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Women in combat? Old news for lady warriors of the big screen

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta is lifting the ban on women serving in ground combat units, a landmark decision that will open up some 230,000 military jobs to women. But this is hardly new territory for the ladies of the big screen, where females have been fighting on the front lines for decades.

That's not to say these fictional fighters are always on equal footing with their male colleagues. In some films the military heroines spend as much time battling gender barriers as they do fighting the enemy, like Demi Moore's muscled character in "G.I. Jane."

Some silver-screen servicewomen are even forced to hide their sex from their fellow soliders — think Chinese army enlistee Mulan, the title character in the 1998 Disney animated film, or Rohan cavalry warrior Eowyn from "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King." In the latter, the niece of a king defeats an undead wraith, said to be invincible.

"You fool," the wraith rasps to the disguised Eowyn. "No man can kill me. Die now."

"I am no man!" she replies before casting the death blow.

Sing it, sister.

In the realm of science fiction, however, there are plenty of films in which nobody bats an eye at women in combat. Take tough-as-nails Pvt. Jenette Vasquez of the Colonial Marines, played by Jenette Goldstein, in James Cameron's 1986 action thriller "Aliens."

From "Joan of Arc" to "G.I. Jane," click through the gallery above for a look at some of the trailblazing warrior women of the big screen.

ALSO:

'Resident Evil': Milla Jovovich on zombies, strong women

Kate Beckinsale: 'Underworld' role was 'personal experiment'

'Hansel & Gretel' star Gemma Arterton finds her inner action hero

Twitter.com/@NoeleneClark

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