Welcome back to LEADING LADIES, the column where we look at leading ladies in the movies, especially horror movies.
Today on LEADING LADIES we look at the career of Linda Hamilton, who helped define 1980s cinema with her signature performance as Sarah Connor in THE TERMINATOR (1984).
In addition to her iconic portrayal of Sarah Connor in the TERMINATOR movies, Hamilton is also known for her role as Catherine Chandler on the TV series BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1987-89). Linda Hamilton has always been a favorite of mine, in spite of appearing in one of the worst monster movies ever made, KING KONG LIVES (1986)— by far the worst King Kong movie ever made.
Hamilton has 75 screen credits to date, and she’s still actively making movies today. Here’s a partial look at her career so far:
NIGHT-FLOWERS (1979) – Wafer – Hamilton’s film debut in a movie about rape and murder at the hands of two disturbed Vietnam vets.
RAPE AND MARRIAGE: THE RIDEOUT CASE (1980) – Greta Rideout – Hamilton has the lead role in this TV movie based on the true story of Greta Rideout (Hamilton), an abused wife who was constantly raped by her husband John (Mickey Rourke). The movie tells the story of how she fought back and charged him with rape, even though they were married. Written by Hesper Anderson, who would go on to earn an Oscar nomination for her co-written screenplay for CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD (1986) .
TAG: THE ASSASSINATION GAME (1982) – Susan Swayze – once again playing the lead, this time co-starring with Robert Carradine in a tale about a college assassination game turning deadly as it becomes the real thing. Written and directed by Nick Castle, most famous for playing Michael Myers in the original HALLOWEEN (1978).
SECRETS OF A MOTHER AND DAUGHTER (1983) – Susan Decker – TV movie drama about a mother and daughter involved with the same man. Katharine Ross plays the mother, Linda Hamilton the daughter, and Michael Nouri the man.
HILL STREET BLUES (1984) – Sandy Valpariso – recurring guest spot role on four episodes of Season 4 of the critically acclaimed TV show HILL STREET BLUES.
CHILDREN OF THE CORN (1984) – Vicky – big screen adaptation of the Stephen King short story was the first time I saw Linda Hamilton in a movie, and all I can say is I’m glad she made THE TERMINATOR that same year, because I did not like CHILDREN OF THE CORN at all and would have quickly forgotten Hamilton if not for her performance in THE TERMINATOR. In spite of the source material, CHILDREN OF THE CORN is a pretty awful horror movie.
THE TERMINATOR (1984) – Sarah Connor – the movie that put Linda Hamilton on the map, as well as Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron. Iconic movie, one of the most memorable from the 1980s, so much so that in terms of movies, it arguably defines the decade. The movie that propelled Arnold Schwarzenegger to superstardom, and gave him his signature line, “I’ll be back.” Also director James Cameron’s first hit, coming before ALIENS (1986) and long before TITANIC (1997).
Hamilton plays Sarah Connor, the target of Schwarzenegger’s Terminator, who’d been sent back in time to kill her, since she gives birth to the man responsible for leading the resistance against the machines in the future, and so the machines decide that if they kill his mother, he’ll never exist. Of course, you’d think it would just be easier to kill him. Pure fluff, but masterfully done, and Hamilton is excellent as the unlikely heroine, a young woman who sees herself as a failure, then victim, and ultimately rises up as the savior of the human race. By far, my favorite Linda Hamilton performance.
SECRET WEAPONS (1985) – Elena Koslov/Joanna – TV movie where Hamilton plays a Russian spy. Directed by Don Taylor, who during his long prolific career directed several notable genre films in the 1970s, including ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES (1971), THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (1977), and DAMIEN: OMEN II (1978).
BLACK MOON RISING (1986) – Nina – Hamilton plays a car thief in this tale of thieves, FBI agents, and a super car, the “Black Moon.” Co-starring Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Vaughn. Story by John Carpenter, who also co-wrote the screenplay.
KING KONG LIVES (1986) – Amy Franklin – If there’s one movie that Linda Hamilton should not have made, it’s probably this one. Why in the world would director John Guillermin, whose career was nearly destroyed by his first Kong venture KING KONG (1976) ever agree to make a sequel ten years later? Bad move, John! This horrible sequel has gone down in film history as the worst Kong movie ever. And whereas the 1976 KING KONG has aged well and has gained more respect over the decades, the same can’t be said for this awful sequel. It’s still as bad as it ever was.
GO TOWARD THE LIGHT (1988) – Claire Madison – TV movie about a young couple caring for their child who has been diagnosed with AIDS. Co-starring Richard Thomas.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1987-89) – Assistant District Attorney Catherine Chandler- Hamilton’s second most famous role, after Sarah Connor in THE TERMINATOR, this modern-day update of the Beauty and the Beast tale featured Ron Perlman as the beast and Hamilton as the beauty, an assistant district attorney in New York City.
MR. DESTINY (1990) -Ellen Burrows – Comedy fantasy starring James Belushi and Michael Caine.
TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY (1991) – Sarah Connor- Hamilton reprises her role as Sarah Connor in this big budget sequel to THE TERMINATOR which featured some of the most cutting edge special effects of its day. This time around Hamilton’s Sarah Connor is a lean mean fighting machine, while Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator is warm and fuzzy. Yup, in this sequel, Arnold plays a “good” Terminator, helping the humans fight off an even more advanced and dangerous Terminator from the future. Once again written and directed by James Cameron.
SILENT FALL (1994) – Karen Rainer – co-stars with Richard Dreyfuss and John Lithgow in this thriller about an Autistic boy who witnesses his parents’ double murder.
A MOTHER’S PRAYER (1995) – Rosemary Holmstrom – TV movie about a woman (Linda Hamilton) diagnosed with AIDS trying to raise her son as a single mother with the knowledge that she won’t be around for long. Also starring Bruce Dern and Kate Nelligan.
DANTE’S PEAK (1997) – Rachel Wando – disaster movie about an erupting volcano. With Pierce Brosnan.
RESCUERS: STORIES OF COURAGE: TWO COUPLES (1998) – Marie Taquet- TV movie about citizens rescuing Holocaust victims.
THE COLOR OF COURAGE (1998) – Anna Sipes – based on a true story, the movie chronicles the relationship between a white woman and a black woman.
BATMAN BEYOND: THE MOVIE (1999) – Dr. Stephanie Lake – lends her voice to this animated Batman film.
SILENT NIGHT (2002) – Elisabeth Vincken- TV movie about a German mother (Hamilton) and her son on Christmas Eve in 1944 who find themselves bringing German and American soldiers together for one night. Based on a true story.
MISSING IN AMERICA (2005) – Kate – Drama about a Vietnam veteran (Danny Glover) suddenly having to raise Vietnamese girl.
CHUCK (2010-2012) – Mary Bartowski – appeared in 12 episodes of the TV series CHUCK.
A SUNDAY HORSE (2016) – Margret Walden – Hamilton’s most recent screen credit, a drama about a horse and its young female rider.
Starting from about the early 2000s, the lead roles became fewer for Linda Hamilton, and she appeared more often in supporting roles. And the lead roles she did take were often in films that didn’t have the same resonance as the movies from her earlier days.
But she’s still busily acting, and so there are still more Linda Hamilton movies to come. And I for one am happy about that.
I hope you enjoyed this look at the career of Linda Hamilton, the subject of today’s LEADING LADIES column.
Thanks for reading!