Have some Cult Feminsim in your Life
As John Waters once elegantly put it: “All cult really means is that something is popular that others didn’t expect to be popular. Some people get it. Others are assholes.”
Cult films appeal to a niche audience and somehow let the movie world down. Maybe it was hated by critics. Maybe no one went to see it. Maybe it just was too bizarre or quirky for anyone to get in the first place. Before bizarre and quirky was the hip thing, of course.
But sometimes, these films get vindicated by a stint on HBO or VHS/DVD sales. On rare occasions it gets an award for the screenplay or an actor, or a random award. But most likely, a small group of viewers adored it and spread the word.
So of course there are cult feminism movies! Why not appeal to the “cult” of empowered women — you know, even though they’re half of a film’s audience. If fact, there’s a feminist cult counterpart for every popular sub-genre that features a male lead.
Road Trip Flick: Thelma and Louise
First of all, before you write a comment about how it’s not a cult film — the film was made on $16.5 million, and it made $45,360,915 in North America. And despite the meager box-office earnings, everyone knows how it ends.
But for some sofa and popcorn analysis here, the film does play with a lot of movie themes we’ve already seen. First it’s the quintessential film where the heroes find themselves on the road, then it meshes rebel outlaws against the world and it finally involved notes of the well-liked cop trying to pick up the pieces. Ultimately these themes explosively deconstruct themselves as soon as the Thunderbird goes down — at what level does survival become freedom?
It’s also noteworthy that all the men in the film tend to screw our ladies over. One’s a rapist, one’s a thief, one’s a romantic fool and one’s a violently idiotic husband. The cop that is on Thelma and Louise’s side has some sort of white-knight syndrome that makes him the automatic Good Cop and makes promises to protect them. At that point, it’s pretty obvious that while his attempts to talk them down are noble — they’re also pointless.
The only theme that’s played heartwarming straight is true companions — these women got each other’s back for anything.
Courtroom Drama: The Accused
This film is often remembered as the one that earned Jodie Foster her Oscar, but what I find delightful is that it’s essentially the inverse of her star-making role in Taxi Driver: from a young prostitute that the hero wants to save to a flirty, scantily-clad rape victim that demands justice.
The Accused under-performed at the box-office as well, but it gives an unflinching first look into rape culture. Everywhere the protagonist goes she is told to “get over” her rape, taunted by one of the onlookers, and is constantly blamed. How would you dancing? Were you drinking? What were you wearing?
She even gets looked down on by the female D.A. for how she lives her life. At first the hero is admant that none of this matters and that she wants those men to pay for what they did, but when that fails, the film gives a hard look of what happens when the court system does fail victims. Ultimately, the two women — despite their socioeconomic differences — do work together to get justice. That’s right — the rape victim who was degraded by the cops makes the D.A. admit that she was in the wrong.
I love it when two powerhouse women come together.
Rise of the Teen Idol: The Legend of Billie Jean
This one was saved by HBO and other channels after failing at the box office. In odd little ways, Billie Jean reminds me of the Hunger Games franchise. Billie Jean deals with a close pair of siblings that protect each other with everything they got. But it’s Billie Jean who becomes a rebel, gets a makeover and becomes the voice of a nation. See what I mean? (Well, we’re ignoring how over-marketed the Hunger Games is now.)
Things spiral out of control for her when she’s forced to go on the run after her brother shoots an adult, after she tries to get $608 compensation for a stolen scooter. While police are searching for her, she makes videos for her simple demands. Teenagers nationwide start taking Billie Jean’s story as a symbol of how unjust adults are. It’s a very interestingly take on “the face of the rebellion” story — and how symbols are often based on lies.
Challenging the (School) System: Saved!
Devoutly Christian girl tries to “save” her potentially gay boyfriend. Christan girl gets knocked up. Christian girl gets kicked out of fanatically Christian clique. Christian girl starts questioning organized religion.
This is a glorious film that has snark upon snark about Christian school, Evangelical Christians and religious conversion. Throughout it all, the main character Mary (baby-faced Jena Malone) is struggling for answers from God after getting cast out for trying to rescue her boyfriend from wickedness — while her former friends hypocritically try and “save” her a la exorcist style. It’s a very witty look at the old adage “let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”
I Wish I Could Be Like The Cool Kids: Heathers
This one might be escaping cult status, as it was made into a musical recently. But anyways, Heathers follows Veronica, a girl who is recently inducted into the popular clique — mainly because she has mad forger skills — made of three girls named Heather. Veronica falls for a new boy, a teen rebel in black, and well, their romance soon gets a body count.
It’s pretty much impossible to pick the theme that Heathers deconstructs. Is it that popularity is awesome and everyone loves you when you’re on top? Is it the idyllic rebel-without-a-cause romance? The glamorization and over-hype of beautiful, young, dead bodies? Is it a true, ugly reality of your teenage years? As with satire, it blows up the teenager’s world to expose the painful, uncomfortable nastiness of the nation’s youth.
Shoot ‘em Up: The Long Kiss Goodnight
Hello again, Geena Davis. This film — along with Cutthroat Island — practically killed her career. But what a wonderful way to go.
Davis plays a woman that woke up on a beach, pregnant and injured, that has no clue about her past life. Eight years pass for her and her daughter and she begins to settle in a nice life as a schoolteacher. She’s tried some PIs to find out some facts about her life, but she has nothing for all her efforts. Then she gets into a car accident and suddenly has super knife powers. It’s a per-Jason Bourne spy film, but with the added bonus of the “typical” woman’s debate: career or family? You know, if you substitute career for super-spy that mainly used the honey trap. And gunshots.
Samuel L. Jackson even appears as the love-interest load that doesn’t do much to help the hero — except for adding more hilarious lines. How’s that for role-reversal?
Final Girl: All the Boys Love Mandy Lane
I’m not a fan of horror, but I love a good subversion of the last girl standing in a slasher film. This one is complete slap in the face to the trope. Mandy is a loser that suddenly becomes attractive over the summer — and gains instant access to the popular crowd. They go to a ranch for a party and a serial killer systematically tears through the teens. And of course, has a crush on Mandy Lane.
Mandy obviously represents shy, awkward teenage girls that quickly become lust objects for men — and the center of violence among teenagers. Appealing to audience’s fantasy of becoming the sudden temptress that was overlooked, Mandy plays it straight. She’s awkward with her sexuality, and yet seduced by the power it offers.
Side note: this film was made in 2006, and the U.S. Distributor went bankrupt. It was released on a limited basis in 203. These complications are the reason why it hasn’t been much in the mainstream.
Riot Grrrl: Ladies and Gentlemen the Fabulous Stains
Corrine is a girl who’s in a band with her sister and cousin, but she can’t sing all that well. What she can do fantastically is rant against the system.
In a punk-film that mirrors the Riot Grrl movement, Diane Lane plays a teenage girl that starts out as a fast food worker and ends up as a musical superstar. And let me tell you, you wouldn’t know that that’s Diane Lane until you read the credits.
She dyes her hair, wears a see-through blouse and doesn’t let anyone label her. Not the male critics that call her anti-social and no-talent. Not the female reporters that see her as a new voice of feminism. Not her ex that blasts her as a sell-out. Instead she embraces herself as a musician and claws her own way to a special on MTV by the end of the film.
The tag line lays it all out: these girls created themselves.
A Girl and Her Dog: Wendy and Lucy
Wendy is a woman who wants to start her life over in Alaska. Lucy is her dog. Things suddenly take a turn for the worst when their car breaks down in Oregon. With limited supplies and only $500 budgeted for the trip, woman and dog have to survive on thin funds and each other. Wendy continues to face more hardships when she’s picked up for shoplifting and Lucy disappears.
I bet you notice until now that there’s very few films with women “and their dog” premise.
It’s a heartbreaking story that brings up social, gender and economics issues without it getting too sappy; a survivalist tale for modern times that every dog-film fan will enjoy.
Psychological Thriller: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
First. Look at that creepy poster. You can imagine where this is going, right?
In a falling-apart mansion in Hollywood, two sisters are at each other’s throats. Blanche, a former successful actress whose career was sidelined by an accident plans to put her younger sister “Baby” Jane in an institution. Jane is a former vaudeville child superstar that could never break into the film business, and has become a bitter alcoholic. When it becomes clear Blanche wants out of their co-dependent life, Jane slowly descends into madness — and emotionally abuses her sister.
The sisters are played by Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, whose notable rivalry added to the tension in the plot. All the other characters pass through the film like they’re cycling through a revolving door — which adds to the claustrophobic feel of the mansion.
The mounting insanity of Baby Jane, the terror of Blanche and the shocking twist all create a perfect storm. A commentary about show-business, sisterhood and competition that would delight any Hitchcock fan, Baby Jane is a must see for any feminist.
There you have it, ten movies that failed critics or box-office hopes but have been vindicated by female film nerds everywhere. Obviously, there must be more than what you see here — so feel free to spread the word through comments.
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