Leading Ladies Front And Center

Back in the day, women in movies were typically The Love Interest or The Side Character. Fast forward to today, and we—thankfully—have wonderfully complex women characters in films that pass the Bechdel Test with flying colors. What’s even better, though, is seeing strong women on screen bonding and growing together. These five movies, old and new, warm our hearts with their strong depictions of female friendships. 

1. Ghost World

Ghost World, one of my all-time favorite movies, is based on a graphic novel by Daniel Clowes. At the heart of it are best friends Enid (Thora Birch) and Becky (Scarlett Johansson)—they may be jaded, but at least they’re jaded together. They’re also funny, deadpan, sarcastic, quippy, and go down a rabbit hole of misadventure after meeting a peculiar man (Steve Buscemi) through a missed connections ad. While Enid and Becky eventually go their separate ways, they come to terms with that and continually solidify their friendship, despite their differences. 

Watch Ghost World

2. The Color Purple

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Alice Walker, The Color Purple is an empowering movie about black women fighting white-male oppression. Heartbreaking and raw, the movie navigates the friendship between Shug (Margaret Avery) and Celie (Whoopi Goldberg), who bond over their hardships and life experiences. They fight for their rights and independence, despite the danger and violence of the oppressive world they live in. The two women help each other discover who they really are, and bring out the best in each other. 

Watch The Color Purple

3. Booksmart

In Booksmart, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) have always been the good girls—the straight A students. But before they graduate high school, they want to have one really wild night together, because they realize that women who make history break rules. On their quest for fun, everything goes awry and they end up in unexpected situations involving a yacht, a murder mystery party, and psychedelic drugs, just to name a few. Despite any hardships, the two high schoolers have each other’s backs and help each other grow. 

Watch Booksmart

4. The Joy Luck Club

The ladies of The Joy Luck Club have been through thick and thin. They meet regularly to play mahjong and exchange stories. Two of their daughters, June (Ming-Na Wen) and Waverly (Tamlyn Tomita), have had their ups and downs together since childhood. As per Asian-American culture, they were in fierce competition. Throughout their lives, both daughters grow into themselves and overcome obstacles and insecurities. It’s heartwarming to see all of the daughters connect with each other and with their mothers—and to see the mothers maintain their strong and enduring friendships. 

Watch Joy Luck Club

5. Clueless

Ah, it’s the Valley Girl classic we all love: Clueless. Popular and wealthy Cher (Alicia Silverstone) isn’t interested in dating high school boys—as if! She is, however, intent on giving new student, Tai Frasier (Brittany Murphy), a makeover—socially and appearance-wise—and setting her up with an eligible classmate. She invites Tai to be a part of her inner circle, along with her best friend, Dionne (Stacey Dash). The three venture through high school classes, parties, and beyond together, solidifying an iconic friendship between three women. 

Watch Clueless

What are some of your favorite movies featuring strong female friendships? Share in the comments!


Belinda Cai is a multimedia journalist who frequently writes about lifestyle, social and environmental justice, and identity and culture. She has a master’s in journalism and communications from the University of Southern California, and hails from Cincinnati, Ohio. When she’s not writing, she’s Wikipedia-spiraling, staying active, enjoying nature, and thrifting. Check out her website and Instagram.