The Badass Little Girl and Old Guy Hall of Fame

An ode to one of the oddest odd couple tropes to repeatedly grace the silver screen.
By  · Published on August 3rd, 2017

An ode to one of the oddest odd couple tropes to repeatedly grace the silver screen.

The history of badass women on screen is a rather strange one, in the sense that the first generation of popular movies, serial films, generally starred action girl types (The Adventures of KathlynThe Perils of PaulineThe Hazards of HelenThe Exploits of Elaine—the list goes on). At some point, Hollywood decided that the movie woman’s place was in the home instead of doing her own cliff-dangling stunts or saving her dude-in-distress boyfriend from a train wreck, so the action heroine became more of a rarity for a few decades.

But now she’s back. We are in a new golden age of awesome females on screen, from Wonder Woman and Atomic Blonde to the highly anticipated Proud Mary, scheduled for release next January. That said, the vast majority of the badass women in film and television still meet a number of rather limiting specifications, i.e. super attractive 20-ish to 40-ish and knows five ways to kill you with her pinky finger.

Fortunately, “vast majority” is not the same as “all.” Movies and television have delivered some phenomenal exceptions, especially as of late, but when they condense this Y-chromosome-free badassery into a pint size package, they tend to pair her with a rather unlikely companion: one of the grizzly, grown male, potentially graying variety. Occasionally he’s actually her father, but the vast majority of the time he’s not. So what is their relationship? Well, as the eleven cases below indicate, it can actually vary quite a lot, but in all cases, you’ve got one partner who’s young, female, and ferocious and another whose at least twice her age and male.

Mattie Ross and Rooster Cogburn — True Grit (2010)

Can she kill you with her pinky finger? No, but she will shoot you.

Relationship Type: Reluctant friendship

Mattie Ross will avenge her father’s murder at the hands of Tom Chaney, with or without help. Being smart enough to know her own skills and limitations, she favors the “with help” option, and, after being told that Cogburn is the meanest Marshall around, decides that he is the only person that will do. Even before we really get to see a dynamic form between these two, Mattie’s interactions with Colonel “I would not pay three hundred and twenty-five dollars for a winged Pegasus” Stonehill make it clear that Cogburn’s feelings on the matter are inconsequential. Though far from the only badass on this list motivated by revenge, Mattie is somewhat unusual in that she gets exactly what she wanted, and even pulls the trigger herself. That said, things take a really shitty turn approximately five seconds later, but still. She came, she saw, she conquered.

Laura and Logan — Logan 

Can she kill you with her pinky finger? If you consider her claws to be similar enough to qualify, then hell yes.

Relationship Type: Reluctant father-daughter

When Logan is asked to help smuggle a young mutant (who just so happens to be a female clone created from his blood) to a supposed safe haven known as “Eden”, he’s reluctant to accept the job. However, he ultimately does agree, and in doing so gains both a formidable pint-sized ally and the attention of a formidable enemy. Considering Logan is not as spry as he used to be, but experienced and disciplined, while Laura is young and full of energy, but untrained and feral, the two make an impressive team.

Nova and Maurice — War for the Planet of the Apes

Can she kill you with her pinky finger? No.

Relationship Type: Adopted inter-species father-daughter

After Caesar shoots and kills a soldier (in self-defense), he and his companions discover the soldier’s mute daughter hiding in his cabin. Caesar wants to just leave her there, but Maurice insists on bringing her along, and the two quickly form a close bond. Though quite timid at first, the girl—ultimately known as Nova—quickly grows more confident in the company of her new companions. She even warms up to Caesar eventually and proves a valuable ally, boldly sneaking into the Alpha-Omega compound to give him much-needed food and water.

Lyanna Mormont and Davos Seaworth — Game of Thrones

Can she kill you with her pinky finger? It appears she does have some combat training, though we have not yet seen proof of this. However, she’s probably not quite at a “kill you with her plinky finger” level of proficiency yet. That said, she can flay you with words.

Relationship Type: Respected allies

Lyanna Mormont is kind of the last word in little girl badassery right now. From her iconic glare at Ramsay Bolton before the Battle of the Bastards to her being the first to name Jon Snow the King in the North and her dressing down of Robett Glover with a truly beautiful speech on why not training and arming women and children for the war ahead (as he would prefer) would be a spectacularly stupid thing to do, the eleven-year-old Lady of Bear Island is all you could want in a badass condensed into a pint-sized package. In a particularly impressive move, Lyanna manages to achieve her badass status before she even shows up on screen with her impressively blunt written refusal to support Stannis: “Bear Island knows no king but the King in the North, whose name is Stark.” The response inspires the wannabe king to peevishly show the message to Jon Snow and ask, “do you know this wretched girl?” And thus, a legend was born.

However, not everybody knows how to deal with a legend. If Sansa Stark and Jon Snow had been stuck handling the whole reclaiming Winterfell thing on their own, they would probably still be trying to figure out how to try to end Ramsay’s reign of terror. However, thankfully for them, they had Davos Seaworth, smuggler-turned-diplomat-extraordinaire. Davos, already familiar through his friendship with Shireen Baratheon that little girls can be more valuable and capable allies than most would believe, navigates the waters of this first all-important meeting like a pro, forming a bond of mutual respect while Jon and Sansa just sort of flail helplessly.

Holly March and Jackson Healy — The Nice Guys 

Can she kill you with her pinky finger? Nope.

Relationship Type: Cool pseudo-uncle and niece

If the odd couple pairing of devil-may-care bruiser-for-hire Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) and nihilistic private eye Holland March (Ryan Gosling) wasn’t wonderfully brain-bending enough, the trio dynamic formed with the addition of March’s young teenage daughter and more-or-less caretaker Holly (Angourie Rice) is a thing of beauty. While March spends the better part of the film trying to keep Holly away from his and Healy’s investigation, her persistent refusal ends up working out in their favor, as she ultimately ends up saving them by knocking out a woman holding them at gunpoint.

Hit-Girl and Big Daddy — Kick-Ass

Can she kill you with her pinky finger? Absolutely.

Relationship Type: Father-daughter

The only biological, no-cloning-involved father-daughter relationship on this list is far from what psychologists would refer to as “healthy” or “normal,” even if the grounds for their relationship is more standard than the other ten entries on this list. Following the tragic death of Hit-Girl’s mother, Big Daddy decided to switch to homeschooling, and focus exclusively on the subjects of vigilantism and kicking ass. Hit-Girl takes to the lessons admirably and very much earns her name.

Addie Loggins and Moses “Moze” Pray — Paper Moon

Can she kill you with her pinky finger? No.

Relationship Type: Reluctant father-daughter

Though Moze and Addie are played by real-life father-daughter duo Ryan and Tatum O’Neal, the film neither confirms nor conclusively denies a biological connection between the two. That said, when the con-man reluctantly agrees to deliver the newly orphaned nine-year-old to her aunt, two things quickly become apparent: one, that she’s too clever and observant to fall for his bullshit, and two, that they make a pretty good team. In addition to making a stellar accomplice and grifter in her own right, she also saves Moze’s ass on multiple occasions.

Though Moze keeps his word and drops Addie off at her aunt’s house, the girl decides the excitement of life on the road suits her much better, and convinces Moze to let her continue along with him. She probably wouldn’t do all that well in a fight, but she can con you out of your life savings, steal your car keys, and look cute and innocent as a button while doing so, which definitely qualifies as badass.

Rogue and Wolverine — X-Men

Can she kill you with her pinky finger? Yes. Actually, she can’t not kill you with her pinky finger (it’s kind of a problem).

Relationship Type: Grumpy, squishy-on-the-inside protector and teen fugitive (with a crush)

Okay, so maybe Rogue ends up being a bit of a damsel in distress this time around, but she also shows off metaphorical balls of steel. After all, even if discovering the scary cage fighter has retractable metal claws helps you identify with him in a way, he’s still a scary cage fighter with razor-sharp metal claws. Considering this, do you A) stay the hell away or B) sneak onto his truck? It takes a certain (potentially a little crazy but definitely badass) sort of personality to go for the second option.

Mathilda and Léon — The Professional (1994)

Can she kill you with her pinky finger? No, but she would like to learn.

Relationship Type: Squishy-on-the-inside protector and pre teen fugitive (with a serious crush)

Here is a case where our micro badass talks the talk more than walks the walk. Like some others on this list, she is motivated by a desire to avenge the death of a loved one—her four-year-old brother—but she does not ultimately achieve this vengeance herself. She does make an honest attempt and gets as far as successfully bluffing her way into the DEA office with a bag full of guns, but is then caught and requires rescuing. Still, an “A” for effort.

Arya Stark and Sandor Clegane — Game of Thrones

Can she kill you with her pinky finger? Probably not quite yet at this point in her journey, but she’s getting there.

Relationship Type: (Secretly somewhat fond) mentor-mentee disguised as mutual disdain

Arya is pretty much an adult now, but she still qualified as a badass little girl back in seasons 3 and 4 when she was still on her Great Westerosi Road Trip. Though they both share some similar weaknesses—at this point in their journeys they would probably both get negative scores on emotional/interpersonal intelligence tests—Sandor understands Arya’s anger and bloodlust in a way few others could, and teaches her important lessons about how to survive in a world that is a pretty shitty place more often than not. Yeah, it starts off as a hostage situation and ultimately Arya leaves him for dead, but that’s kinda sorta what he taught her to do. I’m not saying their feelings towards each other were secretly warm and fuzzy the whole time, but there was definitely some glimmer of something—mutual respect, begrudging fondness, whatever you want to call it. Probably. Maybe. Regardless, Arya learned some stuff from him, and it seems like he might have even picked up a few things from her.

Little Rock and Tallahassee — Zombieland

Can she kill you with her pinky finger? No.

Relationship Type: Begrudging friendship

While trying to convince you that a zombie apocalypse is sufficient to make Jesse Eisenberg’s Columbus and Emma Stone’s Wichita an actual possibility, Zombieland platonically pairs the spares of the snarky Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) and grumpy, Twinkie-obsessed he-man Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), creating an intergenerational banter-filled bromance for the ages (until someone comes up with a gender-neutral version of bromance, it will have to do).

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Ciara Wardlow is a human being who writes about movies and other things. Sometimes she tries to be funny on Twitter.