If you want to find out if a movie could 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 called back 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. So 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 necessary.
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 23 Bechdel-fails that will still leave you feeling empowered.
The 2013 movie stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts who get stranded in space. That Bullock's character Ryan Stone doesn't have another woman to talk to doesn't detract from the story's focus on her.
None of the women in this 2017 dystopian dramedy talk to each other, but Hong Chau plays an awesome Vietnamese dissident who determines much of the film's storyline. (Earlier in the movie, Audrey (Kristen Wiig), talks to a few fellow women, but those women aren't named.)
3 '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 both Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders), who are essential to saving the world.
4 '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. 5 'Before Sunrise'
Gravity, this movie only features two named characters, and the female lead, Céline (Julie Delpy), has as much depth and complexity as her male counterpart (Ethan Hawke). If you want to watch a good, feminist romance, Before Sunset is a great pick. 6 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo'
Despite the male-dominated cast, Rooney Mara's Lisbeth Salander drives the story and kicks major butt.
7 '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. 8 'Lara Croft: Tomb Raider'
So many female-led action movies, like 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 woman carrying her own Indiana Jones-style action movie? 9 'The Imitation Game'
Even though this movie focuses on Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), it presents Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley) as an equally important figure in history.
10 '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. But since the movie gives Gaga's character, Ally, so much depth and success as a singer, it could still count as a win.
11 'My Best Friend's Wedding'
Sadly, pitting two women against each other doesn't allow this movie to pass the Bechdel Test, seeing as the two female leads mostly only talk to each other about the same man. You have to love the charmingly flawed Julianne Potter (Julia Roberts), however, for demonstrating how a complex female character can deconstruct the rom-com.
12 'Proud Mary'
Mary (Taraji P. Henson) and Mina (Margaret Avery) hardly interact, yet Mary remains a fierce character who demonstrates many typically male action movie traits.
13 '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 movie mostly focuses on Alex and the movie's other male characters.
Aside from some flash-forward scenes where you see Louise Bank's (Amy Adams) talking with her daughter, Hannah, Louise almost only talks to men in this alien-invasion film. It's pretty sad that the team of scientists and military officials that Louise interacts with couldn't have included more women, but the movie's depiction of Louise at least highlights her as the hero of the film.
15 'Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind'
If you stan Clementine 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 who she talks with in the classic film, she still remains an independent who lives by her own rules, including making her money from sex work.
It's true that James Cameron's 2009 epic never has its two female leads, Neytiri (Zoë Saldana) and Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) talk to each other. But both of these characters are bold and empowering in their own ways.
18 'Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire'
Sadly, the fourth
Harry Potter movie doesn't pass, but Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) is still a brainy, brave heroine. 19 'Salt'
Angelina Jolie's character, the spy Evelyn Salt, is the only female character in this film who has a name — much like Jolie's other movie on this list,
Tomb Raider. 20 '500 Days Of Summer'
Like the many other romance movies on this list,
500 Days doesn't have enough female interaction to pass the Bechdel Test, but Summer (Zooey Deschanel) is a woman who knows what she wants, in the offbeat film that it shouldn't be canceled. 21 'Star Wars: Episode V — The Empire Strikes Back'
This film doesn't pass for obvious reasons, but Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) does more in it than just ask for help.
22 'His Girl Friday'
You'd probably be hard pressed to find
any movie from 1940 that passes the Bechdel Test, but His Girl Friday is an exception as it set an example for other movies to provide female leading characters with their own career ambitions and interests.
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.