10 Iconic Movies That Pass the Bechdel Test

As the gold standard for measuring female representation in movies, the Bechdel test asks just three simple questions.
On the set of "Alien" (1979).
On the set of "Alien" (1979). / Sunset Boulevard/GettyImages

Hollywood has made measurable strides toward representation and equality in films over the past few decades, but even so, women still fall behind both behind the camera and in front of it.

Even just looking at top-grossing family films, a 2017 study from the Geena Davis Institute found that male leads outnumber female leads, despite women making up about 51 percent of the U.S. population. Not only that, but fewer than 10 percent of action movies have female leads. Adventure and comedy films fare almost as poorly: Only 23.6 and 28.7 percent feature female protagonists. That’s especially notable considering that—as Barbie proved—movies that star women actually can make good money.

If Hollywood wants to turn these figures around, they’d be wise to employ the Bechdel test. Since its creation in 1985 by indie cartoonist Alison Bechdel, it has become the gold standard for measuring gender equality in media. Simply put, the Bechdel test asks just three simple questions: Does a movie have at least two named female characters in it? Do they proceed to talk to each other? And most importantly, do they talk about something other than a man?

While that all might sound reasonable enough, the fact is that only about 57 percent of movies pass muster—even recent hits like Oppenheimer and Killers Of The Flower Moon fall short. Fortunately, there are a good deal of classics that do meet the standard, from sports comedies to sci-fi epics. Below are 10 iconic movies that pass the Bechdel test.

Alien (1979)

Just because Alien has a kick-ass female lead in Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley doesn’t mean it automatically passes the Bechdel test. Still, the movie—which Ranker readers recently voted as the top Bechdel test-passing film of all time—manages to squeak by because of a few minor conversational exchanges between Weaver and Veronica Cartwright’s Lambert, including a two-line exchange about the titular monster and another where they do a back-and-forth about how they’ll escape their perilous situation. 

While Alien often gets brought up in conversations about the power of female leads, the film still depicts Lambert as weak, features Weaver stripping down to her underwear, and basically everyone dies because no one believes that Ripley, the highest-ranking female officer on board the commercial space tug Nostromo, knows what the hell she’s doing. Now that’s frustrating.

Matilda (1996)

This 1996 adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s novel doesn’t get everything right—especially in book form, where it’s genuinely pretty horrible to plus-sized people. But the cinematic version passes the Bechdel test with flying colors due to conversations between Matilda (Mara Wilson) and her lovely teacher Miss Honey (Embeth Davidtz). 

Though interactions between kids don’t really count toward the test, if they did, Matilda’s chats with best friend Lavender (Kiami Davael) and classmate Hortensia (Kira Spencer-Hesser) would also work in the film’s favor, given that they’re generally talking about the horrid Miss Trunchbull (Pam Ferris). Plus, there’s the fact that Miss Honey and Miss Trunchbull talk about things that don’t involve men, either. As perhaps this list’s best example of a film that exceeds all Bechdel test standards, Matilda is about the power of learning, of getting out of horrible domestic situations, and of women—young and old—who go out of their way to support each other.

The Silence Of The Lambs (1991)

To most casual observers, The Silence Of The Lambs focuses on the relationship between a rookie FBI agent (Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling) and a cannibalistic serial killer (Anthony Hopkins’s Hannibal Lecter) who may help her catch another killer (Ted Levine’s Buffalo Bill). Still, it manages to eke out a passing grade on the Bechdel test thanks to, yet again, a few minor conversations.

In one exchange between Starling and fellow trainee Ardelia Mapp (played by Kasi Lemmons), the pair talk about one of Buffalo Bill’s victims, trying to figure out if there is a pattern to the murders. Though the chat is related to a man, it’s not exclusively about that man, although some argue that isn’t quite enough for it to pass. Luckily for defenders of this movie as a feminist tale, there are at a few other instances of woman-to-woman interactions, including one where a jogging Starling and Mapp quiz each other about FBI number codes, as well as a brief exchange between Starling and the first victim’s friend Stacy (Lauren Roselli).

A League Of Their Own (1992)

Another classic that Ranker voters believe passes the Bechdel test is 1992’s A League Of Their Own. While it features more than a few conversations about lovers, husbands, and dads, this feel-good movie about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League is, at its core, about the bonds forged between women, especially when they’re up against adversity. Sisters Dottie (Geena Davis) and Kit (Lori Petty) run hot and cold with each other, but Doris (Rosie O’Donnell) and Mae (Madonna) are buds from the get-go. It’s no wonder this movie holds such a place in so many women’s hearts, even now, decades after its release.

The Wizard Of Oz (1939)

When The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz was first published in 1900, Dorothy was depicted as very young. Though her age isn’t expressly stated, she seems to be about 10, a little country girl sucked into a wild, dream-like situation. In the 1939 movie she’s aged up a couple years (one of several big differences between the book and film), with 16-year-old Judy Garland cast as the young Dorothy Gale. As such, Dorothy’s on-screen conversations remain romance-free. 

Her three most popular on-screen counterparts—the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), Tin Man (Jack Haley), and Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr)—are all played by adult men. Still, Dorothy gets in a few conversations with the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) about dropping the house on the Wicked Witch of the East, and with Glinda, the Good Witch of the North (Billie Burke) about how she managed to land in Oz in the first place. And though Glinda is a fluffy pink confection who’s pretty much beauty personified, she does manage to give Dorothy clear instructions about how to get out of Oz—something the bumbling Wizard can’t even stumble into.

The Terminator (1984) and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)

Here’s a fun fact: While not every Terminator movie passes the Bechdel test, at least two do: 1984’s The Terminator and 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. The first one passes for a couple reasons, namely due to a conversation where Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor talks with her roommate Ginger (Bess Motta) about her pet iguana, and another exchange with a fellow waitress who tells her about the first female victim in the T-800’s killing spree.

Terminator 3 also passes because of pets, with Kate Brewster (Claire Danes) and Betsy (Moira Harris) exchanging pleasantries when the latter brings her dog into the vet’s office, believing it’s sick.

Gone with the Wind (1939)

From stealing her sister’s love to flitting about with a general air of brattiness, Scarlett O’Hara is certainly no sweet Georgia peach in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. Still, the 1939 film adaptation manages—perhaps shockingly—to pass the Bechdel test thanks to conversations Scarlett (played by Vivien Leigh) and other women have on-screen about charity, the Civil War, and proper party behavior.

There’s also a heated exchange between Scarlett, Suellen (Evelyn Keyes), and Carreen (Ann Rutherford) while the sisters work in the field outside Tara, their plantation, and are forced to pick their own cotton for a change. Though it passes the Bechdel test, it really doesn’t make up for the problematic ways in which Gone With The Wind romanticizes life in the antebellum South.

Die Hard (1988)

Sure, 1988’s shoot-em-up classic Die Hard is mostly about Bruce Willis’s John McClane and his quest to thwart a group of skyscraper-seizing terrorists, but that doesn’t mean women aren’t part of the film. McClane’s estranged wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) plays a prominent role and is the reason why it passes.

While the two scenes that help Die Hard do it have undergone some scrutiny from Bechdel test purists, they do technically qualify. In one, Holly and young daughter Lucy (Taylor Fry)—a minor, so not technically a “woman” as the test stipulates—chat on the phone about when Holly is coming home. In another, Holly and her secretary Ginny (Dustyn Taylor) talk about joining the holiday party, albeit with a passing mention of the very male Ebenezer Scrooge. Still, we’ll take it! 

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Quentin Tarantino has occasionally been criticized for his portrayal of women in movies, and while Pulp Fiction passes the Bechdel test, it’s sort of on a technicality. There’s only one scene in the whole movie that would qualify, and it’s when Jody (Rosanna Arquette) and Trudi (Bronagh Gallagher) are having a discussion about piercings. 

Bechdel test aficionados have long debated whether or not this conversation truly counts toward the film’s grade, as near its end, John Travolta’s Vincent, who is seated nearby, butts in with a question about why someone would get a tongue stud. Jody replies with a fairly sexual explanation, leading some fans to question whether a woman can mention a sex act typically involving a man without technically talking about men. 

It’s an interesting debate, because while Ranker voters think the flick passes, some still disagree. But it all proves how fluid—and frustrating—the rubric can really be, and showcases how tough it is to even have to try to figure any of this out, as this is something you wouldn’t have to do if movies were all made in an equitable and interesting way. After all, as one BechdelTest.com poster puts it on the Pulp Fiction page, “if there’s only a single conversation a few seconds long in an entire movie and we can’t even clearly distinguish if it’s about a/her guy, the test [has] failed.” 

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