Surprising Movies That Fail The Bechdel Test

The Bechdel test is named after cartoonist Allison Bechdel. Bechdel’s comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For” in 1985 was the basis for the test. 

Bechdel credits the concept of the Bechdel test to Virginia Woolf. The test became popular in the 2000s and has since become a staple in critical cinematography. 

The Bechdel test imposes some very simple questions that can have startling results. The Bechdel test asks two questions:

  1. Are there at least two female characters in the film?

  2. Do they have a conversation about something other than men?

In modern versions of the test, a third question asks if both women are named. While these questions seem overly simple, their answers show at the fundamental level how a film illustrates women and female relationships.

In Virginia Woolf’s historic essay “A Room of One’s Own,” she commented on the state of women in fiction. Woolf wrote that among all the relationships between women in fiction are “too simple. So much has been left out ... and I tried to remember any case in the course of my reading where two women are represented as friends ... almost without exception they are shown in their relation to men.”

Woolf goes on to say that it was strange that “all the great women of fiction [are] seen only in relation to the other sex. And how small a part of a woman's life is that; and how little can a man know even of that when he observes it through the black or rosy spectacles which sex puts upon his nose.” 

In 2019, it may seem like the Bechdel test is no longer necessary. In all media nowadays, of course there are two named female characters! This might be the lowest bar in the world! However, studies find that of the 700 top‐grossing films from 2007 to 2014, only 30% of the speaking characters were female.

Here are 9 surprising films that have failed the Bechdel test.

1. Ratatouille (2007)

There are only two female characters presented on-screen during Ratatouille: Collette, Linguini’s love interest; and the food critic Solene Leclair who only utters one word. The two women never speak, and thus Ratatouille fails the Bechdel test.

2. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

The two women in this film are the protagonist's love interest and his mother. His mother dies early on and thus the two never speak, therefore this film fails the Bechdel test.

3. Avatar (2009)

This one is debatable, as two named alien women do speak in this film. However, they speak in their native alien tongue, so the audience never learns what they spoke about. For this reason, Avatar, in my opinion, fails the Bechdel test.

4. The Social Network (2010)

The Social Network does not have two named female characters and therefore does not pass the Bechdel test. However, the screenwriter Aaron Sorkin commented on The Social Network’s misogyny, saying,  “I was writing about a very angry and deeply misogynistic group of people. These aren't the cuddly nerds we made movies about in the 80's [sic]. They're very angry that the cheerleader still wants to go out with the quarterback instead of the men (boys) who are running the universe right now. The women they surround themselves with aren't women who challenge them (and frankly, no woman who could challenge them would be interested in being anywhere near them.)”

5. 21 Jump Street (2012)

The only female characters who speak in this film are Mrs. Schmidt and her neighbour, Phyliss. The conversation, however, is about Schmidt, and therefore 21 Jump Street fails the Bechdel test.

6. The Avengers (2013)

There are two named female characters in this film, Natasha Romanov and Agent Maria Hill. Unfortunately, there is no interaction between the two of them throughout the film, therefore, The Avengers does not pass.

7. The Imitation Game (2014)

Keira Knightley plays Joan Clarke, one of the main characters in The Imitation Game. However, Joan only has one significant conversation with another woman, her friend Helen, and the entire conversation centers around men. Thus, The Imitation Game fails the Bechdel test.

8. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows II (2011)

The inclusion of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows II on this list is hotly contested. There are only two speaking moments between women in the final Harry Potter film. After casting Piertotum Locomotor, Professor McGonagall turns to Molly Weasley and says, “I’ve always wanted to try that spell!” Later on, Molly Weasley says to Bellatrix Lestrange, “Not my daughter, you bitch!” But in both of these instances, there is no reply, which in my opinion does not constitute a “conversation.” Thus, I think this movie fails the Bechdel test. 

9. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)

Besides the titular character, there is not a single female character named in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and it, therefore, fails the Bechdel test.

The Bechdel test does not discern whether a film is good or not; however, it is a measurable way to discern the lack of depth and care often given to female characters in film. This information might seem trivial—does it really matter if Lara Croft has a female friend she speaks to? The whole movie is about her! And there is no denying that Agents Maria Hill and Natasha Romanov are some kick-ass characters—despite never speaking to one another. But the lack of representation of relationships—cordial or adversarial—between women is as Virginia Woolf said a complete oversimplification of the female perspective. 

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