Of all the milestone birthdays I’ve hit so far in my life, the big 30 is my favorite. (Yes, even better than 21.) Those round numbers can feel scary, but really, I feel more myself in this decade of life than I’ve ever have before. Being 30 can mean a lot of different things. It can mean great things, like paying off student loans, starting a business, rounding some laps on a serious relationship, keeping your options open, climbing the ladder at work, or switching careers. But it can also have its downsides: parents age, bills get higher, and pressures to do or be what other people think you should do or be come from all sides. How to cope with all this change and upheaval? Movies, of course! In my opinion, there’s a defined canon of movies that every woman should see by the time she’s 30. At least once.
These films range in genre, setting, and time period, but they all have one thing in common: They feature one or more woman discovering or retaining her true self. And that’s a person you should be intimately familiar with by now. Some are funny, some are sad, some are romantic. But all of them have some life lessons to borrow and then to pay forward. 30 is going to be awesome, and so is your movie marathon.
1. Fried Green Tomatoes
The movie is more ambiguous on the nature of Ruth and Idgie's relationship than the novel, but it's still a triumph of female closeness over an oppressive heterosexual relationship. And it's guaranteed to make you crave some Southern food.
2. Now And Then
As women move into their 30s, divergent life choices can lead them to lose touch with old confidantes. There's nothing wrong with growing apart, but Now and Then proves that lifelong friendships should be cherished.
3. The Color Purple
It's not an easy one to watch, but Celie Harris's story, adapted from the Alice Walker novel, is searing and ultimately uplifting.
4. When Harry Met Sally
Not all male/female friendships are complicated, but some are. And it's possible to hurt each other deeply and still bounce back.
5. Imagine Me & You
Luce (Lena Headley) and Rachel (Piper Perabo) meet on Rachel's wedding day, and a spark of friendship develops into a life-changing connection. It's a feel-good movie about shirking expectations and loving who you love.
6. Thelma & Louise
Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon would rather keep on driving forever than let the patriarchy win.
7. A League Of Their Own
Another Geena Davis flick, because she's awesome and a certified feminist media crusader. Women literally step up to the plate when the boys are off to fight in this WWII-era comedy, and the movie explores female friendship, rivalry, and ambition in a thorough and funny way.
8. Obvious Child
What could normalize a hush-hush yet totally common procedure like abortion more than putting it in the context of a romantic comedy? SNL vet Jenny Slate does just that in this charming indie.
9. Love & Basketball
10. Legally Blonde
Elle Woods gets into law school and succeeds on her own merit, retains all the stereotypically feminine things she loves about herself (even though she's ridiculed for them), and makes great friends with the potential enemy who misjudged her. Getting the guy is a total afterthought.
11. The Before Trilogy
Ladies: Don't ever stick with a guy who doesn't want to hear what you have to say. Even if it takes all night.
12. Waiting to Exhale
Angela Bassett lights her cheating husband's car on fire. That's reason enough to put this on the list, right? But there's plenty of other reasons to recommend Waiting to Exhale, like a killer soundtrack, a group of grown woman characters who drive their own sex lives, and a theme of unconditional female friendship.
14. Working Girl
In which Melanie Griffiths stars as a secretary who takes advantage of her boss' absence to prove that she's got the ideas, work ethic, and wiles to earn the biggest office in the place.
15. Monsoon Wedding
Visually sumptuous and as chaotic as an extended family party, Monsoon Wedding should prompt you to watch Indian filmmaker Mira Nair's other films, including The Namesake and Vanity Fair.
16. Terms of Endearment
This weeper covers two matters that concern most women reaching the big 3-0: complex mother-daughter relationships, and becoming more experienced in dealing with death.
17. The Joy Luck Club
The Joy Luck Club is an epic, decades-spanning story about the children of Chinese immigrants coming to fully understand their mothers' bravery and sacrifices.
18. Gone Girl
The moral of Gone Girl is clear: play the "cool girl" forever, and you will snap. Amy Dunne may be a psychopath, but she refuses to be boxed in — not by her parents, and not by her husband.
19. Their Eyes Were Watching God
Halle Berry inspired rave reviews for her work in this adaptation of Zora Neale Hurston's acclaimed novel about the three great loves of Janie Crawford. Their Eyes Were Watching God is a TV movie, but that's no reason to skip it, not when its heroine is a feminist icon decades ahead of her time.
20. My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Adulthood is compromise, especially for those of us with giant families.
21. In The Mood For Love
You haven't truly experienced longing until you've seen this Hong Kong masterpiece about two neighbors who bond over their spouse's infidelity.
Reese Witherspoon gives a fierce performance as a recovering addict mourning her mother in this 2014 drama. Cheryl's methods of reconnecting with herself are extreme, but Wild serves a reminder that stepping away from who you think you are can help you to actually get to know yourself.
23. My Best Friend's Wedding
Ah, the romantic comedy where it just doesn't work out. And guess what? The world doesn't end. "There may not be marriage. There may not be sex. But by god, they'll be dancing."
British actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw shines in this period drama about a woman of mixed race who is raised by well-off relatives, yet is never considered their full equal. Bonus: Another female director for the list!
25. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night
If you thought Twilight killed the vampire genre, think again. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night is a hauntingly romantic indie horror-drama starring your next favorite creature-of-the-night, an Iranian vampiress known only as "The Girl."
26. 13 Going On 30
How could I not include this Jennifer Garner / Mark Ruffalo gem? Basically, what 13 Going On 30 is saying is that it's okay if you're life doesn't look like the one you pictured at 13. The life you pictured at 13 probably would have sucked anyway. Keep on doing you.
I hope these movies will give you ample inspiration to make 30 totally fabulous.