The Definitive Ranking Of Female Buddy Comedies

Photo: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox.

Stir Crazy. 48 Hours. Midnight Run. Dumb & Dumber. Tommy Boy. Stepbrothers. I Love You, Man
.  It’s not hard to list buddy comedies starring two men. But, can you name more than a few starring women? Probably not.

Hopefully that won’t be a problem forever.  Thanks to the success of films like Bridesmaids and The Heat, both directed by Paul Feig, it feels like we're approaching a new era of women in film. 

Today, Hot Pursuit — starring Sofia Vergara and Reese Witherspoon — joins this small but important canon of female buddy comedies. The film tells the story of Officer Cooper (Witherspoon) and Daniella Riva (Vergara), an oil-and-water team who end up trying to take down a group of dirty cops. 

Hot Pursuit is the latest example of what we're praying is a changing tide in Hollywood. The very existence of movies like Bridesmaids and The Heat explodes the idea that adventures only happen to men with women on the peripheral. According to Scarlett Shepard from the Women’s Film Institute, these movies serve as proof that "women aren’t just fabricated to serve as the damsel in distress or as a punch line of a joke in male buddy comedy plot lines.”

It's still an uphill battle to get studios to greenlight female-centric scripts, thanks to the enduring (and irritating) perception that women don't sell. But, the box office begs to differ. Bridesmaids grossed $153 million. The Heat took in $160. If you build it, Hollywood, audiences will come!  
Feig has been integral to helping change studios' stubborn notions about what people will pay to see in a theater. He started writing more in-depth female characters as the creator of Freaks and Geeks. Now, he says his brain just works better when he’s writing for women. “I guess it’s just a slow attrition over the years of knowing all these funny and talented women, going to see them in projects they were in and going, ‘Yeah, that’s such a terrible part,’” he told Refinery29. “I felt like they weren’t getting to be funny and chalked up to being mean and looking like the jerk next to the guys who were the heroes.”

This trend bummed him out. Feig grew up with lots of female friends. “Guys are so aggressive. Especially with guys being funny, it’s all name calling and homophobia and punching,” he said. Plus, Feig was bullied as a kid, so the hyper macho ways of many comedies didn’t appeal to him. “Hanging out with the girls, we’d all make each other laugh, and I liked the way that the interactions were. It was fun and supportive. There was no aggression. It’s just the way I like the world to be.”

After Freaks and Geeks, Feig was sent a lot of comedy scripts, but they all felt so similar. “They were always very male-based, where it was lots of guys trying to get laid or going on an adventure. The nerdy guy and his pal. I was like, ‘What dynamic is this? I have no take on that.’” Eventually he said: “‘Fuck it, I just wanna write stuff for female characters.’” 

So, what do we mean by a buddy comedy anyway? Traditionally, it’s about two mismatched men (think Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte, Mel Gibson, and Danny Glover) and the comedic wiles of their hijinks. There are certainly examples of female-dominated comedies that play off that set-up. But Shepard believes women are moving beyond that and redefining the genre altogether. For this list, I cast a wider net, opening up the parameters to include a variety of films that aren't even necessarily about just two women. Why? Because what really matters is the exploration of friendships. 

After speaking with Feig and Shepard, I’ve narrowed down a ranking system to a few key points. The female characters should all be three-dimensional, never merely punchlines. There should be a fresh plot told from a woman's (or women's) perspective. The story shouldn’t be about a woman choosing between a man and her career. There should be an emphasis on female friendships. Oh, and it should be funny. (That’s the subjective part where I’ll weigh in.)

I’ve given slight preference to films with two main stars, but ensembles haven’t been ignored. I excluded TV shows and straight-up rom-coms (where the endgame is almost always bagging a man.) Ahead, a definitive ranking of 20 female buddy comedies and how they fit in the current golden age of funny women. 
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Photo: Courtesy of MGM.
#20: Hot Pursuit (2015)
Starring: Sofia Vergara and Reese Witherspoon

Witherspoon plays a cop in Texas who's earned a reputation of clinging too closely to the rule book. Oh, and she accidentally Tasered a guy. Vergara is the wife of a mobster whacked by a drug lord. Witherspoon is tasked with escorting her to Dallas so she can testify against the man who killed her hubs.

The movie is plenty entertaining, but I expected so much more from these two. And, I could have done without the bit where they escape shady cops by talking about their periods. Cause, you know, men think menstruation is soooo gross. If Vergara didn’t get a tampon right away, they’d be “cleaning up a second crime scene in the back seat.”

Great blooper reel, though!
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Photo: Courtesy of Overture Films.
#19: Sunshine Cleaning (2008)
: Amy Adams and Emily Blunt

This dark comedy is about two sisters who start a crime-scene cleaning company. Adams is a single mother who lives in the shadow of pretty much everyone around her. Blunt is her goofball sister. Despite the grisly nature of their work, the sisters share funny moments, and we see a really beautiful relationship between them. It’s a nice little movie. I only placed it at the bottom of this list because because it’s not hilarious.
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Photo: Courtesy of Brownstone Productions.
#18: Pitch Perfect (2012)
: Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Brittany Snow, and Anna Camp

How did a movie about that explores the niche world of a cappella competitions end up feeling so relatable? By giving us several kinds of women we could relate to. No matter what you were like in college — or what you’re like now — you’re bound to find your doppelganger here. Or, at least the carbon copy of someone you hated in your adolescence. Pitch Perfect is a lot of fun and gives women more screen time — and speaking roles — than they’re likely to see outside of the film.
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Photo: Courtesy of New Line Cinema.
#17: Sex and the City (2008)
: Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, and Cynthia Nixon

Fans of the sex-positive HBO show waited a long time to see it become a feature-length film. The movie delivered all the glamour and romanticized NYC scenes that made us fall in love with the series in the first place. But, it felt less about the friendship between Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda, and more about the men in their lives. It’s not that female comedies can’t have a healthy dose of romance, it’s that the film adaptation ditched the pillar of friendship for it.
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Photo: Courtesy of RT Pictures.
#16: Frances Ha (2012)
: Greta Gerwig and Mickey Sumner

How does your life change when your best friend gets a serious boyfriend? This is the question Frances (Gerwig) and Sophie (Sumner) explore. It’s an honest depiction of how female friendships can sometimes replace the desire for a romantic relationship. The indie is a clever, entertaining romp around New York City and the nuances of what friendship really is.
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Photo: Courtesy of United Artists.
#15: Ghost World (2001)
: Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson

We’ve seen plenty of versions of the high school girl experience: the welcome absurdity of Mean Girls; the Never Been Kissed level of geekdom that more closely resembles trauma; the girls so obsessed with popularity they covered up a murder for it in Jawbreaker.

But, what about those of us who were somewhere in the middle? Those who felt they were destined for greater things than high school and misunderstood by everyone around them except their best friend? This is the story of Enid (Birch) and Rebecca (Johansson) in Ghost World. Directed by Terry Zwigoff, the film explores the ways a friendship from your adolescence can transform or even disappear with the transition into adulthood. It gives us that special brand of eyeroll we became addicted to while watching Daria. How lucky, then, that this indie came into our lives just as that animated MTV series ended.
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Photo: Courtesy of RKO Radio Pictures.
#14: Stage Door (1937)
: Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Gail Patrick, Constance Collier, Andrea Leeds, and Lucille Ball

This classic centers on a group of actresses (played by some of the biggest legends of all time) living together in a boarding house. It explores friendship, is one of the first representations of roommate living — and it stars some of the biggest Hollywood legends of all time. You had us at Hepburn and Ball.
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Photo: Courtesy of Paramount Pictures.
#13: First Wives Club (1996)
: Diane Keaton, Goldie Hawn, and Bette Midler

This is a story about a group of friends who were bad about staying in touch after college. (Sound familiar?) When the death of their friend reunites them, they realize they’ve forgotten the golden rule of girlhood: Guys come and go, but girlfriends are meant to be forever. In fact, each of them has been wronged by their former husbands. Sure, it’s a comedy rooted in revenge, but aren’t the most interesting alliances formed by hatred of a common enemy?
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Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures.
#12: Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)
: Kathy Bates and Jessica Tandy

Ready to get meta? This movie’s about a friendship between two women, Evelyn and Ninny, who bond over a friendship between two other women from the Depression Era, Ruth and Idgie. Both sets of pals are unlikely: Ruth and Idgie share a borderline romantic relationship in a town and time when that sort of thing would have been frowned upon. And, after their heart-to-heart conversation at Ninny’s nursing home, Evelyn invites her to move in with her and her husband, who is (gasp) no good.
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Photo: Courtesy of Touchstone Pictures.
#11: Outrageous Fortune (1987)
: Shelley Long and Bette Midler

A bit over the top — think: unrealistic jumps across cliffs — but still a good example of how successful the female buddy comedy can be. Plus, who isn't living for Long to shout, "Nine years of ballet, asshole!"
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Photo: Courtesy of MGM.
#10: The Women (1939)
Starring: Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, and Paulette Goddard

Guys, the entire cast was women. Not a single man appears on screen. Not a one! And, it was directed by the great "women's picture" auteur George Cukor. Sure, some of the conversation is, in retrospect, a tad misogynistic. But, for its time, this was a huge deal. Just think: 76 years ago, Hollywood made a single picture with 130 speaking roles for actresses, while today women have to fight to get a word in on screen.
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Photo: Courtesy of Touchstone Pictures.
#9: Romy & Michele's High School Reunion (1997)
: Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino

Important note about this story: Romy (Sorvino) and Michele (Kudrow) don’t give a fuck what you think, because their lives are cute and great. They have a loose relationship with nearly everything else in their lives, like their careers and the gym. What they do care about? Each other. It’s always the two of them against the world, and their sisterly-like bickering never borders on a full-on falling out. Except, when we meet the hilarious pair, their big challenge is really just their obsession with killing it at their high school reunion. It’s the perfect comedy to showcase the special brand of bestie-hood that’s rooted in “Remember when?”
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Photo: Courtesy of TriStar Pictures.
#8: Steel Magnolias (1989)
: Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Daryl Hannah, Olympia Dukakis, Julia Roberts

This film has its heavy moments, and is perhaps at its heart a drama. But, the infusion of humor into a serious look at female relationships works like gangbusters.
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Photo: Courtesy of Columbia Pictures.
#7: A League of Their Own (1992)
Starring: Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Madonna, Rosie O'Donnell, and Megan Cavanagh

Geena Davis runs a women's baseball team — in a (historically-accurate) skirt. Penny Marshall's hit comedy celebrates just how hard female athletes had to work to be taken seriously when they took to the field during World War II.
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Photo: Courtesy of Disney.
#6: Frozen (2014)
: Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell

Disney films and female characters have a strange relationship. Princesses trilling, "Someday my prince will come" aren't exactly a feminist dream. You know what is a feminist dream? The true sisterly love of Elsa and Anna.
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Photo: Courtesy of MGM.
#5: Baby Mama (2008)
: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler

Fey and Poehler have always been a dream team, even before they got behind the Weekend Update desk on Saturday Night Live. That chemistry goes even further in their hit film in which Fey, a high-powered businesswoman who’s unable to have children, hires Poehler to be a surrogate mother. Their characters are polar opposites — to awesome comedic effect. But, they lift each other up in a way that would make Ann Friedman proud.
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Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures.
#4: Bridesmaids (2011)
: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Ellie Kemper, Melissa McCarthy, and Wendi McLendon-Covey

When Feig encountered the script for Bridesmaids at a table read in 2007, he immediately thought of how many funny women he could plug into the movie. But, it wasn’t until 2010 that he got the chance to actually bring the film to life. Once he did get that green light, there was an unusual amount of pressure about making it a success. “There was an edict from Hollywood where they were all going, 'Okay this is a movie starring a bunch of women. If this works, we’ll greenlight more, and if it doesn’t, we won’t.'” So, Bridesmaids carried the unfortunate and unnecessary burden of being a test for every female-fronted film to come.

“And, that’s ridiculous,” Feig said. “You’d never hear that with a guy’s movie, like if The Hangover didn’t work then men don’t get a movie. I was really sweating because if this didn’t work then I’m basically the man who killed movies for women for eternity. So, thank God it worked.”

Sure, Wiig and Rudolph are at the heart of the film. But, it’s best to think of Bridesmaids as a buddy comedy with several sets of pairs. Wiig and Byrne. Wiig and McCarthy. Kemper and McLendon-Covey. It’s all there, and all more beautiful than Cinderella.
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Photo: Courtesy of Pathé Entertainment.
#3: Thelma & Louise (1991)
: Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis

An iconic movie about two women who have had it. Thelma (Davis) has a mean ol’ husband. Louise (Sarandon) is tired of her job at the diner. When Thelma narrowly escapes an attempted rape during one of their stops — Louise shoots the guy in the act — they realize they’re not meant for a society that won’t believe their self-defense story. Off to Mexico they go, just the two of them. Some say this movie is a “vigilante fantasy about rape culture” — and maybe it is. But, it’s also “like an episode of I Love Lucy [that] ends with the impact of Easy Rider.” If that doesn’t explode conventions of the buddy comedy, I don’t know what does.
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Photo: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox.
#2: 9 to 5 (1980)
: Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton

When Roger Ebert reviewed 9 to 5 in 1980, he wrote that the movie’s message had something “to do with women’s liberation.” I’d say it has everything to do with it. It’s about sexism in the workplace. It’s about the way women make assumptions about each other. But, ultimately, it’s about shedding those assumptions and discovering lasting bonds in the most dire of circumstances. It’s also about Dolly Parton having zero patience for bullshit, for which it should receive top marks.
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Photo: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox.
#1: The Heat (2013)
: Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy

Feig’s hit comedy about a loud-mouth Boston cop (McCarthy) and a textbook federal agent (Bullock) is perhaps the best iteration of what a female buddy comedy should be. It’s about two women who aren’t just in a predominantly male profession, but owning it. There's quality female bonding over beers. When romance does rear its head, it’s sex-positive: McCarthy’s got a stable of regular lays who can’t leave her alone already.

“My motivation for The Heat was, I just got so tired of the thrust of women’s movies being about picking between your career and your happiness,” Feig said. “That’s such a fuck you to all the women I know who love their jobs, love what they do, and want [to have] both.” Feig’s got a real distaste for movies in which a woman is nailing her career but unhappy because she lost the guy. “It’s such a subservient way to treat half the population. So, in The Heat specifically I wanted two women who are great their jobs. They’ve got foibles, because that’s comedy — you have to have foibles and insecurities or you’re not funny. But, these two women who are dedicated to their careers — how do they find friendship?”
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