Thanks to 'Sweetheart,' 'Maleficent' & More, Female Villains are Finally Having a Moment

On Thursday, it was reported that a studio had green-lit an action movie about an assassin. Seeing as this happens pretty much every week (see: the Bourne movies, In Bruges, 3 Days to Kill, Looper...) this wouldn't exactly be news, except for a very important fact: the movie, Sweetheart , is going to be made by a woman. Even more exciting? That woman is Patty Jenkins, the director behind Monster, a film that, like Sweetheart, also revolved around a killer — a female one.

According to Deadline, Sweetheart, about a former assassin who finds herself back in the business, is a lot more lighthearted than Monster. Still, the script, by Jack Stanley, made the Black List, and Jenkins, as shown by the Oscar-winning Monster, certainly knows how to make a compelling movie. A lead actress has yet to be cast, but already, there's little question that Sweetheart will be worth seeing.

And the fact that it's about a female villain makes it all the more exciting. In the past, movies about assassins, murderers, or general evil-doers have typically starred men, because Hollywood producers, despite proof showing otherwise, believe that audiences won't enjoy seeing women star as action heroes on-screen. Occasionally, a tiny indie studio will take a chance, but their smallness prevents their films — Hanna, Violet & Daisy — from reaching major audiences. Every once in awhile, there's an exception, such as Fox's blockbuster Mr. and Mrs. Smith, but even that's not telling of any real change; the box office power of that film was huge, yes, but it came more from the rumors surrounding Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt's romance than the draw of seeing a woman take down targets.

Yet this year, something's changed. In an exciting turn of events, Sweetheart isn't the only upcoming movie about a female villain — in fact, it's not even the second. There's Maleficent , starring Jolie as the famous Disney antagonist; Lucy , a Luc Besson-directed thriller about a female superhero; Dark Places , about a woman searching to avenge her family's murder; Gone Girl , about — well, we won't spoil that one if you haven't read the book. Just know that it has a female protagonist who's not exactly the most trustworthy. Oh, and that it's going to be a huge.

The revolution isn't just for dramas, either. Evil women lead Horrible Bosses 2, Annie, and Into the Woods, among others. These lighter films aren't quite as groundbreaking as their action-focused counterparts, but they're still important, considering how few movies of any genre starring not-nice women ever get made.

What's even more striking is that of all these female-fronted movies, none of them (at least from what's known so far) have their lady villains' evilness explained by a hatred of men/lack of sex life/high-powered job, as it custom for plenty of films featuring a "mean female" character. Far too many movies think they're doing women a solid by featuring a female character who's not picture-perfect, but instead is shrew, one-note, and filled with easily fixed, man-hated, "unfeminine" flaws. This isn't feminism, as those filmmakers might think, just a well-meaning but problematic, version of the same sexism that's existed in film and TV for so long.

In Maleficent, Gone Girl, and the others, however, the cruelty of their female stars isn't one-dimensional. Rather, it's as complex and fascinating as any male antihero's, not able to be explained away by a too-tight ponytail or lack of a boyfriend. Finally, it seems, Hollywood is beginning to understand that women can be villains, too — and if the expected box office returns of Maleficent and Dark Places are any indication, audiences are more than happy to watch them kick ass.

Image: Disney