Cult Movies: Our connection to Thelma & Louise remains strong even after 30 years of parody and homage

Ralph McLean

Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon in Thelma & Louise

Thelma & Louise

IT'S said you can tell the status of a movie by how much it's been spoofed down the years. If that's true, Thelma & Louise must be one of the most important films ever made, as it's been ruthlessly ripped off, imitated and spoofed more than just about any other movie released before or since.

Now 30 years old, it's become cinematic shorthand for anyone seeking to make a point about female empowerment and/or feminism in the painfully male world of the road movie, or just raise a smile at the thought of two women taking their lives into their own hands and heading out into the wild, blue yonder.

You know you've connected with a global audience when the worlds of cinema, advertising, pop music and even The Simpsons have seen fit to reference you.

Watching Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon hit the road in that 1966 Thunderbird today is an odd experience though. The fashions and format may feel dated for sure, and there's a familiarity about the set up brought on by decades of parody that makes it slightly uncomfortable, but there's a timelessness to the message of freedom that still resonates in the 21st century. Perhaps even more so than it would have in 1991.

Written by Callie Khouri and directed by Ridley Scott, Thelma & Louise remains a classic adventure story about two women who break away from their rubbish lives, break the law in spectacular and gruesome circumstances (coming across a rapist and killing him) and then take to the open road seeking new horizons on the American dream via the sprawling chasm of the Grand Canyon.

The film also provides a brief but memorable role for Brad Pitt

Like all good films that have wheedled their way into the public consciousness, it's full of great dialogue, memorable moments and iconic performances. Both Davis and Sarandon are note perfect in their roles and the chemistry on screen feels genuine and unforced. The film even boasts a shirtless Brad Pitt as a robber to boost its cult credentials even further. It's also got a truly unforgettable ending that I won't spoil on the off-chance there's a single person on this earth who hasn't seen it yet.

Some critics in '91 criticised the film's dubious morals: all that criminal behaviour and rowdy whooping was traditionally the preserve of men in road movies after all, so it must have come as a bit of a shock at the very least to see two women taking on such anti-social roles, but the film has much to say about the treatment of women in society, from their entrapment in joyless marriages to the casual sexism they face day-in and day-out on the American road.

We still care about Thelma and Louise because they're fully rounded characters and we believe in them. We may have seen the scenario played out in countless films, adverts and pop videos since the film first appeared, but the connection which first drew us to these figures remains strong.

Seeing tough, identifiable women on screen is rare enough in 2021. Imagine how rare it must have been 30 years ago.

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