What exactly is the Bechdel test? It’s a way to measure the active representation of well-rounded female characters in a movie. For the flick to pass, it only requires three simple rules:
Feature at least two named women in it
These women need to talk to each other
The conversation needs to be about something besides a man
Unfortunately, most movies in Hollywood don’t pass this test. They’re usually filmed from the perspective of the male gaze, and reduce women to beings who are aimless unless they have a male character to talk about. These films take time to flesh out intricate female characters and fight that two-dimensional representation. Here are our favorite movies that prioritize female friendship over the damsel in distress cliche.
Many women would argue that this is one of the best female comedies created, and I would be one of them. The bar for female comedians is set so high that it’s rare we get to see the magical on-screen chemistry of their whole entourage. In this movie, Kristen Wiig and her hilarious gang were a realistic and relatable portrayal of many female bonds. At the core, they talk about their deepest desires and insecurities. But none of the topics seem to be as frivolous as who they’re crushing on or dating – even though one of the main characters is getting married. From the toxic bitchiness to the emotional breakthroughs, Bridesmaids is about the beautiful but sometimes rollercoaster that is female friendship.
2. Someone Great
This Netflix rom-com told from the female gaze is as unconventional as it gets. The beginning of this cinematic gem is where most romantic comedies finish off: after the couple has already fallen in love. Almost a decade later, the protagonist’s man dumps her when she gets her dream job across the country because a long-distance relationship is “too hard.” But here’s where it gets good: when she’s heartbroken, her two best friends are ready to pick up the pieces. In a way, this movie is about falling out of love instead of falling in love but is focused on the central role that your besties have in that process. A breakup can bond women more than ever. This film is also a useful reminder that you never have to pick a dude over your career.
3. Hidden Figures
The inspirational women behind Hidden Figures passed this test in real life, and on-screen. Mathematicians Katherine Goble, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson were the brains behind the revolutionary Project Mercury at NASA. These women more multiple hats, from analytical engineering to aerospace engineering and genius-level math skills. They don’t just pass the Bechdel test – they ace it. These three women soldiered past career obstacles and an army of racist, sexist white men to make world-changing breakthroughs. In Hidden Figures, at least five named women talk to each other about topics unrelated to men.
4. Girl, Interrupted
Filmed in 1999, Girl, Interrupted was a powerhouse of raw, earth-shattering acting chops that set the tone for many careers. Winona Ryder plays a teen who’s committed to a mental hospital after attempting suicide. During her time there, she meets Lisa, a complicated sociopath played flawlessly by Angelina Jolie. The conversations between these women are beautiful, vulnerable, and give way to a long history of pain – one that’s about much more than men. It explores themes of all kinds, from literature and the media to abuse and violence. Over two decades later, this tour de force just as relevant to our lives, and guys have nothing to do with it.
Many of us dip into YA content as a guilty pleasure, but this isn’t your average coming of age tale – it flips the whole teen genre on its head. Helmed by Olivia Wilde, Booksmart approaches high school friendships without obsessing over guys. Instead, the protagonists obsess over something way better – each other. In school, Molly and Amy coped by clinging to each other and focusing on academics over social or romantic relationships. After getting accepted, they learn that most of their hard-partying schoolmates got into Ivy League schools as well. Determined to let loose after four years of sacrifices, these intellectual heroines head to a notorious pre-grad party for a final night of fun. They’re focused on making up for lost time – not impressing a boy.
6. Black Swan
This flick is an intense one, chronicling the journey of talented ballerina Nina, her controlling mother, and a new dancer on the scene that’s threatening Nina’s career. There are a couple of male characters peppered in here, but they rarely fall into the “a woman needs a man to complete her” trope. More often, the viewer is confronted with mother-daughter scenes between Nina and her domineering mother, as well as an intense dynamic with newcomer Lily, who threatens Nina’s position as Prima Ballerina. A stunning but tortured portrait of how complicated and toxic female friendships can be, especially when society pits them against each other.
If this round-up is missing something for you musical lovers, Chicago is a must-watch feminist flick that passes the Bechdel test with flying colors. Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones are fierce icons of strength and sexual empowerment, with their moral compass and zero fear of judgment. Back in the 2002 cinema, women weren’t often depicted in this empowering, nuanced light – they were seen as either a saint or shameful succubus. These two murderesses and jazz singers are unapologetic about their actions, and only really discuss men when they’re trying to be legally represented, or navigate their way through the criminal justice system.
I see life itself as a Bechdel test; there are so many more inspiring things for us to bond over in life instead of men! It can be easy to psychoanalyze men and after all, we’re socialized to have our lives revolve around them. But what about all those other meaningful conversations that get run over in the process?
With more female directors than ever in Hollywood, a record number of women-centric films are acing the Bechdel with ease and opening minds everywhere. Along with this much-needed representation, hopefully, this means that we’ll never see another Harvey Weinstein again.