The ‘90s was a decade which seemed to pulse with an optimism and vibrancy that makes us eternally nostalgic for it. From Brit Pop to Angsty Punk, the music was amazing. And with the crumbling of the Eastern Bloc, there suddenly seemed to be all kinds of political possibilities. It was also a great time to be a film obsessed feminist. There were so many ‘90s movies that promoted feminism during the decade, and when you look at what was happening culturally and politically, it’s hardly surprising.
Feminism's third wave was born during the decade, and women were crashing down more barriers than ever before. I mean, this was the time that saw Ruth Bader Ginsburg appointed to the Supreme Court and the Riot Grrl movement encouraging women to write zines and join bands. As a young woman during the time, I felt empowered beyond belief.
Sure there were still plenty of misogynist offerings at the Box-office (Showgirls anyone?) but many of my favorite films from the ‘90s also served up a healthy dose of empowerment and equality, along with the popcorn. So if your looking to host a movie night that's equal parts nostalgic and feminist, check out one of these 13 empowering picks.
1. 'The Craft'
Before there was Squad Goals, there were Coven Goals. The Craft explored everything from date rape to body image. Sure, it included blood sacrifices and levitation, but at its core is a story about the different roles women play in society.
2. 'Thelma And Louise'
This is hands down the ultimate bad girl road trip flick. Two friends escape from domestic abuse and memories of rape, to embark on a journey that includes some rough justice and a misjudged crime spree. It’s a total celebration of the strength, that another woman’s friendship can offer. And, spoiler alert, the end scene when they hold hands as they go over the cliff is pure magic.
Way before its time, this Sally Potter-directed visual feast plays with ideas of gender fluidity, notions of sexuality, and critiques patriarchy through the ages. If you like period dramas with a feminist message, this is for you.
What appears at first glance to be a cutesy teen flick, Clueless actually centers on female friendships, and promotes a woman’s right to govern her own sexuality. Cher the films main character might be obsessed with clothes but she is a true woman’s woman, and surprisingly open to all notions of sexuality. A point proved when her boy crush Christian reveals he is gay. Rather than feeling rejected she hugs him and takes him shopping.
5. 'Silence Of The Lambs'
FBI agent Clarice Starling was definitely one of my ‘90s feminist heroines. Making her mark in a predominately male world, her determination and intelligence solve the case of the serial killer Buffalo Bill, which none of her male’s colleagues can crack. Male brute force is no match for her ability, to get into the mind of the terrifying Hannibal Lecter.
6. 'Fried Green Tomatoes'
From frustrated housewives to independent free spirits, this movie explores the different ways women can become trapped in society’s expectations. The character of Idgie is particularly inspiring, as she challenges gender stereotypes and refuses to conform to the sexist world she inhabits.
7. 'The First Wives Club'
This comedy about a group of spurned wives taking revenge on ex husbands, is a masterclass in female solidarity. It also makes some interesting points, about how youth in a woman is still viewed as a precious commodity.
Not only does Mermaids have the best soundtrack ever, it showed an example of a sassy strong single mom, a role that was rarely represented at the time. Wynona Ryder's performance as teen Charlotte also brilliantly depicts the transition from girl to woman, and how difficult this coming of age can be.
9. 'Boys Don’t Cry'
Hilary Swank quite rightly won the Oscar for her portrayal of transgender teen, Brandon Teena, in this amazing film. Tackling issues of gender equality and the experiences of LGBTQ individuals, this was deeply affecting for me to watch back in the '90s and is still very powerful.
10. 'The Last Seduction'
Bridget Gregory is one of American cinema’s great anti-heroines, in this noir inspired thriller. Amoral and calculating, she is a woman acting in a totally gender subversive way. Tough, heartless, and always in control. You may despise her but she is ultimately in charge of her own destiny and sexuality.
11. 'Jurassic Park'
One of my favorite films as a kid, due in no small part to the character of paleobotanist Dr. Ellie Sattler. A total feminist bad ass, Ellie is not only a smart, but strong, brave, and an equal to all her male colleagues. It’s still really heartening to see a female film character who doesn’t take a back seat when disaster strikes. Far from it, Sattler is totally fearless and takes no nonsense from her male counterparts telling them, "we can discuss sexism in survival situations when I get back."
12. '10 Things I Hate About You'
This high school drama about the dating lives of sisters Kat and Bianca drills down into plenty of feminist ideas, about the roles girls take on (good girl, bitch, virgin, whore) The character of Kat is particularly feisty. Disinterested in dating and unprepared to fit in, her journey from Plath reading anti hero, to an emotionally open woman who cries at poetry, is absolutely delicious to watch.
13. 'A League Of Their Own'
At first glance A League Of Their Own is simply a movie about women playing baseball. But on further viewings, you find that it’s really about fighting against gender stereotypes and not letting sexism stop you pursuing your dreams. Sisters Dottie and Kit are shown making very different life choices, and both of these decisions are presented as being totally valid. It doesn’t get more feminist than that.