Sissy Spacek as Carrie (1976)

Coined by the Spice
Girls in 1996 as a blind cry for product, the phrase “Girl Power” has, in the 2000s, found
a new home in Hollywood. After trial runs as an adjective (“She’s
a great girl power character”) and a noun (“We
need more girl power in the script”), Girl Power has
finally come to roost as an official genre in studio moviemaking.

How can you tell if it’s a Girl Power movie and not some other
Chick Flick offshoot like the Female Actioner, the Bad Girl Thriller,
the Woman in Jeopardy Movie or the Weepie? You can tell because the
Girl Power movie is about a female character who starts off without
any acceptance—be it social, intellectual, physical, economic,
romantic or political—and spends the rest of the movie gaining
it. Not only does she gain it, but over the course of the story she
redefines its parameters. In other words, a good Girl Power story
is about a woman finding herself—and changing the world a
little in the process.

Goldie Hawn in Wildcats (1986)

Girl Power movies have always been a part of
Hollywood, but they made a crucial step forward in the early ’90s
with the arrival of the hit movie Clueless. While most often getting props for reigniting
the teen genre, Clueless also laid crucial groundwork in creating
a fan base for stories about adolescent women and enlightening studio
executives about the profitability of such stories. Exactly how many
Girl Power movies came to exist as a direct result of Clueless is
hard to say, but as far as my own career goes, without Clueless,
I sincerely doubt I’d be making a living writing the Girl Power
movies of which I’m such a fan. In addition to creating economic
demand for such films, Clueless also served me well as a source of
blatant inspiration: 10 Things I Hate About You was inspired by the
adapt-a-classic approach Amy Heckerling took with Clueless; and to
land the job adapting Legally Blonde, we pitched our approach
to MGM as “Clueless meets The Paper Chase.” So,
thank you, Amy Heckerling! Not only for resurrecting Girl Power,
but for paving the way for a new wave of Girl Power fans and moviemakers
like me.

Here’s my list of the best this genre has to offer
(so far):

1 Alien/Aliens (1979/1986): Sigourney Weaver is forever bad-ass,
powering her way through space creatures, mutinous crew members and
numerous deconstructions of gender that will continue to delight
feminist film critics for years to come.

2 Amelie (2001): Like Alice in Wonder­land and Little
Red Riding Hood
before it, Amelie is a fantastical fable
about a lonely girl’s quest to free herself from isolation and
make her mark on the world. In this case, the world is a Parisian
neighborhood, and the thrill of the movie is watching how its denizens
flower under the quirky touch of Amelie, their patron artist-meddler-romantic-stalker-saint.

Dolly Parton and Lily Tomlin in Nine to
(1980) give audiences
a dose of Girl Power

3 Born Yesterday (1950): A forerunner
of the “dumb blonde” subgenre
Girl Power flicks, Born Yesterday is a monumentally satisfying example
of the genre. It’s too bad that Melanie Griffith remade this one to disastrous
effects in the early ’90s; otherwise I’m sure one of today’s power-hungry blondes
would be jumping all over it.

4 Carrie (1976): Call it girl power gone horribly awry. Burn,
baby, burn.

5 Chaos (2001): A French female buddy/crime caper that starts
slowly but kicks into deliciously high gear when a housewife and
a hooker team up to foil a network of Parisian thugs and pimps. The
final shot is vintage Girl Power and one that is certain to evoke
a little boo-hoo from even the iciest viewer.

Ginger the Chicken redefines the term “Chick Flick” in Chicken Run (2000)

6 Charlie’s Angels (2000): While not technically Girl Power,
(from the get-go, the Angels have power up the wazoo), it’s the act
of watching it that makes this movie empowering; never before
have women been at the forefront of such a big-budget, stunt-filled,
special-effects driven brouhaha. The result is a heavenly fantasy
ship motored by possibility and delight—and it doesn’t hurt that
one of its captains is Drew Barrymore, whose life’s work is to give
voice to disenfranchised female characters (Ever After, Never
Been Kissed,
Riding in Cars With Boys, Home Fries,

7 Chicken Run/Mulan (1998/2000): Animated girl-power at its finest. Even though one of the tag lines
of Chicken
was “This ain’t no chick flick,” Ginger the chicken is one
of the most inspiring female characters ever to be claymated. A leader,
a schemer and a dreamer, Ginger finds love and leads a POW-style
escape on her chicken farm. Based on an ancient Chinese poem, Mulan is
the tale of a 6th Century chick who defies the notion that family
honor is best achieved by snagging a cute husband. Instead, she disguises
herself as a boy and helps lead a rag-tag band of misfits in saving
her homeland from the Huns.

8 Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980): Talent
and love intersect in one dirt-poor girl’s life, and send her on
the path to country singing stardom. In addition to Sissy Spacek’s
astonishing portrayal that ranges from age 14 to 35, the movie
shines a light on Loretta Lynn’s relationship with Patsy Cline,
who’s got power to burn and—in
a few key scenes—hands some of it to Loretta.

9 Erin Brockovich (2000): Beyond the cleavage and the star
wattage of Julia Roberts, this story is vintage Girl Power: at the
beginning, a blue-collar chick can’t get a job and by the end, she’s
bringing a billion-dollar corporation to its knees.

10 Flashdance (1983): True, it’s about
a strip club and it was written, produced and directed by a bunch
of horny guys. Still, its classic “follow your dream” Girl Power
message, delivered by a sparkly and unknown star, manages to hit
home. And how can you fault a movie about a stripper that caused
us to talk more about her clothes than what was underneath them?

11 Funny Girl (1968): She doesn’t look
like other girls, she’s  got skinny legs and a crooked nose—but that doesn’t
stop Fanny Brice from being “the greatest star, but no one knows
it.” Fanny’s quest for stardom ultimately gets derailed in the last
half of the movie by—what else—a boy. But over the course of things,
she becomes a Ziegfeld girl no one will ever forget.

Meryl Streep and Cher experience moral and civic awakenings
in Mike Nichols’ Silkwood (1983).

12 Goldie Hawn movies like Private BenjaminWildcats and Protocol (1980s): In all of these, Goldie cements her niche as the bubbly underdog
who can shake things up in male-driven worlds like the army, high
schoolfootball or congress. Goldie’s genius is that her airhead exterior
is always battling with,
but forever tied to, her inner ambition for self-improve­ment, success
and a sprinkling of revenge.

13 Major and the Minor (1942): By disguising herself as a
12-year-old, Ginger Rogers changes the way an all-male military academy
treats women and gets to live her life in a comic never-never-land
between girlhood and womanhood.

14 Muriel’s Wedding (1994): By turns joyful
and melodramatic, this Australian mini-masterpiece boasts a sad-sack
frump of a heroine whose road to empowerment is paved by her friendship
with a who-gives-a-crap rebel girl. PJ Hogan gets special marks
for not over-glamorizing the “makeover” of zaftig Toni Collette; sure, she gets a new haircut—but
thankfully no one forces her to lose 30 pounds.

15 My Fair Lady (1964): She’s a good girl, she is!
Audrey Hepburn rattles Rex Harrison’s cage and shakes up London society
while she’s at it.

Sigourney Weaver battles space creatures—and stereotypes—as
the Alien series’ Ripley.

16 Nine to Five (1980): A toughie, a prude and a bimbo team
up to exact a delicious revenge fantasy on one of the most unctuous
bosses ever to appear on-screen. Even with its dated, pre-sexual-harassment
tone, the movie nonetheless strikes a chord with every girl who’s
ever been paid to take shit at work.

17 Norma Rae (1979): A factory worker
with two illegitimate kids and terrible luck with men finds salvation
in the Textile Workers Union of America. “Never a very good girl scout,” Norma Rae turns
out to be the hardest working union organizer Henley, Alabama has
ever seen. The relationship between Norma and her mentor, Reuben
Warshawsky, is a love story all its own—made even more potent by
the absence of an obligatory romance.

18 The Piano (1993): Who’s more dis­empowered
than a heroine who’s mute? Jane Campion’s glorious masterwork is
art-house Girl Power at its finest—a visionary female writer-director,
an Oscar-winning role for a veteran actress, an Oscar winning-role
for a first-time actress… and oh yeah, full-frontal male nudity!

19 Run Lola Run (1998): During her trio of sprints
through the streets of Berlin, Lola doesn’t change the world, but
she does change a dozen lives around her. Just by running, reacting
and being her flame-haired self, she also changes the way we think
about movies, about time, about choices.

20 Silence of the Lambs/The Accused (1991/1988): These
two films are sisters joined together by a passionate and sharp outcry
against crimes inflicted upon women. Factor in her work in Panic
and see that no actress but Jodie Foster can make playing
characters that are scared shitless seem this powerful.

Audrey Hepburn’s Eliza Doolittle goes from flower girl
to high society in George Cukor’s My Fair Lady (1964).

21 Silkwood (1983): Meryl Streep plays
a steadfastly unsympathetic white trash heroine who drinks, smokes
pot, doesn’t have custody of her kids, lives in sin with a man
she is unfaithful to, has a lesbian for a best friend and—to top it all off—sports
a mullet! It’s all these things that make her moral and civic awakening
that much more beautiful to behold.

22 Sixteen Candles (1984): By the time the day is
over, Molly Ringwald’s Samantha Baker has shaken the family tree
and irrevocably altered the social hierarchy of her high school,
simply by wishing to be noticed, understood and loved.

23 The Sound of Music (1965): You remember it as the
cheesy musical that’s on TV every year, but The Sound of Music is
quite bold in showcasing the sexual awakening of a woman who is bound
against it by religion, profession and perception.

24 Thelma & Louise/Romy & Michelle’s
High School Reunion
The first of these female-buddy road movies is a girl’s version of
Butch & Sundance, in which empowerment is the sun-kissed side
effect of a road trip toward freedom. The second is an imperfect
but irresistible tale of two airheads whose bubble-brained charm
blows a much-needed hole in their high school caste system.

25 Working Girl (1988): Mike Nichols has
a thing for women—and I’m sure glad he does. His skirts are some
of the best to grace the screen, and Melanie Griffith is no exception,
as a piece of corporate cotton candy who refuses to get chewed
up and spit out. MM