I came of age in an interesting decade.
We wanted our bangs ready for the mall, but the rest of our hair to be business in the front, party in the back. We needed our leg warmers, but we cut up our sweatshirts. We liked most of our clothes to be neon-hued to match our scrunchies—but still trimmed with lace—and we wanted our denim stonewashed. And we wore more than one Swatch at a time.
Let’s be honest—we didn’t know what the hell we were doing. It’s a wonder I came of age at all.
Girls took their social and relationship cues from the valley girls and the Diane Courts and the world of John Hughes.
But what happened when we stopped being pretty in pink?
A quick Google search of the decade yielded a list of the “50 Greatest ’80s Movie Characters.” On this list, there are three women: Alex Forrest of Fatal Attraction—a psychotic adulteress; Veronica Sawyers of Heathers—a social misfit turned murderous bully; and Jessica Rabbit, a cartoon femme fatale with big boobs. There is also an enormous talking dog, a dorky robot and a psychopathic doll.
One man’s opinion, I suppose. And don’t get me wrong, I loved Heathers. And for that matter, Fatal Attraction and…well, not so much Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
But rising like a spire in a Rocky IV training montage, there were women who broke free of the spandex mold and busted the celluloid ceiling—and inspired my teenage self in all the right ways.
From the decade that produced both Jessica Rabbit and Alex Forrest, boiler of rabbits, here is a list of the five badass women who are the reason I made it to the ’90s:
1. Alex, Jane, and Sukie, The Witches of Eastwick
Technically, this is three women, but they rocked. Friends and small town outcasts Alex (Cher), Jane (Susan Sarandon) and Sukie (Michelle Pfeiffer), finding themselves in an emotional and sexual slump, accidentally summon a devil in the form of Daryl Van Horne (Jack Nicholson). They are all seduced by him, in turn and together. However, they realize even as they begin to thrive that they are not the ones in control, and so they decide to take back their power. Up until the point when that woman from the church started projectile vomiting cherry pits, all I wanted was to live in that house with my two besties and Daryl.
What they taught me: You don’t need a man to complete you, and you should run like hell from any man who tells you that he does.
2. Ann, Sex, Lies, and Videotape
This film features Andie MacDowell as Ann, a neurotic, sexually repressed housewife in an empty marriage, and Peter Gallagher as John, her smug, inattentive alpha-male husband who is sleeping with her free-spirited sister. Enter James Spader as Graham, whose hobby of videotaping women talking about their sexuality is a substitution for intimacy, and you have an infidelity trifecta. This film is the reason I fell in love with James Spader. Well, this one and Tuff Turf. Once all the dirty laundry is out in the open, Ann emerges as the film’s strongest character.
What she taught me: Sometimes the one who roars the loudest is not the strongest. And James Spader is yummy.
3. Elizabeth, 9 ½ Weeks
Yes, the sex was smokin’ hot. But if that was all, then the sequel would have been more memorable. Kim Basinger is Elizabeth, a recent divorcee, who is seduced by the mysterious and distant John, played by the almost painfully handsome Mickey Rourke. Their relationship is erotic and dark and beautifully depicted—he pushes the boundaries of her tolerance sexually and emotionally and nearly destroys her—until she turns the tables and leaves, irrevocably changing him. Did I mention the sex was smokin’ hot? Elizabeth is sexy and vulnerable and complicated, and in the end, the stronger of the two.
What she taught me: There ain’t nothin’ wrong with a little kink. Also: To recognize, when it came, a relationship that looked so much like love, but was actually the furthest thing from it.
4. Annie Savoy, Bull Durham
Susan Sarandon makes the list a second time as Annie Savoy, a baseball fan and aficionado who is a self-proclaimed mentor for the Durham Bulls. It’s a baseball movie—figure it out. Her character is what is important. She is first involved with future real-life husband Tim Robbins as Ebby LaLoosh, but soon is drawn to the deeper, more mature and complicated Kevin Costner as Crash Davis. Any woman who can own sex scenes that hot with two leading men (including one ending with a pedicure) and still talk baseball has stolen the show.
What she taught me: Sex is good. It’s supposed to be good. My sexuality is mine. You worry about your own.
5. Ellen Ripley, Aliens
There is only one Ellen Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver. Actually, by Alien: Resurrection, there are eight, but for this film, there is only one—and she is a badass. The sole survivor of the ill-fated Nostromo of 1979’s Alien—”In space, no one can hear your scream”—Ripley awakes from stasis 57 years later to have her space flight license revoked for bad judgment (apparently killing face-sucking, gut-exploding Aliens was a poor decision) and to find that her only family is dead. She is sent to battle the same Aliens a second time, on a planet colony that is infested with the nasty, slobbering creatures. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t end well for the Aliens.
What she taught me: As a soldier and a leader, you do the right thing. As a woman and a surrogate mother, you kick the hell out of anything that tries to hurt your baby.
To sum it up: Independent women were strong. Strong women were sexy and cool and fierce. But I’d still move into that house with my besties and Daryl Van Horne. Just for a little while. Did you see that swimming pool?