"They’re the kind of dames who can wear floor-length gowns and look completely naked. The kind with hair piled up on their head like compliant serpents, or falling down in smooth lustrous waves. Dames with hard faces and mocking smiles and eyes that sized you up and found you wanting . . . but you’d do, for now."
The morally ambiguous Femme Fatale is the typical client in a Hardboiled Detective story. You know the type. Dressed all in black with legs up to here, she slinks into the PI's office, holding a cigarette on a long, long holder, saying "Oh, Mr. Rockhammer, you're the only one who can help me find out who killed my extremely wealthy husband." Did she do it? Do I care?Where'd that saxophone music come from? Whatever her story is, whether she did it or not, she's definitely keeping some secrets.
The Femme Fatale is sexy and she knows it. Made famous by Film Noir and hard-boiled detective stories, the Femme Fatale manipulates and confuses the hero with her undeniable aura of sexiness and danger. He knows that she's walking trouble and knows much more about the bad guys than she should, but damn it if he can't resist her feminine wiles.
Unlike the virginal and sweet Damsel in Distress (or Action Girl with a similarly gentle attitude), the Femme Fatale exploits with everything she's got to wrap men around her finger. (In some eras, use of make-up is a tell-tale sign.) However, Status Quo Is God, so by the end of the story, the Femme Fatale must either be reformed by the hero to the side of good and lose much of her appeal in the process, or be outwitted by him to her doom.
If the Femme Fatale is vying for the hero's romantic attentions, she will almost never win because of her illegal and low means of beating out her sweeter and purer rival, and the hero will decide that she's not worth the trouble she causes. This remains true even if she becomes a reformed character.
What separates the Femme Fatale from The Vamp is that the Femme Fatale uses femininity and sensuality instead of upfront sexual advances. Her wiles include apparent helplessness and distress, and appeals to the man's greed, desire for revenge, or gullibility, as well as the implication of possible romance or just sexual rewards, compared to The Vamp's reliance on raunchy sex or the promise of it and utter amorality otherwise. Possibly as a result of this, she is more likely to be portrayed sympathetically than the average vamp.
While the Femme Fatale is generally evil, or at least morally conflicted, there are occasional exceptions, most notably, the leading ladies of Mission: Impossible or Charlie's Angels. They are using their feminine wiles in an artificial context to snare the bad guy...all for the greater good, of course.
Often the Lady in Red, and even more often the Woman in Black, but possibly dressed like everyone else so as to not be Colour-Coded for Your Convenience. The Femme Fatale is one of the female character types that can often be seen wearing Opera Gloves, especially in conjunction with her sexy evening gowns, and, during the daytime (particularly in old Film Noir movies), is often seen wearing a "fascinator" or "pillbox" hat with a partial- or full-face veil. Not above using the Kiss of Distraction.
If she can fight, too, then she's really going to be trouble.
The younger version of this is the Fille Fatale.
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One of the undeniable masters of the femme fatale role is Fujiko Mine of Lupin III fame. When she's not using her body to get what she wants, she falls back on her knowledge of weaponry, battle strategy, and disguising. She uses this against anyone and everyone, especially her male counterpart and rival Arsene Lupin III.
Fujiko's fame reached a climax in 2012, when after forty years and much egging by the fans, she received a spin-off series that featured her and the rest of the Lupin gang during the Monkey Punch era before the first TV series. Titled Lupin III The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, it was praised for its distinct approach to the Lupin III universe.
Rui Kisugi from Cat's Eye. This character was probably based on Mine Fujiko: beautiful, busty Japanese seducetress and thief - sounds familiar. right? Though, she is much more heroic than Fujiko.
Natasha Romanova, the original Black Widow, although she reformed from her Honey Trap ways early and eventually became a SHIELD agent.
Not surprisingly, due to its noirish roots, Sin City has quite a few. Almost every female character counts, and Dwight is the one that gets in trouble with them as they tend to go back and forth between Damsel in Distress and The Vamp. The most triumphant example from the series is in The Babe Wore Red. Dwight said it best:
Dwight: The moment I lay eyes on her, I know I'm in trouble.
Fatale by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (of Criminal fame) places a horror spin on this trope which also serves to make the femme fatale in question more sympathetic; it's implied that she's supernaturally cursed to forever remain young and beautiful, and the spell also works to cause them to fall hopelessly in love with her to the point where it leads to their own ruin. It's clearly established that she hates her life and the effect that she has on men, but can't escape it.
Jessica from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. She's a toon clearly created by some artist to be the perfect Femme Fatal, from her dangerous good looks and sultry voice, to the slinky way she moves. Even her smile is suspicious. It turns out that she's the Red Herring and was telling the truth all along. She really isn't bad! Just drawn that way.
The shade of Mal in Inception. She killed or tried to kill someone in about every other scene she was in, but she still gave the hero pause when he was faced with stopping her.
Tae-ju in Thirst, who seduces Sang-hyun, convinces him to murder her husband and turn her into a vampire, then turns into a gleeful killer.
Phyllis Dietrichson from the classic noir Double Indemnity. She starts an affair with Walter Neff, an insurence agent. Together, they convince her husband to take a life insurance, then kill him and Make It Look Like An Accident so they could collect the money.
Selina Kyle has always been a classic Femme Fatale, but the way Anne Hathaway portrays her in The Dark Knight Rises takes it to a whole new level. Suffering from a major case of Heel Face Revolving Door, her tough, street-smart cat burglar is as elegant as she is dangerous, something Bruce Wayne both notices and forgets when he's in her presence. Director Christopher Nolan claims that he has always envisioned Catwoman as an "old-school femme fatale".
Summer in Definitely, Maybe is the sexually adventurous "bitch" that destroyed her boyfriend's career to advance her own.
Catherine Tramell in Basic Instinct is one of the most iconic examples in modern filmmaking. No surprise, seeing as how the entire film is a 90's update on the Film Noir genre. She seduces both men and women to attain her goals, uses sexual aggression to openly taunt the police in the infamous interrogation scene, and committed all the murders.
In The Stainless Steel Rat action/comedy series by Harry Harrison, thief turned galactic secret agent 'Slippery Jim' DiGritz finds himself up against the psychotic (yet beautiful and criminally brilliant) Angelina. Jim falls in love and marries her in the next novel of the series. Supposedly, the psych-techs have straightened out Angelina's twisted personality, implanting her with a conscience, but there are times when her husband has to restrain Angelina's natural enthusiasm for torture and killing. Plus, Jim quickly learns the inadvisablity of showing interest in other women, or trying to wriggle out of promises (an attempt to back out of their marriage is stopped by Angelina shoving a .75 calibre recoil free pistol up his nose).
In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel Ghostmaker, Inquisitor Lilith actively tries to incite jealousy in Gaunt as a way to manipulate him. Gaunt calls her on it and tells her it's not needed, he will help voluntarily. She admits at the time that she's not used to voluntary cooperation and, later, when about to go through a gate to an Eldar craftworld, that she actually found Gaunt attractive.
Patience Kys in the Ravenor books by the same author is a heroic example, she is a somewhat hostile Ice Queen who tends to use her attractiveness to her advantage on covert operations.
Not just Lara. The first time we see Mab, the Winter Queen, she is pulling the classic 'slinky sexpot asks the P.I. for help' routine in Harry's office.
Harry, being Genre Savvy as always, gets suspicious and manages to figure out what Mab is(although a Cold Iron test is how he was certain). Although it is more surprising for him not to be suspicious of Femme Fatals.
Cora Smith in The Postman Always Rings Twice. She's married to an old Greek man named Nick who owns a diner. When Frank, a young drifter gets a job at the diner, Cora starts a passionate affair with him, and together they conspire to kill Nick.
Homeland Security agent Cassandra Renaldo in the Dale Brown novel A Time for Patriots, who seduces Bradley to use against Pat.
Selena Coombs of American Gothic. In an interesting inversion, however, her primary sexual usage in the show, aside from being Buck's mistress, is not to turn a good man evil, but to keep a man nominally on the side of evil—Ben Healy—from defecting to the good.
Sam Marquez on Las Vegas works for a casino. Specifically, her job is to keep 'whales' - big spenders - happy. Once, she only slept with a guy because he was dying, and she has openly called herself a slut. Strangely, she rarely sleeps with any of the whales themselves, and had to start going to a therapist later in the series after she was abducted and nearly raped and killed.
Miss Parker from The Pretender. Makes her entrance stomping out a cigarette on an oil tanker, shoots at the good guy a lot, has UST with him, and regularly growls at and intimidates most men within range.
Dollhouse: Adelle DeWitt - charming, morally grey ballbuster who is equally at home with threats and seduction, and approaches Darth Vader levels of nastiness in the second season. She is. In. Charge.
In the episode Noir, an episode with all the Smallville characters in a Film Noir, Lana takes the role of the Femme Fatale, having an affair with Clark Kent, an undercover cop, killing her husband, Lex, and framing Jimmy for the murder.
A contemporary but classic example is Alicia Baker from season three's "Obsession", who decides she's going to have Clark no matter what it takes.
Lady Christina de Souza from Doctor Who seemed to want to be one.
The younger River Song was clearly intended to be something like this. Not only does she show up in a long black dress, dark glasses, and stiletto heels, but she wears hallucinogenic lipstick.
Cameron of The Sarah Connor Chronicles has more than once used her physical body's attractiveness to coldly manipulate people, up to and including John Connor himself. It is implied that this was, in fact, the entire reason she was built. Her external appearance was based on a girl named Allison Young, who was implied to be either a close friend or lover of the future John Connor, and Cameron interrogated Allison to learn her mannerisms before attempting to take her place.
Weaver has a significant femme fatale streak as well.
A villanous example is Commandant Mele-On Grayza from Farscape. In addition to being very attractive with well-displayed breasts, she also secretes a chemical from a gland between her breasts that literally hypnotized men into doing her bidding.
On Weeds, Nancy may not seem like it at first, but she has this effect on men. They seem to be attracted to her despite the fact that she brings chaos to everything she touches.
The Shadow Line has Petra Nayler, girlfriend of the missing Glickman. She seduces the married Joseph Bede using her apparent helplessness, and is later revealed to have done this to Glickman too, under the orders of Counterpoint. Not only that, she only went to Bede to look for leads on Glickman's location, so she could kill him for trying to expose the conspiracy.
Katherine Pierce from The Vampire Diaries is a classic example. She's willing to seduce anyone that can give her what she needs, and the many, many men that have taken the fall for her over the past 3 seasons are more than happy to comply.
Ada Wong from the Resident Evil series initially showed very mild Distressed Damsel qualities in her first appearance, but by the fourth game in the series, there was no question that she was a first-class Femme Fatale, to the point that it's clear in retrospect that her originally helpless was playact the whole time. Trying to figure out which side the girl is on and if she's going to help you or hurt you can give you (and poor Leon) a serious headache.
Excella Gionne from Resident Evil 5 is also an example, being Wesker's Dragon. An example that ends up being subverted: it is she who ends up being manipulated and betrayed by Wesker, who injects her with the Uroboros virus she created. Rather than a manipulative woman behind the man, she's actually just an opportunistic Rich Bitch who is Too Dumb to Live.
Naomi in Metal Gear Solid and Guns Of The Patriots. According to the backstory, she seduced Richard Ames away from his wife, Nastasha Romanenko, in order to get onto the FoxDie project so she could modify it to kill Snake. She spent the game until the bombshell alternately acting very cold towards him and drooling over him. She has good intentions though.
Ultimecia in Final Fantasy VIII is this. When she's possessing Edea - who normally wears a very simple and modest dress - she makes her wear incredibly ornate and over-the-top "sexy" clothing. When you finally meet her in person, the costume she has on is, to say the least, extravagant. She uses her body to get what she wants, and was openly called a Femme Fatale in the spin-off game Dissidia.
Quite possibly, Viletta Vadim from Super Robot Wars, starting out as The Mole of the team for Ingram and is a deadly pilot in combat. This is later subverted as Viletta and Ingram have good intentions, despite coming off as rather strict and oh-so-much a Magnificent Bastard for Ingram, not flat out evil. Her looks also gave her the distinction of being one of Excellen's 'Three Beautiful Sisters' and the only person she'd goLes Yay with. To hammer it home, her theme song was re-named to this trope when Original Generation got a US translation by Atlus (it was formerly 'Woman The Cool Spy').
Dark Saber in Fate/stay night, during the scene that is titled "Femme Fatale". During this scene, Shirou can't bring himself to kill Saber due to his attachment to her, but it is due to these attachments that he ends up in a very horrible Bad End. All the horribleness is caused to Sakura and not Saber though.
In Thief The Dark Project, Viktoria plays this to Garrett's Noir action hero, tempting him with greed, the power of an exotic blade, and obliquely hints at the possibility of sex. Without Constantine's leadership in Metal Age, she becomes less this, but still remains Strange Bedfellows.
Sylvia Christel from No More Heroes, who manages to convince an impoverished otaku living in a cheap motel to use his laser sword that he got off the internet to murder people. Granted, said otaku wasn't exactly a prince himself in terms of morality.
Sahar of the Whateley Universe. She has spent several years seducing any mutant (male or female) with the right powers, so she can copy their best psychic traits. Even the campus Alphas and Intelligence Cadet Corps fear her.
Blackarachnia from Transformers: Beast Wars plays this to the hilt when she gets a chance, towards allies and enemies alike, though she does less flirting and more fighting than is usual for this trope. The choice of a black widow spider as her alternate mode is surprisingly appropriate, though she's not without redeeming qualities.
The Blackarachnia in Transformers Animated fulfills this trope whenever it's convenient for her, either with the Autobots or the Dinobots. Optimus Prime is especially vulnerable to falling for this no matter how many times she does it. It does make you wonder why she considers herself such a horrific freak, when everyone with a spark seems to want to jump her thorax.
Samurai Jack ran into this type of villain twice. (Demons and bounty hunters were easy for him; seductresses, not so much.) The first one was actually Aku in disguise, and it ended very badly for Jack. The second one was Josephine Clench, also a Dark Action Girl and half of an Outlaw Couple with her ex-husband Zeke. Apparently, her typical MO was to lure a victim into a false sense of security with her charms so that Zeke could attack by surprise, and then she could strike from behind when he tried to fight him. It almost worked on Jack, but the plan fell apart when she tried to double-cross Zeke. Possibly, something like this may have been why they had divorced.