Abbey Slattery is a writer, editor, and pop culture aficionado. She has contributed to newspapers, magazines and websites, but is most prolific on Twitter.
Growing up, movie night was a sacred tradition. We turned the lights down, popped two huge bowls of buttery popcorn, and got cozy on the couch...then debated which movie we would watch for so long that most of the popcorn was demolished by the time we came to a consensus.
Oftentimes, our indecisiveness meant we were overruled by my dad, who usually picked blockbuster action movies or old science fiction films—which was when I was first introduced to the kickassery of Sigourney Weaver in Alien. After seeing Ripley blast away aliens on-screen, I started to seek out more female-centric movies, and for me, that first taste of girl power in film sparked a feminist flame that’s still burning today. Thanks, Dad.
If you’re raising up the next generation of Ripleys, here are a few of the top girl power movies to watch on your next family movie night.
1. 10 Things I Hate About You
A seminal classic for all ’90s gals, 10 Things I Hate About You features one of the most memorable movie feminists of all time: Kat Stratford. In the first few on-screen glimpses of Kat, we see her blasting music by Joan Jett (she really doesn’t give a damn about her reputation), dissing Hemingway (warranted), and reading The Bell Jar at home (authored by the queen of angst herself, Sylvia Plath). This movie inspired a whole generation of feminists and showed that there’s a lot more to life than finding love—and when you do find love, you don’t have to change yourself to make it work.
Moana may be a children’s movie, but you don’t have to be a child to think it rocks—or to notice the feminist undertones. After all, Moana took it upon herself to save her whole village, sailed a boat—for the first time ever, might I add!—across the ocean, insisted that the demigod Maui (aka Dwanye “The Rock” Johsnon) join her, and helped restore the heart of Te Fiti when The Rock couldn’t get the job done. In the end, Moana is all about showing girls that with determination and resilience, they can do whatever they set their hearts to.
3. Miss Representation
If your kids are teenagers or pre-teens, then Miss Representation is a deeply engaging choice for movie night. The documentary details the lack of representation that women face in media—and how that same issue is reflected when it comes to women in power. While the film isn’t necessarily introducing anything new, it will start some powerful conversations about what it means to be a woman in this day and age.
Alien is a classic on its own, but it wouldn’t be half the movie it is without the badass heroics of Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver). A science-fiction horror movie from the 1970s and likely a favorite amongst parents everywhere, Alien follows the crew of a spaceship that must face a horrifying (and gooey) alien entity that’s set on hunting them down one by one. Ripley is one of the only two females aboard, and it’s hard not to throw up your fist when you see her gun-wielding, alien-blasting heroics.
Bonus: The sequel promises just as much badass femininity, as well, so make it a double feature!
5. 9 to 5
For an old school movie night with a heavy dose of girl power, check out 9 to 5. Headlined by a rockstar cast of Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, and Lily Tomlin, the movie follows three women who, fed up with their sexist, egotistical boss, decide to get revenge. While some critics argue that the movie makes feminism into a caricature, the central message of solidarity and workplace politics remains surprisingly relevant to this day. If anything, it’ll give you a chance to talk to your kids about the legacies of the film’s stars.
Read more: 6 Movies Featuring Kick-Ass Working Women
6. She's Beautiful When She's Angry
Feminism is marked by waves, starting with the first wave in the 19th century all the way to the fourth wave in the 2000s. Each informs the other, both expanding and condensing on aspects of the fight for equality. She's Beautiful When She's Angry is a documentary that follows some of the most prominent women in second wave feminism during the 1960s—names that many people may not know to this day—and will help spark a discussion about the history of women’s rights and the battles that are still being waged.
7. A League of Their Own
If you need to be convinced of the cultural significance of A League of Their Own (besides the fact that it stars Tom Hanks, Geena David, and Madonna), the film had such an impact that it’s actually been preserved by the Library of Congress. Following the journey of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League during World War II, the movie illustrates the depth and layers of femininity and the importance of female friendship—and also shows that you can still make a movie about women without centering it on a romance. Plus, that one catch by Geena Davis is cool as hell.
8. Iron Jawed Angels
Perhaps it’s a little on the nose to suggest Iron Jawed Angels as girl power movie, but the film is packed full of important history and lessons for girls of all ages—not to mention the star-studded cast of powerhouse females. If you’re training up a few young suffragettes, Iron Jawed Angels will give them the background and inspiration they need to storm Washington and demand equal rights.
9. Legally Blonde
What starts as a romantic comedy, Legally Blonde quickly evolves into a story about a woman shattering expectations and carving out her own path for success, despite constant criticism and rampant sexism. Elle Woods completely reverses the stereotype of the dumb blond sorority girl that she’s supposed to be, proving that how you look and what other people think about you should never stop you from chasing your dream—or solving a murder. You’re welcome, Ali Larter.
Another movie that appears vapid on the surface level, Clueless is truly a girl power movie in disguise. While plenty of people on the internet disagree (a new and exciting thing for people on the internet to do) about whether or not the film is feminist, it’s hard to watch ditzy Cher’s transformation into a strong woman and not feel inspired. Sure, the women in the movie care a lot about looks and boys, but at the core of the film, you’ll find messages about female friendship, confidence, and the strength of femininity.
11. The Help
While mainly centered on the Civil Rights Movement and racial relations throughout the 1960s, The Help showcases a myriad of incredibly brave and trailblazing women. The film follows several young white socialite women and their relationships with their African American maids. When one young white journalist, played by Emma Stone, decides to write an exposé on the racism the maids endure every day, there unfolds a plot rich with lessons on female courage, integrity, sisterhood, and determination to do what's right.
12. She's The Man
This belly-laugh-inducing film features a strong-willed young woman who wants to play soccer no matter what it takes, despite her mother's wishes for her to become a prim and proper debutante. When Viola Hastings' school soccer team is cut, she takes her twin brother's place at school, and pretends to be him while taking his spot on the soccer team. Hastings, played by Amanda Bynes, proves that girls can do anything boys can do—and better—by scoring the winning goal for the boys' team, shocking them into having the utmost respect for her.
It's no secret that Frida Kahlo has become a universal feminist icon over time. Salma Hayek plays the surrealist Mexican painter brilliantly, chronicling both her professional and private life in the film. Kahlo faced constant physical and mental hardships yet never shied away from sharing her experiences through her art—she turned her pain into passion. Throughout the entire movie, she proves to be a role model for young women, by refusing to be a victim, sharing relatable female experiences, and defying gender steretypes.
Now get watching before that popcorn gets cold!