No work of art is perfectly feminist, nor should it be. But like Miss X, I love movies! And sometimes I just want to watch one where a woman kicks ass. Or one that features meaningful relationships between women. Or contains gender-stereotype-defying characters Or simply has characters who look like my girlfriend and friends and family rather than Hollywood bots. Since those kinds of movies can seem few and far between, I’ve pulled together a list of some of my favorite feminist-leaning movies by genre, to make your next movie night a glorious celebration of the strength and versatility of good female characters.
This will contain spoilers! However, the most recent of these movies came out two years ago so I think we’ll be ok.
SRS MOVIES FOR SRS PEOPLE:
RED DRAGON, Thriller
Reasons to watch: Although she’s not the main character, Reba, the blind film processor who romances the serial killer Francis Dolorhide, makes this movie worth watching. When we first meet her, she explains to Dolorhide how to move around in her photo lab by using the step-counting method she’s developed–right away she establishes that she navigates the world just fine. Then she rejects, politely but firmly, the advances of a guy she dislikes, and decides to go out with a guy she DOES like, because he’s sexy and doesn’t pity her. She’s kind to him, and obviously attracted to him, and after he takes her on an awesome date, she seduces him. At no point is she anything but a total boss.
ALIEN, Science Fiction
Reasons to watch: Sigourney Weaver’s character is competent, complex, and intelligent. She “has no interest in the romance of finding the alien” according to Roger Ebert, but instead focuses on how to effectively eliminate the threat to her safety and the safety of her team.
WHALE RIDER, Drama
Reasons to watch: Pai is a twelve year old girl just discovering that she possesses the qualities, both spiritual and practical, to become a leader in her New Zealand indigenous community. Her grandfather, whom she loves and whose opinion matters immensely to her, doesn’t approve. She spends the film growing into herself and trying to convince her grandfather that she’s the best choice for the next leader. Her family members (both male and female) support her decision and try to help her–extremely refreshing.
LEGALLY BLONDE, Comedy
Reasons to watch: This movie explicitly acknowledges that law school is a boy’s club. Yet, Elle, when she decides to enter Harvard law, not only retains her femininity, she uses it to her advantage. She makes friends with the other law students by treating them like her beloved sorority sisters–being kind to them, baking, and cheerfully including herself in their plans. She makes friends with her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend instead of competing with her, reacts with utter contempt when a professor sexually harasses her, and generally just succeeds wildly at whatever she puts her mind to. There’s even a delightful sub-plot featuring a sexy UPS guy.
SAVING FACE, LGBT RomCom
Reasons to watch: Everyone in this movie is a stereotype turned on its head. Mom is a woman who loves independence and hot boys and dislikes babies. Daughter Wil is a workaholic worry-wort surgeon who’s afraid of commitment. Even Wil’s girlfriend is a graceful ballerina who is totally dedicated to her career–and brooks no bullshit from her stubborn girlfriend. See also: touching mother-daughter moments, a hilarious date scene, and OH MY GOD EVERYONE IN THIS MOVIE IS GORGEOUS EVEN THE MEN.
WRECK-IT Ralph, Animated Movie
- “We’ll get some overarm lifters and four barrel quads, oh yeah.” “Keep talking, whoa, keep talking!”
Although one of the main characters of this movie is the predictable loveable (male) oaf, the other main character is a tiny female badass. Vanellope von Schweetz, a cart racer in a video game, is focused on her career, driven, and convinced that being different from the other racers is what makes her special. In addition, her friendship with the titular character is based on mutual respect. See also: Jane Lynch in a complex and engaging supporting role.
ASS KICKING/COMING OF AGE:
BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, Fantasy
Reasons to watch: Hushpuppy (brought spectacularly to life by Quvenzhané Wallis) is a tough young girl living in a fantasy-world New Orleans. Her relationship with her community and her father are beautifully poignant and realistic, and it’s wonderful to watch her survive and adapt to her changing circumstances. Although bell hooks criticized the rage and aggression displayed by Hush Puppy’s father in the movie, I believe it’s worth seeing.
BILLY ELLIOT, Dance Flick
Reasons to watch: This is a delightful dancing romp coupled with some pretty decent class commentary. BONUS: it features a gender-sterotype-defying straight boy AND a friendship between said boy and a boy who later turns out to be gay. Billy is charming and determined, his family is believable, and it has a happy ending. Bam.
Alike is a sympathetic character who has a complex relationship with her family, her best friend, and her community. The most refreshing part of this movie is that Alike’s sexuality doesn’t torment her–only the bigoted reactions she gets bother her. She ends up navigating her coming out process and first time falling in love in an immensely powerful and heartbreaking way, and in the end chooses a path full of hope.
MATILDA, Children’s Movie
Reasons to watch: Matilda is a smart, kind-hearted, curious girl born to indifferent parents. Despite a concerted lack of parental effort, she grows into a bright, loving child. When she goes to school, she encounters a headmaster who tortures her fellow students. Using her intelligence and newly-discovered magical powers, she teams up with her sweet teacher to take down the headmaster and free the other kids from her tyranny. This movie is funny, sweet and features little girls and traditionally feminine women teaming up to kick butt. Plus a hilarious scene involving a gigantic, delicious chocolate cake.
SUCKER PUNCH, Action
Reasons to watch: This movie is an action film I didn’t loathe–the cast is mostly female, the plot is a grade above simplistic, and there’s no awkwardly-thrown-together romance. The content is disturbing–don’t see this movie if you can’t handle forced institutionalization and sexual violence–but I found the treatment of it very powerful. The scenes where the main character “dances” were very powerful for me, but reactions from other viewers have been mixed.