The 13 Best Femme Fatale Movies, Ranked

Here are some of the greatest movies about femme fatales, showing us why these characters are so gripping and engaging.
The 13 Best Femme Fatale Movies, Ranked

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You may have heard of femme fatales, but what actually are they? Are they just female villains? And if so, why not just call them that?

The femme fatale is a very specific type of female character, one who utilizes her charisma, magnetism, and sexuality to get what she wants. Often harboring a dark or violent side, the femme fatale seduces her way out of trouble and often persuades lovers to do her bidding.

The femme fatale originated as a stock character, with the French term translating as "lethal woman." This deceptive female archetype has roots in history and folklore, but it wasn't solidified until the 1940s with film noir detectives being fooled by their femme fatale clients.

In recent decades, contemporary cinema has broadened the concept of femme fatales, ranging from mainstream interpretations (e.g., Catwoman, Mystique, a few Bond girls, and even Jessica Rabbit) to indie interpretations that capture the femme fatale's sexy violence in new ways.

So, now that we have a better grasp on the concept, here are my picks for the best femme fatale movies and why they're great.

13. Cruel Intentions (1999)

Directed by Roger Kumble

Starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, Reese Witherspoon

Drama, Romance (1h 37m)

6.8 on IMDb54% on RT

Cruel Intentions received a mixed bag of reviews. It's sort of cringey and awful, but also a brilliant example of the femme fatale in action.

A contemporary retelling of the 1782 novel Les Liaisons dangereuses, Cruel Intentions is very strange yet seductive, as Sebastian (played by Ryan Phillippe) tries to win the virginity of the headmaster's daughter (played by Reese Witherspoon) in exchange for a night with his stepsister.

Kathryn (played by Sarah Michelle Gellar), being a femme fatale, agrees to this bet in exchange for Sebastian's fancy car and some revenge on her ex.

Cruel Intentions is a mainstream erotic thriller that was tuned down for wider audiences and is now considered a cult classic teen flick.

12. To Die For (1995)

Directed by Gus Van Sant

Starring Nicole Kidman, Matt Dillon, Joaquin Phoenix

Comedy, Crime, Drama (1h 46m)

6.8 on IMDb89% on RT

Femme fatales are, by nature, to die for. That's all part of their purpose. Suzanne Stone (played by Nicole Kidman) has the blonde blow-out hair and glamorous wardrobe, but more than that, she has the deluded ambition to get whatever she wants.

Her ultimate dream? Fame. She will literally kill to get on TV, and the evening weather report just isn't enough for her. That said, wouldn't it be better if someone else did the killing for her? Don't want to get blood on those freshly manicured hands!

Suzanne ends up claiming that her husband (played by Matt Dillon) is abusing her, so another impressionable young man will swoop in save the day (played by Joaquin Phoenix).

11. Jennifer's Body (2009)

Directed by Karyn Kusama

Starring Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Adam Brody

Comedy, Horror (1h 42m)

5.4 on IMDb46% on RT

Megan Fox is the pinnacle of the male gaze, encapsulating the (near-impossible) Y2K standard of beauty. In Jennifer's Body, Fox took that reputation and manipulated it, playing the pretty and popular high schooler Jennifer Check who harbors a dark secret: she's a murderer.

In fact, she's more than that. Jennifer lures jocks into the woods and disembowels them. Why? Because she was initiated into a Satanic cult during an indie rock concert. She literally uses her body as bait so that the demon inside her can eat people. Yikes!

A sort of throwaway teen comedy at the time, Jennifer's Body has recently been reconsidered and appreciated as a feminist fantasy that's hotly discussed in LGBTQIA+ circles.

10. Mr. & Mrs. Smith (2005)

Directed by Doug Liman

Starring Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Adam Brody

Action, Comedy, Crime (2h)

6.5 on IMDb60% on RT

Some actresses are naturally associated with the femme fatale archetype, whether for their looks, past roles, or general aura. Angelina Jolie is one of these actresses, thanks to films like The Tourist, Wanted, Maleficent, and Tomb Raider. Oh, and, of course, Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were once the most famous celebrity couple in Hollywood, starring together in Mr. and Mrs. Smith as husband-and-wife assassins who didn't know about each other's identities.

Jane Smith might look like another wealthy suburban wife, with luscious hair and all the cookbooks, but underneath her long black slip dress is a dagger at the ready. And her next target? Her husband.

9. Too Late for Tears (1949)

Directed by Byron Haskin

Starring Lizabeth Scott, Don DeFore, Dan Duryea

Crime, Noir (1h 39m)

7.3 on IMDb100% on RT

Jane Palmer (played by Lizabeth Scott) has standards so high, her first husband died trying to meet them. Her new man, Alan (played by Arthur Kennedy) is about to find out how difficult it is to please Jane, who itches for more luxury than their middle-class marriage can afford.

When a bag of cash lands in the back of their convertible, Jane becomes hell-bent on keeping it—no matter who or what shows up.

Director Byron Haskin exaggerates the typical noir conventions in this melodramatic crime flick, which bombed at the box office but has since been retrospectively hailed for its central, ruthless, husky-voiced femme fatale in Jane Palmer.

8. The Last Seduction (1994)

Directed by John Dahl

Starring Linda Fiorentino, Peter Berg, Bill Pullman

Crime, Drama, Romance (1h 50m)

7.0 on IMDb94% on RT

Bridget Gregory (played by Linda Fiorentino) seduces her way through this entire movie, starting off with a few small lies and ending in all-out homicide. Bored of telemarketing in New York, Bridget convinces her hubby to steal and sell cocaine, only to run off with the profits.

Bridget even tries to turn her femme fatale inclinations into a business, offering to murder cheating husbands in exchange for cash. That's all Bridget really wants, after all. Cash. And sex. And maybe a good life insurance policy as backup.

Linda Fiorentino was commended for bringing a wittily sarcastic angle to the archetypal femme fatale—and unlike many of the femme fatales on this list, she manages to get away with everything!

7. Promising Young Woman (2020)

Directed by Emerald Fennell

Starring Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Alison Brie

Crime, Drama, Mystery (1h 53m)

7.5 on IMDb90% on RT

Most femme fatales are in it for personal gain, whether that be money or bumping off an inconvenient witness. But Cassie Thomas (played by Carey Mulligan) is different. She's avenging her best friend.

A key feature of the femme fatale is her ability to lure in men. This is at the heart of Promising Young Woman, except in a slightly different way.

Cassie isn't sexy so much as sloppy. She fakes passing out in order to attract the kinds of men who'd take advantage of passed-out women. Then, after being taken back to their place, she suddenly sobers up and gets her revenge.

Cassie is outwardly kind and girlish but inwardly mischievous. She's playing a game that no one around her even knows is happening. Unlike most femme fatales, though, Cassie nobly sacrifices herself.

6. Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2003)

Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Starring Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox

Action, Crime, Thriller (1h 51m)

8.2 on IMDb85% on RT

The Bride (played by Uma Thurman) is a known assassin who carries around a samurai sword and takes about 80 lives in a single movie.

The kill count in Kill Bill: Vol. 1 is staggering even for Quentin Tarantino, and The Bride is responsible for most of them, who swaps out the sensual spaghetti strap dress for a bright yellow tracksuit.

The Bride is the antithesis of the film noir femme fatale. She's greatly modernized, presenting as a strong Hollywood image of the beautiful-woman-turned-bad.

Even though she's retired from the Deadly Vipers at the start of Kill Bill: Vol. 1, men just keep giving her reasons to get their comeuppance, with those reasons ranging from rape to attempted murder.

5. La Femme Nikita (1990)

Directed by Luc Besson

Starring Anne Parillaud, Marc Duret, Patrick Fontana

Action, Crime, Drama (1h 57m)

7.3 on IMDb89% on RT

"There are two things that have no limit: femininity and the means of taking advantage of it." This advice basically encapsulates all that being a femme fatale is, and Nikita (played by Anne Parillaud) uses it as the foundation of all her actions. It's her guiding motto.

Opening the movie as a drug addict, Nikita is given a makeover and transforms from violent addict to violent assassin. But it's a fine-tuned, sophisticated violence now. You know, none of the messy mindlessness of her high-on-drugs days.

Nikita keeps her youthful looks and sex appeal in her back pocket, reserving it as a weapon that's even more powerful than her handgun. However, she finds it increasingly hard to conceal her job from her new lover. She's like a junkie Mrs. Smith, but French.

4. The Killers (1946)

Directed by Robert Siodmak

Starring Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, Edmond O'Brien

Crime, Drama, Noir (1h 43m)

7.7 on IMDb100% on RT

Film noir is obsessed with flashbacks, and director Robert Siodmak honors this when adapting this short story by Ernest Hemingway.

The Swede (played by Burt Lancaster) is a former boxer who doesn't even budge when threatened with a gun. Siodmak shifts back to reveal that his boxing career was cut short, and old Swede got entangled with the criminal underworld, which eventually led to his death.

All of this is traced back by an insurance guy and a Police Lieutenant, but who's this puzzle piece with the dark hair and silk gloves?

The double-crossing Kitty Collins (played by Ava Gardner) fits neatly into the femme fatale blueprint, using her allure to mastermind a fatal plot while sporting stolen diamonds around her neck.

3. Gone Girl (2014)

Directed by David Fincher

Starring Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris

Drama, Mystery, Thriller (2h 29m)

8.1 on IMDb88% on RT

Amy Dunne (played by Rosamund Pike) is truly unhinged. Deranged. And deadly calm. Her picture of suburban success—the storybook marriage, big house, and mild childhood fame—is shattered when Amy goes missing, and her husband (played by Ben Affleck) is the suspect.

Blonde, beautiful, and elegant, Amy has been chipping away at a long and complex scheme to get revenge on her husband's infidelity—and all will be revealed in time.

Gone Girl is like psychological warfare, and Amy is willing to go to extreme lengths to win. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, right? And this poised city girl is one you certainly don't want to get on the wrong side of...

2. Basic Instinct (1992)

Directed by Paul Verhoeven

Starring Michael Douglas, Sharon Stone, George Dzundza

Drama, Mystery, Thriller (2h 7m)

7.1 on IMDb56% on RT

Basic Instinct is, at its core, a pretty bad film. It's uneven, convoluted, and far-fetched. It attempts to feel Hitchcockian and neo-noir, but it falls flat in its desperate attempt at a plot twist.

So, why is Basic Instinct so famous? And why is it so far up this list? The answer is short and sweet: Sharon Stone.

Sharon Stone plays the wealthy crime novelist who makes the investigator (played by Michael Douglas) of her boyfriend's death fall in love with her. This is helpful given that she's the main suspect.

Uncrossing her legs during the police interrogation is now one of the most iconic scenes in postmodern cinema, and the film as a whole was a trailblazer for changing attitudes around sexuality in 1990s Hollywood.

1. Double Indemnity (1944)

Directed by Billy Wilder

Starring Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson

Crime, Drama, Noir (1h 47m)

8.3 on IMDb97% on RT

"How could I have known that murder can sometimes smell like honeysuckle?" asks Walter Neff (played by Fred MacMurray), an insurance salesman who gets caught up with the wrong gal. "That dame upstairs, and the way she had looked at me..."

He accurately sums up how the femme fatale works: an attractive figure who entices men, pretending to be weak so they'll act strong on her behalf and take all the hits.

The illustrious "dame" is Phyllis Dietrichson (played by Barbara Stanwyck), the gold standard femme fatale in film noir. Phyllis wants Walter to murder her husband, claiming that he's abusive while secretly taking out an insurance policy on his life.

Even though the femme fatale has changed a lot today, Phyllis is still the classical prototype that first comes to mind.