It started with Nathan Rabin. After the A.V. Club film critic saw Kirsten Dunst’s performance in Elizabethtown, he coined her the quintessential Manic Pixie Dream Girl™ — a.k.a. “that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.”
Harsh, but true — despite Dunst’s character being far from the first woman who’s been written to advance the emotional evolution of a young, stunted man. Movies have been ripe with the MPDG trope for decades, using them as the vehicle for a male lead’s story, while their own gets put on the back burner, or worse: guillotined. Their eccentricities are erased once their new boyfriend anchors them. (Boring.)
But that being said, movies like Mistress America are helping to create a new legacy. In it, two female leads navigate the emotional and mental struggles of one’s twenties. Although Greta Gerwig’s MPDG-esque character is hardly a trope. Smart, interesting, multi-dimensional, and realistic, she’s proof that characters outside the box can be more than some dude’s life catalyst.
In the meantime, here are 14 of the most famous MPDG, who deserve their own films.