There is no doubt in my mind that female characters kicked-ass in 90s film. While there are outstanding female characters prior to and post of the era, I am particularly fond of the portrayal of strong, independent women of 90s film.
I’ve compiled a little list of some of my favourite films of the 90s that feature incredible female characters.
My Girl (1991)
“A young girl, on the threshold of her teen years, finds her life turning upside down when she is accompanied by an unlikely friend.” (IMDb)
My Girl. We’re talking about My Girl. Vada Sultenfuss, what a little heartbreaker.
Even seeing the title flash up in any situation is enough to make my heart sink and my eyes to well up. This. Film. Is. Heartbreaking. But let’s be real, little Vada took on every obstacle like a champ: the death of her best friend Thomas J, a new step-mother, crushing on an older man (her teacher), and of course puberty. Vada is wise beyond her years and a pint-sized inspiration.
Thelma and Louise (1991)
“An Arkansas waitress and a housewife shoot a rapist and take off in a ’66 Thunderbird.” (IMDb)
I don’t really know where to begin with Thelma and Louise. Two bad-ass birds with sass, guns and southern accents. What could be more empowering? This film tells the truth about women’s lives. It may have been marketed as a ‘female buddy’ film, but it managed to sneak in it’s politics and values. Thelma and Louise not only features two strong female characters who defend themselves and find their independence from their partners, but it was also written by a female. It highlights the bonds of female friendships, but it also shows that women can escape the constraints of gender, class and place. You do you, girl.
Death Becomes Her (1992)
“When a woman learns of an immortality treatment, she sees it as a way to outdo her long-time rival.” (IMDb)
Death Becomes Her not only points out but also makes fun of its narcissistic female leads. It blatantly mocks the vanity and hollow nature of its lead characters: actress Madeline Ashton and writer Helen Sharp. The two spend the entire film in an endless competition against each other, vying for the love of plastic surgeon Ernest Menville. While a large portion of the story revolves around a murder plot and the search for immortality and beauty, what you can really take away from this film the importance of companionship and friendship above all else. Despite the fact that its plot is completely ridiculous (Madeline and Helen walk around with holes in their stomachs, heads twisted around and they literally cannot die) the moral of the story is that beauty, wealth, popularity and the length of one’s life are not the be-all-end-all.
“A rich high school student tries to boost a new pupil’s popularity, but reckons without affairs of the heart getting in the way.” (IMDb)
For those that haven’t already seen Clueless (but come on, really?) it’s basically the original Mean Girls. Based on Jane Austen’s Emma, Clueless is the story of Cher; a spoilt, ditsy daddy’s girl and her brazen sidekicks try to transform the drab new girl into a popular babe by setting her up with a popular guy. Obviously, it all backfires and the wrong people fall in love. Cher may come across as ditzy and dumb, but she’s actually a very intelligent young woman with an extremely kind sense of character. Cher does not judge, she is very accepting of other and their differences and is extremely honest. At the end of the day, the strong message here is loyalty between women and the bond created by strong female friendships.
Now and Then (1995)
“Four 12-year-old girls grow up together during an eventful small-town summer in 1970.” (IMDb)
I would describe Now and Then as the female equivalent to Stand By Me. Although it may not have been set completely in the 90’s, it provided the answers to many questions that girls growing up in almost any era needed to know; questions about boys, sex, womanhood and growing up. Each and every character in this film, whether it be their younger self or their current day self, stands alone to teach lessons in life and love. It’s a reminder of how important our past and the lessons we learned growing up can define us as adults.
“When Nicole met David; handsome, charming, affectionate, he was everything. It seemed perfect, but soon she sees that David has a darker side. And his adoration turns to obsession, their dream into a nightmare, and her love into fear.” (IMDb)
If you ask any 90s girl what her first introduction to sexual activity is, she will most likely tell you it was the scene from Fear where Mark Wahlberg brings Reese Witherspoon to a climax on a fucking rollercoaster. But what really makes this film worth watching, is Witherspoon’s character Nicole. After realising that her boyfriend David is obsessive, controlling and violent with a secretive past, Nicole takes charge and does not succumb to his wants and needs, taking the power from his hands. While things do get pretty intense, and David definitely does some very messed up things, Nicole escapes her abuser without being the ‘damsel in distress’.
Which to be honest, is damn refreshing.
“Story of a wonderful little girl, who happens to be a genius, and her wonderful teacher vs. the worst parents ever and the worst school principal imaginable.” (IMDb)
It would have been very wrong to leave Matilda out of this list. Despite the fact that she was some sort of magical child genius–with powers that no normal 6-year-old child possessed–Matilda taught young girls all over the world to stand up for themselves.Even at such a young age, Matilda still knew the difference between right and wrong (especially when it involved her father or Mrs. Trunchbull), and in defense of the wrongdoers around her, she taught children to fight for what they want and believe in, and that it is perfectly okay to embrace your intelligence.
Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion (1997)
“Two dense, inseparable friends hit the road for their 10-year high school reunion and concoct an elaborate lie about their lives in order to impress their classmates.” (IMDb)
Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion was the first teen-chick flick I ever saw. Romy was my idol. How could she not be with her gummy bear diet, platforms on the treadmill and metallic, self-made fashion. They may not be the most positive role models, but they sure encourage you to be yourself. And if you ever want to feel better about your high school days, just watch Romy and Michele struggle through back-brace magnets and being deserted on the Prom dance floor.
Spice World (1997)
World famous pop group The Spice Girls zip around London in their luxurious double decker tour bus having various adventures and performing for their fans. (IMDb)
SPICE WORLD. Seeing THE Spice Girls act out their stage personas in an actual film was the most inspiring thing that 7-year-old Kate had ever seen. As I’m sure you know, the Spice Girls took over the lives of young females all over the world through the mid-late 90s. Being all about ‘Girl Power’, they helped to turn female empowerment, unity and loyalty into a phenomenon which they carried on into the film.
My Best Friends Wedding (1997)
“When a woman’s long-time friend reveals he’s engaged, she realizes she loves him herself and sets out to get him, with only days before the wedding.” (IMDb)
I’ve included My Best Friends Wedding for one reason: it does not have a happy ending, and I fucking love that. The girl does not get the guy. AMAZING. Imagine that!? While most girls probably would not steal a service truck to chase the man of their dreams AND his fiance through the city, in an attempt to get the two of them together, it does prove that there isn’t always a happy ending, and life fucking goes on.
All I Wanna Do (US)/ The Hairy Bird (AU)/ Strike (UK) (1998)
“In the 1960s, a group of friends at an all-girls school learn that their school is going to be combined with a nearby all boys school. They concoct a plan to save their school while dealing with everyday problems along the way.” (IMDb)
“Up your ziggy with a wawa brush!” This phrase alone should be enough to encourage you to want to see a film called The Hairy Bird*. For some reason, this film has three different titles depending on which continent you live on. In my opinion, the Australian title is definitely more fitting for this 60s based, provocative teen flick. This is another must see, coming-of-age film if you’re into the offensive ‘push the boundaries’ type. These girls step over blurred lines and redefine grey areas at a strict boarding school. While they are rebellious and sometimes a little cruel, they teach the viewer to stand up for themselves and what you believe in.
*Fun Fact: ‘The Hairy Bird’ is a reference to male genitalia.
Practical Magic (1998)
“The wry, comic romantic tale follows the Owens sisters, Sally and Gillian, as they struggle to use their hereditary gift for practical magic to overcome the obstacles in discovering true love.” (IMDb)
Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman are somehow related in Practical Magic, but for the sake of 90s film, we will just pretend that is plausible. I’ve never been a Nicole Kidman fan, but I sort of maybe, kind of like her in this film as Gillian Owens. Maybe. However, I can say that I love this film. It has a little bit of rom-com action, a little bit of magic (witches yay!) and there is even a murder. Bullock’s character Sally Owens is a ‘strong, independent woman who don’t need no man’ (but she obviously falls in love anyway, because then it wouldn’t be a rom-com). Practical Magic highlights the importance of family and the unity of sisterhood by the coming together of sisters Sally and Gillian.
10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
“A pretty, popular teenager can’t go out on a date until her ill-tempered older sister does.” (IMDb)
If you were anything like myself when you saw this film, then you spent nights imagining Heath Ledger (RIP sweet Prince) serenading you whilst wearing a suit, with his floppy brown hair falling in front of his face. Patrick Verona, the teenage dream. What makes this film even better (besides Joseph Gordon-Levitt), is that it is loosely based off William Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. But, back to the main point here: Kat Stratford is a bad bitch. Kat defy’s the social norms of her high school and is the complete opposite of her popular, sweet younger sister Bianca. Her sass and bitterness stem from an old teenage embarrassment and heartache, but she learned her lesson and took it in her stride, showing the world that she is not ashamed to be herself and that she is a strong independent and intelligent woman.
I should probably include a video of Kat being sassy AF, but I just can’t resist this scene:
BUT, as an added bonus, here is Kat at her most vulnerable:
But I’m A Cheerleader (1999)
“A naive teenager is sent to rehab camp when her straitlaced parents and friends suspect her of being a lesbian.” (IMDb)
1999 was apparently a really good time to make films, as there appears to be so many bangers from that year. But I’m A Cheerleader is no exception. Megan is a high school cheerleader who’s parents send her to ‘rehab’ to cure her lesbianism. Instead of being ‘cured’, Megan accepts her sexual orientation and eventually embraces it, as well as helping her love interest stand up to her parents. Tough girls embracing their sexuality, challenging stereotypes and helping others to accept difference. AMAZING.
Plus, as an added bonus: the film also features Ru Paul
Girl, Interrupted (1999)
“Based on writer Susanna Kaysen’s account of her 18-month stay at a mental hospital in the 1960s.” (IMDb)
I ummed and ahhed about whether or not to include Girl, Interrupted in this list or not. It is set in the 60’s not the 90s, and is it not the most cheerful of films. However, regardless of how many times I watch it, the same message sticks with me: Winona Ryder’s character Susanna is a weak, vulnerable and mentally unwell woman, who fights and wins a battle against illness and controlling people to come out on the other side. Susanna proves that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and that you can beat the odds.