It’s understandable that romantic comedies get a bad rap. From their name alone, these come off as fluffy, love-obsessed movies about women pining over men. But they’re so much more than that, and we’re here to prove it to you. Though romantic storylines are main arcs in rom-coms, they’re not the essential theme. Many of your favorite rom-coms—from “Legally Blonde” to “Miss Congeniality”—are about female empowerment, overcoming sexism, and kicking ass. And the fact that they’re wrapped in pretty pink evening gowns doesn’t make them any less feminist.
Here, we’ve rounded up seven classic romantic comedies that pass the Bechdel test, an evaluation created by American cartoonist Alison Bechdel that judges a film’s representation of women. To pass the Bechdel test, a film must feature two women who talk to each other in a scene about something other than a man. Sounds easy, but you’d be surprised at the number of sexist films that fail this simple standard. Check out which classic rom-coms pass the Bechdel test with flying colors ahead.
If you grew up in the 2000s, you’ve seen “Legally Blonde” a dozen (or a hundred) times in your life. The film begins with Elle Woods, a wealthy, fashionable sorority sister who decides to go to law school to win over a guy. The movie might start with a romantic storyline, but ultimately, it’s all about Elle’s inspirational arc to be seen for more than she looks like. (Spoiler alert: She dumps the guy.)
The film includes several two-women scenes featuring Elle and Paulette (her manicurist), Vivian (a colleague in her law school), Brooke (her workout instructor), and many others. But perhaps the most memorable woman-to-woman scene in “Legally Blonde” is when Elle skewers Chutney, a witness in her father’s murder case, for lying about her perm, which leads to her conviction.
“Miss Congeniality” features dozens of female characters, and only a fraction of the movie is spent talking about men. The women are too busy competing for their states in a Miss America–like pageant. For one contestant, Gracie Hart, an FBI agent posing as a beauty pageant contestant, the film is spent investigating a potential terrorist attack, which leaves almost no time for a romantic storyline. Whether Gracie is grilling her fellow contestants for information or arguing with the pageant’s founder over whether beauty pageants are considered feminist, the conversations are hilarious, nuanced, and not about men.
“The Devil Wears Prada”
“The Devil Wears Prada” is a classic for any fashion or rom-com junkie. It follows Andy Sachs, a budding journalist who takes a job as an assistant to an editor at a fashion magazine who soon becomes her worst nightmare. The film features female main characters Andy, Miranda Priestly (the nightmarish boss in question), and Emily, Miranda’s second assistant who also proves to be a problem for Andy. Most conversations are about fashion and how fashion can influence everyday life (including Miranda’s much-recited “cerulean” speech). The characters are flawed, antagonistic, and independent, which leads to many manless conversations about power and ambition.
“13 Going on 30”
“13 Going on 30” is the coming-of-age romantic comedy that every rom-com enthusiast needs to see. The film follows Jenna Rink, a teenage girl who magically becomes 30 after a horrible 13th birthday party. Jenna wakes up as a 30-year-old magazine editor whose coworker and best friend, Lucy, happens to be a mean girl from her middle school. The film follows Jenna’s sudden coming-of-age and conversations with Lucy, whom Jenna later discovers is trying to undermine her career. The film ends with Jenna falling in love with her middle-school crush, but the bulk of it is spent dealing with growing up, a universal theme that anyone can relate to—male or female.
“Confessions of a Shopaholic”
“Confessions of a Shopaholic” delves into the psyche of Rebecca Bloomwood, a shopping-obsessed journalist whose spending habits leave her bankrupt. Rebecca does end up falling in love, but a majority of the film is spent diving into the mind of an addict and determining why shopping is necessary to keep her high and temporarily happy. Many scenes include Rebecca and her roommate, Suze, who encourages Rebecca to go to therapy for her shopping addiction and almost cuts ties with her when she loses a bridesmaid’s dress that Suze bought her for her wedding.
At a first glance, “27 Dresses” is about Jane, a love-obsessed woman who is so focused on the idea of marriage that she cuts and frames wedding clippings from newspapers and serves as a bridesmaid to dozens of her friends throughout the year. But one underlying theme from the movie that has nothing to do with love is the relationship between Jane and her younger sister, Tess, whom she’s been harboring animosity toward since they were children. The film delves into sibling rivalry, resentment, and how insecurities can tear relationships apart. There are two sides to every story, the film proves.
“How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days”
Of course, the main storyline in “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” is a magazine writer’s assignment to make a total stranger fall in love with her in 10 days or fewer. But there’s an underlying reason behind the assignment established from the very beginning of the movie. Andie, a writer at a woman’s magazine, begins the movie by lamenting to her boss about her desire to write about “real” topics, such as politics and world issues. Her boss, a woman, shoots her ideas down, spurring Andie to write a psychology-powered piece about the mistakes people make when dating to prove her chops as a serious journalist.
“Crazy Rich Asians”
At the center of Crazy Rich Asians is a love story between Rachel Chu, a Chinese-American woman, and Nick Young, a wealthy Singaporean heir. But there’s also an important message about self-worth and confidence, as seen in the end conversation between Rachel and Nick’s mom, Eleanor. The conversation dives into Rachel’s feelings of not feeling “enough,” and how, for the first time in her life, she finally feels like she is enough, and she won’t let Eleanor bring her down. The film also features conversations between Rachel and her mom, Kerry, as well as Rachel and her friend, Peik Lin, about tradition, parenting and nothing related to men.