19 Movies Where Female Friendships Overshadow The Romantic Subplot
No matter how much you triple-check the Netflix “Strong Female Lead” category, you’re hard pressed to find a lady-fronted film that isn’t largely romance-centric. No matter how many Girl Power films you stream, there is an inevitable wall you hit where someone falls into hot, usually hetero love, and that warrants an eye-roll. Sometimes, however, a healthy ratio between the two can make a movie still fiercely lady-centric. Look closely, and there are plenty of films on female friendship that make romance the B-plot.
See, I’m not trying to deny any fictional characters the right to get all twitter-pattered. You can have both. But we’re going to sift through some films where said ratios skew more towards female friendships. Plenty of these are glorious, positive representations of being a BFF... but not all. It matters that we appraise these friendships with the same nuance we’d approach your average cinematic love story. They’re allowed to be complicated, and they’re allowed to not all be manufactured with neat, happily ever afters. (Although, ideally, that’s what you want from your main girl.)
So scroll down to see a selection of girls-to-the front films, with everything they get right, and everything they get wrong about friendship.
There has never been more perfect cinematic soulmates than Romy and Michele. Though it's difficult to take them seriously when they talk about new fat-free diets (gummy bears, jelly beans, and candy corn) or show up in a variety of pleather ensembles, their bond is incredibly genuine and heartwarming. Even when their road trip takes a sour detail, they return to their reunion identically dressed and just as close as when they slow-danced as dual Madonnas.
Friendship To Relationship Factor: 85/15. Michele has decade-long designs on Billy Christensen, and Romy most likely ends up with geek-turned-bajillionaire Sandy Frink. It's worth noting that, even when Sandy asks Romy for a dance, her insta-response is, "Only if Romy can dance with us." Some things never change.
2. Kamikaze Girls
This movie is not for those with an aversion to subtitles. What translates great, however, is the reluctant friendship that evolves between Momoko and Ichigo. Momoko is a Lolita who values nothing but beauty, individuality, and frilly Baby The Stars Shine Bright frocks. Ichigo is a Yanki in an all-girl biker gang who values nothing but bootleg Americana clothing... and maintaining the respect of her leader, Akemi. Opposites don't even attract at first, yet, with time, the two actually become unlikely besties.
Friendship To Relationship Factor: 85/15. Ichigo has a hard crush on some unicorn-haired mystery man that ends with her hardened heart broken, and it's worth noting that Momoko is there for her by not being there for her. Ultimately, the girls are the ones riding off into the sunset together.
While there's no lack of support when Chloe encourages rebel Beca's musical prowess (with an extreme lack of clothing), the friction between Beca and straight-laced Aubrey leads to many-a-conflict. Ultimately, though, these misfits are able to soar with a little bit of song remixing, a little bit of secret trading, and a whole lot of gag-reflex-suppresing. It's aca-amazing.
Friendship To Relationship Factor: 80/20. Look, we can't just up and ignore that Beca has a small romantic arc with Jesse. He got a Breakfast Club shout-out in their final number. It's all loudly in there. What's louder, though, is the ties between the Barden Bellas and how they smash their rivals.
I'm not going to sit here and try to tell you that Crossroads is a good movie based on its artistic merits, because no. Regardless, you can still see Shonda Rhimes shining all over the script, as the focus really is on the fractured friendship between Lucy, Mimi, and Kit. As the road to L.A. gets shorter, their relationship repairs, and the girls start to get real with each other. All those sing-alongs certainly help.
Friendship To Relationship Factor: 70/30. For all the schmaltzy girl power in here, there's still so much attention paid to that tattooed jerk the girls have as a chauffeur. Still, that shouldn't entirely undermine the good intentions of this film.
5. Ghost World
You can't ignore the earlier episodes of the film when Enid and Rebecca are content to do nothing besides hang out and make deadpan commentary about the losers in their town. When Rebecca skews more towards convention and Enid skews more towards local outcast Seymour, those outings become less and less frequent. Ghost World may seem like a dry land rife with weirdos, yet, at it's core, it's a very classic post-graduate story of growing apart.
Friendship To Relationship Factor: 75/25. Rebecca and Enid have a crush on cashier Josh, and things with Seymour eventually get a bit strange. Romance, in general, isn't very overt in Ghost World, unless you count those adorable moments where Enid and Rebecca are snarking hardcore over a diner table. Sigh. Simpler times.
The 1995 adaptation of your favorite pre-teen book series is chockfull of mid-'90s badness. One thing that does deserve credit, though, it that it focuses on the unbreakable bond between the baby-sitters. Now, like the book series itself, that bond is maybe a little too unbreakable; it is not entirely realistic that seven girls hang out with each other like that all the time, especially when you consider that there's practically a generational difference between the sixth graders and the eighth graders. Still, "Friends Forever" and all that jazz.
Friendship To Relationship Factor: 70/30. Dawn is being sporadically pursued by Alan Gray, but my problem is not with that. My problem is that we spend entirely too much time on the romantic subplot in which 13-year-old Stacey is being courted by a 17-year-old guy. No, thank you.
I could write novels upon novels about when Legally Blonde is an unexpected yet very multi-faceted feminist flick. Instead, I'm just going to point out that Elle Woods pretty much radiates with sororal love for her fellow woman, and not just within the glow of her actual sorority. She and Paulette immediately have each other's backs, with Paulette encouraging Elle to steal Warner and Elle encouraging Paulette to steal her dog. Even the fact that Elle befriends her mortal enemy warrants snaps.
Friendship To Relationship Factor: 70/30, though really hard to say overall. This is one of the films where the core motivation is winning over a guy, and yeah, there's a little romantic subplot woven in there. However, Elle's journey very, very quickly evolves into something else.
Four different body types, one incredibly malleable pair of jeans. Yeah, that's the only thing I don't quite buy about this otherwise perfect movie. But I will never get over how these young girls try to navigate their personal struggles via letters and those magical jeans. There are blow-ups and miscommunications along the way, yet they overcome it all and wrap up the film with a road trip to Carmen's dad's wedding. The sisterhood is strong here.
Friendship To Relationship Factor: 70/30, negotiable. I don't want to take away from the fact that two of the four storylines involve a romance. I guess what makes it OK is that there are deeper themes hidden within each (Bridget losing her virginity makes her palpably miss her mother, Lena's romance with Kostas forces her out of her shell). That brings us to the next film...
Sue me, both need to be on here. Revenge Of The Traveling Pants (as I've so lovingly dubbed it) is all about the cracks in the sisterhood and how, all these years later,, it's harder and harder to maintain that friendship. Solidly real, as is Carmen's need to cling to tradition while the other girls are leisurely establishing their own paths. There's always one friend that's way more invested in keeping connected to their high school besties.
Friendship To Relationship Factor: 65/35. I need to knock off another five points because, this time around, three of the four arcs have a romantic subplot. Still, the only relationship I'm truly invested in is that of the fabulous foursome. It just hurts me to see them fight, even if I know it'll end with them staring off into the future together.
10. The Runaways
OK, how can a story about one of the most influential all-girl bands in the world not have an incredibly badass central female friendship? The camaraderie between Cherie Currie and Joan Jett is very, very important to the film, and you see it all over the place. When they showcase tattoos together, when Joan's water-gunning vodka in Cherie's mouth, when they, you know, make out on the floor of a roller rink. And, sure enough, when Cherie leaves the band, Joan is the first to have a full-blown freak-out about it.
Friendship To Relationship Factor: 95/5, with a footnote. This is mainly a story about being confronted with the pressures of frame, a hurricane that erupted when opportunity collided with teenage rebellion... and, like, drugs. Lots of drugs. You know, it's a rock-and-roll biopic first and foremost. Anyway, whatever, Cherie hooks up with a roadie along the way, so let that be the only real mark on this film.
11. Frances Ha
"We went to college together, and we're the same person, but we have different hair." By the time struggling 27-year-old Frances describes her best friend Sophie as such, their relationship is already on the decline. Their days of dancing in the park and snuggling in the same bed have already become a faint memory, yet Frances is still in denial about it. It gets worse before it gets better, with Sophie moving to Japan with her bro-ish boyfriend and Frances working a humiliating gig at her alma mater, her quarter-life-crisis in full effect. Only when they accidentally reunite on a particularly rough night for Sophie does their closeness get re-affirmed... and the bed-sharing returns.
Friendship To Relationship Factor: 90/10. Sophie is Frances' person, and that's no more evident when Frances simply, lovingly describes her as, "That's Sophie. She's my best friend." I cry every time, because I am terrible.
12. Bring It On
Literally the entire premise of this movie is about girls encouraging other girls to be their best selves. You can see that when Torrance pursues Missy, looking past her abrasive attitude and honing in on her elastic talent. Hell, you can see that with the way Torrance tries to damage control the situation with Isis and the Clovers; she tries to get her dad to fund the Clovers' trip to Nationals so they could have a fair show-down (Isis rejects it). Overall, it's a huge win for intersectional feminism.
Friendship To Relationship Factor: 70/30. Torrance and Missy's brother Cliff have an entire Thing going on, and it even includes a punk rock serenade. Honestly, though, I'm sure those feels could've easily redirected to Eliza Dushku in a perfect world where Cliff was written out of this thing. After all, Cliff is just Missy with boy parts.
13. Thelma & Louise
I mean, come on. These two outlaws bring new meaning to ride-or-die, going on the run together after an attempted rape turns deadly. It isn't a happy story, but it is potently feminist in the way the two try to take control of their lives (and, by extension of that, leave their love interests behind). If only they could live within that polaroid selfie forever, but, alas, it's out their floating in the wind (or, you know, at the bottom of some canyon).
Friendship To Relationship Factor: 85/15. Look, Thelma sleeps with Brad Pitt, and it kind of ruins all their sh*t. But I get it. Who wouldn't go for that in the early '90s? Otherwise, we're loving Thelma and Louise hardcore throughout this trip.
14. Mean Girls
I'm sure some of you find this a controversial pick, as there's nary a fleeting moment where anyone has a perfectly healthy female friendship. That's fine. During high school, you end up in a lot of toxic situations with your gal pals. Everyone's dealing with their own insecurities. It just takes a while to learn (as Cady does during her Mathlete's competition) that undermining a woman's achievements doesn't make you better, or smarter, or prettier. Mean Girls things wrap up very positively in the end, but the movie is mainly important because is shows the complicated and often ugly dynamics between teenage girls.
Friendship To Relationship Factor: 70/30. The man candy is the catalyst for Plastic Sabotage, I'll give you that. Do not be mistaken, though. Aaron Samuels is a prop. He is a trophy. He's the flag up for capture in Girl World, and that's about it. Otherwise, these are all lady issues.
15. 9 To 5
Three badasses join forces to correct sexism in the workplace, and it very quickly goes from zero to 100 (spoiler: there is no Dolly Parton song about that, just a little bit of corpse-stealing). Still, is there anything more beautiful than Doralee, Violet, and Judy smoking weed and talking about ways to off their gross boss?
Friendship To Relationship Factor: 95/5, if that. Judy's scumbag husband enters the picture for a hot second, but she quickly defers him. This whole party is about revenge, the kind most woman can only dream of.
16. The Craft
Need a tale of toxic female friendships that make Mean Girls look like child play? Take a cue from the coven on The Craft. One minute they're drinking to their sisters and trying to master an invocation, and then all of a sudden three of them are trying to off the one natural witch with a host of plagues. It's a bit more intense than that time you fell out with the other goth kids at school. Only a bit, though.
Friendship To Relationship Factor: 75/25. Lest we forget that a lot of the inner drama between Nancy and Sarah are about a boy, an idiot boy who compliments people on their head. Again, it's all very teenage at its pitch black heart.
You know that one friend you met in an AOL chatroom, and it blossomed into something lifelong, tangible, and real? Beaches is kind of like that, except a thousand times more poignant and marred with heart-wrenching tragedy. Hillary and C.C. meet at the beach as youngins, become lively little pen pals and full-blown friends... albeit ones that have 30 years of drama due to their clashing personalities. There's as much turmoil and emotional brutality as there is devotion... and tears. Lots and lots of tears.
Friendship To Relationship Factor: 75/25, mainly because a love triangle between the women and C.C.'s eventual ex-husband serves as one of their many big clashes though. This is, however, C.C. and Hillary's love story, one that has made "Wind Beneath My Wings" unlistenable for decades.
18. Mistress America
Meanwhile, back on the Greta Gerwig front is this tale of lost college student Tracy getting introduced to New York via her soon-to-be-stepsister Brooke. Brooke happily adopts "Baby Tracy," who looks at Brooke's grandness with adoring eyes. With Brooke's considerable age difference ("She's not that young, 10, 10 to 12 years younger, we're contemporaries, OK?") Mistress America accurately conveys what it feels like to be embraced by someone steeped in cool.
Friendship To Relationship Factor: 80/20. Part of the reason Tracy ends up feeling so alone is because she's rebuffed by a guy friend, the first friend she really makes on campus, and then he lingers like a bad cold. It's mainly background noise, though.
Forget Dougie (the movie sure did); the rivalry between Helen and Annie created one of the most intense love triangles of all time. And while Annie's fraying friendship with Lillian is front and center, who can forget Megan extending some tough support to Annie (puppies in toe) or Rita and Becca power-bonding over sex and seven and sevens? Friendship is all over this film, standing directly in front of you.
Friendship To Relationship Factor: 80/20, with wiggle room. Annie does have a romance with that cutie-pie cop and relations with a super sleazy Jon Hamm. That's all very much B-plot stuff, though, and we know who she really cares about. Bridesmaids showcases where our priorities really should be in the 2010's: at our best friend's side, no matter what bridal party blow-up may occur.
Happy watching, guys.
Images: Giphy (19)