It was exactly one month ago that the internet was giddy with chatter about the Met Gala in a simpler, somehow less decadent pre-Royal Wedding era. The annual event is ostensibly a fundraiser for New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, but really it’s an excuse for the world’s buzziest celebrities to try and one-up each other with increasingly outré and avant-garde fashions. This week, the Met Gala pops up once again, as the location of the centerpiece heist sequence in the hotly anticipated Ocean’s 8.
A quasi-reboot of the heist series launched by Steven Soderbergh’s hit 2001 Rat Pack remake Ocean’s Eleven, the new film, directed by Gary Ross, jettisons the franchise’s signature overabundance of testosterone for an all-new team of larcenous ladies, led by partners-in-crime Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett. The film also stars Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Rihanna and Helena Bonham Carter, among others. The film opens this week, distributed by Warner Bros. and co-produced by Village Roadshow.
Of course, Ocean’s 8 is far first time that a predominately female cast has top-lined a crackerjack piece of popcorn entertainment. From Alien to Mad Max: Fury Road, female-fronted genre films have continually paved the way, in the process solidifying an entire tradition of iconic film characters from Foxy Brown to Katniss Everdeen.
So in honor of Debbie Ocean and her seven felonious BFFs, here are five of our favorite indisputably genre-leaning films starring women.
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Gina Carano, Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor
Where You Can Watch: Playstation One, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu
Genre: Action, spy thriller
Why We Love It: Speaking of Soderbergh, the story behind the director’s bone-crunching 2011 action thriller goes something like this: Soderbergh, flipping channels in his hotel room, stumbles upon a pay-per-view MMA event featuring Women’s Lightweight champion Gina Carano and, duly impressed, decides right then and there to build a film project around her. The result is a muscular (figuratively and literally) spy saga that manages to one-up James Bond at every turn: exciting, sexy, violent and incredibly taut as an espionage thriller. In the film, Carano’s Mallory Kane attempts to untangle a complicated web of betrayal, staying one step ahead of the bad guys (Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Ewan McGregor) and globe hopping from the U.S. to Barcelona to Dublin to Mallorca. Carano performs the majority of her own stunts, with Soderbergh letting much of the balletic action play out in wide shots—all the better to showcase his lead’s strength and combat precision.
THE GRIFTERS (1991)
Director: Stephen Frears
Starring: Anjelica Huston, Annette Bening, John Cusak
Where You Can Watch: Google Play, YouTube, Vudu
Genre: Con (wo)man
Why We Love It: Stephen Frears’ highly entertaining 1990 con artist yarn—produced by Martin Scorsese and based on the novel by Jim Thompson—is a love triangle, sort of, with John Cusack’s weak-willed grifter Roy pulled between two much stronger women: his mother Lilly (Anjelica Houston) and new girlfriend Myrna (Annette Bening). Both women are grifters too, and much more successful at that, laying the groundwork for intricate long-cons, which true to genre form only become apparent in the film’s final moments, while hapless Roy is strictly small-time. Aside from the thrill of following the twists and turns of the plot and the three try to evade retribution from both the mob and the FBI, The Grifters is an incisive portrait of female relationships and complicated family dynamics. What’s more, Huston won the Film Independent Spirit Award for Best Female Lead for the film.
A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT (2014)
Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Starring: Sheila Vand, Arash marandi, Mozhan Marnò
Where You Can Watch: Amazon Prime, iTunes, Vudu, Google Play
Why We Love It: Taken as part of this decade’s ongoing art house horror trend, Iranian-American filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour’s wordily-titled debut feature definitely leans far heavier on creepy atmospherics than onscreen gore. But don’t worry, there’s still plenty of blood, as Amirpour’s self-described “Iranian Vampire Western” follows a sullen female bloodsucker (Shelia Vand) quietly stalking her pray along the streets of a vaguely post-apocalyptic Bakersfield, CA. She’s sort of like a spectral tour guide, leading us to fleeting glimpses at the troubled lives of the denizens of “Bad Town.” Eventually the young bloodsucker strikes up a friendship—and possibly more—with Arash (Arash Marandi), a young man who finds himself in conflict with a dangerous pimp. The audacious film was nominated for three Film Independent Spirit Awards: Best First Feature, Best Cinematography and the Someone to Watch Award for Amirpour.
SMILEY FACE (2007)
Director: Gregg Araki
Starring: Anna Faris, John Krasinski, Adam Brody
Where You Can Watch: DVD/Blu-Ray
Genre: Stoner movie
Why We Love It: The episodic tale of an inebriated young actress who sets off on a quixotic journey across Los Angeles after accidentally consuming way, way too many cannabis cupcakes, Smiley Face was indie filmmaker Gregg Araki’s high-ly unlikely follow up to his 2004’s Spirit Award nominated Mysterious Skin. Premiering at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, the lightweight romp stars a post-Scary Movie, pre-Overboard Anna Faris in a performance that The New York Times’s Matt Zoller Seitz likened “Amy Adams’s princess from Enchanted dropped into a Cheech & Chong movies,” and includes comical turns by Adam Brody and John Krasinski, plus Jane Lynch, Jim Rash and John Cho—no slouch when it comes to the canon of great stoner films.
Director: Alex Garland
Starring: Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson
Where You Can Watch: Amazon, DVD/Blu-Ray, iTunes, Google Play
Genre: Sci-fi, horror
Why We Love It: Adapted from the first book of author Jeff Vandermeer’s genre-bending Southern Reach Trilogy, Alex Garland’s Annihilation departs from its source material in significant ways. But the basic premise remains the same: a team of four highly skilled female scientists—led by Jennifer Jason Leigh’s (possibly duplicitous) mission commander—venture deep into the heart of a mysterious supernatural zone along the northern coastline of Florida known only as “The Shimmer.” None of the previous expeditions have returned in tact, either not returning at all or returning… somehow changed. This includes Kane (Oscar Issacs, the husband (Oscar Issacs) of Lena, the expedition’s biologist, played by Natalie Portman. Influenced by the metaphysical horror of H.P. Lovecraft, Garland’s film ultimately culminates in a grand psychedelic climax that’s equal parts horrifying and beautiful. The film was underappreciated in theaters, but will undoubtedly be rediscovered as a cult favorite.