For women in Hollywood, it used to be that once an actor turned 40, the leading roles totally dried up for her. She would be relegated to playing secondary characters like the mother, the long-suffering wife or the madam at the brothel. Luckily for us, that is no longer true. These days, the juiciest, most adventurous characters seem to be saved for our favorite actors, no matter their age — and that’s exactly how it should be.
Portrayals of female superheroes or femmes fatales are also changing because our culture is changing. Though things are far from perfect, women are more empowered now than ever before. Women have careers, make their own money, are better able to control their biology and can delay having children if they so desire.
In the 1940s, femmes fatales became popular characters in films like The Big Sleep and The Lady from Shanghai. World War II sent the young male population overseas and women entered the workforce en masse, taking jobs typically meant for men. The archetype of the femme fatale is a beautiful, mysterious, cigarette-smoking woman with bad intentions. She was created out of men’s discomfort with women gaining power during this time.
As for superheroes, today, they’re in their golden age, so it makes sense we’d have plenty of female superheroes of all ages. Let’s take a look at some of our favorite women over 40 who are playing these exciting roles.
1. Sandra Bullock, 53
In Ocean’s 8, Bullock plays Debbie Ocean, a modern femme fatale who masterminds one of the biggest heists in all of history. She’s as beautiful as she is wicked. We love Bullock as Debbie because she’s relatable while being clever, resourceful and a dreamer.
2. Michelle Pfeiffer, 60
In the new film Ant-Man and the Wasp, Pfeiffer plays Janet Van Dyne, aka The Wasp, who has the ability to shrink her body, fly and emit bioelectric blasts. But in this sequel to Ant-Man, The Wasp has been lost in a subatomic world, forcing Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Janet’s daughter, Hope (Evangeline Lilly), to team up. We love Pfeiffer as The Wasp because she has emotional fortitude and trusts her family will save her.
3. Cate Blanchett, 49
In the film Thor: Ragnarok, Blanchett plays Hela, the goddess of death. She wears all black, wields two swords and wears a frightening thorny headdress. We love her because she makes the perfect villain — cold, calculating and powerful.
4. Halle Berry, 51
In the X-Men franchise, Berry plays Storm. Though she’s now 51, she was 47 when X-Man: Days of Future Past was released in 2014. We love Berry as Storm because she comes from a long line of African witch-priestesses and continues her legacy of controlling the weather.
5. Charlize Theron, 42
In the 2017 film Atomic Blonde, Theron plays a femme fatale named Lorraine Broughton. In leather boots and smoking cigarettes like the stereotypical femme fatale, there’s one big update here. Instead of seducing a man, she hooks up with a woman — Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella). We love Theron as Lorraine because she loves to get physical in every way possible.
6. Taraji P. Henson, 47
In the recent action film Proud Mary, Henson plays the title role. As an assassin for a crime family in Boston, she works overtime to protect an innocent young boy. We love Henson as Mary because not only is she fierce, she’s got a strong maternal instinct.
7. Helen Mirren, 72
Helen Mirren played the role of gun-toting Victoria Winslow in both Red (2010) and Red 2 (2013) when she was 64 and 67 years old. Her character was a retired MI6 “wetwork” (assassination) agent inspired by a limited comic book series of the same name. And, of course, she killed it in the role.
8. Nicole Kidman, 51
You can pick up the #JasonMomoa cover on newsstands starting 6/15, and the group cover exclusively at @BNBuzz starting 6/19. You can purchase both #Aquaman covers here: https://t.co/xdubWvhoyP pic.twitter.com/6L5pWDfnSQ
— Entertainment Weekly (@EW) June 14, 2018
Nicole Kidman plays Queen Atlanna, the queen of Atlantis and mother of Aquaman in the upcoming Aquaman film (its release date is Dec. 21). While we don’t know many details about Kidman’s underwater character, we do have this sneak peek at the skin-tight costume she’ll be wearing. And all we’ve got to say about her look is “Shell yeah!”