From the infamous Bechdel Test* to the ridiculous age gap between love interests, Hollywood has long struggled to create complex and interesting female characters. Women in film are often portrayed through a male gaze and only exist to serve the male lead. This isn’t that surprising when you consider the fact that in 2016, only 7% of directors of the 250 highest grossing movies were female.
This imbalance in the movie industry means that it can be difficult to find movies with fully fleshed out female characters and almost impossible to find movies that demonstrate a great female friendship. This year brought us Hidden Figures. To start, I have compiled this list of five films that portray really great friendships between interesting female characters.
The criteria I set for making this list is that the movies must pass the Bechdel test (duh), and have plots that don’t include women fighting over men, backstabbing each other, or hating other women for their success. I really hope that you enjoy these movies as much as I do, and maybe even find your next cinematic icon!
Thelma and Louise
Thelma and Louise is an Oscar-winning, feminist classic about two friends who decide to go on a weekend road trip together to escape their dreary lives. However, their plans quickly go awry when a run in with a sleazy drunkard sets these two women on the run. This film is full of suspenseful plot, witty dialogue, unexpected twists, and unapologetically badass women. I love this movie because of how it subverts the trope of the helpless female victim by showing that women are powerful and capable, especially when they work together.
If you are into underrated indie movies with sharp dialogue and witty characters, then this film is for you. Mistress America tells the story of Tracy, a friendless freshman at Barnard, and her soon-to-be stepsister Brooke, an erratic thirty something living in New York City. Tracy immediately becomes entranced by Brooke’s crazy but enchanting life and writes stories about her for Barnard’s prestigious literary magazine.
The movie is both a hilarious and heartbreaking tale about what it’s like to be a young person struggling to forge your own identity, and the kind of friendships that help us discover who we are.
Aquamarine is one of those childhood movies that still stands the test of time. This movies features Emma Roberts and JoJo as two best friends, Claire and Hailey, who are trying to make the most of their last summer together before Hailey moves to Australia. On a stormy night, the two wish for something that will keep them from being separated when a big waves washes a mermaid into their pool.
The mermaid promises them if they can help her prove that love exists then she will grant them one wish. Even though a lot of the plot does revolve around Aquamarine’s attempts to win over the love of a lifeguard, the movie is far more than a cheesy teen romance. The film focuses more on the way that the girls bond over their hair-brained schemes to win over the lifeguard and the love that they have for each other.
The Help tells the story of Skeeter, an aspiring journalist in the Civil Rights Era who wants to write a story from the perspective of African American maids in Mississippi and shed light on the racism in the South. Not only is this movie full of examples demonstrating how the power of female friendship helps to overcome adversity and oppression, but it also provides a great example of the many ways women can empower each other.
In perhaps what is the most well known quote of the movie, Minny Jackson tells the young girl that she is taking care of, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” In addition, this movie features an amazingly talented cast that includes Jessica Chastain, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Allison Janney, Octavia Spencer, and Emma Stone. Seriously, how could you go wrong with that?
There’s nothing quite as fun and entertaining as this lighthearted musical that’s all about the power of female friendship. If you’re unfamiliar with it, Mamma Mia is based on the Broadway musical of the same name in which Sophia, a young girl about to get married, invites three of her mother’s exes to her wedding in the hopes of discovering which of them is her father.
The musical features not one, but two sets of great female friends, with Sophia and her two bridesmaids representing the younger generation and Donna, Rosie, and Tanya representing the older generation. Together they investigate the past, rejoice in the present, and consider what they want out of their futures, all while singing the bouncy music of ABBA. It’s one of those feel-good classics that never fails to put a smile on my face. Plus, there’s a sequel coming soon!
*The Bechdel Test, sometimes called the Bechdel Rule is a simple test which is comprised of the following three criteria: (1) it has to have at least two women in it, who (2) who talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man.
Also published on Medium.