Pepper Potts - Iron Man 3 (2013)
The Damsel: Both Tony Stark's (Robert Downey Jr) squeeze and his former personal assistant, Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) spent the final third of the first Iron Man dutifully playing the damsel in distress.
Well, Iron Man needs somebody to save, doesn't he?
The Ass-Kicking: Fast forward to Iron Man 3 , and rumour has it that Ms Potts will be joining Iron Man and War Machine in the suit department.
Iron Potts? Why the hell not...
Kim - Taken 2 (2012)
The Damsel: She's kidnapped and subjected to some pretty brutal treatment in the first Taken , putting Kim (Maggie Grace) firmly in the 'damsel' column.
Luckily she has Liam Neeson's hard-nosed ex CIA operative for a dad.
The Ass-Kicking: But wait. Having discovered a new inner strength by the time we meet her again in Taken 2 , it's Kim who comes to her dad's rescue when his life's on the line in this juggernaut sequel.
Sure, papa takes over for the final act, but before that, Kim gets her moment to shine.
Elizabeth Swan Pirates Of The Caribbean: Curse Of The Black Pearl (2003)
The Damsel: The spoiled daughter of a governor, Elizabeth Swan (Keira Knightley) does everything you expect of an aristocrat.
She wears huge, cumbersome gowns, she’s snooty and righteous – and she gets kidnapped by pirates.
The Ass-Kicking: Somewhere down the line, Elizabeth also learned how to kick a little rump. She’s particularly handy with a pole.
“You like pain?” she grunts, knocking a pirate out with one. “Try wearing a corset.”
Helen Tasker True Lies (1994)
The Damsel: Never was there a more bored housewife than Helen Tasker (Jamie Lee Curtis).
Unaware that her hubby Harry (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a superspy, Helen lives a life of pumpkin pies and frumpy housewear.
The Ass-Kicking: After an ill-advised (and wholly innocent, sort of) fling with con-artist Simon (Bill Paxton), Helen becomes a superspy. Sort of.
Sure, Helen’s ass-kicking is mostly accidental (see the scene where she drops a machine gun down a set of stairs, taking out a terrorist horde), but it’s the thought that counts.
Princess Vespa Spaceballs (1987)
The Damsel: Vespa just can’t catch a break.
As if being forced to marry the snore-worthy Prince Valium (Jim J. Bullock) wasn’t bad enough (luckily, that’s a fate she squirms out of herself), she’s also being hunted by Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis), who plans on kidnapping her for big boss President Skroob (Mel Brooks).
The Ass-Kicking: Did we mention Vespa’s also tempestuous as hell?
Not only has she got attitude to spare (“it’s my industrial strength hairdryer, AND I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT IT”), she also goes all-out Rambo when her hair’s shot at.
Mandy All The Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006)
The Damsel: Just your typical horror heroine.
Mandy (Amber Heard) is a popular high schooler who draws the attention of any teenage boy within eyeshot. When she attends a party out at an isolated ranch, though, things could get messy…
The Ass-Kicking: (SPOILERS) In one of the coolest twists in horror, Mandy turns out not to be a victim at all, but a full-on slasher villainess.
Along with Emmet (Michael Welch), she’s responsible for the murders at the ranch, and is pretty handy with a hunting knife…
Ginger Ginger Snaps (2000)
The Damsel: Death-obsessed moody teen Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) lives on the borders of high school society with her equally-kooky sister Brigitte (Emily Perkins).
Then she’s attacked by a werewolf.
The Ass-Kicking: Far from becoming your typical horror victim, the werewolf attack acts as a catalyst for Ginger to come into her own.
She dates boys. She wears skimpy outfits. She has fun. (She also kills people.)
Mathilda Leon (1994)
The Damsel: Her family’s killed by druggie DEA agent Norman Stansfield (Gary Oldman), which leaves Mathilda orphaned.
Luckily, she’s taken in by neighbour (and deadly hitman) Leon (Jean Reno).
The Ass-Kicking: Under Leon’s protection, Mathilda develops into a formidable 12-year-old assassin-in-the-making. She learns how to shoot a rifle and goes after Stansfield.
Sure, her plan fails, but this tween’s bravado is mighty impressive.
Clarice Starling Silence Of The Lambs (1991)
The Damsel: A young FBI trainee, Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) has the best intentions, but that doesn’t stop her from being somewhat wet behind the ears.
It’s the reason she’s the one sent in to question Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), her superior understanding that she gives off a vulnerable womanly vibe.
The Ass-Kicking: Starling develops into an ass-kicker when she’s shut into the nightmare underground lair of Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine).
Even though it’s pitch black and he has night goggles, she still trounces him.
Hayley Stark Hard Candy (2005)
The Damsel: From the viewpoint of thirty-something photographer Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson), Hayley (Ellen Page) is little more than a harmless, impressionistic teenager.
Which is why he picks her out as his next victim. See, Jeff’s a sexual predator who cruises the internet for young victims.
The Ass-Kicking: Things don’t look good for Hayley when she ends up back at Jeff’s place.
That’s before she spectacularly turns the tables on him, though, flipping the predator/victim scenario on its head and subjecting Jeff to nuclear levels of mental torture.
Princess Fiona Shrek (2001)
The Damsel: A fairytale damsel in distress, Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz) is confined to a tower in a castle in the middle of nowhere, waiting for her prince to save her.
She gets Shrek.
The Ass-Kicking: Just when you think you’ve seen it all, Princess Fiona takes out forest bandits with some impressive kung fu moves.
She even goes all bullet time on our asses.
Sidney Prescott Scream (1996)
The Damsel: A thoroughly contemporary scream queen, Sidney (Neve Campbell) has all the hallmarks of a damaged damsel.
Her mother was murdered only a year previously, meaning Sidney’s as tender as a lamb. Meanwhile, a twisted serial killer is measuring her up for an early grave.
The Ass-Kicking: That said, Sidney’s a smart cookie, aware of the movie rules that are governing her life and hardy enough to take on ranting murderers despite overwhelming odds.
Hell, by the time we get to the end of Scream 4 , she’s survived encounters with no fewer than seven serial killers. Who else on this list can say that?
Flower Belle My Little Chickadee (1940)
The Damsel: The chickadee of the title, Miss Flower Belle Lee (Mae West) starts out as your typical damsel in distress when her carriage is raided by a masked bandit who kidnaps her.
The Ass-Kicking: “I was in a tight spot but I managed to wriggle out of it.”
Turns out Belle can hold her own – the kidnapping was all an elaborate ruse. See, Belle likes using her blonde bombshell image to get one over on small-minded townsfolk.
Her defining ass-kicking moment? When she’s set upon by Native Americans, Belle takes them all out with a pistol. What a gal.
Leeloo The Fifth Element (1997)
The Damsel: Resurrected by Earth scientists, Leeloo (Milla Jovovich) crashes into a future metropolis that leaves her – yes – pretty darn distressed.
Luckily, she has Bruce Willis’ gobby taxi driver for protection. Or does she?
The Ass-Kicking: As it turns out, Leeloo doesn’t actually need that much protection – she’s perfectly capable of beating giant alien scum to a pulp on her own…
Mia Evil Dead (2013)
The Damsel: Now this is distressing. Drug-loving Mia (Jane Levy) is whisked off to a cabin in the woods by her brother and friends for a brutal intervention. Their message: get clean or else.
Sadly, when a creepy book makes an appearance and Mia has an unfortunate encounter with a tree, she seems to have been possessed by a devil. Who ever said going teetotal was easy?
The Ass-Kicking: (SPOILERS) OK, so Mia spends most of the time gibbering like a loon, possessed by some kind of tree demon.
In the end, though, the demon’s exorcised and Mia transforms into Ash Mk II, hacking at the demon with a chainsaw…
Nancy Thompson A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)
The Damsel: Just one of the ‘Elm Street children’, Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) has started having weird dreams about a scarred man with knives for fingers.
That’s just the beginning, though, as nightmare-haunting murderer Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) starts offing her friends in their sleep.
The Ass-Kicking: Of all her friends, Nancy’s the only one with the requisite guts and smarts to take on Freddy herself.
Playing the dreamweaver at his own game, she hands out a serious ass-whooping and discovers that defeating him is as simple as not fearing him. Job done.
Gale Weathers Scream (1996)
The Damsel: Ms Weathers would rip your tongue out if you ever suggested she was a damsel (“you better check your conscience at the door, sweetie!” she snarls in Scream 2 ), but there’s no doubting that’s what her would-be killers see her as.
And if a damsel’s defining feature is her scream, Ms Weathers’ heart-stopping shrieks definitely cut the mustard.
The Ass-Kicking: “Guess I remembered the safety that time, bastard.”
Gale comes to Sidney Prescott’s (Neve Campbell) rescue, shooting Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich).
Cherry Darling Planet Terror (2007)
The Damsel: A Texan go-go dancer, Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan) is attacked by zombies, who forcible remove her right leg. Youch.
The Ass-Kicking: Lost your leg? No worries, we’ll just attach a machine gun to the stump and transform you into a comic-book femme fatale.
Cue bullet-spraying galore and some very low-cut tops.
Samantha Caine The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)
The Damsel: A schoolteacher living out a snore-inducingly mundane existence in the little town of Honesdale, Pennsylvania.
When an escaped convict called One-Eyed Jack (Joseph McKenna) comes calling, though, Samantha proves surprisingly adept at hand-to-hand combat.
The Ass-Kicking: The schoolteacher thing was all a cover, see – Samantha Caine is really Charly Baltimore, a former assassin for the CIA.
Which makes her one of the coolest big screen badasses ever.
Ellen Ripley Alien (1979)
The Damsel: She may not necessarily be a traditional damsel (hard-talking, jaw-jutting, no-nonsense), but she’s definitely in distress as an alien chomps its way through her space comrades.
The Ass-Kicking: In this first Alien flick, Ripley’s ass-kicking mostly boils down to running around the space ship Nostromo with a gun.
That said, her final confrontation with the xenomorph in the escape pod shows off her considerable kahunas.
Ripley winds up being the last survivor of the Nostromo – a testament to her ability to kick a little alien behind.
Selina Kyle Batman Returns (1992)
The Damsel: As the downtrodden secretary of Max Shreck (Christopher Walken), Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer) is wallflower through and through.
He says jump and she asks how high. Which is pretty much how she ends up plummeting hundreds of stories to her death.
The Ass-Kicking: Resurrected by finger-chewing cats, Selina Kyle becomes Catwoman, and she ain’t taking anybody’s shit no more. Especially Max Shreck’s.
Transformed into a leather-wearing bondage babe, Kyle really is the cat’s miaow, taking down female-bashing pigs across Gotham.
Laurie Strode Halloween (1979)
The Damsel: Nerdy but fun. Reliable without being boring. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is the kind of babysitter you probably fancied as a kid, then look back and wonder why.
She becomes a damsel in distress when creepy killer Michael Myers swings by Haddonfield and begins targeting babysitters.
The Ass-Kicking: What would you do if you met the embodiment of all evil? Laurie faces that predicament and lives to tell the tale.
Before all that stuff about Michael being her brother, this singularly resilient scream queen proves herself to be surprisingly resourceful, even fashioning a weapon out of a coat hanger. Very Blue Peter.
Jennifer Hills I Spit On Your Grave (1978)
The Damsel: Writer Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton), who heads out to the country to work on her novel.
Except she didn’t plan on encountering four country bumpkins who stalk then horrifically rape her in one of cinema’s queasiest (and most unrelenting) moments of violence.
The Ass-Kicking: Revenge is a dish best served cold, goes the saying. Well, Jennifer certainly goes about her roaring rampage with a heart of ice, snaring her attackers in a bloody web and making them pay for their actions.
She is woman, hear her roar.
Thelma And Louise Thelma & Louise (1990)
The Damsels: Housewife Thelma (Geena Davis) and waitress Louise (Susan Sarandon), whose lives are turned upside down when Louise shoots a man who sexually assaulted Thelma.
They hit the road.
The Ass-Kicking: Louise’s bullet-happy reaction to Thelma’s attacker is pretty kick-ass.
Meanwhile, the duo take out a repulsive truck driver who enjoys objectifying women. And, in the ultimate ‘fuck you’ to patriarchal rule, they refuse to bow down to the cops.
Lisbeth Salander The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2009)
The Damsel: Stockholm resident Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace) is a curious conundrum.
On the one hand, she’s pure damsel – her family’s a mess and she’s totally reliant on her legal guardian, who ends up brutally raping her.
The Ass-Kicking: On the other, Lisbeth can really hold her own.
She gets her own back on her guardian (the brilliantly-oily Peter Andersson) in spectacularly ball-busting fashion, and she knows how to deal a punch or two. Don’t mess with the Swedes.
Carrie Carrie (1976)
The Damsel: The ultimate social outcast, Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) is so sheltered from the real world that she doesn’t even know what a period is – until she (very publically) has her first one.
In the school halls, she’s pure damsel. Bullied, ridiculed, but mostly just ignored, she’s almost invisible to the naked eye – which is just how she wants it.
The Ass-Kicking: All it takes for Carrie to unleash her inner ass-kicker is a bucket of pig’s blood.
Publically ridiculed at her school prom, she all-out blitzes the entire senior class with her psychic powers. “They’re all going to laugh at you,” warned her mother (Piper Laurie). Not after this, they won’t…
Giselle Enchanted (2007)
The Damsel: Just your typical Disney princess.
Giselle (Amy Adams) gets the shock of her life when she’s shoved down a mystical well and emerges from Disneyland into the hardened live-action metropolis that is New York. Talk about distressing.
The Ass-Kicking: When it comes to the crunch, Giselle splits convention in half by battling evil Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon) herself. She even gets to wield a sword.
Ginny Friday The 13th Part 2 (1981)
The Damsel: Typical. You try to do some good by signing up as a counsellor at a summer camp, only to discover it’s haunted by the murderous phantom that is unkillable killing machine Jason Voorhees.
That’s the predicament Ginny (Amy Steel) finds herself in when she heads to a new camp that’s a mere stone’s throw from Camp Blood.
The Ass-Kicking: The suitably-named Amy Steel may start out as a feeble pant-wetter (hell, who can blame her?) who shrieks at shadows, but she quickly transforms into this franchise’s smartest, steeliest Final Girl.
Crawling into Mrs Voorhees’ crusty old jumper and impersonating Jason’s mother is a masterstroke. Long live Ginny!
Sarah Connor Terminator/Terminator 2 (1984-1991)
The Damsel: Few damsels have gone through more of an on-screen transformation than luckless Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton).
When we first meet her, she’s a typical damsel – poofy-haired, moony-eyed and completely incapable of looking after herself in a fight. That is, until Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) crashes into her life.
The Ass-Kicking: Trained by Kyle in bomb-making, Sarah survives a first, brutal encounter with the T-800.
By the time Terminator 2 rolls around half a decade later, she’s transformed into a formidably muscular mama.
Princess Leia Star Wars: Episode VI Return Of The Jedi (1983)
The Damsel: From the first time we see her through most of the first two Star Wars films, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) is your common garden variety damsel.
She relies on Luke (Mark Hamill) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) to rescue her, and though she has a bossy viper’s tongue, she’s not exactly the best at finding her own way out of a tight spot.
The Ass-Kicking: That is, of course, until Jabba the Hutt forces her to wear a tiny gold bikini.
Fanboys rejoiced, but Princess Leia wasn’t having any of it, the humiliation prompting her to get pro-active and kill Jabba herself. An ass-kicker is born.