still from D.E.B.S.

6 badass girl gang movies that'll make you want to break the rules

In the mood for rebellion? From ‘Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!’ to ‘The Bling Ring’, we look back at cinema's best girl gangs.

by Gabriela Almeida
|
08 October 2021, 10:23am

still from D.E.B.S.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when the first cinematic girl gang came into existence, but it was in 1955, with Richard Brooks’ The Blackboard Jungle, that the world’s obsession with watching teens break rules on-screen reached an all-time high. This unruly feature kicked off a number of low-budget exploitation movies (which capitalised on niches, trends or taboos — like sex or violence) made for middle-class white teenagers who dreamed of telling off their conservative parents. Though women were beginning to move into male-dominated spaces during the 50s, it wasn’t until the 60s that women were seen front and centre in these films. The girl gang was born, with members becoming agents of justice that resisted regressive American values around gender, violence and sex.

From exploitation narratives to coming-of-age dramas, girl gang movies come in a wide range of genres, ever-evolving with the spirit (and politics) of the times. Like the most daring of the early girl gang films (see: Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!), newer features continue hold a mirror up to American society, exposing deep-seated issues often kept hidden. Here, we round up the best girl gang movies throughout the years.

1. Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965) 

With the commercial success of the teenage movie in the late 50s, it was only a few years until studios started placing “wild” women at the wheel. Literally. In Russ Meyer’s camp classic Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, three go-go dancers ride through the California desert on shiny motorcycles orchestrating a killing spree. As a girl gang film, it rebels against the puritanical all-American values that distinguished the 50s teenage melodrama, and proposes something else entirely: here, it’s the misogynistic and musclehead men who are victims, and the women who roam free. 

2. Act of Vengeance (1974)

A product of the rush of 70s exploitation narratives and second-wave feminism, Bob Kelljan’s Act of Vengeance is nothing if not a perfect evolution of the original girl gang features. When a woman is raped by a man in a hockey mask, she and other survivors band together to form a vigilante group, which coincidentally includes martial arts expert, Lada St. Edmund. Warning: this film is unfortunately filled with some pretty horrific scenes. For all the sleazy, grimy exploitation, though, Act of Vengeance never trivialises assault, even by today’s standards, and the movie manages to strike a tenuous balance with its portrayal of rape culture and revenge fantasies. It’s a mixed bag for sure, but the result is all the more interesting for it.

3. Foxfire (1996) 

With the advent of third-wave feminism, the 90s experienced an influx of a different kind of girl gang movie: the glossy, sanitised version of grindhouse favourites of the 70s. Like The Craft, where Nancy ends up strapped to a bed for her misdeeds, the majority of the films from this era were devoid of the characteristic violence that came and went with impunity. In this respect, Foxfire is similar. The movie follows a group of girls reacting to a teacher’s sexual harassment. After a confrontation with the teacher turns violent, the teens are suspended from school, but they find themselves empowered by a mysterious girl, Legs (Angelina Jolie), who drifts into their lives with promise of change. What makes the film unique is its openness to sexual ambiguity and the way it offers its characters a sensitivity and understanding — a sort of gentle, affectionate grip on the shoulder.

4. D.E.B.S. (2004) 

By the 00s, the Spice Girls’ “girl power” mantra was firmly in place. But from Jawbreaker to Mean Girls, the Y2K girl gang had a markedly lighter, less feminist approach that leaned more on the zeitgeist’s predilection for girl on girl misogyny. Although equally lighthearted, Angela Robinson’s Charlie’s Angels satire D.E.B.S. is one of the few movies that breaks the mold. The film follows a group of high school girls recruited by a secret government group and trained to become members of D.E.B.S., a national security agency. The film is unabashedly queer, a tale of burgeoning love between one of the girls and the villainess she must bring to justice. Unfairly dismissed by critics at the time because of its chick flick aesthetics, the Devon Aoki-starring movie is highly underrated and due for a reappraisal.

5. Spring Breakers (2012) 

With Harmony Korine’s hypnotic Spring Breakers, girl gang movies returned to their white upper-middle-class roots. The hallucinogenic, gliding film follows four girls’ relationships with each other and a rapper named Alien (James Franco) as they plunge into a hedonistic life of crime during their spring break trip. Korine’s nightmarish depiction of spring break highlights the frivolous thrills that give life to the American Dream, as well as those who can and can’t partake in it. For the gang, a group of white passing teenage girls committing heinous acts of violence, the stakes are seemingly pretty low. YOLO. 

6. The Bling Ring (2013) 

The Bling Ring, which is based on real life events, follows a group of fame-obsessed teens who break into celebrities' homes to steal their expensive clothes and jewels. In the movie, the girl gang’s rebellion turns into a frenzied, vacuous media affair, where constant access to stars’ lives fosters a kind of unsteady symbiosis between the group and the celebrities themselves. This leads to a resolution that presents the media as, perhaps, the most culpable of the bunch. In a world where committing crimes grants you celebrity status, what person who desires fame wouldn’t participate?

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