The makers of 'Bridesmaids'
insist that it's not just another chick-flick comedy about a wedding. Rather, they say, it's a satire about female friendship. If that's so, then 'Bridesmaids' is a rarity, since few movies actually explore friendship among women.
Movies about male friendship are common, but women are apparently just supposed to be arm candy in mainstream films. Hollywood barely knows what to do with one well-rounded female character in a movie, let alone two or three or four. The famous Bechdel Test
looks for movies that have a) at least two prominent female characters b) who have a scene together, where they talk c) about something other than a man. It's disappointing, but probably not surprising, how few movies pass the Bechdel Test.
At Moviefone, we could think of only a couple dozen movies that pass the test and are primarily about friendship between women. We didn't count romantic comedies (just because the heroine has a best galpal who gives her bad advice doesn't mean it's a movie about female friendship), movies where friendship blossoms into same-sex romance, movies where the women fight over a man, or movies about friends who aren't really friends at all but are actually backstabbing enemies. We wanted to find movies about women who actually support each other, the way male friends in movies tend to do. Here are 15 of the best female buddy movies. Let us know if we left any of your favorites off the list, or if you think 'Bridesmaids' deserves a place in this procession.
15. 'Beaches' (1988)
Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey enjoy a lifelong friendship in this archetypal weepie. Despite an obligatory fight or two, they're there for each other, from girlhood until Hershey's slow demise from cancer. If that doesn't bring forth the Kleenex, then Midler singing 'Wind Beneath My Wings' will.
14. 'The First Wives Club' (1996)
On the Upper East Side of Manhattan, it's apparently axiomatic that men will ditch their socialite spouses for younger trophy wives. After one of their friends is driven to suicide by such a dumping, three estranged friends (Bette Midler, Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn) grow closer as they plot revenge against their own faithless husbands and the young interlopers who helped destroy their own marriages. There's the obligatory squabble where old resentments resurface, but otherwise, the women present a united front, cracking wise along the way.
13. 'Blue Crush' (2002)
Kate Bosworth and her roomies are focused on one thing: surfing. Not even the hunky love interest who threatens to distract her and split up the gang can stand in the way of her pursuit of a surfing championship. The movie doesn't really have time for him either; it's more interested in riding awesome tubes (in some of the best surf footage ever filmed) and appreciating the women in action.
12. 'Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood' (2002)
Sometimes, friendship is about equality, and sometimes, it's just about basking in the charisma and drama of the instigator of your group and cleaning up after her. In this case, the Ya-Yas spend a lifetime happily picking up the pieces strewn by the dramatic Southern belle Vivi (Ashley Judd as a young woman, Ellen Burstyn as a senior), ultimately sharing the scrapbook explaining the long story of their mutual friendship with Vivi's exasperated daughter (Sandra Bullock) in order to patch things up between her and her mother. Writer/director Callie Khouri ('Thelma & Louise'), working from Rebecca Wells' novels, manages to cram five lifetimes of misadventures, friendship, and solidarity into two hours.
11. 'Steel Magnolias' (1989)
As the title of this comedy-drama suggests, these Southern flowers are also strong and resilient. The six women in the film (Sally Field, Julia Roberts, Dolly Parton, Daryl Hannah, Shirley MacLaine and Olympia Dukakis) represent at least three different ages and three different classes, but they all unite in mutual support at difficult times, while the men in their lives are barely of consequence. Making their friendship across ages and classes possible is the gathering space created by Parton's beauty parlor. Apparently, nothing fosters female bonding like having your hair and nails done.
10. 'Circle of Friends' (1995)
In 1950s Ireland, three lifelong pals (Minnie Driver, Saffron Burrows, and Geraldine O'Rawe) broaden their horizons at college, and they find their friendship stretched to the breaking point as they learn to navigate tricky waters of romance, sex, religion, class and family obligation. And sex. (Did we mention sex?) Actually, there's a lot of talk but little action in what's generally a sweet movie about trying to remain friends while finding your own path.
9. 'Mystic Pizza' (1988)
Three young waitresses at a small-town pizzeria each come of age by making mistakes with men. Two of them (Julia Roberts and Annabeth Gish) are sisters who are jealous of each other (one's a brain, one's a beauty); the third (Lili Taylor) is afraid of losing her autonomy if she marries her fiancé. But when one needs a sympathetic ear, the others are there for her. Within a couple years of this film, Taylor would become an indie queen and Roberts the queen of Hollywood, and their quirks would harden into rote tics and mannerisms. But here, all three actresses are at their most natural, girl-next-door normal.
8. 'Stage Door' (1937)
Movie historians generally think of pre-war Hollywood films as richer environment than the last 40 years have been for fully-rounded female characters, but even then, films focusing on a whole group of women were rare. In this melodrama, an all-female rooming house full of aspiring Broadway actresses (including Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Lucille Ball, Eve Arden and Ann Miller) sees them trading barbs and wisecracks but ultimately supporting and inspiring each other in their dreams of stardom.
7. 'Sex and the City' (2008)
During the HBO series that starred Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis and Cynthia Nixon, the gals noted that men may come and go, but these four women were soulmates. They continued to prove that in the first film, especially when some of the previously reliable guys betray their partners with unexpected callousness. Throughout the series and the two movies (of which the first is more serious and less silly), the sex and the shopping turn out to be frosting on the cupcake; at the heart is the knowledge that, wherever one is, the other three will be there as well, quick to supply a cocktail, a quip, or a shoulder to cry on.
6. 'Romy and Michele's High School Reunion' (1997)
In this post-'Clueless' comedy, Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow are brilliantly bubbleheaded as two blonde buddies who decide to lie about their unimpressive lives in order to impress their snooty former classmates at their 10th high school reunion. Satirizing the cliquishness of high school, the movie has Romy and Michele realize that they were a clique of two. Despite a superficial fight over which of them is cuter, they're clearly going to be friends forever; even when nerd-made-good Sandy (Alan Cumming) returns to woo Michele, she insists on letting Romy join in their dance.
5. 'Waiting to Exhale' (1995)
A decade before Tyler Perry started making movies, this tale of four well-to-do African-American women (Whitney Houston, Angela Bassett, Loretta Devine, and Lela Rochon) who stick by each other amid a parade of faithless men was looked upon as a strange novelty, rather than proof of a neglected audience hungry for such stories. Forest Whitaker's film version of Terry McMillan's bestseller still remains the gold standard for such movies.
4. 'A League of Their Own' (1992)
The female fielders in this film seem to achieve a cooperative team spirit as easily as men do, but they face some unusual challenges that male sluggers don't encounter. Like having to play in short skirts, having to go to charm school and behave with refinement, chaperones, day care, and having spouses who may be killed in a faraway war. Oh, and not being taken seriously as ballplayers because of their sex.
3. 'Walking & Talking' (1996)
'Bridesmaids' isn't the first movie about a woman whose upcoming wedding throws her best friend into a tailspin of conflicting emotions. In this Nicole Holofcener comedy, Amelia (Catherine Keener) is both thrilled for Laura (Anne Heche) and resentful about being a third wheel whose own romantic life is a shambles. Their journey toward reconciliation is full of unpredictability and wit.
2. 'Enchanted April' (1992)
Four English women (Josie Lawrence, Miranda Richardson, Joan Plowright and Polly Walker), who are strangers with varying ages and class backgrounds, become friends when they escape damp, gray London and share a rented villa in Italy. In the lush countryside, the women blossom, and so do their men, when they show up later. As Mike Newell's serene gem of a movie suggests, sometimes all it takes for friendship to bloom is a change of scenery.
1. 'Thelma & Louise' (1991)
Callie Khouri's Oscar-winning screenplay suggests that, in a male-dominated culture, there's something subversive about female friendship; it's no wonder that Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon go overnight from fishing buddies to outlaws. Director Ridley Scott turns their plight - and their bond - into something grand and mythic. For driving each other further than either had ever imagined possible, these two may be the best buddies on our list.
•Follow Gary Susman on Twitter @garysusman.