Study Guide

Thelma & Louise

Thelma & Louise Introduction


Release Year: 1991

Genre: Adventure, Crime, Drama

Director: Ridley Scott

Writer: Callie Khouri

Stars: Geena Davis, Susan Sarandon, Harvey Keitel


Thelma and Louise was one of those films that nearly broke Hollywood. Never before had the world seen women outlaws—women outlaws—go to such measures to resist a male-dominated world do what they needed to do to be free.

Seriously, to go from holding a gun like it's that clump of hair in the shower drain to blowing up some creep's truck in the desert while you're running from the law? That's a pretty big change.

Thelma and Louise hit theaters on May 24, 1991, with Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon behind the wheel of that '66 Thunderbird. And boy, did it make an impression. Such an impression, in fact, that it was nominated for six Academy Awards and won Best Original Screenplay. With an estimated production budget of $16,500,000—a measly $6000 of which went to baby Brad Pitt—and grossing $45,361,000 (USA), Thelma and Louise has also gone on to become a cult classic. And there haven't been many films like it since.

That's not to say everyone was pleased. The film sure got some people's boxers in a knot, partly because it portrayed two heroines answering male violence with, you know, a gun. Some folks saw the film as anti-man. Some folks freaked out about the surprise dramatic ending. Wait, that can't be the way things are, right? You can almost hear them asking it.

Well, like its iconic heroines, Thelma and Louise is a film that takes no prisoners. Love it or hate it, you can't ignore the powerful questions it brings up. Especially when it's pointing a gun at you and asking you nicely to apologize.

  

What is Thelma & Louise About and Why Should I Care?

Sexism may sound sexy, but on a scale of one to sexy, it would receive fewer than under zero points.

A dictionary would define sexism as prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of gender, but Shmoop defines it as "this ain't right." Let's face it, life isn't fair, but for some, it's less fair. These some often tend to be women. Sexism is not sexy-ism. You can bet your Speedo on it.

Thelma and Louise fits into the dark, dusty halls of film and literary traditions like a clean window—in other words, it fits precisely because it doesn't. It's no surprise, looking at the canon of English literature and the history of Hollywood films, that women are more than outnumbered by men. And that ain't right.

When we do see women in books and movies, they are often represented as sex objects, damsels in distress, nurturers, or even manic pixie dream girl, just to name a few stereotypes. Well, in Thelma and Louise, our ladies are outlaws. These ladies are trapped in a world of rapists, thieves, abusive partners, and a legal system that, as Louise puts it, "won't believe them."

Thelma and Louise had a big influence on American culture, but maybe not enough on the film industry. It advanced the discussion on feminism, but it didn't open doors for more women in critical roles in the movie industry. Susan Sarandon even recently declared that this type of film wouldn't be made today, due to the ongoing gender inequality on top of the Hollywood mountain.

Maybe we Shmoopers can't change the film industry single-keyboardedly, but we'd still say awareness is one doggone good place to start.

Trivia

George Clooney really, really, really wanted to play J. D. (Source)

Thelma and Louise was the first screenplay Callie Khouri ever wrote. (Source)

Geena Davis decided to act out the sexy scene with J. D. because J. D. was Brad Pitt. We think that is a pretty good reason. (Source)

Many other actors were considered for the roles of Thelma and Louise before Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis got the parts. Others who were considered include Holly Hunter and Frances McDormand, Jodie Foster and Michelle Pfeiffer, and Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn. (Source)

Thelma & Louise Resources

Websites

Thelma and Louise on IMDB
Great for seeing where the actors are now—and what they wore to the latest Oscars.

Rotten Potatoes
Or whatever.

Gal Pals
Curious about some other lady duos that rocked? Got you covered.

Articles and Interviews

Hollywood Still Sucks for Women
Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis lament the lack of progress in the film industry.

Would Thelma and Louise Be Made Today?
Susan Sarandon says nope. Vogue explores the plummet of the (male) Hollywood imagination.

Fun Facts about Thelma and Louise
Sour George Clooney, fights over the ending, and real tequila included.

Tori Amos
Here's a 20/20 interview with musician Tori Amos talking about how Thelma and Louise inspired her to write a song about being a rape survivor.

Khouri Answers Critics
It's supposed to spark controversy, she says.

The Making of Thelma and Louise
"Out of nowhere I thought, Two women go on a crime spree. That one sentence!"

Why an Alternate Ending Would Have Ruined the Film
Some interesting musing in Slate Magazine from a longtime T&L fan.

Videos

Good Morning, Thelma and Louise
Davis and Sarandon are on the famous breakfast show for the 25th anniversary of the film.

The Trucker Scene
So satisfying, every time.

A Knack for This
Thelma saves the day.

Audio

Theme Music
What's in a song?

Tori Amos and a Gun
Here's the song Tori Amos wrote that was inspired by Thelma and Louise.

Images

Thelma and Louise Confront the Creepy Trucker
Just sitting on a convertible in jeans, nbd.

The Iconic Selfie
Pre-road trip beauty shot.

Flying T-Bird
The last shot of the film.

John Register Painting
According to Vanity Fair, painter John Register was an influence on Ridley Scott for the shots and atmosphere of the film.