The '90s were a great time for pop culture and feminism. We had the riot grrrl movement, an influx of outspoken female MC's in hip hop, feminist TV shows like Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and countless feminist movies like Thelma And Louise and Set It Off. It's hardly surprising that there are hidden feminist messages to be found in '90s films when you consider how public consciousness was favorably changing towards feminism back then. And so it is that many of these films feature outspoken female characters, contain themes of empowerment, or show the dangers of neglecting women. Many of these films are unsurprisingly female centric, but not all of them, which makes the hidden feminist details within these '90s films all the more satisfying. After all, they were made for a wide audience.
Whether they were horror films, animations, kids films, or dramas, there were many '90s films with a little something extra say to say about the rights and capabilities of women which you may not have noticed before. Some of them are more superficial than others, but all of them are worth celebrating for secretly helping to turn you into the fierce feminist that you (hopefully) are today.
1. The Craft
Besides the very obvious metaphors of four teenage girls uniting as a coven in order to become empowered by witchcraft, there's another hidden feminist message to be found at the end of this classic teen movie. When the group starts going mad with power, Nancy (Fairuza Balk) attempts to kill Sarah (Robin Tunney) by doing some serious teen girl bullying against her with the rest of the coven. Sarah doesn't just overcome this bullying, however; she directly opposes it and wins, becoming more powerful on her own than she was in an otherwise toxic friendship.
Matilda is smart, powerful, and strong as hell. But it's the way that teacher Miss Honey, whom it's implied can't have children of her own, eventually adopts Matilda at the end of the film and raises her as a single mother that is truly the strong feminist message.
3. Jurassic Park
Laura Dern's Ellie Sattler is a full on feminist hero. The greatest hidden feminist message of the film can be found when Ian Malcolm (the neurotically dreamy Jeff Goldblum) waxes lyrical about how tremendous an experiment Jurassic Park is by saying, "God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys god. Man creates dinosaurs." Sattler, accepting none of his BS, quips confidently back, "Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the Earth." Yass, honey.
Throughout Scream, there's an underlying theme of slut shaming. Not only is the promiscuous reputation of Sidney Prescott's dead mother constantly gossiped about and used to shame Sidney, but it actually ends up becoming the killers key motive. When Sidney discovers that her boyfriend, Billy, is the one behind the murders of her friends and her mom, she refuses to feel any shame and takes back her power by killing Billy herself.
In what other movie will you ever see God portrayed not only as a woman, but also played by Alanis Morisette — one of the most mainstream feminist musical icons of the '90s? Nowhere else. That's where. I'm pretty certain this statement speaks for itself.
6. Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead
Sue Ellen (Christina Applegate) is the boss in this film. Not only does she lie her way into a pretty impressive fashion job, but she also manages to save the entire fledgling empire of her workplace by designing a whole new fashion line for them. The real hidden feminist gem here though is that she rejects the lucrative job offer of becoming her boss' personal assistant in favor of going to college instead. She believes in herself and is pro-active about it, and that's cool as hell, ladies.
7. True Romance
On the surface, True Romance is anything but feminist, but Patricia Arquette's Alabama Worley is more than just a hooker with a heart of gold trope. Though she's a bit of a damsel in distress to begin with, it's clear for the rest of the movie that she doesn't need a man to save her. Not only does she physically stand up to and fight back against a terrifying James Gandolfini, but she's also the one who saves her husband's life at the end of the film. She may be adorable, yes, but she's also smarter, stronger, and tougher than anyone gives her credit for.
8. Before Sunrise
Be still my beating heart. Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy are beyond cute in this romance where they play teenagers who enjoy a short-lived and spontaneous fling with each other. Though Delpy is immediately smitten with Hawke (can't blame her), she doesn't let him take the lead in the romance and isn't afraid to speak her mind to him when he needs putting in his place. The takeaway? You don't have to be a cool girl to win someone's affections. You just have to be you.
9. Reality Bites
Janeane Garofalo's Vickie Miner is proudly promiscuous, even keeping a log of her sexual conquests in the back of her diary. She's also smart enough to go and get tested following a HIV scare, but doesn't let the experience change who she is. Her sex life isn't something she'll ever let anyone shame her for, and that's an important message to take from any movie.
10. The Nightmare Before Christmas
Sally is a beautiful rag doll created by a monstrous scientist who is overly possessive of her. The relationship is clearly an abusive one that causes harm to her. However, she rejects his ownership and liberates herself to enjoy life on her own terms and as her own person. Though she may only be a stop motion doll, it was still an empowering feminist message to feature within a children's film.
11. The Virgin Suicides
Is there a feminist message more worthwhile than the fact that women shouldn't be kept hidden, controlled or restrained from being whoever they want to be? That's one of the main themes of The Virgin Suicides, which sees all the daughters of the Lisbon family tragically taking their own lives after their parents decide to hide them away within their home for their own "safety."
12. Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Buffy Summers might kick vampire ass very well, but that isn't what makes her a feminist icon. Instead, the hidden feminist message from the original BTVS movie (and, incidentally, of the final season of the TV series) is that all women have the potential to be strong and powerful, and that these traits are worth investing and believing in. When Luke Perry's Pike whispers "You're not like other girls" into Buffy's ear at the end of the film, she nails this idea by responding, "Yes I am." Oof, Slay on, Slayer.
I think we all probably knew that Buffy Summers is more than worthy of our feminist adoration, but who knew that a rag doll, a leopard-print clad call girl, and a supremely kind school teacher would turn out to be just as feminist, too?
Images: Columbia Pictures