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The Chick Flick at Thirty: A Look Back

Once upon a time, some studio exec decided that any movie featuring more than two female characters could only appeal to female audiences. Thus a new pejorative term was born: the “chick flick.” It’s a funny thing, defining what constitutes a chick flick. Not every movie with a female star is a chick flick, but true chick flicks usually do have female stars and always tell female stories. With the release of Bridesmaids, movie critics are apoplectic about women’s forays into comedy as filmmakers struggle to reclaim female-centered movies from automatically being relegated to the pink ghetto. From the early days of movies beloved by women to today’s cynical femsploitation films, the chick flick has come a long, meandering way. Related Stories: Chick Flicks Guys Actually Like Do Romantic Comedies Have a Purpose? Are Women Voting with Their Box Office Dollars?
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An Officer and a Gentleman (1982)
Terms of Endearment (1983)
Thelma & Louise (1991)
Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
Clueless (1995)
Kate & Leopold (2001)
The Sweetest Thing (2002)
Maid in Manhattan (2002)
A Walk to Remember (2002)
P.S. I Love You (2007)
Bride Wars (2009)
Bridesmaids (2011)

Bride Wars (2009)

A decade of cynical, pandering films with flimsy, generic, maudlin plots culminated in Bride Wars, a film that played into every stereotype about women and women’s movies. Wedding obsession? Check. Fashion porn? Check. Best friend rivalry? Check. Happy endings and dual pregnancies? Check. Vapid commercialism and excess? Check. (Seriously—are we really supposed to believe that a school teacher could afford a wedding at the Plaza? Please.)

Terms of Endearment (1983)

Portraying the sometimes difficult relationship between a mother and daughter, this film is a five-hanky weeper, even three decades later. It showed that a well-written, insightful film about the female experience could be a critical and commercial success. The film was nominated for eleven Oscars and won five, including Best Actress (Shirley MacLaine), Best Supporting Actor (Jack Nicholson), and Best Picture.

Thelma & Louise (1991)

Heralded as a groundbreaking moment in feminist film (as well as just a damn good movie), Thelma and Louise are hardly the typical shrinking violets obsessed with finding a man. The film is a female version of the traditional “buddy comedy,” with the heroines as noble outlaws fleeing domestic drudgery and sexual assault. Twenty years ago, a film about two women in their forties could attract a big-time male director, Ridley Scott, and be considered a crossover success; in today’s current crop of thin-plotted chick flicks, such a thing is far less likely.

Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

Contrary to popular opinion, Sleepless in Seattle is not a chick flick—it’s a traditional romantic comedy. How can you tell? The star is Tom Hanks, not Meg Ryan. Classic romantic comedies, like When Harry Met Sally, Say Anything, and There’s Something About Mary, are beloved by women, but they are made to appeal to men, too. Unfortunately, in recent years, the two terms have almost become synonymous, as it’s presumed that any film that appeals to women will be hated by men.

Clueless (1995)

Teen movies had existed for decades before Clueless, but Amy Heckerling’s 1995 comedy, released at the zenith of “girl power,” was a pop culture juggernaut. However, its humor, which was primarily based on boys, petty rivalry, and shopping, was hardly revolutionary.

Kate & Leopold (2001)

The vapid chick flick, as we now think of it, was pretty much invented in the past decade, as female filmgoers were increasingly relegated to maudlin romances and comedies with contrived plots and embarrassingly retro characters. Take, for instance, this film, wherein an ambitious marketing executive dates a time-traveling European noble, only to end up abandoning her career for the sake of returning to 1876 with him and becoming a duchess. That is seriously the plot of this movie. You can look it up.

The Sweetest Thing (2002)

Billed as the first raunchy female comedy, The Sweetest Thing featured partying, wisecracking characters, but it still relied on lady-centric jokes and setups like crashing a wedding, trying on clothes, and icky public bathrooms. And of course, in a moralizing twist, the bad-girl characters end up happily reformed and partnered by the end.

Maid in Manhattan (2002)

The Cinderella story has always been a popular trope for chick flicks, but Maid in Manhattan reached new lows. In the film, a smokin’ hot hotel maid-slash–single mom who dreams of bigger things falls in love with an important politician. You know, just like in real life.

A Walk to Remember (2002)

The ultimate stereotypical chick flick protagonist is a quiet, plain girl who, through sheer force of character and earnestness, manages to win the affection of an attractive and popular guy before dying beautifully of cancer. But not before saving him from himself and teaching him the true meaning of love.

P.S. I Love You (2007)

Another hallmark of a stereotypical chick flick is a heroine who can’t get her life together until a nice man shows her how it’s done. Magic often plays a part, too. Sometimes it takes receiving messages from your dead boyfriend before you really allow yourself to fall in love again and discover a promising new career as a shoe designer.

Bride Wars (2009)

A decade of cynical, pandering films with flimsy, generic, maudlin plots culminated in Bride Wars, a film that played into every stereotype about women and women’s movies. Wedding obsession? Check. Fashion porn? Check. Best friend rivalry? Check. Happy endings and dual pregnancies? Check. Vapid commercialism and excess? Check. (Seriously—are we really supposed to believe that a school teacher could afford a wedding at the Plaza? Please.)

Bridesmaids (2011)

Although most of the characters are indeed women, Bridesmaids barely counts as a chick flick. It’s just a comedy in which the characters happen to be ladies—very very funny ladies, in fact.

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