International Women’s Day conjures to mind a whole host of powerful, influential and successful women, past and present. One of the most recognisable in film is the Femme Fatale- that dark, seductive stock character who beguiles lovers, misleads detectives, and, every once in a while, possesses supernatural powers. More often that not she smokes, wears thick lipstick, dark clothing and has generous measures of flesh on show.
Here’s are 10 of the best:
1.) Barbara Stanwyck as Phyllis Dietrichson
Best known for her role as Phyllis in Double Indemnity (1944). Here Stanwyck plays a conniving housewife who devises a plan to kill her husband and cash in on his death via a twisted insurance policy. A must see for lovers of all things noir!
2.) Lauren Bacall ‘The Big Sleep’/ ‘To Have and Have Not’
Noted for her sultry looks and distinctive voice, Bacall’s long and illustrious career saw the femme fatale taken to iconic heights.
Beginning as a model, she went on to hold leading roles in classics like, The Big Sleep (1946) and To Have and Have Not (1944).
Off screen, she captured the hearts of both Frank Sinatra and Humphrey Bogart, and is now recognised as the 20th Greatest Actress of the 20th Century.
3.) Mary Astor in ‘The Maltese Falcon’
A featured player in Hollywood during the 40’s, Astor’s most memorable performance came as Brigid O’Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon (1941), where she plays a two-timing dame who leads men to their deaths in her quest to securing possession of a treasured artefact.
Over the course of her career she starred in silent movies, wrote five novels and won an academy award for best supporting actress in The Great Lie.
4.) Linda Fiorentino as Bridget Gregory
The 80’s and 90’s saw the revival of Film Noir, and by extension the femme fatale- this time in more fearsome form.
One of most telling is Bridget Gregory- as played by Linda Fiorentino in the The Last Seduction (1994). Here, Fiorentino takes the shape of a voracious man eater who lusts after sex, money and power. Beguiling and brutal in equal measures, she is the dominatrix of every modern man’s wet dreams, who takes not one, but several victims in this film.
5.) Kathleen Turner in ‘Body Heat’
The Buxom beauty that is Kathleen Turner gave one of cinema’s most jaw dropping debut’s as Matty in neo-noir erotic thriller, Body Heat (1981).
Noted for her “frank sexuality borne of robust physicality”, she has been named among the 100 Sexiest Stars in Film History and also provided the inspiration for animated sex symbol Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988).
6.) Sharon Stone in ‘Basic Instinct’
How do you best spot a femme fatale? A bewitching stare? An alluring voice? A voluptuous figure?
In Basic Instinct (1992), the answer is: a provocative leg crossing scene in a police station. This film saw Sharon Stone take the femme fatale to pornographic heights, as a mysterious blonde who struts around pantiless, and kills during sex with an ice pick.
Noted for having one of the most paused moments in cinematic history, it earned Stone international recognition and a Golden Globe Nomination for Best Actress.
7.) Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman
In Batman Returns (1992), Pfeiffer reworks the femme fatale as a PVC clad, whip carrying Catwoman who darts about rooftops in the dead of night.
As featured in the Batman comics, this feline teaches us that women can be powerful adversaries and complex antiheros at a comic book as well real life level.
8.) Anjelica Huston as the Grand High Witch
Who said that femme fatales can’t feature in fairy tales?
Nicolas Roeg’s adapation of Roald Dahl story, The Witches, sees Anjelica Huston head up a clan of villainous monsters who capture children and turn them into mice.
With long black hair, ghostly pale skin and electric purple eyes, she’s the femme fatale of nightmares, young and old.
9.) Scarlett Johansson in ‘Under The Skin’
Johansson’s version of femme fatale in Sci Fi Thriller Under The Skin, takes the form of a scavenging Alien (Laura) let loose on the streets of Glasgow, who seduces and imprisons men before stealing their souls.
Far from being the best example on this list, it marks yet another milestone for femme fatales as increasingly more supernatural.
10.) Greta Garbo as Mata Hari
One of the earliest femme fatales to appear on screen is Mata Hari- as played by Greta Garbo in a 30’s flick with the same title.
Hari, a real life exotic dancer convicted for charges of espionage during the first world war, is here realised as hypnotic and cat-like, capable of charming military officers and politicians alike.