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5 formidable teenage movie bad-asses

The Associated Press, Thursday, March 22, 2012, 1:03pm (PDT)

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Jennifer Lawrence already proved in 2010's "Winter's Bone" that she could play a girl with strength, wisdom and survival instincts beyond her years. Her performance as an Ozarks teenager searching for her father earned her an Oscar nomination and put her on the map.

It also made her the ideal choice to play Katniss Everdeen, the fiercely independent, 16-year-old heroine of "The Hunger Games," which is opening this weekend amid fervent expectation. Here's a look at five other teenage movie bad-asses — if you're not too intimidated to take them on, that is.

— Daniel Radcliffe in the "Harry Potter" movies: He defeats pure evil. What more do you need? Sure, he starts out as a slightly nerdy, insecure 11-year-old, living a miserable life underneath the stairs at his aunt and uncle's house, unaware of the greatness that dwells within him. But by the time he hits his teenage years, he's mastering spells and brandishing his wand with purpose and ferocity. He's the king of Hogwarts. Professors admire him. Friends are loyal to him. Chicks dig him. Everyone knows his name — including Lord Voldemort, who could be using his destructive powers in myriad other ways, but instead chooses to focus them on our young hero. And he probably wishes he hadn't. Harry thinks on his feet and conquers every challenge but still remains a good kid at heart.

— Saoirse Ronan in "Hanna" (2011): Ronan reteams with Joe Wright, who directed her to an Oscar nomination for "Atonement," in a role that could not be more different, or more challenging. She stars as the title character, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, 16-year-old killing machine. Living with her father (Eric Bana) in a rustic cabin in a remote and unforgiving forest just below the Arctic Circle, she learns to hunt, fight and speak in various languages. Their hand-to-hand combat scenes are quick, intense, visceral — until one day she tells him, "I'm ready." Upon embarking on the journey that's her destiny, she gets captured by government agents who think she's a shy and sheltered little girl. But, uh ... they're wrong. Even Cate Blanchett in fierce Prada heels can't stop her.

— Hailee Steinfeld in "True Grit" (2010): Her pigtails and her purity make her adorable, but her strong will and resourcefulness make her a force to be reckoned with. Steinfeld made her astonishingly self-assured film debut as Mattie Ross, the 19th-century pioneer girl who sets the story's action in motion, and earned an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress in the process. She was only 13 when she shot the movie, and to say she holds her own with Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and the rest of the cast would be an understatement. She dominates the Coen brothers' film — carries it, practically — handling the difficult language as well as the physical challenges with equal aplomb.

— Joseph Gordon-Levitt in "Brick" (2005): I must admit I did not love this movie, a 1930s-style film noir set in a contemporary Southern California high school, when it first came out. I admired its daring but found it too self-conscious ... maybe I should revisit it. Still, I always loved Gordon-Levitt's performance as Brendan, a teenage loner who's investigating the murder of one of his classmates. In the tradition of classic Humphrey Bogart characters, Brendan's looks in no way indicate what he's capable of doing as he digs closer to the dangerous truth. He's slight, fine-featured and messy-haired, perennially dressed in a simple, gray hooded sweat shirt. But he's quick-witted and he can take a punch (the frequency with which he gets his butt kicked is comical), all of which he's willing to do for this doomed woman he loved.

— Sean Penn in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" (1982): No matter how many roles Penn immerses himself in or Oscars he wins, he will always be Jeff Spicoli to me. Spicoli totally knows how to navigate the system. He orders pizza in Mr. Hand's class — `cause there's nothing wrong with a little feast on our time — trashes a sports car and turns it into a positive for the school's football team, has fun at all the joiner activities like dances and games but still remains blissfully, obliviously cool and above the fray. Of course, he's high the entire time — and we would never condone drug use here in the Five Most space — but Spicoli does graduate. And he saves Brooke Shields from drowning.

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Think of any other examples? Share them with AP Movie Critic Christy Lemire through Twitter: http://twitter.com/christylemire.

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