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.