From Wonder Woman to the #MeToo movement, 2017 was the year of badass women in Hollywood, so it’s no surprise that the 2017 Black List included dozens of scripts featuring strong female protagonists, many of which were written by women.
Netflix churns out more content than any of the major studios, so it’s telling that the streaming service is backing not one, but two female assassin movies. For starters, there’s The Mother, written by Misha Green, which follows a female assassin who comes out of hiding to protect the pre-teen daughter she gave up years before. And in true Netflix fashion, if you enjoy The Mother, the company’s famous algorithm would likely recommend Umair Aleem’s Kate, which centers on a veteran hitwoman who is mysteriously poisoned on her last assignment in Tokyo and given 24 hours to track down her killer before she dies.
Meanwhile, Amblin Partners is financing John Swetnam’s Ruthless, which follows a former female assassin who is diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and must carry out one last assignment in order to ensure her daughter’s future. It’s interesting how a lot of these scripts are predicated upon the maternal instinct to protect children, though some, like Ballerina, concern simply revenge.
In Ballerina, it’s already too late for our hero, a female assassin who seeks revenge after her family is murdered. Written by Shay Hatten, that action spec has already been ret-conned by Lionsgate as a platform for a possible John Wick spinoff, which instantly gives it a leg up on its competitors.
One Black List script that caught my eye is Heather Quinn’s Moxie, which is set in Los Angeles in the near future. The story finds the FBI attempting to combat crime by creating supercops based on specific genetic sequences. To their shock, their best candidate is a vulgar stripper named Moxie. That sounds like an intriguing role for an actress who’s game to kick some ass, and it brings to mind go-go dancer Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan) from Robert Rodriguez’s Death Proof. Rodriguez, of course, is putting the finishing touches on another film about a female badass, Alita: Battle Angel, starring Rosa Salazar.
Elsewhere on the Black List is Jade Bartlett’s adaptation of Chloe J. Esposito’s book Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know. The story follows a girl who accidentally kills her too-perfect twin sister, only to discover that murder suits her as she becomes compulsively embroiled in the life of a mafia assassin. Universal is backing that project, and while we’ve heard that the studio is courting Taika Waititi to direct, it’s anyone’s guess if he decides to take it on. After all, he’s in high demand following the success of Thor: Ragnarok.
Finally, keep an eye on Darby Kealey’s Black List script Liberation, which tells the true story of Nancy Wake, the most decorated servicewoman in WWII, who led resistance fighters in a series of dangerous missions in Nazi-occupied France. That one seems like it carries a bit more prestige than the other scripts listed above, given its period setting and the fact that it’s a true story.
Actioners featuring female spies and assassins are nothing new, but there appears to be a rapidly growing trend on which these specs are capitalizing. This year we saw Charlize Theron play an MI6 secret agent in David Leitch’s Atomic Blonde, while next year brings Jennifer Lawrence as a Russian intelligence agent in Francis Lawrence’s Red Sparrow, and Taraji P. Henson as a hitwoman in Babak Najafi’s Proud Mary.
With those three actresses seemingly off the board, let’s have some fun examining the remaining talent pool for all these Black List scripts. With the genre previously highlighting white actresses such as Angelina Jolie and Scarlett Johansson, it would be great to see more diversity onscreen. Jessica Henwick and Rosario Dawson have proven they can handle action with their physically demanding work in Marvel’s Iron Fist and Defenders, and it’d be great to see Jamie Chung get another shot after Sucker Punch. Another Marvel cast member who has already shown she’s a force to be reckoned with is Tessa Thompson, who played Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarok and co-stars alongside fellow badass women Natalie Portman (Jane Got a Gun), Gina Rodriguez (Miss Bala) and Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight) in the upcoming sci-fi movie Annihilation. Paramount will release that film in February, and the same studio is also behind the forthcoming Blake Lively spy thriller The Rhythm Section, so clearly they’re as invested in this burgeoning genre as Netflix.
While none of these films are guaranteed to be made, I can tell you I’m excited for females to be given more lead roles in action movies. And they don’t all have to be so serious, either. I mean, where’s the female John McClane, killing bad guys and dropping one-liners? Badass women are allowed to be funny too, ya know! Perhaps that kind of character will appear on next year’s Black List. For now, I’ll take solace in the fact that this year’s shows that the future of film is female.
April Dawn | Editorial Intern