No shade to Netflix, but a lot of movies on there aren't great. The number of times I've started a random movie on Netflix only to give up on it ten minutes in is embarrassing, for both myself and the streaming platform.
What makes a good movie is subjective, I suppose. But I find that the good ones typically give women roles beyond background noise. So, in order to narrow down the gems, I use the Bechdel Test.
What's the Bechdel Test, you ask? In 1985, cartoonist Alison Bechdel published a strip titled "The Rule" (see below) for her comic Dykes To Watch Out For, in which one woman explains to another that she'll only watch a film if it meets three requirements:
- It has to have at least two women in it.
- They have to speak to each other.
- The topic of the conversation has to be about anything other than men.
And like that, the Bechdel test was born. Bechdel later said that the idea came from her friend, Liz Wallace. As such, the test is often referred to as the "Bechdel–Wallace test."
Of course, the test is somewhat arbitrary and by no means a way to designate whether a film is feminist, but if we're watching movies that can't be bothered to include two women talking about literally anything but men, we're letting filmmakers get away with a pretty big disservice to their audiences.
So in the name of feminism and never leaving your bed, here are nine movies new to Netflix this August that pass the Bechdel Test:
1. Steel Magnolias (Aug 1)
With a cast that includes Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Julia Roberts, Sally Field, and more, it’d be an affront to both logic and humanity if Steel Magnolia didn’t pass the Bechdel test. Thankfully, it does, and with flying colors. The humorous drama follows a group of women in small town Louisiana as they experience the ups and downs of engagement, marriage, pregnancy, heartbreak, sickness, and death. Throughout the film, we see their growth both as individuals and parts of numerous female relationships, and that certainly requires talking about more than men.
2. P.S. I Love You (Aug 1)
Holly (Hilary Swank) is a 29-year-old woman living in New York’s Lower East Side with her Irish husband Gerry (Gerard Butler), until Gerry unexpectedly dies of a brain tumor. Holly’s grieving period includes dissociating from her friends and family as she comes to terms with her husband’s death. On her 30th birthday, however, she is pulled out of her solitude when a cake arrives at her door with a message from her husband, signed “P.S. I love you.” What follows is a string of letters from Gerry, prepared for Holly before his death, that lead her on a journey of travel and trying new things. Holly's friends Denise and Sharon accompany her as she visits Ireland and learns to fish, leaving the three of them with plenty of time to talk about all the things that aren’t men.
3. Secretariat (Aug 1)
Based on the true story of a horse named Secretariat who won the Triple Crown in 1973, the film Secretariat is one of the few sports dramas that features a woman as the lead, with Diane Lane playing Penny Chenery. The film, which focuses on Chenery’s morals and determination as she sees Secretariat to victory, includes multiple conversations between her and her father’s secretary, Elizabeth Hamm, and her daughters, about a range of topics, like her mother’s death and teenage rebellion.
4. Emelie (Aug 2)
I wouldn’t recommend this horror film to anyone who occasionally hires a babysitter, but for those without kids, it’s a pretty thrilling and inconsequential movie. A young, twisted woman named Emelie kidnaps another young woman named Anna and then impersonates her for a babysitting gig. All is well to begin with as she plays games with the kids, but Emelie slowly begins to reveal her very dark tendencies that include asking one of the kids for a tampon as she sits on the toilet, and forcing them to watch their pet snake eat their pet hamster. The kids brush off her strange behavior at first, but as it escalates (she forces the kids to watch their parents’ sex tape), the eldest son, Jacob, realizes just how dangerous she is, and works to protect his siblings from her deranged wrath. The film passes the Bechdel test due to conversations between Emelie and the kids’ usual babysitter, Maggie, who shows up to check on them.
5. The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement (Aug 1)
The Princess Diaries 2 takes place five years after the original. Mia has just graduated from Princeton and is headed back to Genovia, where she is set to reign once her grandmother, the Queen, steps down. Upon her arrival, however, she is told that she must be married within a month in order to become Queen, and a mad scramble to find her a husband follows. The film may seem contrary to feminism, as it appears to revolve around Mia finding a husband, but it's her reluctance and insistence that a queen not need a man to rule that eventually push the Genovian parliament to overturn the “royal marriage” law. Conversations between Mia, the Queen, and her best friend Lily mean that The Princess Diaries 2 passes the Bechdel Test.
6. No Reservations (Aug 1)
Kate Armstrong (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is the intimidating head chef at a trendy downtown restaurant. After her sister is killed in a car accident, Kate's nine-year-old niece moves in with her, and her boss hires another chef at the restaurant for some extra help. Though Kate is initially annoyed by him, she soon finds herself falling for the new chef's charm, just like everyone else in the kitchen. No Reservations passes the Bechdel Test in numerous scenes, from Kate's complaints about customers who aren't pleased with her cooking, to bumps in the road as she raises and grieves alongside her niece.
7. Million Dollar Baby (Aug 1)
Million Dollar Baby passes the Bechdel Test due to a couple scenes between its main character, Maggie (Hilary Swank), and her mother and sister. The majority of the film, however, involves scenes between Maggie and a man named Frankie (Clint Eastwood), but it warrants inclusion for being a sports drama with a fantastic woman lead. Frankie is a tough gym owner and boxing coach who refuses to train Maggie because she is “too old” (she is in her early 30s). Determined, Maggie works out in Frankie’s gym every day until he finally agrees to coach her, and she goes on to become an extremely successful boxer until she is severely injured. Her injury, which (spoiler alert) leaves her quadriplegic, sends Frankie in an angry, sad spiral. I won’t ruin the rest, but if you’re looking for a happy ending, this isn’t the movie for you.
8. The Golden Compass (Aug 1)
This gorgeous fantasy adventure stars a haunting Nicole Kidman alongside Dakota Blue Richards and Daniel Craig. It passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors, thanks to an abundance of supporting actresses and their conversations with Kidman’s character, Mrs. Coulter, and Richards’ character, Lyra. The film takes place in an alternate universe where each person has an animal companion wherein a part of their spirit lives. Lyra, who is an orphan, is invited up North by Mrs. Coulter, who is later revealed to be her mother. Lyra soon realizes that Mrs. Coulter is the head of an organization that has been kidnapping local children, and the rest of the film is dedicated to Lyra’s quest to defeat Mrs. Coulter and her evil companions.
9. House of Deadly Secrets (Aug 1)
Sometimes you need a horror movie with a tacky, Lifetime feel, and in those times House of Deadly Secrets has your back. The film follows a mother and daughter who move into a new home seeking a fresh start, only to find danger lurking all around them. Various scenes between the mother (Angie Patterson), her daughter, and the strangers and neighbors that seem to be unable to stay away from their door mean the film easily passes the Bechdel Test.
This list will be updated for each month going forward.