30 Years On, Thelma And Louise Are Still One Of Cinema’s Most Iconic Duos
Most Academy Award winners make an impression on audiences, but few have been as culturally significant as Thelma & Louise.
Ridley Scott has been responsible for science-fiction masterpieces, but the story of two women on the run is the basis of one of his films with the most enduring legacy.
Thelma & Louise saw Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon take on the titular roles and compellingly portray the transition from two women sick of being pushed around, to fugitives. In fact, it is still one of the greatest films ever made.
Blending gritty realism, humour and the odd leap into fantastical action, with a blown-up oil truck, the film offers a lot. This was recognised when it was first released three decades ago with award nominations, a successful box office performance and the launch of Brad Pitt’s career. However, retooling in other media makes Thelma & Louise a film that stands the test of time.
Many people will recognise the shots and story of Thelma & Louise without seeing the film, and this is because the characters have been referenced by so many other films and TV shows. These references have helped make the duo essential characters in the world of cinema.
Two years after the release of the incredible film, high-profile parodies began to surface. The Simpsons episode ‘Marge On The Lam’ showed Marge meeting a neighbour and defying the law. The end of the episode is much more light-hearted than the film, but the cinematic parallels are clear – the story of women evading the law, cinematography being mirrored almost shot for shot, the police chase ending – the list goes on.
From this point on, it seems like every sitcom had a homage to pay to the fugitive heroes of cinema. Whether it was Cheers directly mentioning the film or 3rd Rock From The Sun comparing its characters; this trend in sitcoms has continued for some time.
The likes of Will & Grace, Malcolm In The Middle and Frasier all used the title as a reference point, and it’s clear that the film had a significant impact in the first decade of its release. Furthermore, other media that isn’t focused on delivering laughs has used the film as inspiration, a reference point, and at times a model to be followed.
Even shows with a more serious tone – when EastEnders labelled Claire and Sonia as the duo, for example, or when Law and Order couldn’t resist referring to characters who needed to escape the law as Thelma and Louise. In this sense, the film has become part of our everyday vocabulary and not just a cinematic reference when shooting over dusty plains.
Over the years, the film has become a blueprint for women escaping the law in the media. One of the most memorable examples was seen when Lady Gaga and Beyoncé put their own spin on the story with the music video Telephone. The inspiration is clear with shots of the artists in their car evading the law replicating the imagery seen in Thelma & Louise. Even the theme of liberation is similar, although not as obvious as some of the narrative beats that have been borrowed by other films.
Thelma & Louise has provided a template that has been used repeatedly. Both Thelma and Louise are placed in the revenge-action genre as they enact vengeance on those who assault them. This was pretty unique at the time of release, but has become a lasting theme in cinema. The revenge that women take on their attackers is still used as a narrative device and is mirrored in contemporary films like Promising Young Woman. However, no friendship has ever quite mastered this trope like Thelma and Louise.
On top of parallels in the plot that have been used time and again, the film has been referenced word for word by other media. For example, the dialogue in the Starsky & Hutch remake mimics the climax of the film before they perform a disastrous jump. The result is, of course, more comical than the compelling original, but equally effective. This is one of the odder references to the film, but there are some pretty bizarre ones out there, too
Surprisingly, Grand Theft Auto V has an obscure Easter egg where an area recreates the final scene of the movie. If players pilot a helicopter over a specific area in the mountains they will see a re-enactment of the epic final scene. With all of these references in mind, it is clear the film has become something much larger than merely a reason to go to the cinema.
Given that the duo has become a part of our everyday language, genre tropes, and cinematic references, it’s no wonder they have become so iconic. The repeated nods to the film only cement its position as a classic that shows women fighting for their agency in a system that doesn’t support them.
If you are one of the people that know about the exploits of the renegade duo but haven’t seen the film, it’s worth watching the masterpiece tonight, for it’s 30th anniversary. After all, it inspired a Lady Gaga and Beyoncé music video and got name-dropped in EastEnders, what more do you need.
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