Sarah Connor’s return doesn't fix Hollywood’s ageism towards female action heroes

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Aug 14, 2018, 5:00 PM EDT

When James Cameron confirmed he was making a third Terminator movie that was both a direct sequel to T2: Judgment Day and would see the return of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor, I joined the global chorus of cheers.

T2 is one of the greatest sequels ever made, and Hamilton’s original iteration of the sci-fi icon has long been a favorite of mine, even though there are some elements of the story and her characterization that aren’t quite as feminist as Cameron believes. However, sci-fi heroines are few and far between, so one can’t deny the impact Sarah Connor has made on the genre and why Linda Hamilton’s return is so important, as my colleague Kayleigh Donaldson so aptly details in her piece.

At 61, the actress is one of the oldest female action heroes appearing in a major studio movie, a rarity for women compared to men. For years, Hollywood has applied a Logan’s Run approach to female action heroes; once an actress enters her 30s, suddenly she becomes deadweight in the genre and roles and opportunities dry up. 

In recent years we’ve seen this ageist action movie culture start to shift as women in their 40s like Charlize Theron (Atomic Blonde), Gabrielle Union (Breaking In), and Jennifer Garner (Peppermint) bring to the screen some brand-new name-taking and ass-kicking heroines. Both Sigourney Weaver and Sandra Bullock played sci-fi action roles in their 50s, in Avatar and Gravity, respectively, while Helen Mirren, at 65, played a retired wetwork agent in the screen adaptation of RED. Yet Hamilton is pretty much the first woman in her 60s to play this type of role in a major studio film.

This is a landmark moment, yes, but it doesn’t mean we should get complacent about the rate at which anti-ageist progress in Hollywood is taking place. Sarah Connor is an iconic character, but she isn’t a new character.

She’s been around since 1984, when Hamilton originated the role in The Terminator, and there was really no way that Cameron would have marked his return to the franchise as a co-writer and producer without her. Don’t get me wrong, I’m super grateful for that, but she’s as integral to his Terminator movies as Harrison Ford is to Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones movies, and you can bet that Steve wouldn’t make a sequel without Harrison involved either. 


What we need to be seeing, as well as our favorite action heroes and heroines reprising their roles, is new scripts and characters being created that offer women over 60 opportunities to play action roles just like their male counterparts.

Michael Keaton is 66 and got to play the Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming, which, despite being a villainous role, still saw him battling Tom Holland’s Peter Parker. How many times have we seen 66-year-old Liam Neeson take on a load of baddies on varying public transport? Most recently, he starred in The Commuter and the actor was put through his paces. Denzel Washington was 59 when he appeared as The Equalizer in 2014, and this year he’s back in The Equalizer 2 at 63, arguably doing more action scenes than in the first film.

Hotel Artemis is the closest we’ve got to an action film centered around a female character over the age of 50, with Jodie Foster playing the nurse who runs the hospital for criminals. The film’s writer and director, Drew Pearce, explained to me this year that the reason he made it as an independent film is that he was unconvinced studios would be sold by a 55-year-old lead.

“The concept of the Nurse was one of the very first things I came up with and is why I didn’t try and make it as a studio movie,” Pearce said. “I knew I would walk [into a studio meeting] and say, ‘It’s a futuristic secret hospital for criminals’ and they’d be like, ‘Great! Sold!’ but then I’d say, ‘With a 55-year-old woman as the lead,’ at which point I would have been escorted out.”

As a seasoned, award-winning filmmaker, Cameron doesn’t have to worry about being escorted out of studio meetings, though we should give him props for not only bringing Hamilton back as Sarah Connor but also taking steps to hopefully ensure that she is as much a part of the action as her younger co-star, Mackenzie Davis. Of course, that is yet to be seen, but fingers crossed we'll get to watch Sarah fighting as hard as she did 27 years ago (and the first image from the movie seems to imply that she will).

But let’s remember that Hamilton is the exception to the rule that has kept women over 60 in their passive, supporting place in the action movie genre rather than allowing them to take the lead. Her iconic status was over 30 years in the making, so it’s time Hollywood started championing some brand-new, older female action heroes too.

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