Thanks to the unreliability of movie marketing, our understanding of what ticks our proverbial boxes is often unreliable. How many times have you thought you’d love a film because it has X Y & Z, only to walk out feeling short-changed? Or dismissed a perfectly good comedy the first time around because the pink colour-blocking and female strong cast made you believe it was a cliched rom-com? (I’m almost exclusively thinking of Bridesmaids here).
This is where I come in. A long time believer that women are just people, I’ve compiled a list of female-led films anyone can and probably should watch, since well-rounded characters are infinitely more interesting than reinforcing stereotypes. Plus, the imaginative process inspires our empathy in a way that factual storytelling simply cannot. Please be aware the main criteria is ‘films that are good and happen to have women in them’. If it’s not got credentials, it’s not getting in.
Most of these I saw as a teen’ but still consider timeless for the screen.
Thelma and Louise
Ridley Scott directed this early ’90s classic. Sociopolitical and visually stunning, with an ending so iconic it still gets referenced in popular culture today. Mix with ingredients like Susan Sarandon, 1/4 of the cast of Resevoir Dogs and a shirtless Brad Pitt, and you’ve got a hearty 130 mins of craft mastery in front of your peepers. Essentially a road trip gone wrong, two women grow tired of their suburban housewife roles so escape in search of freedom, only to be met with the inevitable misogyny they sought relief from. Its tone varies from light-hearted sentimentality to heavy-hitting wisdom, mostly from the wise Louise, so you learn as you laugh.
Based on the true story of an ordinary woman who managed to build a legal case in protest against contaminated Californian drinking water without any technical expertise, this is a rags to riches story where success stems from one woman’s compassion rather than self-serving greed. History was made thanks to Erin’s courage and resourcefulness. It’s inspirational to watch a person succeed despite the odds in a noble crusade because her goals are philanthropic and really, what’s more badass than defying expectation to fight for what’s right?
Fun and frollocks. That’s the perfect way to describe this flick. Superstar Cher plays the effervescent Mrs Flax, while a young Winona Ryder and Christina Ricci entertain alongside her wily ways. It’s a defiant nod in the direction of independence juxtaposed with the coming-of-age need to fit in. The dialogue and direction of this film is whimsical and yet entwined with a wholesome aura that says ‘accept yourself for who you are’.
Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion
Off the walls (but firmly on the ceiling), Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion is the zany 90s comedy we don’t get blessed with enough nowadays. If I wrote the copy to advertise it, I’d convey the central message: it doesn’t take itself too seriously. One of my favourite elements is the use of flashbacks because character backstory gives us a chance to vicariously cringe at universal high school experiences. Afterwards we’re left with the maturity of realising our enemies are “a bad person with an ugly heart and we don’t give a flying fuck what you think.” That’s about as deep as the film gets since it’s mostly silly irreverence and flat-out fun.
The original Mean Girls but with black humour and a young Christian Slater. Veronica is the part-time badass you identify with as she navigates tricky high school dynamics and the allure of sociopathic men with dimples…we’ve all been there. Every line is memorable and you’ll be saying ‘fuck me with a chainsaw’ in the face of crisis for decades afterwards. ‘Sass’ levels are off the charts so if you want more savage insults at your disposal, Heathers has got you covered.