What is a girl gang film? Well, at the heart of it is the “Bad Girl.” Usually, that means a woman who breaks the rules—or rather, the rules somebody else has made. They can range from homicidal go-go dancers to cliquish high-schoolers and even Birds of Prey, but are all united in sticking it to “The Man.” But for some reason, you still want to be their best friend.
The bad girl trope is often explored within the sexploitation genre, but in the case of more modern hits and reflections, we see empowered women commanding their way to victory with muscle cars, violence, and sex positivity. Most recently, we’ve got Birds of Prey, in which Harley (Margot Robbie) and her kick-ass team of femmes enact justice against the wrongdoers of the world. In fact, they inspired us to navigate what it means to be a bad girl. Here are our picks of some girl gang films you have to check out.
Bad girls can be anything from cliquish high-schoolers to career criminals, but the girl gang in The Craft is composed of a band of witches—in a perfect nod to the goth scene that raged in the ‘90s as well as the soft spot in our hearts for the occult, warmed by telekinesis and spell-casting.
When new girl Sarah (Robin Tunney) comes to school, a group of witches finds the fourth to complete their circle, granting them powers they never had before. With the exception of the one “real” witch (because power has to be hereditary, I guess?), they ultimately power trip their way to ruin, as bad girls attending Catholic schools sometimes do. Blumhouse is currently working on a reboot of The Craft, so we can expect even more entries into the bad girl witch club.
The archetype of the bad girl is the heart of the Sexploitation Girl Gang sub-genre. But in his contribution, director Russ Meyer—a former Playboy centerfold photographer—may have made a feminist hit. B. Ruby Rich, a famed lesbian film critic, initially wrote off the film in the 1960s as an exploitative skin flick that objectified women, but upon reflection decades later, she dubbed it an empowering film. It’s a cult classic, featuring homicidal go-go dancers using the power of their enormous breasts to fight the patriarchy.
Although not classified as a traditional girl gang flick, Mad Max: Fury Road’s group of female fighters have definitely earned their place in the pantheon. Having escaped sexual slavery and on the run from Immortan Joe, these women start as victims and turn into warriors determined to fight for their freedom at all costs—with the help of Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a gang of motorcycle-riding femme warriors, and of course the titular Mad Max (Tom Hardy). While girl gangs are usually fighting against something, sometimes it’s about fighting for something. Yourself.
Heathers is all about that brilliant new student Veronica who gets recruited into the cool kid group at school creepily known as the Heathers—because they’re literally all named Heather. Yeah, it’s weird. Veronica, who realizes she hates these girls, ends up befriending a sociopathic boy named J.D. and before you know it there’s murder, (fake) suicide, power struggles, croquet, and some elaborate plans to eventually get out of trouble.
In Death Proof, a cold, calculating man uses his gorgeous car to lure in beautiful women, only to then have it become a weapon against his newfound prey. He gets away with it, at first, but then messes with the wrong group of empowered stunt driving women; they save not only themselves but avenge who knows how many others. Of note: The movie was part of the Grindhouse double-feature from Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino—alongside Planet Terror, which featured Rose McGowan as a go-go dancer who becomes a living weapon after attaching a machine gun to her amputated leg.
Minus some of the trite storylines and occasional pandering to the male gaze, these types of movies can be a fun, wild ride. In the case of the films on our list, and of course Birds of Prey, they can even be empowering.
Birds of Prey arrives in theaters on February 7.
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