20 Great Films With Multiple Female Leads That Pass The Bechdel Test

7. Nine To Five (Colin Higgins 1980)

Nine To Five

This highly popular comedy turned out to be one of 1980’s highest grossing films. It also featured an immensely popular title song which won two Grammy Awards and a string of other accolades as well as spawning a spin-off television show and a Broadway musical adaptation to boot.

The film follows three women who work in the same office for a highly chauvinistic, sexist, sleazy boss. Judy (Jane Fonda, who also produced the film) is forced to find a job after her husband loses all their savings and runs off with his secretary. At her new office she meets Violet (Lily Tomlin), a widow and office manager who is trying to make a career but is unfairly passed by for promotion by their boss Franklin Hart (Dabney Coleman).

Judy and Violet go to a bar to drown their sorrows accompanied by Doralee (Dolly Parton), who everybody thinks is a floozy but turns out to be a victim of Franklin’s incessant advances. The three women then concoct various plans to take revenge on their misogynistic and bigoted boss and eventually end up kidnapping him and making some much needed changes around the office.

A clear social satire that voiced many of the concerns of the women’s movement, which had gained widespread popularity by 1980, Nine to Five turned out to be a great box-office hit. It also launched the acting career of Dolly Parton who of course already enjoyed immense popularity as a country singer and who put her comedic timing to great use here.

Apart from Dabney Coleman as the completely over-the-top male chauvinistic bastard, the film is filled with many female characters, who all seem to be having a great time with their roles. A fantastic farce which still holds up very well today.


6. Notes on a Scandal (Richard Eyre 2006)

Notes on a Scandal

Based on the novel of the same name by Zoë Heller, Notes on a Scandal is a 2006 British adaptation by Patrick Marber, directed by Richard Eyre and starring Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett.

Barbara Covett (Judi Dench) is a history teacher and an old spinster at a high school in London, who’s reaching retirement age and takes pleasure in recording minute details about those around her in her diary. When Sheba Hart (Cate Blanchett) joins the school as the new art teacher, Barbara immediately takes a liking in her although she is strangely disappointed that Sheba is married with children, something she perceives as extremely “common”.

When she discovers that Sheba has been having an affair with one of her students she initially keeps things quiet but when her new found friend refuses to accompany her to the vet when her cat has to be put down, Barbara starts to sabotage her Sheba’s life by leaking the information, hoping she will turn to her for help.

The main reason to see Notes on a Scandal is simply for of the powerhouse performances of its two leads. Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett both shine and whilst Dench might have the juicier part as the evil spinster, Blanchett manages to turn in a fine and nuanced performance as the woman whose life starts to spin out of control. Both women were nominated for an Academy Award for their work and the film received further nominations for its fiendish screenplay and Philip Glass’ haunting score.


5. Persepolis (Vincent Paronnaud & Marjane Satrapi 2007)


Persepolis is a French-American co-production based on the same name autobiographical graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi. The primarily black and white animated film was co-directed by Vincent Paronnaud and the author herself.

The film starts with an adult Marjane thinking back on her childhood in Iran as she is waiting to board a plane to her fatherland. As a young girl Marjane witnessed the Islamic revolution in Iran as fundamentalists won the elections and started repressing all of society. Later the Iran-Iraq war further complicates matters and Marjane gets to witness the horrors of war first-hand.

Marjane reacts by rebelling through wearing Western clothes and listening to Western music and her progressive family decide to send her to Vienna, fearing for her well being in Iran. But Marjane never feels at home in Vienna and after a few difficult years, she returns to Iran after the war there has ended. To her dismay however, the situation there is worse than ever, especially for women, and once again her family must decide whether it is wise for her to remain in Tehran.

If you haven’t gathered it from the above description, Persepolis is not light-hearted family-friendly animated entertainment. This is a bleak and serious coming of age film about a young girl in a politically and religious oppressive society and an examination of a very dark period in Iranian history as well as cultural and ethnic identity.

Chiara Mastroianni voices Marjane Satrapi, whilst her real-life mother Catherine Deneuve voices the animated Mrs. Satrapi. Gena Rowlands voiced the important part of Marjane’s grandmother in the English-language version of the film. Persepolis won the Jury Prize at Cannes and ended up on many critic’s top ten lists that year.


4. Persona (Ingmar Bergman 1966)


One of Ingmar Bergman’s most personal and acclaimed films, Persona stars two of the director’s favourite actresses, Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullman. The film started a new and more abstract part of the director’s career and deals with the exploration of identity and other common themes to Bergman’s work like mental illness, lack of meaning and death.

When well-known stage actress Elisabet Vogler (Liv Ullman) suddenly stops speaking her psychiatrist advises that she’s to be sent to her isolated seaside cottage under the care of her nurse Alma (Bibi Andersson). Once there, Alma grows attached to Elisabet and having to constantly do all the talking, she tells her about her problems with her fiancé and a sexual experience she had as a result as well as its aftermath. Shortly after, Alma reads a letter by Elisabet, which she is meant to post for her, and finds out that the actress is merely seeing her as an object of study and analysis.

As a result the relationship between the two women becomes strained and they even come to physical blows. Then dreams and reality slowly start blurring and the two women’s identities seemingly begin to merge.

Persona is often listed amongst the greatest cinematic masterpieces ever made and Bergman’s best film according to some critics. It features two outstanding performances by two of his regular female leads and won awards for Best Film, Best Director and Best Actress for Andersson at the 1967 National Society of Film Critics Awards. The film was also the Swedish entry for the Academy Awards that year although it did not end up being nominated.


3. Secrets & Lies (Mike Leigh 1996)

Secrets & Lies

This is the movie where Mike Leigh really found his voice even though all his previous films are pretty damn good and well worth seeking out too. With Secrets & Lies he perfected his English working class drama and has more or less stuck to doing these types of films at this high standard ever since. His name has become virtually synonymous with the genre as a consequence.

Secrets and Lies tells the story of a working class woman (Brenda Blethyn) whose life has been full of disappointment. She suddenly is contacted by a woman who claims to be the daughter she gave up for adoption long ago. This starts a process that will affect her entire family and unearth the effects of the secrets and lies that she has built her life around in relation to this one event.

Truly captivating performances by the entire cast, which consists of a who’s who of Mike Leigh regulars, and smart writing is what Leigh’s films are all about. The film won the Palme d’Or, Best Actress and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at Cannes as well as being nominated for five Academy Awards. Various other festivals and award ceremonies awarded the film, its director and Brenda Blethyn with multiple other prizes.


2. Thelma & Louise (Ridley Scott 1991)


Ridley Scott’s bold re-imaging of the buddy movie and road movie genres, Thelma & Louise replaced the usual male heroes of these types of film with two anti-heroines and became a critical as well as financial success in the process.

Thelma (Geena Davis) and Louise (Susan Sarandon) are two friends who decide to have a road trip and a weekend away from their partners. As they make a stop at a bar, Thelma gets drunk and dances with a man, who proceeds to follow her into the parking lot and attempts to rape her. Louise interferes and shoots the man, leaving him dead.

Convinced that no one would believe that the man was trying to rape Thelma as many people saw them dancing in the bar before, the two women go on the run for the rest of the movie. They pick up J.D. (Brad Pitt) who turns out to be a thief and steals all their money and they end up having to hold up a convenience store as a result. Meanwhile sympathetic detective Hal Slocumb (Harvey Keitel) is hot on their tail and as the law closes in, Thelma and Louise eventually find they have nowhere left to run to.

Featuring fine performances from both Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, Thelma & Louise became a phenomenon which has worked its way firmly into the cultural psyche. The film also won its female screenwriter Callie Khouri an Oscar for her screenplay, only one of a handful of women to do so, whilst it was nominated for an additional four awards. Often referred to as the ultimate feminist road movie,

Thelma & Louise was a ground breaking film and is well worth re-watching. It’s still a great ride and a wonderful ode to friendship.


1. Volver (Pedro Almodóvar 2006)


I couldn’t resist adding one more Pedro Almodóvar movie to this list as the man just has a great track record when it comes to roles for women in his many outstanding films. And Volver is just such a charming comedy drama which features three generations of women portrayed by a great ensemble cast.

Raimunda (Penélope Cruz) and Sole (Lola Dueñas) are sisters who grew up in a small village but now both live in Madrid. Raimunda lives with her daughter Paula (Yohana Cobo) and her no good husband Paco (Antonio de la Torre), whilst Sole lives by herself and runs a hair salon from her apartment.

Their parents died three years before in a fire but when the neighbour of their aunt Paula (Chus Lampreave), who still lives in their old village, informs them that the ghost of their dead mother Irene (Carmen Maura) has started reappearing, things start to get a little weird. In the meantime Paula ends up killing Paco as he tries to rape her. Raimunda hides the body and tells Paula that Paco wasn’t in fact her real father and that she will tell her the whole story at a later stage. And than Irene’s ghost starts appearing in Sole’s apartment in Madrid, unearthing many an old skeleton from the closet.

Volver deals with some pretty harsh subject matter like rape, incest and murder but still manages to have a magical and often even comical tone to it. The film competed for the Palme d’Or at Cannes and ended up winning the awards for Best Screenplay and Best Actress. The latter was actually awarded to all six female leads as an ensemble. Volver was the first lead role for Penélope Cruz in an Almodóvar film and she received an Oscar Nomination for her performance. Simply one of Almodóvar’s best.

Author Bio: Emilio has been a movie buff for as long as he can remember and holds a Masters Degree in Cinema Studies from the University of Amsterdam. Critical and eclectic in taste, he has been described to “love film but hate all movies”. For daily suggestions on what to watch, check out his Just Good Movies Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/goodmoviesuggestions.