Whether you're hoping to subtly influence those adolescent boys you babysit for to persuade them to treat men and women equally, bring your grandparents into 2016, or just want to watch a movie with your pals that doesn't make you cringe your face off with its flat, 2D depiction of ladies, I've got you covered. These 13 movies you didn't know were feminist aren't just subtle, nuanced depiction of women and gender politics, they're also just really good movies that, if you haven't seen them already, you should find a way to watch them right now.
The fact that these films are all pretty excellent shouldn't really be surprising. After all, how good can a movie be if it just consists of tons of fascinating, multi-layered men stood around talking while lady models are draped over them, just giggling at their one-liners? Answer: Not so great. And maybe that's why this list spans such a large number of decades, going all the way back to 1940. Of course, the ideal would be that every movie ever produced has feminist elements, because feminism isn't a trend, but instead an attitude of respect and courtesy for all human beings regardless of gender — but the fact it's featured in these 13 wonderful films is a good start. And luckily, whether you're looking for action, horror, indie, screwball or sci-fi, there's something here for everyone.
1. Resident Evil
One thing's clear in this franchise: Milla Jovovich's Alice is not a victim. She's model-beautiful, but she can also field bullets, bounce off walls, and survive against all odds with the rest of 'em.
2. Legally Blonde
She's blonde, her favorite color is pink, and the closest she'd get to a nervous breakdown is running out of conditioner mid-shower. So, why is this movie feminist? It makes fun of our instinct to pigeonhole women, prompting the viewer to assume Elle's just an airhead — but then proving there's a lot more to her than initially meets the eye. She may initially go to Harvard in pursuit of a boy, but she studies hard, lands a prestigious internship and wins her first legal battle. The happy ending here may have something to do with her romance with Emmett — but the real high note is that Elle knows what to do with her life career-wise and her world suddenly has meaning.
3. His Girl Friday
A 1940 film with that title as a feminist classic? You bet. Though it can be said that this film offers mixed messages when it comes to its interpretation of feminism, I believe the mixed messages are key to it offering a very modern take on feminism. Career journalist Hildy divorced her first husband for being married to his job, and is fixing to marry a family man and settle down and have kids. The fact that both her career and the prospect of a family are so appealing to her is a conundrum I'd imagine many women could relate to — it's OK to be pulled between both, and OK to want both equally.
Sure, Scream lets all the sexually-prolific women die first – but the meta-commentary on the same is important. This movie calls out the horror genre on its bullsh*t towards women by enacting it and commenting on it — it's like the most entertaining pop-culture womens studies lecture ever. Besides which, Neve Campbell as Sidney is a trooper who manages to survive four films worth of violence and emotional trauma.
5. Breakfast At Tiffany's
Holly Golightly lives on her own, has no clear attachments to men, and makes her own rules. Both her occupation and her (lack of) clearly-defined romantic status are troubling to the men around her, but her level of DGAF is Mount Everest-high.
6. Kill Bill
There's the obvious: the Bride claws herself out of her own grave. She's not waiting for a guy to rescue her, one already buried her — and she's also not hoping for someone else to do the dirty work of revenge for her, because she's prepped and ready to take care of it for herself. Furthermore, the Kill Bill series is heavily populated with wonderfully scary women: O-Ren Ishii, Gogo Yubari and Elle Driver are all among the women the Bride will have to take out to get to Bill.
7. The Stepford Wives
The film functions as an imaginative satire and critique of traditional gender roles for women. So, while it might seem counter-intuitive to recommend it, this one's a feminist classic.
8. Dear White People
The film's depictions of the microaggressions people of color face every day make it an extremely smart movie — particularly when it comes to the intersection between race and gender. Sam (above) is the closest thing the movie has to a protagonist and she highlights the difficulties non-white women often experience navigating a white-dominated world. Sexually, she's not afraid to ask for what she wants — in one of the first scenes, she tells her bed partner to "on your knees" and he hurriedly obeys her.
9. The Matrix
Trinity was the unsung hero of The Matrix, not Neo. Our girl had it all – she was a computer hacker/programmer who hacked some of the most intricate systems in the Matrix to escape, she's a dab hand with a weapon, and she had the most insane combat moves.
10. The Silence Of The Lambs
FBI agent Clarice Starling must have had nerves of steel. Engaging in psychological warfare with a cannibal serial killer meant winning his trust enough to get his advice to catch misogynist killer Jame Gumb.
11. Frances Ha
Beautiful blonde Frances starts the film by ditching her boyfriend, so you'd expect the rest of the movie would be an exercise in finding Frances a new man. But nope. She experiences real estate drama and tries to fulfill her dream of becoming a successful dancer — the romance stuff isn't a priority. It's a little sad how radical and modern it feels that the film ends (spoiler!) with Frances still single and that not being an issue — shouldn't that be the norm in films just as much as a couple getting together is?
12. The Apartment
Women in movies who are depicted at having a lot of sexual experience often get unhappy endings. So, thank goodness for The Apartment (1960), which starred the resplendent Shirley MacLaine as elevator operator Fran. Fran is complicated: She suffers from depression and she has an affair with the protagonist's married boss. But, unlike so many films of the era, she's not punished for her sexual freedom.
13. Pulp Fiction
Even the opening scene suggested women would be at center stage in this movie. The film opens on two bank-robbers, a man and a woman, who are both in love and planning a heist. When Pumpkin announces it's a robbery, the woman, Honey-Bunny screams “Any of you f*cking pr*cks move, and I’ll execute every motherf*cking last one of ya!” Clearly, this wasn't going to be a movie where women were either sex symbols and homemakers. When Mia (above) and Marcellus dance in the famous diner scene, neither leads the other — their movements suggest they're both equals and partners. You could apply this scene to the movie as a whole.
Well, who else wants a rewatch right about now?
Images: Orion Pictures (3); Constantin Film; Type A Films; Columbia Pictures (2) ; Woods Entertainment; Paramount Pictures; Miramax Films (2); Lionsgate; Warner Bros. Pictures; IFC Films; United Artists