James Cameron, writer-director of the much-hyped, $200-million-plus sci-fi bonanza Avatar, in theaters December 18, is rare among action-adventure filmmakers for his gutsy, take-charge women characters (including Avatar's Zoe Saldana, left). Below, a few more of Cameron's fearless females.
Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) in The Terminator (1984) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
The Look: A ropy physique honed by chin-ups and commando training.
Feats of Brilliance: Crushes one terminator in a hydraulic press, drops another into a molten pool.
What She Teaches Us: To escape a mental ward, all you need are paperclips, hypodermic needles, and a few hostages.

Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in Aliens (1986)
The Look: A child under one arm, a submachine gun under the other.
Feats of Brilliance: Vanquishes an entire colony of psychotic aliens while protecting an orphaned girl.
What She Teaches Us: Fighters make great mothers (and vice versa).

Lornette "Mace" Mason (Angela Bassett) in Strange Days (1995)
The Look: Braids, tailored suits, and Hamilton-worthy biceps.
Feats of Brilliance: Disposes of thugs and navigates L.A. traffic without breaking a sweat as chauffeur-bodyguard to a sleazy virtual-reality merchant.
What She Teaches Us: Living in a fantasy world isn't living at all.

Rose DeWitt Bukater (Kate Winslet) in Titanic (1997)
The Look: An upper-crust beauty in beaded silkā€”and boy, can she wield an ax.
Feats of Brilliance: Breaks handcuffs with aforementioned ax; survives sinking without a lifeboat; steams up a Renault with Leo DiCaprio.
What She Teaches Us: How to defy class boundaries and hypothermia in the name of love.

Next: Get the scoop on director Rob Marshall's starry new musical


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