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Bruce, Liam and Denzel are all over 60, so why are older female action stars rarely seen on screen?

Male actors are rarely denied the opportunity to show that the years haven't slowed them down, but women? That's another matter

Linda Hamilton in Terminator: Dark Fate 2019. Paramount Pictures
Linda Hamilton in Terminator: Dark Fate 2019. Paramount Pictures

It’s no secret that Hollywood has an ageism problem. From 50-year-old actors being cast against twentysomething love interests, to a relative dearth of females seen on screen over the age of 60, the population of Hollywood does not accurately reflect that of planet Earth where, according to the Administration for Community Living, there were 49.2 million people over the age of 65 living in the US in 2016.

The over-50 females are routinely sidelined as sneaky masterminds, kidnapped millionaires or po-faced politicians

However, times are a-changing, albeit slowly. The stigma of putting older actors of the female persuasion in front of the camera is fading – just look at the runaway success of Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin-fronted TV comedy Grace and Frankie, or the currently-in-cinemas drama The Good Liar, helmed by Dame Helen Mirren and Sir Ian McKellan.

Yet there’s one genre in particular that seems to be especially slow at catching on to the trending curve: just where are all the female action stars over the age of 45?

On one hand, you have Liam Neeson (67), Bruce Willis (64), Denzel Washington (64), Harrison Ford (77), Sylvester Stallone (73) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (72), and on the other there’s … er, Sigourney Weaver?

That’s not to say the 70-year-old Alien star doesn’t have comrades – Salma Hayek, Sandra Bullock and Jodie Foster have all pulled punches – but few are billed in their own right as action heroes.

Women are certainly given screen time in your typical shoot-‘em-up, blow-‘em-up film, but often as a younger, secondary character to the leading man: think Tom Cruise in 2016’s Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, a 54-year-old man at the time, paired up with Colbie Smulders, then 34.

The over-50 females are also routinely sidelined as sneaky masterminds, kidnapped millionaires held to ransom, intelligence bosses or po-faced politicians, but rarely do they backflip, right-hook and pull the trigger like their male counterparts.

But then, the release of Terminator: Dark Fate late last month signalled a shift in the mindset of movie-makers. In a widely lauded piece of casting, 63-year-old Linda Hamilton reprised her role as Sarah Connor, and more than held her own against Arnie’s robot assassin.

“This is an old woman going up against the world and it is glorious," proclaimed a review on pop culture website Pajiba. "There are times when I watch glossy Hollywood blockbusters and forget what wrinkles on a woman’s face look like because such things are seen as unacceptable to the masses. Here, we get it and it’s a genuine joy.”

A week later, 53-year-old Halle Berry shared a snapshot of her chiselled six-pack on Instagram, a physique she revealed she developed for 2020’s Bruised, her directorial debut in which she plays a disgraced MMA fighter hoping to get back into the ring.

And let's not forget, 52-year-old Carrie-Anne Moss is set to reprise her role as quick-paced Trinity in 2022's The Matrix 4.

In an industry that would have you believe the world is predominantly made up of 20 to 40-year-olds, it's a refreshing shift, but more needs to be done. Hollywood's made some inroads when it comes to banishing the damsel in distress in recent years – just look at the current Charlie's Angels reboot – but now let's get rid of the dame in distress trope (whether they've got a Halle Berry six-pack or not).

After all, to age is a privilege. Let's not hide it from one of the most popular movie genres, especially when male actors are rarely denied the opportunity to show that the years have not slowed them down.

Updated: November 23, 2019 09:52 AM

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