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What Makes a “Chick Movie?”

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While I will be the first to admit to the strangeness of the inquiry, particularly from a guy, I can only say that I ask the question only after my personal research failed to produce a definitive answer. The question is, simply enough, what are the shared qualities of a “chick movie?” Are there certain characteristics or common threads that distinguish movies that appeal, almost completely, to the feminine viewer?

I know there must be, before I ask, because there are some movies that are only viewed by men when required by their significant other. [There are, it goes without saying, certain benefits that, the man hopes, might befall the man after paying these sorts of "dues." However, these are not the subject of this discussion.] I speak of movies that men never talk about (or even admit to actually seeing) with other men but, after their initial viewing, are the topic of female discourse for weeks afterwards. I ask about movies that women take other women to see as a group experience. Movies that women often view multiple times and keep count.

I have spent the past week or so investigating the question from a guy’s point of view. It seems there are common themes that make a movie a “chick flick.” My viewing consisted of several movies that I, from past experience, have come to think of as “chick flicks.” The specimens, certainly not inclusive, I chose to specifically name include:

Steel Magnolias (1989)
Ghost (1990)
Pretty Woman (1990)
Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)
The Notebook (2004)

First, we have to propose some basic rule about what constitutes a “chick movie, hereafter to be denoted as “CM.” The assumption I offer are as follows:

Rule 1: There is no such thing as a sci-fi or horror CM. While fantasy can certainly be used in the storyline (see Ella Enchanted and Princess Bride (I and II), movies that are dominated by technology and, certainly, gore cannot be, by my definition, a CM.

Rule 2: A CM cannot earn the label if the female goes to the movie to see her favorite male star, regardless of the content of the movie. Undoubtedly, female fans of Brad Pitt sat through the interminal “Troy” because he was all muscled-up and showed lots of skin but “Troy” is not, for our purposes, a CM.

Rule 3: While ladies truly love a good romantic comedy, a true CM cannot be a full-on comedy. Take for example “How to Lose a Guy in 28 Days.” It fits many of the criteria of a CM (no guy would see it with a group of guys – unless they have a full-throttle Kate Hudson thing going, and no guy would certainly ever discuss the movie with other guys or admit to having seen it). The same may be said for Legally Blonde I and II. I do not, for my purposes, include these in my sample.

So, what are the characteristics of a CM?

1. The female lead must be a strong woman who faces adversity and overcomes it, usually by pure force of will. (Pretty Woman, et al.)
2. There most be significant tragedy (or tragedies) that the woman must overcome to reach her ultimately-stronger self. In its simplest form, someone has to die (Ghost), often the lead female, herself (e.g. Steel Magnolias). Pretty Woman is the exception that does not prove this rule.
3. There must an overwhelmingly-strong, idealized love interest, not necessarily of a male (et al.). I say not necessarily a man because the love interest in “Fried Green Tomatoes” is one, primarily, of female love – alright friendship – shared between Idgy (Mary Stuart Masterson) and Ruth (Mary-Louise Parker).
4. There may be no “guy violence.” That is, there is no graphic, prolonged war violence. Glimpses of war (The Notebook) are permissable. Fisticuffs between alpha males is allowed but they are not drawn-out, slow-motion, blood-flying-through-the-air visuals.
5. There must be at least one (and, preferably, more) heart-wrenching moment when tears flow. The shedding of tears may be of sadness or elation, but there must be crying.

Before feminist readers begin their attack on this piece as a chauvinist exercise, let me clearly state it is not meant to be interpreted as such. It is a simple request for personal edification and for the female perspective on a topic about which I know (obviously) very little. It goes without saying that there are “guy flicks” (e.g. Braveheart, Gladiator, Goodfellas, ad infinitum) that one could similarly stereotype. This is an attempt to understand what makes a classic female-oriented movie. Feel free to add to my list of characteristics and correct me on which are wrong. In apology, I only offer that I find movies, in general, and the whole genre of “chick movies” (and “guy movies”), in particular, a fascinating subject.

About Diet Doc

  • DrPat

    On the other hand, Tom Cruise nude would be a real turn-off – that’s why I’ve never watched it.

    And you didn’t answer the explosion question – in a dick-flick, y’know, you don’t care about the jealousy, sexual exploration, nudity (even Kidman) – unless there’s some fireworks!!

  • gonzo marx

    nope, no explosions, no guns at all

    it was all about plot and dialogue

    but i don’t think explosions are a defining issue, myself…definately an indicator , granted


  • DrPat

    Hmmm… Lessee, no guns or explosions, nudity of a male icon who “explores his sexuality”… probably not a dick-flick.

    Rule 2 from the post (rememeber the post?): A CM cannot earn the label if the female goes to the movie to see her favorite male star, regardless of the content of the movie… So, probably not a chick-flick either.

    The list of movies that fall in the middle is VAST, HUGE, MEGALITHIC!! You’ll THRILL… Sorry, channeling Cecil B. there for a second.

    So, let’s have a quiz. In which of three categories do the following belong (DF, CF, or VM – Vast Middle):

    Princess Bride
    Night of the Living Dead
    Soylent Green
    Light in the Piazza
    Demolition Man
    Smokey and the Bandit
    Pitch Black
    Bridges at Toko-Ri
    I Spit on Your Grave
    October Sky
    In Cold Blood
    The English Patient

    Crib sheets allowed – I find IMdb an excellent resource.

  • gonzo marx

    corrrection here DrPat…no Tomkat nudity..some good shots of Nicole, and others in certani “masked” scenes…

    see the’s worth it

    as for your list

    english Patient for “CM”

    the rest seem vast middle, with some of them unseen by your humble Narrator


  • DrPat

    As with any quiz, please show your work. [grin]

    I really would like to hear back from a few more folks – Nancy and other gals especially. We might see a pattern develop.

    So, please, Gonzo, do the whole list – just indicate the ones you have never seen.

  • gonzo marx

    dreck..hoist by my own petard…

    as you Wish, DrPat

    Princess Bride – VM
    Night of the Living Dead – DF
    Soylent Green – VM
    Light in the Piazza – not seen
    Demolition Man – DF
    Smokey and the Bandit – VM with DF leanings
    Feds – not seen
    Pitch Black – DF
    Moonstruck – CF
    Bridges at Toko-Ri – VM
    I Spit on Your Grave – not seen
    October Sky – not seen
    In Cold Blood – not seen
    The English Patient – CF
    Platoon – DF

    just my Opinions there, based on the criteria above

    how’s that?


  • DrPat

    bhw, Lisa, Patfish, Barbara, Justene, Natalie…

    We need the ladies’ opinions here!

  • dietdoc

    Princess Bride – CF
    Night of the Living Dead – DF
    Soylent Green – DF
    Light in the Piazza – No Clue
    Demolition Man – DF (with oak leaf cluser)
    Smokey and the Bandit – DF (with two oak leaf cluster)
    Feds – CF
    Pitch Black -DF
    Moonstruck – CF
    Bridges at Toko-Ri -DF
    I Spit on Your Grave – No Clue
    October Sky – VMF
    In Cold Blood – DF (could we call this a “buddy film?”) (knowing wink)
    The English Patient – CF
    Platoon – DF (three oak leaf clusters)

  • dietdoc

    Where oh where, have the women gone,
    Long time passing.
    Where oh where have the women gone,
    Commenting on this thread?
    Where oh where have the women gone?
    Gone to email, everyone.

    When will there ‘ere return?
    When will they ‘ere return?


  • DrPat

    Joan? Loretta? swingingpuss? Violet? Margaret? Miriam?

  • Tan The Man

    “and Tan..not only guys liked the “masked” scenes..i know anytime we watch it, my wife is much more “aroused” than i am”

    Hah. You mean they actually told you they were aroused. Lucky. All the girls I know say they hate it. I must look through their DVD collections and see if they have it…

  • Lisa McKay

    Okay, here’s a woman’s opinion – and I’m a huge movie buff, for what it’s worth.

    First of all, I think dietdoc hit the nail right on the head with his definition of a chick flick. Having said that, I wouldn’t (generally) watch a chick flick with a gun to my head – I *loathe* them. I think they appeal to the same women who watch Lifetime and read romance novels – I’m not putting those down as choices, but they’re definitely not my taste, and I suspect that the women who watch chick flicks also do not, as a rule, watch a *lot* of movies.

    So what do chicks watch when they don’t watch chick flicks? My tastes cross a lot of different genres. I’ll watch some (but not all) action flicks with my husband. He’s also a science fiction fan, so I’ll watch that with him from time to time. He, in turn, will watch a Merchant-Ivory film with me, although he did fall asleep during Howard’s End (it’s one of my favorite films of all time). I love The Godfather. I love Airplane. I love Woody Allen. I love Scorsese. I’ll watch Anthony Hopkins in almost anything. I love the Marx Brothers. My husband is building a complete Hitchcock collection, and I love those, too. We both like old movies from the ’30s and ’40s, and he collects classic 1950s sci-fi films, which I enjoy watching. I love the Evil Dead movies. We’re collecting the Universal Studios boxed sets of classic horror films (as an aside, I will offer Frank Langella’s portrayal of Dracula as a horror film that violates dietdoc’s rule about there being no horror chick flicks). I like a lot of the current crop of indie films. We have a very active Netflix account, and I’m always finding something new to watch. Our son is a film student, and he’s been broadening my tastes even further by exposing me to films I might not have gravitated to on my own. I don’t like graphic violence all that much, or movies with rape scenes, or torture scenes, but there are exceptions to those things, too.

    Good post, dietdoc, and a good conversation all the way around, I’d say.

  • Nancy

    Oooooo…I forgot about Langella’s Dracula! Yeah, definitely a chickhorrorflick.
    Princess Bride – CF, but open ended to VM
    Soylent Green – VM
    Smokey – DF
    Moonstruck – CF
    Bridges – VM
    Cold Blood – VM
    Platoon – DF

    Haven’t seen the rest, so I couldn’t validly comment. Gotta say one of my faves I left out (I do have a lot, don’t I?) is The Great Escape. It could be argued it’s a DF, but I would put it in the VM category.

    I love anything w/Alan Rickman – even Harry Potters; ditto Hopkins, brilliant in just about anything he does. Ditto Daniel Day-Lewis. Nice to look at, too.
    Ditto on what Lisa said: an awful lot of what DrPat qualifies as chickflicks I wouldn’t be caught dead watching, either. Have never seen Fried Green, or the latter half of Steel Magnolias, or Color Purple. Can’t stand anything w/Bogart or Bergman, simply because I consider their acting talent to be nil. I’m always aware they’re Bogart or Bergman playing the role of B or B in a role.

    On the other hand, stuff w/a lot of dialogue isn’t necessarily CF; what about A Few Good Men? Almost nothing BUT dialogue; but ripping GOOD dialogue. I adore watching Jack Nicholson chewing up the scenery in that one, just like I love to watch Rickman chewing the scenery and incidentally pulling Robin Hood out of the fire.

    I really hate to say this, but I have to conclude it’s true: DFs are (not necessarily but they tend to be) dumber, lots more violent, and more weapon/vehicle/chase/explosions oriented than CFs, and they don’t have a whole lot of plot, frequently, either. Sorry, guys. Hmmm…instead of ‘dumber’, maybe a better word would be more ‘simplistic’? Less plot complications or convolutions? But that’s not true of quite a few DFs I could think of, either. Thanks, Lisa. C’MON – MORE WOMEN COMMENT; AM I ALONE OUT HERE?!

  • Lisa McKay

    I will confess to having seen Dracula two or three times in the theater when it was released, and many times on TV since. Big crush on Langella.

    And I forgot to take DrPat’s quiz! So here are my votes:

    Princess Bride – VM
    Night of the Living Dead – DF
    Soylent Green – VM
    Light in the Piazza – CF
    Demolition Man – DF
    Smokey and the Bandit – DF
    Feds – haven’t seen it
    Pitch Black – DF
    Moonstruck – VM
    Bridges at Toko-Ri – VM
    I Spit on Your Grave – haven’t seen it
    October Sky – VM
    In Cold Blood – VM
    The English Patient – haven’t seen it
    Platoon – VM

  • Temple Stark

    A “chick flick” has at least one depiction of a man they wish most could be like – or at least one they could meet.

    And – but rarely at the same time – a strong female character.

    Other than that I always thought of “chick flick” as slightly derogatory because it narrows down the idea that women like a 360-degree range of movies. But as generally understood – yes there are movies that just bore me to tears and they are the manliest of films (Priscilla Queen of the Desert fer instance) and the sloppiest of goo – um, um, ….

  • dietdoc

    Huzzah! The women have landed! And what great opinions and insights! My quest is successful. Thanks you ladies, and gents.

    Temple writes: “A “chick flick” has at least one depiction of a man they wish most could be like – or at least one they could meet. And – but rarely at the same time – a strong female character.”

    Reply: Rarely a strong female character? I agree with the “idealized” love or love interest but I think a strong female – usually overcoming difficult odds – is almost essential.



  • Nancy

    LOL…Temple, you’re putting your foot in it! Like the trailoff….

    I think a liking or even tolerance for sloppy goo has a very limited appeal, admittedly to women of a certain taste, usually those that also love Betty Neals, Barbara Cartland, and similar books. Not even just romance novels, but ICKY romance novels. My ex-roomie wallows in them, and also loves drippy romance movies that gag me. How we’re still friends I can’t figure, but so we are. She tolerates my love for classical & historical stuff (Vanity Fair, Master & Commander). The more I think about it, the more I really do think the classically-defined chickflick really doesn’t have much audience any more, being limited to Bergman filmfests, etc.

  • dee

    I am a chick who does not like most chick flicks…okay, Ghost is one of the exceptions. I like action flicks. I like the bloody gorey murder stories but I do not like those who are just for he gore…Halloween and such. Ones like The Ring and Thirteen ghosts are on my list too. I think that chick flicks are slowly losing in popularity.

  • dietdoc

    Dee writes: “I think that chick flicks are slowly losing in popularity.

    Reply: You may very well be right! Notice the dates of the first 4 movies I listed – circa 1990. It would appear that the classic CM peaked in the late 1980s and early 1990s and have been replaced by the VM and even in your case, the “classic” DM. It is truly an interesting genre to exlore and, thanks to you all, discuss.



  • Shark

    Possible scenario for a future chick-flick:

    A rich, handsome gay man finds out he has a terminal illness; he is ‘converted’ to heterosexual by an ‘experience’ with a beautiful nurse, who, btw, also discovers he’s been misdiagnosed and will continue to live. They make-out in the final scene — as he crawls from an open grave and kisses her before watching a Baywatch rerun on TV. He gets a boner AND cries at the tragic finale of that episode. (a baby seal is hit by a speed boat and dies in Carmen Electra’s arms)

    Final line:

    ex-gay Hero: “I’m cured!”


    PS: Lifetime Network execs: CALL ME!

  • dietdoc

    Shark, my good fellow, can we not be more creative than that? First, it involves too many sociopolitical/religious issues. We must be more specific with the simple issue of love. Love that conquers all, love that lasts, love that…well…is!

    All these peripheral points and issues simply cluter the screenplay. Perhaps, simply a lone crusader against the seal-clubbing villains…living out of an igloo in the frozen north….when, a deadly plane crash occurs near his camp. The only survivor is a beautiful, wealthy lady. He nurses her to health (in between fighting off the poachers) and he learns (flash-back style) or her life in her ramblings as she lapses back and forth into consciousness. He has been alone for months, fighting the cruel elements and poachers, all alone. Did I mention he has been alone?

    She wakes up and the first question she asks is: “Did you ravish me?”

    The story of love grows from there and she joins in his cause…yada yada yada.

    I must admit, I do like the baby seal/Carmen Electra touch, though.



  • DrPat

    Thanks to all who had the courage to take the quiz. Now some answers:

    Princess Bride: VM – The story is told to appeal to a ten-year-old boy. Cannot be a chick-flick, despite the romantic center.

    Night of the Living Dead
    : DF – I would argue that most B-movie horror and cult horror films are dick-flicks. The purpose is to raise the adrenaline levels and arouse the viewer. Put American Werewolf in London in this category, too.

    Soylent Green: VM – Yes, it’s devoid of significant female characters. Nevertheless, the action and horror are too cerebral for a dick-flick. Many SF movies fall into the vast middle fason.

    Light in the Piazza: CF – It’s a classic that’s being revamped for Broadway, the story of a woman who takes her brain-damaged child to Florence to keep her from smooching the delivery boy, only to have be wooed by a rich Italian boy. Pure chick fare.

    Demolition Man: VM – The humor and silly antics brought into the story by Sandra Bullard and Benjamin Bratt distract suffiently from the gore and mayhem to bring this just out of the dick-flick range. Besides – Stallone knitting? No way, almost as bad as Stallone in Spandex in Tango and Cash.

    Smokey and the Bandit: DF – “What we have here is a total lack of respect for the law!” What is more DFish than that?

    Feds: VM – It’s a comedy about two women who want to be FBI agents. Cannot be a chick-flick because it does not take these women seriously, and there are NO hanky-required scenes.

    The English Patient: CF – For cying out loud, it’s used as the trigger for the gal who cries just upon hearing the description in a commercial for Pay-per-View TV.

    For partial credit, try your hand at the rest of the list:

    Pitch Black:
    Bridges at Toko-Ri:
    I Spit on Your Grave:
    October Sky:
    In Cold Blood:

  • Marcia L. Neil

    as a process of exclusion — they are not womb/at movies — too much fluff.

  • Peter Hull

    I am an 18 year old straight male who watches a lot of films. I watch films classic and current. There have been films that I like that are considered chick flicks:
    1. The sisterhood of the traveling pants (2005)
    2. stage door (1937)
    3. I captured the castle (2004)
    4. Little women (1933)
    Also I think the idea of calling something a chick flick is a modern standard. For example when Stage Door and Little women came out in the 30′s I’m sure plenty of males went to see them. It wasn’t until about the 80′s that movies began to be given brands.

  • nkc

    I’m a chick. I have some serious things to say, so bear with me.
    I have to admit that I’ve always been bothered by the label “chick flick” because of the way it’s used and what it usually implies. It’s nice to see some acknowledgement here that “dick flicks” exist too.
    There definitely are a lot of movies that generally appeal (or are targeted) to either men or women, but usually the ones that appeal to women get slammed and written-off the most, and that’s what bugs me. When do we ever see “dick flick” (or equivalent) used in a movie review?

    Another thing that bugs me is that sometimes movies that really do have universal appeal – really good movies with good characters and deep themes and interesting storylines – get written off as chick flicks just because they have mainly female characters that don’t pander to male tastes. I guess you could say they have a female centric viewpoint. There are lots of really good movies that show the reverse – they’re from a male centric viewpoint – but these movies are generally treated as universally appealing. Not that they shouldn’t be. It’s just that the female centric movies should also be considered universally appealing. We’re all human. We all love, we all hate, we all age, we all face adversity… We should be able to relate to each other regardless of sex and recognize common themes. It seems to me that women are either better at doing it or more willing to do it than men are, and that’s a shame.
    I read a review somewhere that mentioned that any movie about women is a chick flick, which is pathetic. And… telling?

    All of that said, I generally don’t like chick flicks or dick flicks, the way they’re defined here, because they’re usually crappy movies.

    Princess Bride -VM – one of my all-time favourite movies when I was a 10 year old girl. I had a huge crush on Wesley, and come to think of it, on Buttercup too. I didn’t realize it was a spoof until much later.
    Night of the Living Dead -VM -another all-time fav. I disagree that the horror genre is more DF than CF.
    Soylent Green – have not seen
    Light in the Piazza – ”
    Demolition Man – ”
    Smokey and the Bandit – ”
    Feds – ”
    Pitch Black –
    Bridges at Toko-Ri
    I Spit on Your Grave
    October Sky
    In Cold Blood
    The English Patient -VM- I know as many men that liked this movie, and wanted to see it, as women. I didn’t like it.
    Damn, I haven’t seen most of those movies. Not much input from me there.
    I would say that most “romantic comedies” could be classed as chick flicks, and most “action” movies could be classed as dick flicks. I’m also thinking that comedy appeals more to men and drama appeals more to women, in general. any opinions?

  • Nancy

    I’ll add to my earlier list: I’d also include
    Pirates of the Carribean #1
    and I’d definitely include Princess Bride; spoof or not, it’s a classic.
    Dancing w/Wolves
    The Devil Wears Prada

  • lisa

    I think that you were thinking of 28 days with sandra bulloc sorry for mis spellings this is also a great cm another funny and good one is Her Minor Thing

  • Mellie

    Ok for my media exam I am researching chick flicks so this has all been quite interesting for me to read, very helpful.
    Now for my thoughts,

    1. Films have been branded since early days of cinema. Though the term ‘chick flick’ wasnt used the genre still existed.It was originally called ‘womens pictures’. Though this genre has evolved since it first came about. Nowdays its more defiant, upbeat, post-modern & post-feminist.

    2. The term ‘chick flick’ doesnt imply that the film is only aimed at women, and that if a man did go see it he would have to deny it. ‘Chick Flicks’ are infact aimed at typical characteristics linked with women. It doesnt mean that all women enjoy a good ‘chick flick’, I infact do but I know tones of girls that love a good ‘dick flick’. Similarly I know plently of males that love ‘chicks flicks’ and not all that into ‘dick flicks’.

    3. Quite commonly ‘chick flicks’ are based on fairy tales such a cinderella (e.g. A Cinderella Story, princess Diaries, Pretty Women), or Shakespeare (e.g. Shes the Man, 10 Things I Hate About You) or on popular novels/literary Classics (e.g. The Devil Wears Prada, Little Women).

    4. There are very few characteristics of a ‘Chick Flick’ that they all have. ‘Chick Flicks’ vairy so much from the outlaw, vulnerability of Thelma & Louise to the soapy wisdeom of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. The only characteristics that I think every ‘chick flick’ has are a powerful female lead or at least appears powerful for majority of the film, example of this is meal girls, any of the plastics + Katy. The only film I can think of which is a slight exception to this rule is What Women Want, but in it he starts to understand women & in some ways starts to have characteristics of women.

    Oook i think thats all I have to say on the subject, at least for now.


  • MCH

    Well, you start with a group of pro-war conservatives who’ve never served, spouting bellicose military rhetoric, and then…er, oops…

    …um, never mind, I misread the title, sorry…thought it said “Chickenhawk Movies”…



  • Chris

    I really think someone said it best when they said that nudity is irrelevant….I don’t think nudity holds any bearing on whether something is generally accepted as a chick flick or not, though female nudity IN a chick flick might give a guy an excuse when his friends make fun of him for liking it.

  • Adam

    Sappy titles are always good (e.g. ‘Imitation of Life’). Men’s movies, though, can be every bit as tear-jerky (‘Brian’s Song’, &c.).

    Women absolutely HATE gritty, grubby scenes. Cold, dirty, tattered movies (‘Saving Private Ryan’, ‘Alien’) make women flee in horror. Nice decore and costumes–especially haute couture, or period clothes–are de rigueur. This is much of the difference, for example, between ‘girl’ movies (‘Twilight’) and ‘guy’ (‘Underworld’) ones, even of the same genre.

  • Anonymous

    I know that I am just reading this now but I read and saw “how to lose a guy in 28 days”, seriously it is 10 DAYS, not 28, get with it

  • Dr Dreadful

    “how to lose a guy in 28 days”

    Is this that movie where the heroine takes that amount of time to realize that a rogue virus has turned her boyfriend into a mindless rampaging flesh-eating zombie?

  • JKOH

    Kaye suggests movies that have serious dual appeal (some favorites of mine):
    Avatar – Great male human lead. Great female alien lead, tragedy, noble, lots of violence though.
    300 – Strong woman, great man, great love story, both very noble, tragedy, but lots of blood and guts.
    Jurassic Park – Has almost an ideal woman role model, but also a great male lead, both of whom are noble, lots of tragedy, lots of mostly non-human-on human violence
    Fearless by Jet Li. Not terribly romantic but noble and tragic.

  • sammi joe

    its how to loose a guy in 10 days not 28! ahhh un educated hypocrites these days …