Women in film: the best female-positive movies

Women in film: the best female-positive movies

This list looks at the best movies that pass the Bechdel Test. And we're not just talking about female-friendly films here... these are the best movies that pass the Bechdel Test with flying colours, which means not only do they pass (films need to have at least two, named female characters who talk to each about something other than a man to pass), but they're also very female-positive overall as well. Basically, you won't find Die Hard on this list just because Holly Gennaro talks to her housekeeper Paulina about her children for five whole seconds...

Don't get too bogged down in the requirements of the Bechdel Test test though because even if you're not sure what it means, every film on this list is a great movie in it's own right, so you won't be disappointed. Although a surprising number of great movies fail the Bechdel Test (LOTRs doesn’t even come close!) and just because a movie passes doesn’t mean it’s good (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days), we've managed to find some of the best movies that pass the Bechdel Test.

By Total Film staff

Bend it Like Beckham (2002)

The movie: Jess loves football, but she comes from an orthodox Sikh background, which means her traditional parents want her to give up playing and go to university, become a doctor, and marry a “nice Indian boy”. When she meets Jules, a fellow female footballer, she can’t help but join the local women’s football team, but this causes major problems for her home life and Jess finds herself torn between what she wants and her family’s expectations. 

How it passes: Both the main characters are named women, who talk to each other a lot about football, their families, and yes, occasionally boys. The movie also includes Jess’ sister Pinky and a whole host of other named women on the football team, and besides that, the basic message of the movie is that women can do anything... even become professional footballers. Lauren O’Callaghan

Frozen (2013)

The movie: When Princesses Elsa and Anna’s parents die, Elsa must become Queen, but during her coronation party everyone finds out that she’s been secretly hiding powers (which she can use to freeze anything) all this time. Scared her people will turn on her, she runs away and loses emotional control plunging the Kingdom into an eternal winter. Now it’s up to Elsa to find her and help her get control of her powers so she can unfreeze their home. 

How it passes: It’s true that Frozen only has two named female characters, but the movie is literally about them and their relationship to each other. Although they spend a good portion of the film apart they still manage to have a many conversations about important things like their love for each other and saving their Kingdom from a perpetual winter. Lauren O’Callaghan

Chicago (2002)

The movie: The all-singing, all-dancing movie adaptation of the stage musical Chicago sees Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Richard Gere sing their hearts out as two female jazz stars/murderesses and the amoral lawyer trying to get them off. 

How it passes: The two leads, and indeed the majority of the cast, are women and the only time they really talk about men is when they briefly explain their crimes or discuss trying to get Gere’s Billy Flynn to represent them. More than that, all the women are fiercely strong and morally questionable, presenting a version of women not often seen in the cinema. Lauren O’Callaghan

Children of Men (2006)

The movie: This dystopian movie paints a bleak picture of a future where humanity has lost the ability to reproduce. Amongst civil unrest and economic collapse, Theo unwittingly becomes responsible for a young pregnant refugee, Kee, who he must protect against all odds. As the first woman to become pregnant in years, she carries an extremely precious cargo and faces danger on all sides. 

How it passes: Don’t let the name fool you, Children of Men passes the Bechdel Test with flying colours. Kee talks to revolutionary leader Julian and her midwife Miriam at many points throughout the movie, and it’s almost never about a man. Plus, the entire film is about a young woman and her pregnancy (which could save the world), and the fact that the main character is a man is more incidental than anything else. Lauren O’Callaghan

Kill Bill Vol 1. (2003) and Vol. 2 (2004)

The movie: The Bride is hellbent on - surprise surprise - killing Bill because he and his assassins tried to kill her and her unborn child many years ago. She’s got a bit of a grudge. The movies follow The Bride as she kills her way through the list of assassins who targeted her, working her way up to Bill - their boss and her former lover. 

How it passes: Although we don’t hear The Bride’s real name until about halfway through the second movie, her codename is enough to set her apart as a named character. And by god, is she an unforgettable one. Her pregnancy is discussed with the surprisingly sympathetic assassin Karen Kim, plus her last talk with O-Ren Ishii in the snow in particular is touching as they gradually admit their respect for each other. Finally, the mother/daughter scenes have nothing to do with Bill and everything to do with The Bride realising that the reason for her revenge - her dead child - has actually been alive all this time. Zoe Delahunty-Light

Ghost World (2001)

The movie: Best friends Enid and Becky spend the summer after high school trying to figure out what they’re doing with their lives and along the way they meet a lonely, middle-aged man named Seymour, who Enid strikes up a friendship with. While Enid occupies herself with finding him a girlfriend, she and Becky grow further apart. 

How it passes: Ghost World is basically all about the friendship between super sarcastic teen Enid and her best friend Becky. They discuss many different topics through the film, including the trajectory of their lives after graduating high school, but rarely men. Lauren O’Callaghan

Hidden Figures (2016)

The movie: Following the careers of the ‘human computers’ Katherine Goble, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughn, Hidden Figures explores the rampant racism (and sexism) the three figureheads endured during their time working at NASA during the space race. As well as showing that they kicked a** at the lab at the same time. 

How it passes: This one’s obvious. The three women talk about their work launching Project Mercury into space (ranging from aerospace engineering, to analytical geometry, to calculating trajectories, to phenomenally advanced maths), as well as about the professional obstacles in their way due to the prejudiced attitudes of their male, white co-workers. Zoe Delahunty-Light

Bridesmaids (2011)

The movie: Annie’s best friend is getting married so naturally she’s Maid of Honor. The only problem is, there’s another bridesmaid trying to muscle in on her territory. With Kristen Wiig and Rose Byrne going head-to-head in this hilarious bridesmaid-off, expect a lot of laughs and plenty of super awkward moments. 

How it passes: It’s easy to see how Bridesmaids passes the Bechdel Test - all the main characters are women and they talk about almost everything but men - but on the surface, it doesn’t seem that female positive. Despite all the girl-on-girl crime that goes on though, at its heart this film is about female friendships and how complicated they can be. It’s not always pretty, but it’s a true representation of female relationships. Lauren O’Callaghan

The Hunger Games (2012)

The movie: In this particular post-apocalyptic world, children are sent to battle to the death on TV. Each of the 12 districts must send one boy and one girl into the fight, and our heroine, Katniss Everdeen, actually volunteers to be the female tribute for Sector 12, in place of her younger sister. Cue epic action sequences, horrendously troublesome gameplay tactics, and even a little bit of romance.  

How it passes: The Hunger Games actually passes the Bechdel Test in the very first scene. After a chat of what The Hunger Games actually means, Katniss comforts her sister Primrose, who’s had a bad dream. But it goes much further than this, with Katniss having a variety of conversations with other women, ranging from her mother and Rue, to the delightfully colourful Effie Trinket, and only once does a romance get mentioned in one conversation between Katniss and Rue. It’s much more about familial love and, you know, surviving. Sam Loveridge

Ghostbusters (2016)

The movie: The 2016 Ghostbusters film is technically the third film in the franchise, but actually serves as a reboot, replacing the four main male characters with female alternatives - played by Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones. As with previous Ghostbusters movies, the ‘busters are tracking down some ghosts who are wreaking havoc in New York. 

How it passes: Brilliantly, there’s not a romantic relationship in sight in Ghostbusters. The squad’s a little more preoccupied with ghost bustin’ than affairs of the heart, and casually saving the world from an evil menace. Although there is some discussion about the beauty of Chris Hemsworth’s character at some points - and how ditzy he is. Sam Loveridge

28 Days Later (2002)

The movie: The path to hell is paved with good intentions, as the animal rights activists at the beginning of the movie realise when they release a chimp infected with a rage-inducing virus that rapidly devastates Great Britain. Jim wakes up in hospital after all this has happened and tries to survive along with Selena and Hannah.

How it passes: Selena and Hannah might not exchange that many words - they talk briefly about chocolate in a supermarket - but once they reach the army’s creepy mansion Selena basically becomes Hannah’s protector. She tries to tempt the soldiers away from raping Hannah, and attempts to shield her from the horrors she’s about to endure any way she can (including trying to drug her so she won’t be lucid at the time). Clearly Selena cares about Hannah, and in an alternate ending the two even face off the apocalypse together. Wearing ball gowns and everything. Zoe Delahunty-Light

Spirited Away (2000)

The movie: Studio Ghibli’s animated classic sees 10-year-old Chihiro literally ‘spirited away’ to a magical realm. Her parents are turned into pigs and she takes on a job in a bath house filled with fantastical spirits and creatures. Chihiro then has to then deal with the inhabitants all the while trying to defeat the witch Yubaba who runs the place and traps people into working for her by stealing their names. 

How it passes: Spirited Away is a very female-positive movie in of itself because its central character, Chihuro, is a strong young woman and it also passes the Bechdel Test in various ways. If you’re after a specific scene, how about the one where Chihuro talks to bathhouse owner Yubaba about a job? Lauren O’Callaghan

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

The movie: You know the drill by now. Attractive teenagers on a road trip end up off the beaten track and into the path of rampaging chainsaw-wielding psychopath. The remake of Tobe Hooper’s grim slasher might have Michael Bay in the production credits but this is an acceptable if grisly horror that, as it should be, needs endured rather than enjoyed. 

How it passes: Before the slicing begins, the Bechdel Test is passed early on when the group pass a girl walking along the road and Jessica Biel’s Erin asks her if she needs help or a lift. Once she’s in the car, the group, specifically another girl Pepper, ask where her friends are and that’s all it takes. Wasn’t that simple before all the running and the screaming? Louise Blain

Girl, Interrupted (1999)

The movie: Based on Susanna Kaysen’s very real stay at a mental institution during the 1960s, Girl, Interrupted is a tour de force of raw female acting talent. Winona Ryder is 18-year-old Kaysen whose parents have forced her into Claymoore Hospital after a nervous breakdown and attempt to kill herself. It’s there she meets sociopath Lisa (played with positively electric energy by Angelina Jolie) who turns her world even more upside down with her refusal to accept life the way it is. Add in Brittany Murphy, Clea DuVall and Whoopi Goldberg, all with scene stealing performances and it’s nigh on essential viewing from director James Mangold. 

How it passes: Because simply, life is about more than just men and Girl, Interrupted knows it. While Kaysen does sneak a (very young) Jared Leto into the hospital, these women talk life, abuse, violence, media, books, and, of course, themselves and their experiences. Scenes which don’t pass the Bechdel Test are rare. Louise Blain

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

The movie: After the events of The Force Awakens, Rey tries to persuade Luke Skywalker to train her in the ways of the Force, while General Leia Organa, Poe, Finn, and the rest of the Resistance attempt to stay out of reach of the terrible First Order and Kylo Ren.  

How it passes: Star Wars isn’t exactly known for being female positive (Leia’s gold bikini?), but TFA went a long way to making the franchise Bechdel-friendly by putting a woman, Rey, at the centre of it. This is something its sequel, The Last Jedi, pushes even further by including even more strong female role models, from Rose Tico to Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo, and not forgetting Leia. It’s true that most of them are spread out over the galaxy for the majority of the film and don’t talk to each other, but they all have important roles with a lot of responsibility. And if you’re a stickler for the rules… Leia and Holdo do talk to each other about the war. Lauren O’Callaghan

Scream (1996)

The movie: Once again proving that the genre that apparently mistreats women actually manages to deliver far more realistic characters, Wes Craven’s self-referential slasher sees high school students menaced by a killer in a Munch-inspired mask. Scream revamped the horror genre back in the late ‘90s as very modern heroine Sydney Prescott and her friends were targeted for the insides-on-the-outside treatment. 

How it passes: While there’s plenty of time for screaming and dying, Sydney and her friend Tatem (Rose McGowan) catch up about her feelings around her mother’s murder. Almost as a bonus, Syd also talks to Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox) about death before punching her in the face about her tell all book. Louise Blain

The Girl with All the Gifts (2016)

The movie: After the world is ravaged by a mysterious fungal disease that turns humans into fast, mindless zombies known as ‘hungries’, the only hope of a new future is in a group of hybrid children. Yes, they still want to eat you, but they can also think, and feel, and learn. Helen is the one responsible for educating and studying the children, and she’s formed a special bond with one of the girls, Melanie - despite the fact she wants to eat her. 

How it passes: The relationship between Helen and Melanie is a beautiful thing to watch as it develops and the only mention of love here is about what’s growing between the pair as Helen fights to protect her. The maternal love that blooms throughout the film is a shining example of a film bucking the normal trends, especially in a post-apocalyptic zombie movie. Sam Loveridge

Little Miss Sunshine (2006)

The movie: Olive can’t believe it when she’s given the opportunity to compete in the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant, and with a little persuasion, her whole family piles into their van for a cross-country road trip to make it to the contest in time. They get held up along the way thanks to family disagreements and the odd unforeseen death, but that’s all part of the fun of a family road trip, right?

How it passes: Throughout the Hoover family’s journey, Olive and her mum Sheryl chat about non-male related things. Plus, once they arrive, Olive meets Miss California and poses her a very important question: Does she eat ice cream? Technically, the conversations Olive has with her male family members don't count, but they’re all so female-positive that it helps round out a very feminist film. Lauren O’Callaghan

Black Swan (2010)

The movie: Nina is a superb ballerina with a controlling mother who is determined for her to be the best. It seems her dream comes true when she’s chosen as the prima ballerina for her company’s production of Swan Lake, but she struggles to capture the essence of the Black Swan during rehearsals. Under an enormous amount of pressure, Nina feels threatened when newcomer Lily who joins and seems to personify the Black Swan perfectly. 

How it passes: Nina not only has many conversations about her career with her overbearing mother Erica, but she also spends a lot of time talking to fellow ballerina Lily about their work. The pair have a very intense relationship which epitomises how complicated female friendships can be and there’s barely a man in sight. Lauren O’Callaghan

Aliens (1986)

The movie: After she gets back to earth safely, Ripley isn’t given much rest in this sequel before she’s sent out again to a far-flung colony to investigate their mysterious silence. Spoilers: they’re silent because everyone is dead. Thanks to the oh-so-familiar aliens. Everyone except Newt, that is, a young girl orphaned by the massacre.

How it passes: Ripley and Newt. Enough said. Their mother-daughter relationship makes descending into an alien hive no big deal, but before things get quite that desperate, the two talk about Newt’s parents, the monsters, and surviving in a pleasantly heartfelt way considering all the death and destruction surrounding them. Vasquez - the female soldier with the killer machine gun - also talks to Ripley about the alien threat. Oh, and the villain is a giant, female alien who Ripley battles with equal strength while wielding a killer heavy-lifting exoskeleton. Making them strong female characters both literally and metaphorically. Zoe Delahunty-Light

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

The movie: The world has become little more than a wasteland with the most precious resource water, so the person who controls the water, controls everything else. That doesn’t stop Immortan Joe’s wives from leaving him though, and with the help of Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy, they go on an epic car chase through the desert toward freedom. 

How it passes: It might sound like this is a stereotypical story about women leaving an abusive home (just set in a dystopian world), but Mad Max: Fury Road is so much more than that. Not only are all Immortan Joe’s wives strong female role models, but Theron’s character is a bada** of epic proportions and Hardy’s Max often defers to her judgement or expertise throughout the film (if you haven’t seen Feminist Mad Max, you’re missing out). Although, it’s true a lot of the time the female cast talk about how to escape Joe (a man), they also meet another group of female survivors and discuss building a new community, the future of the world, and overthrowing the dystopian patriarchy. Lauren O’Callaghan


The best movies that pass the Bechdel Test are female-positive and great watches in their own right