Special Feature: Action girls on film

Fighting and driving enthusiasts (of both sexes) rejoice. The tyre-burning, high-speed Fast & Furious franchise is back once again with its latest offering, Fast & Furious 6 (hitting UK cinemas on 17 May). In this new franchise entry, Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) summons Dom (Vin Diesel) and his crew to London in order to take on a team of mercenary drivers who have caused havoc across a dozen countries. Realising that Dom knows the only men and women in the world with the skills to get the job done, Agent Hobbs offers them all full pardons. High octane high-jinks consequently ensure. To celebrate the release of Fast & Furious 6, we've narrowed down our favourite action women in contemporary film.

Michelle Rodriguez
We kick off our list with an actress who immediately springs to mind when we think of the ultimate female bad-ass, Michelle Rodriguez. Starting her career in hard-hitting boxing drama Girl Fight, Rodriguez blasted onto our screens as no-nonsense Letty in the inaugural The Fast and the Furious outing back in 2001, and has since starred in a number of high-profile films such as SWAT, Resident Evil and James Cameron's Avatar. A strong fan reaction after her character seemingly died in an earlier entry sees her return in Fast & Furious 6 this year.

Jennifer Lawrence
Though young in years, Lawrence has shown incredible maturity and daring with the range of roles she has already undertaken (Winter's Bone, The Hunger Games series, Silver Linings Playbook), only further highlighted by her Oscar win at this year's Academy Awards. But it's her role as Raven, a young Mystique in X-Men: First Class, that showed us all that she can also take on an action role and do it just as well.

Gina Carano
After developing a successful career in mixed martial arts, specialising in Muay Thai, Carano has launched herself into acting. Having starred in Stephen Soderbergh's Haywire alongside the likes of Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum and Michael Douglas, her next role sees her as Riley, a member of Agent Hobbs' team in Fast & Furious 6. Stills from the film see her character engaged in a fight with Letty.

Angelina Jolie
Another actress who forged a career on playing a character who would sooner shoot first and ask questions later is Angelina Jolie. Now a successful, Oscar-winning actress and fledgling director, Jolie's early roles as Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider films launched her into commercially successful films not to mention a legion of loyal fans, as did her subsequent turns in comic-book thriller Wanted and Salt.

Jordana Brewster
Though playing Mia Toretto in the Fast & Furious franchise since the first film has been Brewster's only action credit to date, the role did open up doors for her to play a range of different characters in other ventures. As Mia, she plays the primary love-interest to Brian O'Connor (Paul Walker) but don't be fooled into thinking she is a damsel in distress. Those who do have clearly never seen her drive. She is a Toretto after all, and Brewster does her justice. 

Kate Beckinsale
Before vampires were those sparkly, groomed to oblivion, soft-spoken types, we had British actress Kate Beckinsale's Selene in the Underworld saga. This trigger-happy death-dealer, hell-bent on an exacting an ancient revenge, was an instant hit with cinemagoers. Though Beckinsale has notched up impressive further credits in awards-worthy dramas such as Martin Scorsese's The Aviator, it's her role as Selene that has cemented her as one of our favourite action heroines.

Maggie Q
Maggie Q has been firmly rooted in action roles since the beginning of her career. Her most high profile acting credit to date was as Zhen Lei in Mission Impossible: III, followed by another highly lucrative sequel, Die Hard 4.0. Not content with this, she now stars as the title character of TV's Nikita, in which she plays the type of cold-blooded former spy and assassin you wouldn't ever want to cross.

Scarlett Johansson
After serving up a double-header way back in 2003 with Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation and Girl with a Pearl Earring (opposite Daniel Day-Lewis), Scarlett Johansson has often been described as one of the most startling women in Hollywood. After a number of other roles, none caught our attention quite as much as when she appeared as Black Widow in Marvel superhero romps Iron Man 2 and Joss Whedon's Avengers Assemble. Don't be fooled by her size - Johansson played the copper-haired beauty to perfection, dropping anyone who dared get in her way.

Catch Rodriguez, Brewster and Carano when Fast & Furious 6 hits UK cinemas on 17 May, 2013.

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