Features | Written by Christian Bone 14/09/2021

ATOMIC BLONDES (AND BRUNETTES)

Ahead of Lashana Lynch joining the 00 ranks in NO TIME TO DIE, we take a look at the finest female spies in pop culture. Nobody does it better than these lethal ladies…

One of the biggest rumours swirling around No Time To Die is that Captain Marvel star Lashana Lynch’s character Nomi will be revealed as MI6’s new 007, following James Bond’s retirement from Her Majesty’s Secret Service in Spectre. The first trailer confirmed her status as a 00, but it didn’t specify that all-important third number, leading some to believe EON has caved into the angry, ill-informed backlash and assigned Nomi a different designation. Let’s hope this isn’t the case, but either way, the Bond franchise is introducing another capable heroine to run rings around ol’ Jimbo, which is always a good thing. Hopefully, Nomi will be worthy of a place among cinema and TV’s greatest female secret agents. Here are STARBURST’s ten best...

BLACK WIDOW (Scarlett Johansson, MCU)

Co-created by Stan Lee for the page in 1964 and debuting on the silver screen in 2010, Black Widow has got to be the most famous female spy in the genre, with ScarJo’s red-headed Russian ex-assassin arguably rivalling Bond for brand recognition nowadays. Alongside Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Natasha Romanoff has battled - and bested - aliens, robots, and gods. She sacrificed her life in Avengers: Endgame, but this May’s Black Widow will finally give the heroine her own standalone vehicle, taking the form of a prequel shedding some light on her pre-superhero past.

PEGGY CARTER (Hayley Atwell, MCU)

Peggy Carter, Captain America’s first love, was created for the comics in 1966, but it’s really the screen version who arrived in 2011 that fans fell in love with. So much so that Hayley Atwell’s heroine became the first woman to lead a piece of the MCU with 2015’s Agent Carter. The much-missed short-lived series showcased Peggy’s ingenuity, tenacity and sense of humour as she uncovered a deadly Russian conspiracy in post-war New York. Though it was nice to see her in Endgame, a Disney+ revival would be much appreciated

EMMA PEEL (Diana Rigg, The Avengers)

From the Avengers to… The Avengers. Though Honor Blackman’s Cathy Gale shouldn’t be overlooked either, Diana Rigg’s Emma Peel isn’t just the standout of all John Steed’s partners but is a bonafide icon of the swinging sixties. Mrs Peel was a hugely feminist character for the time - possessed of genius-level intellect and a master martial artist, she would just as often save Steed as the other way around. There’s a reason Diana Rigg later played Tracy, the only woman to marry James Bond, in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

SYDNEY BRISTOW (Jennifer Garner, Alias)

Before he gave the Star Wars saga its first female lead, J.J. Abrams created acclaimed 2000s action series Alias, starring a never-been-better Jennifer Garner as Sydney Bristow, one of TV’s best spy characters, male or female. Known for her never-ending procession of wigs and proficient combat skills, Sydney’s spy career is notable for her knack for juggling multiple identities - she initially acts as a double agent for the CIA while working for the corrupt SD-6, alongside keeping her job a secret from her friends. It’s not for nothing Abrams has said Sydney remains his favourite character of his own creation

EVELYN SALT (Angelina Jolie, Salt)

2010’s Salt probably wouldn’t have made much of an impact if it wasn’t for Angelina Jolie coming aboard the project. Originally intended as another Tom Cruise vehicle, the script was ultimately rewritten for the actress, with protagonist Edwin Salt morphing into Evelyn Salt, supplying us with one of cinema’s most noteworthy female spies of the modern era in the process. The plot’s fairly standard stuff for the genre - Salt is a CIA operative framed as a Russian double agent who must clear her name - but Jolie is as excellent as always

CARRIE MATHISON (Claire Danes, Homeland)

Spy fiction remains largely rooted in the narrative tropes established during the Cold War, so Homeland stands out for being an espionage thriller series that brings the genre up to date. Claire Danes, especially initially, gave one of the best leading TV performances of the 2010s as Carrie Mathison, a CIA agent who suspects American war hero Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) of being turned by al-Qaeda. The show is certainly well past its prime these days, but Carrie, with her bipolar disorder and obsessive personality, should still be celebrated as a refreshingly complex female protagonist

ELIZABETH JENNINGS (Keri Russell, The Americans)

What did we say about spy fiction still being obsessed with the Cold War? The Americans is one of the most successful throwbacks to the era, though, with its canny blending of international politics and the characters’ interpersonal relationships and multiple lives. Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell star as Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, an outwardly ordinary couple living in Reagan’s America who are actually incognito KGB agents. While Philip’s commitment to his cause is less secure, Elizabeth is a ferociously passionate communist who is willing to do anything to destroy the Western way of life

ILSA FAUST (Rebecca Ferguson, Mission: Impossible)

The Mission: Impossible franchise didn’t have the best female representation until 2015’s Rogue Nation gave us Ilsa Faust. Rebecca Ferguson was on sparkling form as the former assassin who Ethan Hunt and his team can never be sure if they can trust. After she returned in Fallout, fans now couldn’t imagine the series without her. And, sure enough, Ferguson has been confirmed for the next two instalments - which will also feature Agent Carter’s Hayley Atwell as an additional female lead. Win-win

LORRAINE BROUGHTON (Charlize Theron, Atomic Blonde)

Prior to No Time To Die’s Nomi, Atomic Blonde’s Lorraine Broughton - as played by the one and only Charlize Theron - was the closest thing we had to a female 007. She’s one of MI6’s top spies, she’s great in a fight and, most importantly, she’s highly promiscuous - Sofia Boutella’s French agent Delphine is the ‘Bond Girl’ of the piece. The good news is a sequel is in the works, heading to an unknown streaming service, with a John Wick crossover also mooted

EVE POLASTRI (Sandra Oh, Killing Eve)

Jodie Comer’s Villanelle is rightly lauded as the breakout character of Killing Eve, but let’s not overlook the treat that is Sandra Oh’s Eve Polastri. There are a lot of highly capable female spies on this list, and we love ‘em, but it’s refreshing to have a character like Eve - an ordinary woman who becomes increasingly out of her depth as she struggles to control her obsession with Comer’s wily assassin and discovers a dangerous thrill-seeking side to her personality. NO TIME TO DIE hits cinemas on September 30th

Have we missed the mark and omitted one of your favourites? Let us know via our social channels! [This article was originally published in issue 470, March 2020]