In 1985, Allison Bechdel made a cartoon that featured two women who are about to go to the movies. One of them says she decides what to watch based on three simple criteria.
Are there at least 2 female characters? Do they have names? Do they talk to each other about anything other than a man?
This was later dubbed “the Bechdel test.” It may be fairly recent, but it can still be used to judge classic films.
Like and subscribe for more on this unique set of criteria. Keep watching to learn about Old Hollywood movies that shockingly pass the Bechdel Test.
Classic Disney Films that Pass
Cinderella never said she wanted to go to the ball to meet the prince, so her conversations about it don’t make the film fail the test. She also has conversations with her stepmother and stepsisters (who do have names) They talk about topics such as how hard they’re making her work.
Sleeping Beauty features 3 sassy fairies; Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather. They have several conversations with each other and the title character, whose name is Aurora.
Peter Pan passes thanks to several female conversation scenes. Wendy talks to her mother Mary and Tiger Lily, the Indian chief’s daughter.
The Rescuers features a female villain named Madam Medusa. Orphan girl Penny talks with her several times, such as when she asks her to go back to the orphanage so she can get adopted. Female mouse Miss Bianca also tells Penny she’s come to rescue her.
Robin Hood squeaks by in terms of passing the test. It has a single scene where Maid Marian and Lady Kluck speak during a game of badminton.
A Doll’s House
This 1974 film proves that you shouldn’t judge a movie by its title. Along with the play it’s based on, it’s considered to be a portrayal of women’s rights and feminism.
There are several named female characters in the movie, including Nora and Kristine. They may talk about men more than once, but they also discuss other topics such as their work.
This 1972 film proves that a film about scantily clad dancers can still pass the Bechdel test. Two of them, Sally and Natali, focus most of their conversations on a man named Fritz, but they also discuss other topics such as the English language.
Death Race 2000
This dystopian race movie passes the test thanks to one small scene. There’s a moment where reporter Grace Pander interviews female racers Matilda the Hun and Calamity Jane Kelly, who then begin to argue about who will win.
This film was released in 1966 and is based on the Ray Bradbury novel from 1953. It’s a dystopian tale of a world where all books are burned and society can only get its information through pictures or television. The women aren’t exactly feminist icons, but they do have conversations about more than men.
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
This toned-down musical from 1964 has several named characters, including the lead Genevieve, her mother Madame Émery, and Madeliene. They have conversations about topics other than men including their failing store.
It’s a Mad Mad World
This chase movie from 1963 has three main female characters and women in several other minor roles. It could pass the Bechdel test even if it only had Mrs. Marcus and her daughter Emeline discussing how they’re going to recover the loot after their heist.
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane
If there were an anti-Bechdel test that judged whether or not there were any named male characters who spoke to each other, this 1962 film would fail it. The men are side characters and do almost nothing.
The female leads deliver all but 40 lines in the entire film. They almost always talk about more than the men in their life.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
This 1956 alien invasion movie is based on the 1955 novel by Jack Finney. It passes all 3 parts of the test because the women in it are too focused on staying alive to worry about men.
Becky and her cousin Wilma have a conversation, and Becky and Teddy have a group conversation later. The 1978 remake also passes the test.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
This film knows that diamonds are a girl’s best friend, not men. The Marilyn Monroe star vehicle is perfect for anyone who wants to watch a classic that passes the Bechdel test.
Conversations that have nothing to do with men include the one where Dorothy and Lorelai talk about geography and travel destinations. The movie even inspired a feminist essay called Pre-Text and Text in Gentlment Prefer Blondes by Lucie Arbuthnot and Gail Seneca.
Some Like It Hot
This film from 1959 also stars Marilyn Monroe and passes the test. It’s famous for having two male characters that dress up as women and experience what it’s like for them.
The movie also has conversations between actual women. One scene features a trombone player named Dolores who asks her band conductor why she has to stay in the same room as Marilyn’s character Sugar.
Singing in the Rain
This 1952 musical phenomenon includes at least 3 named female characters; Kathy, Lina, and Zelda. They talk to each other several times. Most of their conversations are about their careers and not about men.
This famous Western is one of the few that pass the test. It squeaks by with a conversation between Martha and her daughter Lucy.
Like and subscribe to Facts Verse for more. Keep watching to learn about more Old Hollywood movies that shockingly pass the Bechdel Test.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
This film from 1958 features three named female characters; Maggie, Mae, and Big Momma Pollitt. They discuss something related to a man, but not in a romantic way. What they want is a piece of his inheritance.
Alfred Hitchcock may have a reputation for harassing women, but he did include strong female characters in his stories. The female lead of 1954’s Rear Window may primarily talk about her boyfriend Jeff with the nurse Stella, but they also have other conversations.
The Man Who Knew Too Much
This 1934 film is similar to Rear Window in several ways. It was directed by Alfred Hitchcock, stars Jimmy Stewart, and passes the Bechdel test.
What sets it apart is that it has even better female representation Jill and her daughter Betty have several conversations that have nothing to do with men.
This 1955 film was one of Elizabeth Taylor’s first. She played Velvet Brown who wants to become a jockey. One of the most notable scenes is when her mother Edwina tells her about the dreams that she had as a girl.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes may have sparked an essay, but Elizabeth Taylor’s career, including her work on this film, has inspired entire books.
The Great Dictator
This 1940 Chaplin piece is remembered for its final speech by a man, but it also has conversations between women. Many characters are simply known as “blonde secretary” or “Jewish woman,” but it also has named female roles such as Hannah, Ms. Jackal, and Madame Napoloni.
The Shop Around the Corner
This film from 1940 inspired You’ve Got Mail in 1988. It may be a romance, but it has female characters who talk about more than the men in their life.
Like many real women, they often discuss the beautiful items they’ve acquired. Flora compliments Ilona’s silver fox and comments on Klara’s beautiful blouse, and FLora and Klara talk about her present from her boyfriend.
Imitation of Life
This 1934 film tells the story of Beatrice and Delilah. One of them is white and one is black. They get into business together and have daughters. Beatrice’s daughter is light enough to pass for white, bringing up even more conflict.
Almost none of the conversations in this film revolve around men. This is a serious piece about race and what it means to be a woman in business.
The Wizard of Oz and The Wiz
Almost everyone has seen this masterpiece from 1939. The book it’s based on was written during the First Wave of Feminism, and that may be why it features so many female characters.
There’s a conversation between two women near the beginning of the film when Auntie Em tells Dorothy she can’t listen to her stories because she’s busy counting chickens. It only continues from there, with Dorothy talking to other powerful women such as Glinda and the Wicked Witch.
The Wiz debuted in theaters in 1978 and is based on both the original book and movie. It shakes things up with more conversations and detail but still holds to the heart of it its inspiration. Once again, it passes the test with flying colors.
Do you have a set of criteria you use to decide whether or not to see a movie? Let us know in the comments below. Like and subscribe to Facts Verse for more on representation during the Old Hollywood era.