A History Of The Term 'Chick Flick' And How It Marginalizes Female Filmmakers

Where did this phrase come from? And should we perfectly pitch it into the garbage can?

Have you ever noticed that movies aimed at guys are just "movies," and movies aimed at women are "chick flicks"?

Last weekend, "Pitch Perfect 2" -- directed by Elizabeth Banks -- struck a chord with audiences across America, who flocked to the offbeat comedy in droves and helped make it the week’s highest-grossing film, beating out even critically acclaimed action flick “Mad Max: Fury Road.” And yet, a cross-search for "Pitch Perfect 2" and "chick flick" turns up 18,500 Google results.

What does that phrase even mean? When did it start? And is it time we stop using it altogether?

The phrase “chick flick” originally meant a sexually explicit movie.


The earliest known use of the phrase, from the Bergen County Record in 1988, described movies with heavy erotic elements, such as "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls," "Twilight People" and "Black Mama, White Mama," which the newspaper called "another chick-flick set in a slammer in the Philippines." Something tells us boyfriends didn’t exactly have to be dragged to these.

With the late '80s and early '90s came the “chick flick” as we now know it.

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In 1989, the movie “Steel Magnolias” featured a predominantly female cast and enjoyed a large female audience, and was thus one of the first movies to be dubbed a “chick flick,” according to Dr. Deborah Barker and Dr. Kathryn McKee from the University of Mississippi.

Soon after came “Thelma and Louise” and “Fried Green Tomatoes.”


Suddenly, a "chick flick" was so-called because of its strong female protagonists. But it was only a matter of time until...

"Chick flicks" became synonymous with rom coms in the mid-'90s.

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The 1995 unapologetic love story “While You Were Sleeping,” was (and still is) regarded as the definitive chick flick, in the modern sense of the phrase. It came on the heels of the 1993 quintessential rom com “Sleepless in Seattle,” which even made a self-referential nod to its own status as a chick flick: While watching “An Affair to Remember,” Rosie O’Donnell remarks to Meg Ryan, "Men never get this movie." Later, Tom Hanks’ character describes the same film as a “chick’s movie,” driving the point home that chick flicks are about love -- and that men can't enjoy them.

“Clueless” leaves America clueless about what a chick flick is.


This 1995 classic enjoyed huge commercial success and has continued to be a cultural touchstone for anyone who remembers being a teenager in the '90s. The Los Angeles Times called the film a "wickedly funny teen-age farce from writer-director Amy Heckerling that, like its heroine, turns out to have more to it than anyone could anticipate.”

But unlike Heckerling’s earlier high school film, "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" -- which featured a male protagonist -- "Clueless" is still widely regarded as a “chick flick,” rather than simply a “comedy.” Whatever.

From the early 2000s on, virtually any movie that stars women is automatically a "chick flick."

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Chick flicks, which are often spoken about in a derogatory way just because they're marketed to women and girls, include everything from love stories like "The Notebook" to brilliant comedies like "Mean Girls" and "Bridesmaids." Some critics argue that the raunchy parts of “Bridesmaids” make it a chick flick/comedy hybrid, which seems to imply that being a female-driven movie and being a funny movie are generally mutually exclusive.

Female-driven dramas are also assigned to the category of “chick flick,” with movies like the 2014 Reese Witherspoon vehicle “Wild” being referred to as an “empowering chick flick,” while the 2007 Emile Hirsch vehicle “Into the Wild,” which has a very similar subject matter, is labeled as a drama.

Is it any coincidence that the ACLU just launched an investigation into the hiring practices behind chicks who work in flicks?


In the very same month that the woman-helmed “Pitch Perfect 2” has climbed to the top of the box office, there's a major investigation into unfair hiring practices surrounding women in entertainment, who helmed only 1.9% of the top-grossing films made in 2013-2014 (despite making up half of film school grads).

The ACLU also noted that gender biasing was rampant onscreen as well. In 2013, the percentage of female characters who spoke onscreen dropped to a low of 28.4%, and none of the 2014 Academy Award nominees for Best Picture starred central female protagonists. The "chick flick" stigma has real consequences for women in the film industry, leading to an unfair decline in opportunities and respect.

Male-driven movies continue to be marketed to everyone, and that's OK, but it's time to stop implying that female-driven movies should generally be avoided by half of the population. Perhaps then, women in Hollywood -- and those who enjoy their work, including guys who may not want to admit it -- can truly expect a Hollywood ending.

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