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A strong female lead in a decent action series? Please, tell me more.

By 2003 there had been few popular vampire hits since the eighties with the only standouts arguably being Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Interview With the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles, but nothing had come along to spark the imagination of action fans. With this being the case Underworld was a breath of fresh air for audiences who witnessed a melding of mythology, vampires, werewolves, modern technology and gun fights.

Underworld quickly became a cult favourite and with a budget of just $22 million it did well, taking almost $100 million worldwide. The second film, released 3 years later in 2006, built on the mythology of the first film and developed its story from where Underworld had left it. The film itself was a bold next step for the series, pushing action sequences and the mythology further than it had gone before, and was rewarded with a worldwide taking of over $110 million. The third film, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans struggled to build on this success in 2009 and managed a lower worldwide total of $91 million; we’d put that down to the familiar lead character Selene, played by Kate Beckinsale, being excluded due to it’s flashback storyline. Nevertheless, Underworld Awakening was released in 2012 and saw a return to form with a total worldwide grossing of $160 million. Selene makes a welcome return in this outing, but it’s also a much more polished Hollywood blockbuster than the previous gritty and low key action movies earlier in the series, and that could have enticed a wider audience to shuffle into the cinema.

But despite the fourth film, Awakening, being much bigger on action, it doesn’t include the most chases per film; that privilege goes to the very first film with a total of 8. Interestingly, the rest of the films have the same number collectively, but this could be because the first film requires vampires to run from fearsome werewolves that hold a real danger, whereas from the second film onwards these werewolves seem weaker and can be confronted and defeated without any chases necessary. This was actually one of Underworld’s major highlights, as the werewolves were anything but cannon fodder for the action heroes.

The most explosions per film also doesn’t belong to the fourth film; Evolution wins that fight with a total of 7, whereas Awakening only had 3. This could be because the second film is a lot more freeform with its plot with characters on the move, whereas the fourth is largely in restricted buildings where explosions could be seen as an indication to humans that something is going on. It’s a weird thought, but maybe this vampire action movie was actually attempting some realism…

Awakening does however prove itself as the biggest and boldest action movie in certain areas; the amount of kills by the lead is increased dramatically in this film from a previous average of 13 per film to a comparatively sky rocketed 35 kills. This movie is predominately Selene against everyone else so this would be expected with very few allies to share the kills. This is backed up by 45 kills by vampires and only 2 kills by werewolves in Awakening, the highest and lowest scores of any of the films in the series by a hefty margin, showing that the lead character, Selene, really is a dominate force in the series.

“I do feel very proud of the fact that there aren’t very many female lead franchises, and movies even, that really legitimately work without being kind of deliberately titillating or objectifying the woman”

Kate Beckinsale quote from ‘Selene Rises’ documentary
on Underworld Awakening Special Features.

Selene herself is an unusual hero, as stated above by the actress who plays her, Kate Beckinsale. She’s a woman for starters, and although she does wear a slim line leather suit throughout the series, she does consistently become a domineering physical presence around all characters, including men. Her transformation can be seen in the first film, Underworld, as a powerful and outspoken vampire warrior, but she is still dominated by the coven’s male leader, Kraven. Idolising an ancestor vampire, Viktor, also weakens her further but importantly by the end of the film she cuts her ties from these male restraints. From the second film she arguably becomes dependant on Michael, a hybrid creature she is romantically linked with. This is balanced fairly well, with her concern for him largely coming from his inadequacy in combat and therefore allowing her to become the main dominating force. Throughout the series she continues to have this attachment with him, but the most recent outing, Awakening, sees her transform more into a traditional action hero than any role she’s had before, and makes any further films in the series an exciting prospect for the powerful and seemingly unstoppable vampire.

Underworld is a film series that doesn’t follow Hollywood conventions; it never enjoyed a huge blockbuster opening film, the lead character is female, and it revolutionises established mythologies without offending hardcore fans. The franchise has developed gradually and adapted genres and its own mythology to move into the commercial sphere of big budget action from humble beginnings. The films, especially with Selene as the lead, have consistently proven there worth, and we hope that Beckinsale and the filmmakers decide to continue the Underworld franchise further.

What we learnt from...


Werewolves and Vampires don’t get on
Vampires have fully embraced modern guns and leather cat suits
If you look into your past you may find something unpleasant, like a werewolf cover-up scandal.
Werewolves can’t transform when they’ve been shot with silver bullets
Don’t mess with someone who goes by the name Death Dealer
Medieval vampires can understand and use computers within seconds
Never trust your elders
Vampires with wings are bad news
An ancient caged werewolf won’t be thankful if you unlock him; he will try and kill you
Blue men are the best kind of love interest
It turns out a cross breed of a werewolf and a vampire is continually rubbish in combat. But they are blue.
Use helicopter blades for removing limbs and decapitation whenever possible
Don’t make a people slaves, they will hate you and kill you.
Always bring a chest of silver to a vampire gathering if you don’t have fangs
A vampire coven is the most inappropriate place to start an uprising if you are human, outnumbered and have no weapons
A vampire coven is the perfect place to start an uprising if you are a group of werewolf slaves
Never trust a vampire unless they dress in tight leather. This can also be applied as a general rule in life minus the vampire.
When you find yourself in a strange laboratory always ask what the year is
Always keep a couple of silver nitrate gas bombs in your back pocket just in case you bump into a werewolf
High security areas are never as highly secure as you’d think.