This film, starring Richard Gere and Debra Winger, bore all the traditional hallmarks of a true chick flick—a man in need of the love of a good woman and a Cinderella story of a downtrodden factory worker rescued by her Prince Charming. But thanks to solid writing and acting, it was a huge success with both sexes. It was the third-highest-grossing film of 1982 and garnered six Oscar nominations and two wins.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.