“Nine to Five” (1980)
A rare women-led workplace story, “Nine to Five” has three strong leads in Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, and Dolly Parton as women who turn office policies upside-down to make them less sexist and more employee-friendly. The scenes of the three women commiserating on the unfairness at the company and plotting to make changes are enormous fun—and illuminating.
“Steel Magnolias” (1989)
Playwright/adapting screenwriter Robert Harling based this story on the women he knew growing up. The powerhouse cast includes four Oscar winners, Shirley MacLaine, Sally Field, Olympia Dukakis, and Julia Roberts, along with Daryl Hannah and Dolly Parton. We see the women stick together through happiness and devastating tragedy, not just tolerating each other’s quirks but enjoying them. Like “The Women,” the film spends a lot of time in women-centered spaces like the beauty salon. Its tone—and the tone of many friendship stories—is summarized in Parton’s classic line, “Laughing through tears is my favorite emotion.”
“Thelma and Louise” (1991)
Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis star in this film (which earned Callie Khouri an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay) as two friends whose weekend getaway turns into an adventure of self-discovery as they respond to unexpected threats with even more unexpected toughness. As Roger Ebert wrote, “Thelma and Louise begin to grow intoxicated with the scent of their own freedom—and with the discovery that they possess undreamed-of resources and capabilities.” They recognize that there’s no going back and still find the choice worthwhile.
“Waiting to Exhale” (1995)
Based on the book by Terry McMillan, this movie of four friends who support each other through romantic ups and downs may not pass the Bechdel test, but the portrayal of strong, accomplished Black women (beautifully played by Whitney Houston, Angela Bassett, Lela Rochon, and Loretta Devine) sharing confidences and encouragement makes us wish we could be part of the group as well.
“Boys on the Side” (1995)
The title is never mentioned in the film, but it underscores the theme of women’s relationships as the primary foundation of these characters’ lives. Whoopi Goldberg, Drew Barrymore, and Mary-Louise Parker star in this story of women who would be unlikely to know each other, much less become devoted friends. But on a road trip with one looking forward, one looking back, one trying to escape—a trip that tellingly never reaches its original destination—the three characters form one of the sweetest connections on film. The soundtrack features songs by female performers like the Indigo Girls, Joan Armatrading, Annie Lennox, and Sheryl Crow.