was not the expectation that a successful film would have a sequel. It was also an ensemble cast, Ripley becomes the lead as everyone else does. In the original Terminator, Linda Hamilton was an ordinary college student and waitress. She was a damsel in distress for most of the film, discovering her grit and courage over the course of the film. Again, low budget film. More expectation that there would be a sequel, but also Linda Hamilton was in no way the star of the film. That was Schwarzenegger all the way.

    There’s a better case to be made for Angelina Jolie and Lara Croft, but that was a property that had been around and almost made many times. It was just waiting for the right casting. Jolie made it an “A” film. It was also pre-Marvel in terms of box office expectations. As for Milla Jovovich, The Fifth Element was a one-shot. Bruce Willis was the star, she was the girl. The Resident Evil films were “made for a price,” not intended to be a studio’s lead film for the season. Same with the Underworld pictures.

    So, yeah, we can scream all we want about how she’s wrong, but she’s talking about how the money men saw the situation. Ignoring the reality of what women and POC face in these fields doesn’t help the situation. The economic realities of Hollywood have changed in the post streaming world. Maybe not for audiences, but for the studios? Definitely.

    • Ameerah M says:

      You’re adding a lot of qualifiers to justify her comment. Even if all of that were true she would still be wrong. And one could argue that she herself wasn’t the star of THG. THG was a huge best-selling book series. They would have made money regardless of who the lead was.

    • Frippery says:

      Natalie Portman in Star Wars? Anna Paquin in The X-Men?

      I do see the point you’re trying to make but that is a lot of clarification. I also wouldn’t really consider 2012 a “Post-Marvel” world.

      • AmB says:

        Natalie Portman in “The Professional”? (aka “Leon”)

      • Case says:

        Anna Paquin and Natalie Portman weren’t the leads. They were supporting.

        I’m around J. Law’s age. While women existed in action movies for decades, some of the most notable appearances in my lifetime were her in Hunger Games, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, and Daisy Ridley in Star Wars (for the latter two, I was in my 20s and sobbed in the theater at how monumental it felt). Those were some of the first times I EVER saw a female leading a huge action franchise like that. Yes, women existed in action films before then, and led them at times. But these were very memorable examples within my lifetime, in which the women weren’t sexualized like Lara Croft or “one of the boys” like Ellen Ripley in order to lead the film. It felt markedly different.

    • Barbiem says:

      You putting all type of spin on her comment. Impressive.

    • Otaku fairy says:

      Yeah, like a few people said above, I’m thinking she was talking about teen action films but just didn’t express that clearly. It’s possible she didn’t know about the Buffy movie, but who hasn’t heard of Alien or Lara Croft?

  25. Zazzoo says:

    Sarah Connor Sarah Connor Sarah Connor

  26. B says:

    Sheena Queen of the Jungle, lol

  27. Giddy says:

    Bless her erroneous little heart.

  28. lamejudi says:

    Karen Allen has entered the chat.

  29. Dillesca says:

    …Just adding Geena Davis to the list of female leads in an action film (The Long Kiss Goodnight)

  30. Jessica says:

    They did Viola dirty pairing her with JLaw. I don’t think Jennifer is stupid at all. There are many stories about how she knows the ins and outs of all her contracts and negotiates everything herself, etc. but man, she says really dumb things..a lot. She used to really try to be cute about it (which I found super annoying) but she is too old for that and now she just says a lot of dumb things.

  31. Frippery says:

    I know she is talking about films here and I’ve jumped on several other comments to discuss that.

    But the disrespect to Buffy the Vampire Slayer as far as a teenage hero in an action oriented teen property….Buffy was a hero and a role model to so many girls. She taught them it was okay to be strong, that it was okay to like makeup and still be able to kick some ass, that you didn’t need to be a damsel in distress to be feminine or have a boyfriend, that you didn’t need to take a backseat to men, that YOU can save the boys instead of the other way around, how to stylishly accessorize a stake, how to grow up and handle responsibilities you never asked for, how to lean on your friends when it is important, how to, you know, slay, both figuratively and literally…

    I know BTVS was a movie as well but that was a much different kind of film.

  32. etso says:

    She could stay gone.

  33. February Pisces says:

    Jennifer Lawrence has ‘main character syndrome’.

  34. Lynne says:

    And not everything is American Jen. Count movies released,by other countries. The girl with the dragon tattoo was originally Swedish and starred Noomey Repace in 2009.

  35. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    My brain can pick up leading women on film going back to the 60s (and further). This is yet another reason this woman annoys me to no end.

  36. trudy says:

    Love everyone chiming in with their fav females and for me la femme NIKITA movies and forever passionately hooked on Peta Wilson!!

  37. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    My brain can pick up leading women on film going back to the 60s. This is yet another reason this woman annoys me to no end.

  38. R. says:

    Not a fan of Jennifer Lawrence, but I think she’s a bit harshly treated for this comment. Was way more offended when she made fun of someone’s English accent and voted for the republicans back in the days and it seems, she has matured from that kind of ‘humour’ and those politics, so I’m pretty neutral about her now.

    • K.T says:

      She makes some dumb statements but I’m neutral on her too. But people are way to harsh on her statement. I say it as more about what the ‘men’ were thinking and in that era, she was the first significant teenage superhero of a tent pole franchise.
      I adore female action films, Aliens & Long Kiss Goodnight see films I’ve seen often enough to quote from, but Hunger Games trilogy was a new era and it was great to see Katniss and even that dumber divergent series. That ‘salute’ even was used in national protests at the time. Wish we had a tiny more grace on women (even ones people like to harsh on).

      • R says:

        @K.T, totally agree with you. compared with what other actors have done and or said and are still working, this comment is totally overblown. Yes, there were other great female action stars/heroes before her, but she, J-Law, was THE female action star for the millennials, for better or worse. and I honestly think she meant she was the first blockbuster female action star of her generation/ era. I can honestly also see the irony, that in this interview with Viola Davis, where you can hear and feel her visible anxiety about doing the press, her fear of being taken out of the context, of being made to sound dumb for headlines and in turn, making her shame about her educational background even worse, she is proven right about her fears and anxiety. One comment and all the rest of what she has said (benign and super complimentary and respectful to Viola Davis) just blown away and forgotten. I honestly feel for her in this situation.

      • Otaku fairy says:

        This. Not enough room is allowed for imperfection.

  39. K.T says:

    Michelle Yeoh was awesome & others in the action films of 80’s & 90’s too – some cracked out comedy & fighting

  40. Genevieve says:

    Is it possible that Jennifer Lawrence hasn’t seen the masterwork that is Uma Thurman in Kill Bill!? No, right?

  41. justwhy says:

    A student of film history, she is not. But given how deferential she was to Davis, I doubt she was intentionally trying to erase anyone who preceded her. It was a rather innocuous mistake. I was certainly not offended.

    I preferred the Yeoh/Blanchett conversation though. It was less try-hard and more sincere, imo. I appreciated Blanchett’s appreciation of the Asian film canon.

    Yeoh, as it happens, is an excellent example of a female action pioneer, and I’m sure even she would acknowledge there are women who came before her too (Cheng Pei-pei, anyone?).

  42. AppleCart says:

    An actress makes a self obsessed comment and the internet loses it’s mind lol

  43. Thinking says:

    It’s possible to make a mistake, but this is a hard one to make if you’ve grown up watching any kind of media.

  44. Emily_C says:

    I used to think Jennifer Lawrence was a bit annoying, but that the hate against her was ridiculous. I still don’t *hate* her — it’s not like she’s an abuser or something — but I’ve grown to dislike her. I think that really she’s just dumb.

  45. Grae says:

    Ellen Ripley has entered the chat

  46. Antonia says:

    Michelle Yeoh to most of them “Hold my damned beer.”