By John Young
July 24, 2010 at 04:52 AM EDT

Not that long ago, Hollywood rarely offered actresses the chance to play a female action hero. Boy, how things have changed. From this weekend’s Salt to a slew of projects on the horizon, female characters are taking charge and kicking butt more often than ever before. To celebrate the increasing pop-culture prevalence of girl power, EW put on the Women Who Kick Ass panel Friday afternoon at San Diego Comic-Con. EW’s Nicole Sperling moderated a hour-long discussion about the new generation of female action heroes with five talented actresses: Jena Malone (Sucker Punch), Anna Torv (Fringe), Elizabeth Mitchell (V), Ellen Wong (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim). Some highlights after the jump:

— Malone revealed that she never had to pass any athletic tests before landing the incredibly stunt-heavy role of Rocket in Zack Snyder’s movie Sucker Punch (out March 2011). “What if I had flat feet?” Malone joked. “What if my heart could only go so fast?” After winning the part, however, Malone did have to partake in extensive training with a posse of martial artists, SEAL officers, and weapons experts. “We’d go out into the fields of Los Angeles and shoot all sorts of guns!” Malone said. But what was her proudest physical achievement from the film? Deadlifting 300 pounds. “Doing dead lifts is like being on cloud nine for me,” Malone said with absolute seriousness. “I really get into deadlifts. It’s like a drug.” The other panelists stared at Malone, their faces frozen with awed disbelief.

— All of the actresses agreed about the importance of attempting their own stunts. “Every actor I know wants to do their own stunts,” said Winstead, who worried about falling behind in her Scott Pilgrim training regimen when she was forced to take two weeks off due to illness. Wong found doing her own stunts incredibly rewarding. “It gives you so much power when you get to do a superhero move, like running up a wall and flipping,” Wong said. And while Malone also vouched for the necessity of attempting her own stunts, the actress also made sure to give credit to the stunt doubles. “You can’t fit seven years of mastery into three months of training,” Malone said.

— According to Mitchell, a self-professed geek, the sci-fi genre has provided a plethora of intriguing roles for women. “I was brought up being told that there was nothing a woman couldn’t do, and I think sci-fi echos that,” Mitchell said to a round of applause from the audience. “There are amazing women in science fiction. On V, I’ve enjoyed that Erica’s a mother, and that none of the people around her question her strength.” And Torv pointed out Fringe‘s unique gender-role reversal. “Olivia was the man,” Torv said. “She was off doing the tough stuff, while the boys did all the talking in the kitchen.”

— Each actress was asked about the wildest stunt they’ve ever had to perform, and Malone’s response was priceless. The actress proceeded to thoroughly describe an elaborate stunt from Sucker Punch where she was required to hang upside down — 30 feet above the floor — and somehow manage to shoot and reload a submachine gun. “The only other person I know who’s gone upside down and unloaded an UMP is Ice Cube,” Malone joked. Mitchell, upon realizing that she could never top Malone’s answer, simply remarked, “I dangled in wells” — a Lost reference that the Comic-Con audience sweetly cheered. Check out a video clip of Malone’s story at the end of this post.

— Finally, to prepare herself for the crazy and intimidating beast that is Comic-Con, Wong decided to go skydiving a few days before the convention. “I screamed and let it all out and thought, ‘Okay, now I’m ready for Comic-Con!'” I’ll have to remember that technique for next year.

Update: Watch the entire panel now at our Comic-Con video hub.