In the last half century or so, a curious phenomenon has been happening alongside the mammoth steps that second-wave and third-wave feminism have made—that is, the bifurcation of films into gendered categories. Indeed, contemporary amateur film critics like to colloquially refer to certain films as either “guy films” or “chick flicks.” This division seems directly opposed to the new paradigm of gender equality that North American society has begun to embrace whole-heartedly. But this ostensible regression in the way a significant amount of people view films and decide what films will appeal to what audiences is far more damaging than one might think. The whole notion of art being gender-specific is problematic in and of itself, since most people accept the axiom that gender is merely a social construction and not an inherent set of characteristics that guys and girls possess.
Two examples, each from a different era of film, should illustrate this strange bifurcation. On the one hand, Gone with the Wind (1939), Victor Fleming’s epic tale about doomed love during the American Civil War, is an indisputable classic, a must watch for any film junkie. However, the film is at times maudlin and there is a good deal of romance therein, but it somehow eludes the label of “chick flick.” A film like John Hughes’ Pretty in Pink (1986), on the other hand, abounds in romance, thereby attracting the label of “chick flick.” This comparison is not to elevate John Hughes’ playful teenage drama to the level of Fleming’s magnum opus, but it highlights how films with similar themes are judged differently with regard to their gendered appeal. And the “chick flick” label both limits Pretty’s viewership and invites baseless prejudices from those wary of the label.
As Wikipedia, everyone’s most reliable source for important information (please read that ironically), puts it, a chick flick is “a film genre mainly dealing with love and romance and designed to appeal to a largely female target audience . . . [the label] is typically used only in reference to films that are heavy with emotion or contain themes that are relationship based.” This quote needs to be unpacked, as it states that these films are being directed at females. Essentially, as the quote intimates, the stuff of romance is more of a female than a male thing—and thus, the label. But as the above examples show, sometimes the only thing precluding pan-gender viewership is the label itself. If so, these labels and what they denote undermine the advancements of feminism, splitting aesthetic sensibilities across gendered lines.
Well this list will hopefully be part of the rehabilitation process, as many girls know they love a good action film and guys know that “chick flicks” aren’t creatively bankrupt or frivolous. This list looks at ten “chick flicks”—that is, films that would fall under the reductive category—that guys secretly love. Like any of these lists, every film will not appeal to every reader, so, indubitably, there will be male readers who flout this list—such is life. But a case for each of the following films has been made as to why they appeal to a wide audience, irrespective of gender. Please enjoy…
10 Annie Hall (1977)
Arguably Woody Allen’s finest film, Annie Hall is about a neurotic man who, in classic Henry Higgins fashion, falls in love with a beautiful, yet unsophisticated, woman and develops her aesthetic tastes and sensibilities. All the classic features of the chick flick are in this film, as it deals heavily with love, commitment, and emotions. But to call this film a mere chick flick is blasphemous, as it does so much to play with the romantic-comedy genre. Allen’s character, Alvy Singer breaks the 4th Wall, as he addresses the audience and, in one scene, pauses the onscreen action to address the viewers. Alvy is also diametrically opposed to the notion of the alpha-male; he is small and diminutive, whereas Annie (Diane Keaton) is the physically prepossessing one. The film never dives into cloying clichés, and jaded viewers appreciate that.
9 Titanic (1997)
Titanic, James Cameron’s expensive film that won eleven Oscars (such Oscar bait), is about an intensely torrid romance happening amidst one of the greatest disasters of the early twentieth century. There are a lot of chick-flicky things about it, and the narrative does, at times, lose itself in overblown histrionics, but the scope of the film cannot be overlooked. It is a special-effects extravaganza and does an admirable job of telling the important story of the oversights that led to the ship’s historic demise. Jaded male viewers surely appreciate James Cameron’s older films, so they have definitely seen this one.
8 About a Boy (2002)
About a Boy is a film that perhaps fits messily into the category of “chick flick”; however, it abounds in emotion and the series of heartfelt moments makes it eligible for the label. Essentially, Will Freeman, played by Hugh Grant, crosses paths with a young boy, Marcus Brewer, played by Nicholas Hoult. Marcus becomes a kind of interloper in Will’s life, trying to get Will and his mother, Fiona, to become an item. But the twist is that Will, the 38-year-old bachelor, learns a good deal from Marcus, the twelve-year-old social pariah. There is a lot of charm in this film, and only the most cold-hearted viewer would find it unpalatable, despite the moments of sweetness.
7 Save the Last Dance (2001)
Save the Last Dance stars Julia Stiles and Sean Patrick Thomas in a love story about an aspiring dancer who gets more than she bargained for when she starts hanging out with a “recreational” dancer from her new high school. The film is not overflowing with romantic stuff, so it does not scare away any stubborn male viewers. Its trump card is the style that pervades it—from the urban soundtrack to the club scenes to the compelling montages. It is like Dirty Dancing cleansed of everything that makes that film unpalatable for certain audiences.
6 Grease (1978)
In a word, Grease is whimsical, and that cannot quality cannot be gender-specific. The narrative is about two lovers, Sandra Dee and Danny Zuko, who fortuitously reacquaint after spending the summer together. Back at school, though, Danny isn’t the tender, emotional guy that he was on the beach, and his lack of courage to be genuine almost ruins the relationship. In many ways the film’s narrative is a metaphor for this list, as Danny learns in the end that he can be tender-hearted and still retain his greaser coolness. The songs from this musical are also classics. As such, the film appeals to anyone looking for a fun diversion.
5 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
A loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, 10 Things I Hate About You boils down to a narrative about teenage romance and its attendant anxieties. However, the film is so much more than that, and it is full of charm. The film really nails its depiction of the vicissitudes of teenage life—from young love to parental contention to crippling uncertainty. Though it came out long after the golden era of the teen film, it should not be missed by people looking for a sober narrative that still has moments of levity and playfulness.
4 Mean Girls (2004)
The title of this film probably scares jaded male viewers from even being seen with a copy in their hands, but for those open-minded viewers, this film is absolutely charming and luminous. The cast is largely female, and the issues pertain mainly to females and how they view themselves and vie for the opposite sex’s attention. But the film deals soberly with these themes, and there is a good deal of gravitas towards the end. The film is more irreverent than cloyingly emotional, so it doesn’t follow any trite “chick-flick” formula.
3 Pretty in Pink (1986)
As mentioned, this film has probably been labelled a chick flick by many, and thereby avoided by many. John Hughes’ classic from the eighties, though, is extremely heartfelt in a way that isn’t unpalatable for viewers. Molly Ringwald’s character is a poor girl whom the rich girls ceaselessly tease; she is attracted to one guy, and another guy is attracted to her. And what Pretty in Pink should be commended for is not capitulating to any trite formula, as Ringwald’s character doesn’t suddenly realize she has feelings for the guy who loves her. If for nothing else, the film is worth watching for the scene in which Jon Cryer lip syncs Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness”—guys, take notes.
2 When Harry Met Sally (1989)
Despite being on this list, When Harry Met Sally does follow a classic “chick-flick” formula, as Harry and Sally contend throughout the film, only to realize their mutual love for one another and live—ostensibly—happily ever after. But that should not scare jaded male viewers, since Harry, played by Billy Crystal, constantly flouts at romance and emotions, which weirdly makes him a loveable, yet abrasive character that keeps the narrative from becoming dry. Sally, on the other hand, has surprising moments of crassness. In combination, the two characters make the narrative more of a roller-coaster ride than a cloying romance.
1 Father of the Bride (1991)
Perhaps this film also fits messily into the category of “chick flick,” but it does deal with a lot of emotion and it is about a wedding (perk up, gents). But instead of being steeped in sentimentality, the film is lighthearted and hilarious. The road to the big wedding that caps this narrative is probably best characterized by Murphy’s Law: everything that can go wrong does. Steve Martin’s character does everything for his daughter and her wedding, and he finds himself in tons of trouble throughout. Also, Martin Short’s character Franck is too funny and steals the show in every scene he’s in. This film definitely appeals to a wide audience.