"Thelma & Louise" Breaks the Glass Ceiling

1991's action film is a major milestone
August 09, 2016
Long before movie fans questioned whether women should play the lead roles in a "Ghostbusters" remake or discussed Harley Quinn's sexual appeal in "Suicide Squad," the 1991 movie "Thelma & Louise" put women front and center in a high-octane action-thriller.

Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon play, respectively, Thelma and Louise in this movie from director Ridley Scott, who had already given audiences an iconic female character in Ripley from "Alien."

Scott wasn't originally going to direct "Thelma & Louise," only produce it, but after his fellow producer on the film, Mimi Polk Gitlin, tried getting other directors on board (four directors turned it down, all men) did Scott agree to direct the movie, based on a screenplay by Callie Khouri.

While they’ve become two of screen history’s most indelible and indomitable characters, Thelma and Louise never intended their notoriety: They just wanted to have a quiet weekend away from their sedate Arkansas lives. But a fateful, spur-of-the-moment detour to a rural roadhouse puts them in the path of more danger than they ever anticipated – and in one shocking, life-changing instant, Thelma and Louise find themselves on the run from the law on a cross-country chase that ends with them becoming one of the silver screen’s most legendary duos.

Nominated for six Academy Awards, “Thelma & Louise” received an Oscar for Callie Khouri’s memorable screenplay. It’s also the film that introduced screen audiences to Brad Pitt, whose role as mysterious, charismatic J.D. generated almost as much attention as the iconic central performances by Sarandon and Davis, both of whom received Oscar nominations for Best Actress.

It's worth noting that neither Sarandon nor Davis were originally intended for the roles. When Khouri wrote it, she had in mind Holly Hunter (who was Oscar nominated for "Broadcast News") and Frances McDormand, who had starred in popular Coen Brothers films.
As the film moved toward production, actresses considered and even tentatively cast for the roles included Jodie Foster and Michelle Pfeiffer; and Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn, who would go on to star in "Death Becomes Her."

Davis lobbied hard for the role, and says she had her agent call Scott every week for a year. She had hoped and expected to play Louise, but said that as soon as Sarandon came in for her meeting with Scott, she knew that Sarandon would be a much better choice for Louise.

"Thelma & Louise" brought issues of gender equality (both on screen and off), gun violence and police conduct into a rip-roaring action-adventure film that proved that audiences would accept females in roles that traditionally were played by men. The movie went on to earn $45 million in the U.S. -- three times its budget, making it into a major hit.

It also was featured on the cover of Time Magazine in June 1991, more than a month after its release -- without the benefit of studio publicists. The Time Magazine editors chose the film as its cover story because of its major impact on culture.

Originally released on May 24, 1991, “Thelma & Louise” also earned Academy Award nominations for Ridley Scott (“Alien,” “The Martian”) as Best Director, Best Cinematography (Adrian Biddle) and Best Editing (Thom Noble).

And, best of all, 25 years later it's coming back to the big screen. On August 21 and 24, Fathom Events will show the film in more than 400 movie theaters nationwide. Tickets can be purchased at www.fathomevents.com.
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