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Pam Grier Movies — 13 of Our Favorite Films Featuring the “First Female Action Star”

Take a walk down memory lane with these retro movies and see what she's doing now!

Pam Grier has been called a lot of things. Quentin Tarantino once referred to her as cinema’s “first female action star” — which is high praise coming from a moviemaker known for sword fights, shootouts, and high-speed car chases. Grier, who is now in her mid 70s, was not just a movie star but also a pioneer, both as a female action leading lady and an African American actress. Beautiful but tough, Pam Grier proved in a number of movies that a woman could kick butt as well as any man.

Pam Grier, 'Coffy', 1973
Pam Grier, Coffy, 1973

Pam Grier movies: An accomplished career

Grier’s Hollywood career spans 50 years, beginning in the 70s when she rose to prominence as the lead of blaxploitation films like Coffy and Foxy Brown. (Blaxploitation is the term used to describe independent films from the 1970s that explored themes of crime, racial inequality and Black American struggles. These movies were produced by Black filmmakers using Black crews and were intended for Black audiences — but many attracted more widespread notice and acclaim.)

Several decades later, her career was revived when she played the title role in Jackie Brown (1997), a film that paid homage to her earlier work. After that, Pam Grier went on to star in numerous movies and appeared on many television shows, including the much-loved Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Grier also became known for her highly publicized relationships with famous men including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Freddie Prinze and Richard Pryor.

Pam Grier, 1985
Pam Grier, 1985

A role model for strength

Grier has always been a fierce role model for women. She speaks freely (and has written extensively, in her 2010 memoir Foxy: My Life in Three Acts) about her experience with cervical cancer — she was diagnosed in 1988 and has been in remission for years — and the sexual assault she endured in her youth. Grier kept her history of assault a secret for many years, but decided to speak publicly after receiving advice from the women in her life and observing the bravery with which they disclosed their own ordeals. Grier came to see that sharing her story could help other survivors feel less alone.

Pam Grier, 1973
Pam Grier, 1973

What she’s up to today

Though Grier still enjoys an active professional life — in 2022, she did a season of the podcast series, The Plot Thickens, and is shopping around a film adaptation of her memoir — she now lives on a ranch in Denver, Colorado, a long way from the Hollywood Hills. The nature-centric location is not entirely surprising, as Grier is passionate about the outdoors and preventing disease through a healthy lifestyle. She even opened the Pam Grier Community Garden and Education Center in Fort Worth, Texas, and hopes to help make organic foods more affordable and accessible to people in the future.

I’m up at three or four, before the sun comes up,” she told The New Yorker in 2020 of her present day lifestyle. “I get my coffee and all the dogs, and we go down to the barn and check on the horses. I kiss them and hug them. Because I’m a cancer survivor, I say, ‘If you wake up breathing, you’re going to have a good day.’”

Now that’s an attitude we can all aspire to. 

Pam Grier, 2022
Pam Grier, 2022

Top Pam Grier movies

The film pioneer has made her mark in the movie industry year after year — take a look at some of her biggest hits and our favorite Pam Grier movies to date.

1. Women In Cages (1971)

'Women In Cages', 1971
Women In Cages, 1971Universal Pictures/Getty Images

Pam Grier played a sadistic prison warden in this sexploitation film alongside Judith Brown, Jennifer Gan and Roberta Collins.

2. The Big Bird Cage (1972)

'The Big Bird Cage', 1972
The Big Bird Cage, 1972Universal Pictures/Getty Images

Grier plays Blossom, the girlfriend of a guerrilla leader. The duo stages a breakout at a local women’s prison where the inmates are subject to harsh treatment.

3. Hit Man (1972)

'Hit Man', 1972
Hit Man, 1972Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images

Hit Man follows Tyrone Tackett, who returns to town after the death of his brother, only to find himself mixed up with a world of crime.

4. Coffy (1973)

'Coffy', 1973
Coffy, 1973Movie Poster Image Art/Getty Imagesv

Grier plays Coffy, a female vigilante seeking revenge against the people responsible for her younger sister’s drug addiction.

5. Scream Blacula Scream (1973)

'Scream Blacula Scream', 1973
Scream Blacula Scream, 1973American international Pictures/Getty Images

Grier stars in this blaxploitation vampire horror film alongside Don Mitchell and William H. Marshall.

6. The Arena (1974)

'The Arena', 1974
The Arena, 1974Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images

Pam Grier acts alongside Margaret Markov as an enslaved female gladiator fighting for her freedom.

7. Foxy Brown (1974)

'Foxy Brown', 1974
Foxy Brown, 1974American International Pictures/Getty Images

Grier takes on the drug dealers who murdered her government-agent boyfriend in Foxy Brown.

8. Friday Foster (1975)

'Friday Foster', 1975
Friday Foster, 1975 American International Pictures/Getty Images

Grier’s character finds herself mixed up in a plot against her life after she witnesses an attempted assassination against an affluent figure.

9. Sheba, Baby (1975)

'Sheba, Baby', 1975
Sheba, Baby, 1975Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

When her father is intimidated into handing over his insurance business, Sheba Shayne returns home to confront the people responsible, becoming involved in a dangerous battle in the process.

10. Greased Lightning (1977)

'Greased Lightning', 1977 Pam Grier movies
Greased Lightning, 1977Warner Brothers/Getty Images

Pam Grier plays Mary Jones in Greased Lighting, a film based loosely on the life of  Wendell Scott, the first Black NASCAR race winner.

11. Escape From L.A. (1996)

'Escape From L.A.', 1996 Pam Grier movies
Escape From L.A., 1996Paramount/Getty Images

In this post-apocalyptic action film, Kurt Russell’s “Snake” Plissken must retrieved the president’s daughter from LA after she escapes with the detonator to her father’s weapon, capable of mass destruction. Grier played Hershe Las Palmas, one of Plissken’s past associates.

12. Jackie Brown (1997)

'Jackie Brown', 1997
Jackie Brown, 1997Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

This Quentin Tarantino film places Pam Grier at the forefront as flight attendant Jackie Brown, who gets caught smuggling money for a gun runner and must find a way out of the mess she’s in without getting herself killed.

13. Bones (2001)

'Bones', 2000 Pam Grier movies
Bones, 2000New Line Cinema/Getty Images

Grier plays the role of Pearl, the lover of Jimmy Bones (played by Snoop Dogg), who was shot and killed, but years later, comes back in the form of a ghost.

For more fierce ladies, keep reading!

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