James Cameron knows how to treat a girlfriend

Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for Avatar: The Way of the Water Since its inception, cinema has given audiences all kinds of female characters. From damsels in distress and femme fatales to girl-next-door and action heroines, every stock archetype has had its day in the sun and more. As the medium has evolved, however, the challenges of creating well-rounded and nuanced women for the silver screen have largely hinged on breaking familiar molds and forging new creative paths. James Cameron, whose Avatar: The Way of Water finally hit theaters 13 years after its predecessor, is no stranger to writing female characters who oppose stereotypical tropes in pursuit of individuality. From Sarah Connor in her Terminator films to Neytiri in Avatar and its sequel, the pioneering and innovative storyteller has given audiences a handful of memorable female leads.


RELATED: Jake and Neytiri’s Relationship Works Because She’s Truly the Boss

Most importantly, Cameron’s portrayal of women was never condescending or over the top. Using a dignified approach that sees these characters act with agency, Cameron consistently celebrates their strength and self-reliance. Whether battling killer cyborgs from the future, confronting a ferocious alien species, or challenging the limits of societal norms in the early 20th century, these women relied solely on intelligence, ingenuity, and courage. in the face of overwhelming obstacles. . Without further ado, let’s celebrate these girlboss.

Sarah Connor in ‘The Terminator’ and ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ Image via Carolco Pictures

Bursting onto the cinematic landscape in 1984 with his sci-fi action hit The Terminator, Cameron swung out the door. With the character of Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), the filmmaker followed in the footsteps of movies like Ridley Scott’s Alien by pitting its unlikely female protagonist against the film’s titular antagonist (Arnold Schwarzenegger). While Sarah spends much of The Terminator escaping the T-800 alongside future Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), she does more than just make do by the end of the film. Out of sheer survival instinct, she outlives her military ally and, in a twist of irony, outwits her metallic foe by crushing him in heavy machinery. Whether Cameron intended it or not, Sarah Connor would represent the first incarnation of a recurring motif in her filmography: a woman who defies the harsh realities of the narrative she lives through and emerges victorious.

A year later, Cameron would return to the world of endoskeletons with Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Often considered one of the greatest action films ever made, this legendary sequel gave viewers a version of Sarah Connor that fell far short of the first film in terms of physics, resolve, and mortification. Having lived with the knowledge of impending doom for all of humanity since her encounter with the T-800, she’s serious when it’s time again to face a seemingly invincible foe. While her intensity drives her almost to madness, with one particularly shocking encounter that sees her on the verge of becoming a mindless killing machine herself, she retains the insight needed to preserve human life. Her transformation from girl-next-door to battle-hardened warrior is perhaps one of modern cinema’s most memorable, and Hamilton’s performance in her second outing paints an all too believable portrait of a woman transcending her own demons to the pursuit of a greater good.

Ellen Ripley in ‘Aliens’ Image via 20th Century

Seven years after Ridley Scott terrified the world with his sci-fi horror classic Alien, James Cameron has embarked on the daunting task of bringing Sigourney Weaver’s iconic heroine back to the screen. In an Oscar-nominated performance (unusual for a hardcore action movie), Weaver doubled down on Ripley’s bossy and edgy personality by going to war with not one, but many feared Xenomorphs. Like Sarah Connor, Ripley has become an iconic example of an action heroine in cinema, and one that is commonly referenced and used for comparison whenever a similar type of woman kicks ass on the big screen. Cameron’s film also features a tender mother-daughter subplot that sees Ripley caring for young and orphan Newt (Carrie Henn), a tenderness that eventually turns into a fierce mama bear mentality when Ripley approaches the Xenomorph Queen with the one of cinema’s most iconic action films. dialogue lines. With Aliens, Cameron took the well-established character to new heights and evolved, making her transcend the role of lone survivor to that of leader, warrior, and protector.

Lindsey Brigman in “The Abyss”

One of Cameron’s most underrated efforts is his 1989 science fiction tale of oil riggers encountering alien lifeforms miles below the ocean’s surface. A remarkable feat of underwater photography, pioneering visual effects, and suspense and thrill, The Abyss also features a fully engaged turn from Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Lindsey. The ex-wife of Ed Harris’ Bud, she spends much of The Abyss feuding with her estranged husband as they and their crew face serious and life-threatening situations amid an extraordinary discovery. . Smart, tough and sometimes dictatorial, Lindsey is one of Cameron’s most intimidating female leads. It might be Bud’s crew, but it’s definitely Lindsey’s platform, as evidenced by his constantly blunt bedside mansion and display of daring micromanagement of those around him. Stories of Cameron’s demanding and bossy directing style surrounded the film’s production, with Cameron often clashing with his cast and crew over the stressors inherent in carrying out such an ambitious project. It’s safe to say, however, that the end justified the means, as The Abyss remains a breathless ride thanks to Cameron’s innovative tendencies and a cast that willingly stepped over the proverbial cliff with their fearless director.

Helen Tasker in ‘True Lies’ Image via 20th Century Fox

This 1994 action-comedy was a bit of a departure for Cameron in terms of genre and sensibilities. The story of a daredevil spy, Harry (Arnold Schwarzenegger), who is suddenly faced with the devious suspicion that his sweet wife, Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis), is having an affair, True Lies both hits and misses with his tonal fusion of big-scale action and domestic comedy. With no idea of ​​her husband’s secret escapades, Helen embodies loneliness, boredom and marital discontent, seeking to spice up her life with the promise of excitement through a sleazy car salesman (Bill Paxton). While True Lies is largely wacky and over the top, Helen nonetheless deserves to be included in Cameron’s long track record of creating memorable women who act with agency and autonomy. Avoiding the stereotypes associated with the housewife archetype, often relegated to the sidelines of the narrative, Helen breaks the mold by joining her husband in his world-saving antics and proves effective when the action takes off in the third act of the story. While a sequel to True Lies was considered but never made, the film’s ending teases the playful implication that the Taskers could team up and embark on new adventures.

Rose DeWitt Bukater in “Titanic”

In another shift for Cameron regarding gender, Titanic saw the filmmaker approach the notion of female empowerment and independence in perhaps the most respectful way to date. As a woman engaged to a man (Billy Zane) she doesn’t love, Rose (Kate Winslet) is resolute and unwavering in her defiance of societal expectations, frequently mocking the rigid customs imposed on her as a than woman. At the beginning of the 20th Century. Her chance encounter with the free spirit Jack sparks a spark of awakening and self-discovery, leading her to drift further and further away from her fiancé in search of a more authentic and organic vision of her future. By the time the titular ocean liner hits an iceberg and the audience can’t help but know what’s at stake, Rose’s survival instincts kick in and there are times when she acts in accordance with some of the action heroines. mentioned above from Cameron. Part of what makes her such a dynamic character is her ability to surprise the audience, as well as herself, by digging deep in search of qualities and abilities she probably didn’t know she possessed.

Neytiri in image from ‘Avatar’ films via 20th Century Fox

Na’vi warrior Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) crowns Cameron’s repertoire of female protagonists. Knowing well the relentless dangers of her homeworld and the growing threat looming as a result of human colonization, she is a capable, reliable, and resourceful member of her clan. When Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) suddenly finds himself stranded and alone in the wilds of Pandora, she not only takes pity on him at the request of a spiritual calling, but also helps him establish and nurture the necessary skills. to survive in such a situation. hostile environment. Although Jake is ultimately the protagonist and supposed hero of Avatar, his success largely depends on Neytiri and the guidance she provides. Without her, he would have no chance of succeeding in the first act of the film. In Avatar: The Waterway, Neytiri proves to be much more than a warrior. As a mother of three, she has strong maternal instincts, especially towards the end of Avatar: The Way of Water when her character’s protective nature is on full display. When tragedy strikes on a very personal level, it is daunting almost beyond recognition. Although his character is a bit set back in Avatar: The Way of Water due to the film’s massive scale and word construction, his strength and determination hasn’t waned one iota from this. that audiences first saw on Pandora.

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