TV & Movies

25 Movies That Don’t Pass The Bechdel Test But Are Still Worth Watching

These Bechdel fails will still leave you feeling empowered.

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If you want to find out if a movie can be considered “feminist,” a few simple rules apply — at least according to the Bechdel test. The feminist litmus test first appeared in namesake Allison Bechdel’s feminist comic Dykes to Watch Out For in 1985. The particular comic that features the measurement is titled, “The Rule,” and it explains that media must include two female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man in order for it to be watchable. Another qualification was added over time, which is that both female characters must have names. But while the test is a good start, it’s not perfect. Plenty of movies that don’t pass the Bechdel test are still feminist, which may be a sign that an update is needed.

Even Bechdel, who received a MacArthur Genius Grant in 2014, acknowledges that the Bechdel test has some flaws. In an interview with Cosmopolitan, Bechdel said, “I’m not a stickler about the Test — if I were, I wouldn’t see many movies,” before listing a few movies that she enjoys regardless of them failing to follow the criteria. Sure, it’s a shame that most movies probably don’t pass the Bechdel test, even though they can definitely still be enjoyable. But missing a passing grade isn’t a death sentence.

Check out these 25 Bechdel fails that will still leave you feeling empowered.

1

Gravity

The 2013 sci-fi thriller stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts who get stranded in space. Ultimately, it’s Bullock’s character, Ryan Stone, who finds her way back — sans rescue. Director Alfonso Cuarón is to thank for that. He took a stand against including rescue for Ryan at the end and fought to keep Bullock as the lead instead of a man. That Bullock’s character doesn’t have another woman to talk to doesn’t detract from the story’s focus on her.

2

Downsizing

None of the women in this 2017 dystopian dramedy about humans getting shrunk to solve the world’s climate problems talk to each other, but Hong Chau plays an awesome Vietnamese dissident who determines much of the film’s storyline. It’s a missed opportunity, especially since any configuration of the female actors including Laura Dern, Niecy Nash, and Brigette Lundy-Paine could’ve shared great scenes. (Earlier in the movie, Audrey (Kristen Wiig) talks to a few fellow women, but those women aren’t named.)

3

My Best Friend’s Wedding

Sadly, pitting two women against each other doesn’t allow this ’90s classic to pass the Bechdel test, seeing as the two female leads, Julianne Potter (Julia Roberts) and Kimmy Wallace (Cameron Diaz), mostly only talk to each other about the same man. You have to love the charmingly flawed Julianne, however, for demonstrating how a complex female character can deconstruct the rom-com.

4

The Avengers

Unsurprisingly, Marvel has some issues when it comes to passing feminist litmus tests. The 2012 movie is flawed because of its lack of major women characters interacting with one another, but it features Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), and Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), who are all essential to saving the world. Marvel course-corrected in the next installments, bringing the women together for unforgettable fight scenes.

5

Jackie Brown

The creator of the Bechdel test, Alison Bechdel herself, used the 1997 Quentin Tarantino movie as an example of a movie that doesn’t pass the test yet remains feminist during her Cosmopolitan interview. Bechdel said, “It absolutely fails the Bechdel test but it has one of the strongest female protagonists I’ve ever seen in a Hollywood movie — it’s an amazing feminist text.” There you have it.

6

Before Sunrise

Like Gravity, this Richard Linklater-directed movie only features two named characters, and the female lead, Céline (Julie Delpy), has as much depth and complexity as her male counterpart, Jesse (Ethan Hawke). Plus, she has tons of opinions (albeit some controversial) she isn’t afraid to lay on a man. If you want to watch a good, feminist romance, Before Sunset is a great pick.

7

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Despite the male-dominated cast, Lisbeth Salander, played by Rooney Mara, drives the 2011 psychological thriller and kicks major butt. Based on the namesake first installment in the Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson, the goth hacker Lisbeth is smart, savvy, and doesn’t tolerate any bad behavior. She even exacts revenge herself when wronged. Trigger warning: There is a scene of violent assault.

8

A Star Is Born

You may need to let out a guttural Lady Gaga howl after learning that the 2018 hit fails the Bechdel test — and it fails it hard. Not only does Gaga’s Ally barely talk to other (unnamed) women, but the one time she does, it’s still all about Bradley Cooper’s Jackson. But since the movie gives Ally so much depth and success as a singer, it could still count as a win.

9

Toy Story 2

Not to ruin your childhood or anything, but the 1999 Toy Story sequel doesn’t feature any interactions between female characters. That fact doesn’t make new friend Jessie (Joan Cusack) any less of a feminist icon, though. Pixar and Disney gave Jessie more than just her own backstory and narrative arc — she also even has songs dedicated to her in the soundtrack.

10

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Lara Croft may be an icon, but so many female-led action movies, including Angelina Jolie’s original Tomb Raider, fail to include more than one female character who has lines and a name. Still, who doesn’t look back at this movie as one of the first examples they ever saw of a badass woman carrying her own Indiana Jones-style action movie? Beyond that, it paved the way for 2018’s reboot, which does pass the Bechdel test, as star Alicia Vikander told Metro in 2016.

11

The Imitation Game

Based on the 1982 biography Alan Turning: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges, The Imitation Game follows the namesake legendary cryptanalyst whose work decoding German missives helped end World War II. Even though this 2014 drama focuses on Alan (Benedict Cumberbatch), it presents Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) as an equally important figure in history. The film’s Bechdel downfall, however, is that the conversations among women revolve around men.

12

Alex Strangelove

Alex Truelove’s (Daniel Doheny) girlfriend, Claire (Madeline Weinstein), desperately wants to have sex for the first time during their senior year of high school, but Alex realizes he’s actually gay. Claire’s horniness is a refreshing take on the way girls are usually portrayed, even though the 2018 rom-com mostly focuses on Alex and the movie’s other male characters. It’s too bad that conversations among the women also stay on Alex.

13

Arrival

Aside from some flash-forward scenes where you see Louise Banks (Amy Adams) talking with her daughter, Hannah, Louise almost only talks to men in this 2016 alien-invasion film. It’s pretty sad that the team of scientists and military officials that Louise interacts with didn’t include more women, but the movie’s depiction of Louise at least highlights her as the hero of the film.

14

Proud Mary

As Mary, Taraji P. Henson plays the highly-trained, go-to assassin for a mob boss in the 2018 thriller Proud Mary. Mary and Mina (Margaret Avery), the only other female cast member, hardly ever interact, causing the film to miss a Bechdel requirement, yet Mary remains a fierce Black female character who demonstrates many stereotypically male — sometimes white female — action movie traits.

15

Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind

Like many on this list, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind fails the Bechdel test because the women’s conversations in it are male-centric. But if you stan Kate Winslet’s Clementine in the 2004 sci-fi rom-com as a captivating representation of a female character who shows symptoms of a personality disorder, she can still serve as a feminist hero in your eyes.

16

Breakfast At Tiffany’s

Even though Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) doesn’t have any female friends whom she talks with in the classic 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the fast-talking balcony-crooner still remains an independent woman who lives by her own rules. She eschews traditional domestic roles relegated to women (even pet-naming conventions) at the time and unapologetically makes her money from sex work. A feminist icon in pearls.

17

Avatar

It’s true that James Cameron’s 2009 epic never has its two female leads, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), talk to each other in the fictional land of Pandora. Still, both of these characters are bold and empowering in their own ways — Dr. Grace spearheads the Avatar program, while Neytiri, a Na’vi, saves Sam Worthington’s character, Jake, multiple times.

18

Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire

Sadly, the fourth Harry Potter movie doesn’t pass since none of the witches actually have substantial conversations with each other, plus it’s the only movie in the entire series hyper-focused on coupling because of a ball. Still, Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) is the ever-brainy, brave heroine, and Fleur Delacour (Clémence Poésy) is a brilliant addition to the tournament’s champions.

19

500 Days Of Summer

Like the many other romance movies on this list, 2009’s 500 Days of Summer doesn’t have enough female interaction to pass the Bechdel test. However, Summer (Zooey Deschanel) is a woman who knows what she wants in the offbeat film, so it shouldn’t be canceled. She’s such a complex human, in fact, that Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Tom spends 500 days trying to decode her.

20

Salt

Angelina Jolie’s character, the spy Evelyn Salt, is the only female character in this 2010 film who has a name — much like Jolie’s other movie on this list, Tomb Raider. Still, as a CIA operative, Jolie plays an intelligent, powerful lead. Even the film’s production backstory involves a win for women — it was Tom Cruise who was originally cast as the lead, but producers rewrote the story to give Jolie the part.

21

Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back

Later on in the franchise, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) becomes a feminist icon when she dons the title of general. But the fifth installment, Empire Strikes Back, fails the Bechdel test miserably. No female besides Leia is named and the women don’t talk. Though this film doesn’t pass for obvious reasons, Princess Leia does much more in it than just ask for help.

22

His Girl Friday

Rosalind Russell plays investigative reporter Hildy Johnson, who saves a man from a wrongful murder conviction in this 1940 comedy. You’d probably be hard-pressed to find any movie from the ’40s that passes the Bechdel test, but His Girl Friday is an exception as it set an example for other movies to provide female lead characters with their own career ambitions and interests.

23

Marriage Story

It’s understandable that almost everyone who talks to Johansson in 2019’s Marriage Story ends up inquiring about Adam Driver’s Charlie. But though that does a disservice to the movie Bechdel-wise, Johannsson’s Nicole is the feminist character films need more of. A strong, complex mother with a career as a talented actor, Nicole harrowingly portrays the struggles of motherhood and making a marriage work.

24

La La Land

Emma Stone has big dreams in 2016’s La La Land and she is set on pursuing them — even at the expense of her tap-dancing love interest, Ryan Gosling. Unfortunately, though her character is complex and doesn’t give her career up in the name of love, she actually doesn’t have any named gal pals. She dances with them, sure, but that’s pretty much it.

25

The Lord Of The Rings

The Lord of the Rings trilogy is really about a bunch of dudes taking it upon themselves to save Middle Earth from evil — but they wouldn’t have succeeded if not for the women. Cate Blanchett, Liv Tyler, and Miranda Otto play crucial characters who save the protagonists, though, unfortunately, none of them actually share any scenes. Still, for a series published in 1954, you have to hand it to J.R.R. Tolkien for writing women as the real saviors. Plus, Eowyn’s line “I am no man” will forever be iconic.

Nobody said that you had to play by the rules, so you might as well enjoy each of these movies, even though they don’t pass the famous test.