August 2, 2014 at 1:00 am

Tom Long

Women BASH their way into action franchises

Scarlett Johansson takes on super powers and easily subdues dozens of bad guys in 'Lucy.' (Jessica Forde / Universal Pictures)

The girlpower index in Hollywood has taken some serious jumps lately, and it’s about to take some more.

Last week’s top box office attraction was “Lucy,” in which Scarlett Johansson takes on super powers and easily subdues, shoots and otherwise disables dozens of bad guys. It earned $44 million with nary a serious male action co-star in sight. The main poster for the film showed nothing but ScarJo’s face.

Two decades, a decade, even five years ago, an action movie with a female protagonist was almost unheard of. These days you put a gun in Johansson’s hand and you’ve got a hit.

Her previous two films packing heat were “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” ($258 million domestic and the most popular film of the year so far) and “Marvel’s The Avengers” ($1.5 billion worldwide and the third biggest box office of all time). “Lucy” showed she has serious impact on her own, as well as with others.

And she’s hardly alone. This week comes the giddy “Guardians of the Galaxy,” a surefire smash, and a woman who’s becoming the top female action franchise star alive kicks and punches her way through the film. That would be Zoe Saldana, this time playing the green-skinned fighting machine Gamora.

This is hardly the first time Saldana has thrown a punch. She’s proven to be formidable as Lt. Uhura in the current “Star Trek” franchise. And she made a potent case for motion-capture acting awards as the ferocious Neytiri in “Avatar,” the biggest worldwide box office hit ever, which earned $2.7 billion.

Expect to see lots more of Saldana, since there are three “Avatar” sequels being made, at least one more “Guardians” film in the works, and “Star Trek” has been around since the ’60s.

These aren’t the only girlpower examples from 2014, of course. Shailene Woodley led a group of young rebels in post-apocalyptic Chicago in March’s “Divergent,” which earned $150 million domestically. And the queen of Hollywood action, Angelina Jolie, kicked major fairy tale butt in May’s “Maleficent,” which has gone on to earn a whopping $715 million worldwide.

But the biggest is likely yet to come. Because all these female action stars are essentially Katniss’ kids. Jolie was an anomaly as a female action star before “The Hunger Games” came along in 2012. Suddenly the idea that a woman, Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, could lead or be part of a major action franchise wasn’t so far-fetched. Soon other characters followed in her wake.

Not that the playing field is even — far from it. Men have always dominated the action field, just as they’ve dominated Hollywood and society at large. And they will likely cling to their right to drool over large biceps bearing machine guns for decades to come. It’s a hormone-identification thing.

But the girlpower index is rising, and it will only continue to rise when “The Hunger Games — Mockingjay: Part 1” arrives in theaters on November 21. You can bet all the male action stars will just duck and take cover.

tlong@detroitnews.com
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