On May 24, 1991, Thelma and Louise whipped out a long-loaded, never-before-fully-fired weapon of female outrage and blasted huge holes through pop culture’s old myths and notions regarding women who take charge, take aim, and take care of any situation at hand. A quarter century of liberation since then has poured through the positive wounds in those antiquated standards and, gloriously, it continues on with no sign of slowing down.
In the film, Southern best friends Thelma (Geena Davis) and Louise (Susan Sarandon) hit the road in a 1966 Ford Thunderbird convertible. Thelma needs to get away from her nastily manipulative husband, while Louise just needs a break from waitressing. After stopping at a roadhouse, a creep attempt to sexually assault Thelma. Louise stops the crime by shooting him dead. The pair then go on the lam, having an open-air adventure in which they change themselves, strike blow after blow against sexism (including blowing up the tank of a misogynist truck driver), and speed toward an unforgettable ending wherein Thelma and Louise go out on their own terms.
Immediately, Thelma and Louise packed theaters, ignited a global conversation, and turned Davis and Sarandon into enduring feminist icons. What might have been just another road movie with action flourishes changed the game permanently by focusing on female heroes who shot straight—literally and figuratively—and blazed their own destiny. In short order, the stars appeared on the cover of Time magazine accompanied by the headline: “Why Thelma and Louise Strikes a Nerve.”
Thelma and Louise’s raging road trip alchemized feminist anger’s dark energy into an ebullient multiplex blockbuster, and while it didn’t launch a succession of (or even more) righteously outraged “women’s pictures,” Thelma and Louise has never stopped impacting and shaping mainstream entertainment.
Recently, The Hollywood Reporter reunited Davis and Sarandon to talk about the movie’s legacy.
DAVIS: What’s struck me is that there were two fantastic equal parts for women. Also, I don’t think any of us knew it would strike a nerve the way it did.
SARANDON: I’ve always thought of it as a cowboy movie with women instead of guys on horses. But it was pretty shocking that people were so threatened by it. I didn’t see that coming at all. Like somehow we had backed into the territory long held only by white heterosexual men of a certain age.
At present, in our comic-book movie world, the heroines of Star Wars, The Hunger Games, etc. are no simply “superheroes,” but properly pissed off, hands-on, ass-kickers who represent the latest and, due to their connection to young audiences, perhaps the most influential incarnations of Thelma and Louise to date.
Just a spoonful of fantasy makes the double-barreled enforcement of “no means no” in the most delightfully liberating way—and out here in the real world, where it counts. Here now are some of the very fiercest daughters of Thelma and Louise.
Buffy Summers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Born initially in the 1992 comedic Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie where she was portrayed by Kirsty Swanson, defender of humanity Buffy Summers took on more gravitas and forever changed agents of female justice when Sarah Michelle Gellar took on the part for the beloved TV series.
While Thelma and Louise only had one another to turn to while on the run, Buffy was able to stand her ground and assemble a team, dominated by other young women, to thwart otherworldly evil in a manner that inspired countless viewers to do the same here in our world.
Xena and Gabrielle of Xena: Warrior Princess
In an anything-is-possible landscape rooted in ancient Greek mythology, towering titan Xena (Lucy Lawless) and petite powerhouse Gabrielle (Renee O’Connor) travel as a twosome righting wrongs, battling fantastical creatures, and bonding through fierceness affection for one another to face down and triumph over every imaginable adversary.
Thelma and Louise have each other. Xena and Gabrielle choose each other. Both duos defined the unbeatable power of fused female fury.
Sydney Bristow of Alias
The ABC espionage Alias series chronicled the globetrotting, butt-stomping, no-stopping derring-do of CIA operative Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) who infiltrated a worldwide criminal organization as a double agent.
Tapping into Thelma and Louise’s ability to improvise and come up with dynamic solutions using just what was immediately on hand, Sydney saved the world time and again, combining intelligence, martial arts expertise, and indomitable female spirit throughout each of her spectacular adventures.
Leticia “Letty” Ortiz of The Fast and the Furious
As Letty, Michelle Rodriguez holds nothing back in the Fast and Furious film series. As with Thelma and Louise’s convertible Thunderbird, once Letty takes the wheel of a vehicle, you can only picture her driving it, and you know she’s going to pilot that machine to all-out victory, every time.
Abernathy Ross, Kim Mathis, and Zoe Bell of Death Proof
Death Proof (2007) is a subversive take on slasher films, as well as rape-and-revenge grindhouse epics such as I Spit on Your Grave (1977). Instead of a knife, though, psycho villain Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell) uses his car to destroy women—that is, until he crosses paths, literally, with Abernathy Ross (Rosario Dawson), Kim Mathis (Tracie Thomas), and stuntwoman Zoe Bell as herself.
As with the vile thug who attempts to force himself on Thelma, Stuntman Mike initially puts this trio through hair-raising hell. Like Louise, though, they rise up as one and smash any threat that Stuntman Mike might pose ever again.
Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games
The world of The Hunger Games forces Katniss Everdeen (Michelle Lawrence) into unbearable circumstances that, regardless, she sees too many of her fellow citizens, especially female attempting to bear. With the same spark that launched Thelma and Louise on their journey, Katniss stands up to the way things are and lays her life on the line to achieve a far better way that things can be.
Beatrice “Tris” Prior of Divergent
Everyone thought they knew Thelma and Louise. The former was a put-upon housewife while the latter was a hash-house server with a deadbeat musician boyfriend. And that’s all anyone thought they could ever be. Thelma and Louise, of course, proved all such presumptions wrong—dead wrong.
Similarly, in the Divergent series, Tris is forced into a world where the powers that be determine who you must be. And that’s something by which Tris simply cannot and, for the sake of her self, must not. So she doesn’t.
Jessica Jones of Jessica Jones
Thelma and Louise were movie heroines like none who came before them. Jessica Jones is a comic book protagonist like none before her. Just as Thelma and Louise, in response to shattering cruelty and violence, take up arms and charged off to forge their own destiny, Jessica Jones does the same after post post-traumatic stress disorder cuts short her career as a superhero. She opens a detective agency and campaigning for justice in ways that unfold as she experiences them.
Krysten Ritter brings Jessica to life on the great Netflix series of the same name. Thelma and Louise would love it.
Imperator Furiosa of Mad Max: Fury Road
Post-apocalyptic sci-fi cinema’s most astonishing tower of female power to date, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) emulates Thelma and Louise’s defiance of male constriction in the most spectacular way possible—by conning and conquering evil dictator Immortan Joe. She steals his bride-slaves, unites with a tribe of woman bikers, and leads a charge that liberates all of her people. On top of all that, Imperator Furiosa even makes Mad Max seem like a supporting character in his own movie!
Rey of Star Wars
Thelma and Louise continually scrounge, scrap, and pull off whatever stops they can to realize their own destiny. In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, young hero Rey (Daisy Ridley) has been doing that her entire life as a scavenger abandoned as a child on a planet full of threats, too many of which are presumptuously male.
As a self-taught fighter and pilot, Rey defends herself, gets her comrades to safety, rightly inherits the driver’s seat of the Millennium Falcon, and embarks on an intergalactic journey of action and enlightenment that, no doubt, will conclude on her terms and her terms alone just as surely as Thelma and Louise’s did—only don’t count on her going out in quite the same way.