Although female-led films are on the rise, there’s still no accounting for how Hollywood often treats its heroines. It appears, you see, that screenwriters continue to fall back on stereotypes when depicting the fairer sex. After all, how many women do you know who can fight in high heels or run in pumps at a speed that would make Usain Bolt blush? How many sleep with full faces of makeup that mysteriously remain flawless even after hours of shut eye? And is it realistic that most of the Disney princesses have dead, barely mentioned mothers? Well, those are just some of the many things that the movies get totally wrong about women.
20. Heroines are always gorgeous
Unfortunately, in most cases, women who want to make it in Hollywood have to be at least fairly good-looking. And as a result, characters who aren’t supposed to be pretty end up being played by drop-dead gorgeous actresses in film adaptations. Not only that, but any perceived physical flaws are either modified or ignored completely. Take Mortal Engines’ Hester Shaw, for instance; while the original book reveals that she has a very noticeable facial scar and only one eye, the movie version sees her with two eyes and a blemish that doesn’t really diminish her beauty.
More problematically, this occasionally applies to real-life people who are portrayed in biopics. And this was the case with Joan Clarke – the mathematics expert who appeared in The Imitation Game. You see, the actual Joan was said to not be particularly attractive; indeed, a co-worker once harshly described her as looking like “the back end of a bus.” In the movie, however, she was played by the very good-looking Keira Knightley. So, where’s the sense of reality?
19. Women can’t drive
Women are no worse at driving than men, and statistics bear that out. But if you paid attention to films – particularly older ones – you’d think that every woman at the wheel was a halfwit. What’s more, for all the expert female drivers in movies – not least Letty in the Fast and Furious franchise – jokes about lady motorists persist on screen.
Even the beloved family classic Chitty Chitty Bang Bang falls prey to this stereotype. “If women want to drive motor cars, they should learn to operate one,” Caractacus Potts tells Truly Scrumptious at one point. Luckily, these days, a comment like that would probably be met with an eye-roll if not a pointed word or two.
18. Women wake up looking flawless
Movie women often seem to have some magical power that grants them the ability to wake up looking beautiful. In reality, though, this is rarely the case, as anyone who’s emerged from bed with messed-up hair and eye gunk will tell you. And the notion of waking up with lipstick still on and perfectly applied would be laughable to most women – not least because the cosmetics would have likely rubbed off onto the pillow.
Fortunately, this trope is being subverted a little now. In hit animation Frozen, for instance, Anna wakes up looking a complete mess – just as most women do. Then there’s the fact that men in films also occasionally emerge from slumber with not a hair out of place as well as a noticeable absence of beard stubble. Maybe it’s time to follow the animators’ lead?
17. Women can turn evil when they lose a man
There’s a particular stereotype in film that involves a woman’s life revolving entirely around a man. And when the female character inevitably loses her object of her affections, she goes off the rails and may even try to murder him. Fatal Attraction gave audiences a word to describe this person: “the bunny boiler,” after a crime that Glenn Close’s character commits in that movie.
It should be noted, though, that other films have used the “bunny boiler” stereotype and run with it. My Super Ex-Girlfriend for example, jazzed up the trope by giving the obsessive woman superpowers. Yet Glenn Close regrets that she helped spawn the concept. In 2017 she told The New York Times that the ending of Fatal Attraction “[made] a character [she] loved into a murdering psychopath.”
16. Women don’t discuss things other than men
There’s a particular threshold for film critics called the Bechdel Test, which was named after its creator, Alison Bechdel. And for a film to pass the test, two or more named female characters need to talk about something other than a man. Yet while this bar may seem rather low, a surprisingly large number of films – even the Twilight movies – don’t clear it.
Yes, plenty of female-led films that are otherwise critically acclaimed still flunk the Bechdel Test – although some are on the borderline. La La Land, for instance, is thought by some to fail on a technicality, as most of its female characters are only named in the credits. So, if you’re an aspiring screenwriter, avoid this doom by making sure that you properly flesh out the women in your work.
15. Every woman wants to be a mother
Motherhood is hard, of course, and mothers are naturally worthy of respect. Not every woman wants kids, though, and that decision should be respected, too. Alas, movies often fall short in this regard. You see, women who are at best neutral towards having children often end up with babies by the time that the credits roll. And this even tends to apply to those who flat-out announce that they will never have children.
Jurassic World falls victim to this trope via the character of Claire, who initially says that she’s not sure she wants children. But her sister claims that she’ll ultimately change her mind, and by the end Claire is a surrogate parent to her nephews. The movie came under quite a lot of fire for this plot point, too, with some saying that the storyline was downright sexist. The fact that the film’s other non-motherly character, Zara, gets eaten by a dinosaur didn’t really help matters, either.
14. Unequal attractiveness doesn’t work both ways
Another tried-and-tested movie trope sees a relatively unattractive man married to a stunningly beautiful woman – although Hollywood standards usually mean that the male in question isn’t eye-searingly ugly. It’s the sort of thing that usually gets a laugh, too, especially if there’s a more classically handsome guy around. Mark Wahlberg’s character almost explodes in The Other Guys, for example, when he sees that the wife of Will Ferrell’s cop is played by Eva Mendes.
Meanwhile, the opposite state of affairs ?— average-looking woman with extremely attractive man ?— is hardly ever shown on screen. This, of course, is just not true to life, as relationships that last into marriage tend to be based on things other than just looks. And while Hairspray somewhat subverts the trope when plus-size Nikki Blonsky’s Tracy Turnblad gets with Zac Efron’s Link Larkin, Blonsky is far from unattractive herself.
13. Women often get hysterical
Many moons ago, the ancient Greeks believed that the uterus moved around a woman’s body, with this process subsequently bringing on uncontrollable hysteria. And while medical science certainly knows better now, the trope of the hysterical woman still persists on screen – especially in horror movies. Remember the Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer franchises?
The hysterical female character is usually a burden and annoyance to the people around her, too, with a slap to the face seen as the – obviously problematic – remedy. At least the whole stereotype is neatly lampooned in Airplane!, which sees people literally line up to snap a woman out of hysteria – and using sillier and sillier weapons as they go.
12. Childbirth is a cakewalk
You’d never guess that childbirth is actually agony from watching certain movies. When Luke and Leia are born during Star Wars film Revenge of the Sith, for instance, there’s no blood, while their mother, Padme, still looks pretty well made-up throughout, too. But, to be fair, there are some pretty good reasons for this cliché.
Back in Hollywood’s Golden Age, you see, it was forbidden by the Hays Code to show childbirth at all. And, let’s be honest, it does take quite a strong viewer to be able to stomach certain parts of the process. At least Children of Men shows a baby entering the world in a rather realistic manner, although that may make some wince.
11. Slim women are actually fat
The media is often accused of creating negative body images in women and girls, and movies can probably take at least some of that blame. For example, in The Devil Wears Prada the slender Anne Hathaway’s character is damned as being “fat.” And seeing a size six being labeled in this way may just have an effect on impressionable girls.
Even cozy romcom Love Actually sees this kind of body shaming, with Martine McCutcheon’s character, Natalie, called “plumpy” by her own dad. Yet McCutcheon defended the film’s script to Cosmopolitan in 2017. “Every woman thinks there’s something wrong with them when in actual fact… they are perfect and lovely as they are,” she said. “[Natalie] was meant to be the embodiment of that.”
10. Women can’t take showers normally
Women in movies don’t tend to just go about the normal business of getting themselves clean in showers. Instead, they tend to behave as if they know perfectly well that cameras are there and that others are watching. And such scenes aren’t typically intended to reveal that, yes, a woman takes care of her bodily hygiene, either; instead, they’re so the audience can see her almost naked.
The uber-example of this is of course the famous shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, with its subtext of voyeurism and sex having been analyzed by film critics for years. However, when Janet Leigh filmed that scene, she was definitely wearing clothes – despite any assertions to the contrary. “Because the cutting was so fast and accompanied by that music, you’re, like, ‘By God, I saw her nude,’” Leigh told journalist Ed Gross in 1984.
9. Hair and makeup always stay put
The creation of the kick-butt action girl seems to have posed something of a conundrum to filmmakers. After all, people who are fighting tend not to look particularly pretty by the end; they’ll sweat for a start, and they may be covered in blood, too. Their makeup certainly won’t hold either. But as female leads should also be beautiful at all times, what to do? Well, just dishevel the hair slightly and make sure that any injuries a heroine incurs are small!
Even Princess Leia is not immune from this trope. During the first Star Wars film, she goes through a lot — imprisonment, danger and peril – and yet her hair, face and outfit all remain virtually flawless. How on Earth did those buns stay intact?
8. Women care too deeply about their nails
It’s a familiar scene: when an action heroine comes straight out of a fight, all she notices is that she’s broken a nail. Temple of Doom’s Willie Scott and Batman Returns’ Catwoman are among those leading ladies who bother themselves with a trivial concern that no real woman would be thinking of in the moment.
And while there are legitimate reasons for a woman to freak out over breaking a nail – the resulting pain, perhaps, or fear of the risk of an infection – you won’t see such matters discussed much in films. Instead, this cliché is used mostly to highlight the vanity of the female character in question.
7. Most stepmothers are wicked
It’s true that children who have lost their mother may feel that their father’s new partner is trying to replace her. And as a result, kids may well see their stepmom as evil. Yet, of course, stepmothers are typically far from horrendous ogres in real life – despite what big-screen fairy tales may suggest.
Yes, in Cinderella and Snow White, the respective stepmothers have their work cut out for them – or, at least, they certainly do when it comes to earning children’s trust. Luckily, there are still several films that celebrate non-biological parents. Disney’s Enchanted – a parody of the House of Mouse’s own princess movies – even has the main character becoming a stepmother.
6. Younger women always date older men
A number of actresses have spoken out about the inherent ageism of Hollywood. In 2015, for instance, Maggie Gyllenhaal told The Wrap that at 37 she’d been dismissed for a role in which she would portray a 55-year-old man’s lover. Rather astonishingly, though, she was considered suitable to be the romantic interest to a then 65-year-old Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart. And that’s by far the only example of a woman being paired with a man decades her senior.
Plus, when an age-appropriate couple comes along, they raise eyebrows. When Monica Bellucci was cast in Spectre, for example, the media expressed some astonishment that an “older woman” had scooped a Bond girl role – despite the actress only being three years Daniel Craig’s senior. It was largely business as usual, though, as the other two Bond girls in the film were each a couple of decades younger than Craig.
5. It’s not hard to fight in a skimpy outfit
When female superheroes are dressed up as eye candy, audiences don’t always follow. Catwoman saw Halle Berry forced into a truly ridiculous and highly impractical costume, for instance, and yet the movie was a complete box-office bomb. Yet studios still persist in ensuring that kick-butt women fight while scantily clad.
After Olivia Munn was cast as Psylocke in X-Men: Apocalypse, however, she explicitly chose to wear the clingy leotard that her character sports in comic books. “I can see the way that she’s dressed, but it has nothing to do with how strong she is and how powerful she is,” the star told Collider in 2016. Even so, a one-piece is more practical in battle than Catwoman’s bra and pants.
4. Mothers are simply forgotten
Look closely at Disney movies, and you’ll find something curious: Pocahontas, The Little Mermaid’s Ariel and Aladdin’s Jasmine, to name only a few, are all motherless. And while sometimes late moms are mentioned in passing, these losses have little bearing on the stories being told. It’s almost as though Disney heroines never think about their mothers, in fact.
Nevertheless, it seems that Disney has got the memo, as many of its more recent princess characters have moms that are still alive. And in the live-action remakes of Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, the previously barely remarked upon dead mothers are finally talked about on screen, too.
3. High heels are practical
Rather weirdly, big-screen female warriors who are otherwise sensibly dressed will wear high heels into battle. But why? They’re difficult to walk in, let alone fight in. And perhaps the most bizarre example of this phenomenon comes via 2015 blockbuster Jurassic World, in which Bryce Dallas Howard somehow manages to run away from a T. rex while in pumps that are several inches high.
Still, this trope was given a neat twist in The Dark Knight Rises. In the superhero flick, Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman is mockingly asked by a goon, “Those heels make it hard to walk?” She responds, however, by disabling him with a stiletto boot and then replying, “I don’t know. Do they?”
2. Women don’t have body hair
Even in movies that are seemingly tailor-made for female audiences, women don’t seem to ever have unshaven armpits or legs. In certain ways this is true to real life, of course, but on occasion the smoothness really stands out. Some fans have questioned, for example, why Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman has no body hair – not least because she was shielded from such societal pressures when growing up.
But this particular screen cliché may slowly be phased out. At the very least, Domino from Deadpool 2 openly sports armpit hair, with this coming at the suggestion of actress Zazie Beetz. Only time will tell, then, whether filmmakers let their stars follow in Beetz’s lead.
1. Most women are fine with stalking
Yes, Hollywood movies have implied that stalking and coercive control are perfectly legit ways of proving your devotion. In Passengers, for instance, Chris Pratt’s character Jim decides that he wants to share his life with Jennifer Lawrence’s attractive space colonist. How does he achieve this? By essentially trapping her on a ship with him without her consent. Yikes.
And there’s yet more harassment presented as romance in The Notebook. At one point in the beloved weepie, Ryan Gosling’s Noah warns that he will kill himself if Rachel McAdams’ Allie doesn’t go out with him. Now that’s a big red flag, to say the least. But that’s not all, either; Noah also writes Allie a letter every single day even though she doesn’t want to talk to him. In real life, though, if you ever encounter a Noah or a Jim, run for the hills.
But if Hollywood sometimes gets its female characters wrong, at least it gets its endings right… Right? After all, we love our movie endings to be happy ones. That’s why we cheer when someone kills off the aliens or rescues their long-lost child – or when Johnny pulls Baby out of the corner. The good guys win, all is well, and we leave the theater with the warm and fuzzies.
But if we really sat down and analyzed the endings to some seemingly feel-good flicks, we might discover that they aren’t so happy after all. In fact, several movies have downright tragic conclusions – like the following 20 films, all of which finish on notes that aren’t as cheerful as you may have once assumed…
20. Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004)
In Quentin Tarantino’s two Kill Bill movies, Uma Thurman’s character The Bride proves herself to be the ultimate badass while on her quest for revenge. And in Vol. 2, she succeeds in both locating her daughter and killing off the eponymous Bill – the man who had taken her child. Which sounds great – until you think about the fact that the kid doesn’t know her mom at all. And now she’s lost her father figure into the bargain, too.
19. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Michel Gondry’s quirky Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind sees Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet’s characters both erase any recollections of their painful relationship, only for the pair to meet and start seeing each other again. And although at the end of the film the couple have realized what has previously happened between them, they nevertheless decide to stay together. Sweet? Maybe, but considering how things turned out last time, this new romance seems doomed to fail.
18. Independence Day (1996)
It may seem inconceivable that Independence Day ends on anything else than a high note. Earth has just been saved from a vengeful bunch of aliens, after all. But, oh wait, that’s right: millions of people have been completely wiped out. Yikes. And how can any kind of order ever be restored after such mass devastation? Well, that’s a question for another day, it appears…
17. Superman Returns (2006)
Don’t be fooled by Superman Returns’ conclusion, either. Just think of what happens right before the credits roll: the titular superhero zooms off and abandons his son once more. Yep, Superman’s a deadbeat dad. And we suspect that Lois Lane will have a heck of a time getting alimony out of the Man of Steel, too.
16. Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
It turns out that Silver Linings Playbook’s Tiffany Maxwell is something of a good luck charm for Robert De Niro’s character Pat Solitano Sr. That certainly seems to be the case at the end of the dramedy, when both of Solitano Sr.’s bets come good. And love prevails, too, when Maxwell and Pat Solitano Jr. begin dating. But bipolar disorder and gambling addictions don’t just go away. Let’s hope, then, that at least some of the proceeds from the new restaurant are used to pay for family therapy…
15. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Close Encounters of the Third Kind certainly seems to end happily for Richard Dreyfuss’ character Roy Neary. Indeed, when Neary enters the mothership, he’s realizing his ultimate dream of interacting with aliens. But, uh, what about the wife and kids he just deserts to mingle with the extraterrestrials? Also, remember the people the UFO kicked out back onto Earth? They’ve been missing for decades! Are their loved ones even still alive?
14. The Sound of Music (1965)
The hills are alive! With the sound of… starvation and hypothermia? Because while The Sound of Music’s von Trapps may have escaped the Nazis at the end of the classic film, the reality is that they now have a huge distance to cover on foot to get to civilization. Plus, they have no food, and they’re on a freaking freezing cold mountaintop. And the Germans aren’t likely to look too kindly on the nuns who assisted the family, either.
13. The Village (2004)
At the end of The Village, it’s revealed that the inhabitants of Covington are – gasp – living in modern times! Of course, the majority of the villagers don’t know this, and the Elders don’t want to give the game away, either. Think about it, though: while most of Covington’s citizens may be happier living in ignorance, we bet they’d be even more appreciative of proper medicine that could treat diseases they may very well die of.
12. Forrest Gump (1994)
Forrest Gump’s conclusion should melt even the hardest of hearts: after all, what’s not to love about the relationship between the title character and his son? And a child’s first day of school is usually a happy occasion, too. Then you realize that the kid’s father has a serious developmental disability that may warrant some investigation from Child Protective Services. Oh, and it’s also possible that Forrest Jr. is HIV positive, as the movie seems to suggest that his mother passed away from AIDS.
11. Gravity (2013)
At the climax of Alfonso Cuarón’s spectacular space film Gravity, we see protagonist Dr. Ryan Stone land safely back on Earth. Yes! Except… where is she? And what will she do for food? And how far away is the nearest human who might be able to help her? Still, if she manages to survive, at least she can cash in on her story – and that’s something, right?
10. Baby Driver (2017)
Viewers hungry for a happy ending to Baby Driver may have been more than satisfied by Baby’s apparent release from prison and reunion with Debora. But what are the young couple going to do next for money? Well, crime is all Baby knows, so he might very well end up behind bars again.
9. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
Given that Kramer vs. Kramer’s Ted Kramer clearly loves his son, the ending to the classic ’70s drama pretty much feels right. But while we may be overjoyed to find out that Billy gets to stay with his dad, we can’t ignore the fact that the child’s mom has basically left him all over again. And that’s a rather rough thing to take if you’re a little kid.
8. Jack (1996)
The Francis Ford Coppola-directed Jack stars Robin Williams as a child with a disease that rapidly speeds up the aging process. And the film concludes, rather schmaltzily, with the eponymous lead finally graduating from high school and being accepted by his peers. Sweet – even if Jack is probably going to die many, many years before his buddies.
7. Love and Other Drugs (2010)
Like most rom-coms, Love and Other Drugs ends on a high, as Jamie and Maggie embark on what could be a very happy journey together. Unless you’ve been asleep for most of the film, though, you’ll know that Maggie has Parkinson’s disease. And as that condition is a degenerative one, both her and Jamie’s futures could in fact be rather bleak indeed…
6. Return of the Jedi (1983)
Famously, Return of the Jedi’s climactic conclusion sees Darth Vader, the Emperor and the Death Star all either dead or destroyed. And what’s not to like about good triumphing over evil? Well, maybe the fact that the Empire’s still pretty much intact, and it’s bound to retaliate with force.
5. The Little Mermaid (1989)
Big and small kids alike have been enthralled by The Little Mermaid ever since its release in 1989. And the movie’s glorious ending, which sees Ariel finally get hitched to her prince, is likely key to the Disney flick’s enduring popularity. That’s despite the fact, however, that the mermaid-turned-human will probably never see her family or friends from under the sea ever again. She might as well have joined a cult…
4. Dirty Dancing (1987)
Some might consider Dirty Dancing to have one of the most satisfying endings ever committed to celluloid. Let’s face it, though: what’s going to happen when the music stops? After all, remember, Johnny has been fired – and is Baby going to give up her education just to shack up with this much older, unemployed man? Unlikely. But never mind that; let’s just enjoy that magnificent lift!
3. Back to the Future Part III (1990)
After Marty McFly waves goodbye to the Wild West in Back to the Future Part III, he finally returns to his family. Yay! Except… it isn’t actually a family he knows. Also, his best buddy Doc has disappeared for good. In fact, we almost wish Back to the Future Part IV had been made so that we could have had an actual happy ending to the series.
2. The Matrix Revolutions (2003)
While you may root for the end of the Matrix in The Matrix Revolutions, spare a thought for the humans trapped inside the simulation. They’ll soon find out that everything they’ve ever known was simply cooked up by machines. Oh, and if that weren’t already enough to bring on PTSD, they’ll also realize that any suffering they’ve experienced could have been prevented and was wholly unnecessary. Great.
1. Toy Story 2 (1999)
At the end of Toy Story 2, the plucky toys are finally reunited with their young owner Andy. What could possibly be sad about that? Well, Andy is still going to outgrow his playthings at some point. And even if he does hold on to them in some weird man-boy fashion, he’ll still eventually die. Not even Buzz Lightyear can come to the rescue on that one.