Jennifer Lawrence stars as prima ballerina turned Russian spy Dominika Egorova in Red Sparrow, which opens on Friday (March 2). She’s entering into a rich tradition of ass-kicking undercover heroines.
And then of course there’s BBC America’s Killing Eve, which premieres on April 8, and also features two lady leads (played by Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer) from the world of espionage. Check out the trailer below:
So how do this dynamic duo, plus Red Sparrow‘s Dominika (codename “DIVA”), measure up to other female TV spies we’ve known and loved? Below is a list of our favorites.
10. Nikita in La Femme Nikita (1990)
Convicted felon turned assassin Nikita is such a compelling character she’s cropped up in various incarnations, from The CW’s recent show Nikita starring Designated Survivor‘s Maggie Q to the 1997 La Femme Nikita TV series, and 1993 film Point of No Return. This 1990 film by Luc Besson was the original, however. Anne Parillaud played the beautiful murderer given a second chance — as a secret political assassin controlled by the government.
9. Alex Parrish in Quantico (2015 – )
Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra plays the former FBI recruit who becomes a prime suspect after a terrorist attack on Grand Central station in New York. Frankly, she’s one of the smartest sleuths on TV, with deduction skills on a par with Benedict Cumberbatch‘s Sherlock. Imagine if you could get the pair of them together. Now that’s a spy show we’d like to see.
8. Miss Kensington in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1996)
Miss Kensington sent up every Bond girl in the book when ’60s superspy Austin Powers (Mike Myers) was thawed in the 1990s. She was an accomplished spy in her own right, and finally got the guy when Austin married her at the end of his first film outing. It was all too good to be true though: in second film, The Spy Who Shagged Me, she was revealed to be a dreaded “fembot.”
7. Elizabeth Jennings in The Americans (2015 – 2018)
This series offers a different take on espionage. Set in the quiet suburbs of Washington, D.C. in the early 1980s, the action revolves around undercover Soviet KGB officers “Elizabeth” (Keri Russell) and “Philip Jennings” (Matthew Rhys), who pose as an American married couple. When they’re exposed, Elizabeth — or Nadezhda — must find a balance between her newfound emotions and her steely logic.
6. Susan Cooper in Spy (2015)
CIA agent Susan (Melissa McCarthy) proves anyone can be a spy, not just the smarmy tuxedo-sporting field agent (Jude Law) she assists remotely. Okay, so her combat skills need some work, but she has a knack for going undercover that Jennifer Lawrence in Red Sparrow and Charlize Theron in Atomic Blonde can’t compete with.
5. Peggy Carter in Agent Carter (2015 – 2016)
Hayley Atwell plays Captain America’s lost love Peggy Carter in The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter. As a spy for the Strategic Scientific Reserve after World War II, she has her work cut out battling both the evil organization Leviathan as well as sexism in the workplace.
4. Greta Garbo in Mata Hari (1931)
A fascinating Dutch exotic dancer who served as a double agent for Germany during the First World War, Mati Hari is arguably history’s most famous female spy. Her tragic tale was brought to the silver screen by Greta Garbo.
3. Olivia Mansfield (a.k.a. “M”) in Bond films, 1995 – 2012
Dame Judi Dench literally shows Bond how it’s done; she is his boss, after all. She took over the role of M, the head of the Secret Intelligence Services, when Pierce Brosnan slipped into Bond’s tux for the first time in Goldeneye. At first, she dislikes Bond, calling him a “relic of the Cold War age,” but warms to him, eventually relying on Daniel Craig‘s incarnation utterly for protection in Skyfall (2012).
2. Carrie Mathison in Homeland (2011 – )
Life’s never been easy for CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes). What with struggling with bi-polar disorder and trying to figure out returned American POW Brody (Damian Lewis), Carrie isn’t a Bond-like super spy, but a fallible, flawed human being – and is all the more watchable for it.
1. Emma Peel in The Avengers (1965 – 1969)
No, not those avengers, silly. Diana Rigg played the superspy in a catsuit in this classic swinging ’60s British spy series. Arguably one of the first real kick-ass female action heroes, Emma made kicking some serious butt while sharing some witty banter with Steed (Patrick Macnee) look easy.
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