Did you come out of Birds of Prey thinking, "Man, it sure was nice to see those women beat up all those bad dudes. I wish I saw more women beat up more bad dudes?" Then did you think, "Hmm, that sounds tiring for them. They should be able to do other things in between beating up bad dudes. Like taking down international criminals. Or participating in witchcraft. Actually, that still sounds tiring. What if, in between that, they just lounge around and hang out, supporting each other, no men (or bras) required?"
Let Tura Satana of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! usher you into a small sample of the sweet, sweet world of Girl Gang Cinema.
Nude on the Moon
In sci-fi movies of the mid-20th century, the "girl gang" often takes the form of an all-female society that a group of male explorers stumbles into. As Bev Zalcock writes in her book Renegade Sisters: Girl Gangs on Film, these films — like Cat-Women of the Moon or Queen of Outer Space — "[translate] ideas of matriarchal rule, female separatism and gender reorganization into a male wish fulfillment." The men are square-jawed and stoic. The women are conventionally attractive and scantily clad. And never are they more scantily clad than in Doris Wishman and Raymond Phelan’s Nude on the Moon.
The nudist film has existed since the '30s; as a genre, they’re typically less seedy than their exploitation film brethren, with a focus less on sex and violence than… watching people in a nudist colony… hanging out… doing things. Here they are dancing. There they are playing tennis! Aren't they all fine and normal while also being incredibly nude. (Or not: panties and briefs are common, and the Queen in Nude on the Moon wears a cape in one scene.)
In 1961, Wishman and Phelan mixed up the formula by setting their nudist camp on the moon, because why not? A pair of scientists go there, observe the culture (and a lot of breasts), and then have to go back once their oxygen runs low. Unlike the other girl gangs on this list, the women of Nude on the Moon aren’t defending themselves against killers or practicing any Satanic rites. They’re just going about their normal everyday lives. While freeboobing. Thus, Nude on the Moon takes an early lead for the title of most aspirational movie on this list.
Oh, if only the gals of Black Christmas could have spent their holiday vacation lounging around without wearing bras. Alas: there's a killer picking off inhabitants of their sorority house one by one. There's a definite lead in Black Christmas — Jess, played by Olivia Hussey — but the film gets some ensemble movie juju going by giving us distinct Types. Are you Jess, the Leader? Barb (Margot Kidder), the Hot Mess? Phyl (Andrea Martin), who's just kinda freaked out by everything? Or are you one of the real lucky ones who get to be house mother Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman), who keeps a flask on-hand at all times and low-key hates everyone? Regardless: You're probably getting murdered because some gee-dee men didn't think the first thing to do upon roommates starting to go missing was search the dang house.
In The Warriors, the titular gang must make it from the Bronx to their home turf of Coney Island with every rival gang in between trying to hunt them down. The only girl gang in the bunch is the Lizzies. One guess as to their sexual orientation, and remember, '70s action films are known for being very subtle.
Two of the Lizzies' number manage to use seduction and flattery to lure two of the Warriors up to their crash pad, where it's revealed that they're lesbians (didja get it?) and that, yeah, they're trying to kill the Warriors, too. ("Sh**, the chicks are packed. The chicks are packed!") The Lizzies are beaten pretty quickly — too quickly, considering they get less than five minutes of screen time. Still, their limited presence in an otherwise overwhelmingly male film makes an outsized impression in this cult classic.
Stripped to Kill
From 1979's The Warriors, we move forward to the '80s, the primo era of the slasher movie and ooey, gooey horror cheese. Both labels apply to Katt Shea's Stripped to Kill movies, each of which sees a group of L.A. exotic dancers hunted by a (different) murderer. In the first film, Detective Cody Sheenan (Kay Lenz) decides her best bet at figuring out the killer's identity is by putting herself in their way, vis a vis going undercover as the least enthused, least talented dancer at the Rock Bottom dance club. Once there, she discovers a sisterhood of women whose support and encouragement help her own her sexuality. (And presumably, after a trip to the department store, several pairs of really high-waisted panties.)
You wouldn't necessarily expect a low-budget strippers-in-peril movie made in 1987 to not just portray strippers as somewhat well-rounded characters but actually counter the all-too-common narrative that they're not worthy of respect... but here Stripped to Kill is, passing the Bechdel Test while wearing six-inch stilettos.
Also known as The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik Yak, Gwendoline gives '50s pulp sci-fi an '80s spin. On the '50s side: Gwendoline pulls from the world of the pulp serial for its story of a trio of adventurers whose quest to find a rare butterfly takes them through a variety of dangerous (and extremely racially insensitive) locales. On the '80s side: One of those adventurers is Tawny Kitaen. '50s: There’s that old standby, seen in Nude on the Moon: A colony run by women. '80s: In depicting this colony, Gwendoline shrugs off the sexual mores that keep its '50s counterparts, if not pure in their intentions, at least PG-rated.
As with the character of Wonder Woman, the comics that Gwendoline originally appeared in were quite bondage-heavy, and watching the film you can definitely tell. Gwendoline's kinky, it's goofy, it's ... kinfy, which is the best thing an '80s movie can be. The girl gang dresses in revealing undercrackers and plumed helmets to participate in a chariot race where they are the horses. Later, there’s a thong fight to determine who gets to have sex with Gwendoline's male companion in order to perpetuate the survival of this matriarchal culture, which is called Pikaho.
It's so '80s I could cry.
The Witches of Eastwick
Enter the O.G. girl gang: witches. Seeing as this list is (vaguely) chronological, you may have already noticed the lack of Suspiria on it. I apologize, but there's only so much room for witch movies here and Suspiria—neither the original Dario Argento version nor Luca Guadagnino's 2018 remake — displayed the same commitment to loungewear and gigantic '80s curls as George Miller's The Witches of Eastwick. Also, neither Suspiria has Michelle Pfeiffer, so it's like they don't even matter.
In Eastwick, Pfeiffer is one of three single women (along with Cher and Susan Sarandon) who gather every Thursday for coven meetings, i.e. drinking, eating junk food, and hoping that their ideal man will roll into town. Completely by accident, they do summon their "ideal man," who soon proves to be anything but. Daryl (Jack Nicholson) turns out to be controlling, dangerous, and maybe, incidentally, Satan himself. But he's taught his coven a few tricks they can use to take him down. Hey, who's gonna bet against Cher, even when it comes to a fight against the literal Devil?
"We are the weirdos, mister." Witches swap out luxury PJ sets and robes for miniskirts and knee-high socks in The Craft, the movie that birthed a thousand baby goths. Spoiler alert, but things don't end up too well for this particular girl gang, with erstwhile leader Nancy (Fairuza) ending the movie sans powers and confined to a mental institution. The Craft is great, but... that's kinda harsh, right? #TeamNancy? And #TeamNancy'sMom? #JusticeforNancy. Let's get it trending.
Nude on the Moon isn't the only girl gang on this list that likes to hang free and loose. Yes, I am talking about the bloodthirsty maidens of Jurassic Park, who were at least intended to all be female — before if pesky Mr. DNA got in their way. Regardless: They're women, they don't like man(kind) very much, and if you try to shame them into wearing an underwire when all they want to do is lounge around on the couch, eat ice cream, and watch Worst Cooks in America, they will eat you.
Angela Robinson's D.E.B.S. combines standard teen movie cheese with standard spy movie cheese, except it does it with lesbians, because why should straights get to have all the fun? In D.E.B.S., the government has figured out that, if they want international terrorist plots foiled, they should probably get teenage girls to do it. Only very special teenage girls, granted: ones who score high enough on a secret test embedded within the SAT to be admitted into the D.E.B.S. academy.
The James Bond of the D.E.B.S. set is star pupil Amy (Sara Foster), whose star-crossed romance with super-criminal Lucy Diamond (Jordana Brewster) puts her at odds with her squadmates: ambitious Max (Meagan Good), sweet Janet (Jill Ritchie), and mysterious Dominique (Devon Aoki). Will Amy's friends come to accept her romance? Will D.E.B.S. ever pull off an even halfway reasonable-looking special effect? (No, and I would not have it any other way.) Does Holland Taylor pull off one of the best line readings of early-aughts teen lesbian spy cinema? Yes, yes, and yes again.
Mad Max: Fury Road
The second George Miller movie on this list, Mad Max: Fury Road gives us a post-apocalyptic girl gang in the form of Capable (Riley Keough), Toast the Knowing (Zoë Kravitz), Cheedo the Fragile (Courtney Eaton), The Splendid Angharad (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), The Dag (Abbey Lee)... and, patron saint of badass women everywhere, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). A dude (Some Guy) is also there.
With its indictment of toxic masculinity and its depiction of previously victimized women gathering their power to support each other, Mad Max: Fury Road is a worthy inheritor of the great girl gang movies that have come before. When girl gangs do eventually take over the world, through witchcraft or superspy shenanigans or just plain ripping some dude's face off, George can stay.