Geena Davis Shares Why Feminist Classic ‘Thelma & Louise’ Should Never Get a Hollywood Remake

At the Bentonville Film Festival this weekend, the diversity-minded event’s founder and chair Geena Davis spoke about the legacy of her 1991 feminist masterstroke Thelma & Louise, while insisting that remake-happy Hollywood had better keep its hands off this one because updating the story would be “pointless.”

“Well, it must never be remade,” the Oscar winner told IndieWire in an interview at the Arkansas festival. “I mean, it’s 30-something years later, and it holds up more than others. I’m not saying this because I’m in it, but it really holds up. And there’s no need to revisit it. What would be the point? In my opinion.”

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Thelma & Louise, with a script penned by Callie Khouri, created a firestorm of controversy upon its 1991 release. Culture wars around sex and gender roles were palpable when the Ridley Scott-directed hit premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and had a wide release days later. Critics and audiences mostly responded positively to the gender-swapped twist on the outlaw road movie following two working-class friends who flee to Mexico after one kills the other’s boyfriend while stopping an attempted rape; the movie’s shocking ending has gone down as one of modern cinema’s unforgettable moments.

Despite critical acclaim and box office success, the themes in Khouri’s script of women finding empowerment while shaking off male chauvinism and roles defined for women shook up the debate over gender. Susan Sarandon, who portrays Thelma in the film, told The Hollywood Reporter at a 2021 drive-in screening for its 30th anniversary that she “completely underestimated that we were backing into territory held by white heterosexual males,” adding that they were accused of “glorifying murder and suicide” — quite the double standard regarding a film that places two women in a genre typically filled with violence.

Speaking with IndieWire, Davis said that it remains a point of pride for her that the modern feminist classic, which shook up the national dialogue around gender, was directed by a man. Scott, then known for acclaimed blockbusters like Alien and Blade Runner, took on the film after ensuring his production company bought the rights for $500,000.

“That’s why I always say a man directed Thelma & Louise — I mean, not to promote men,” Davis joked with the outlet. “But to say that women can direct anything, men can direct anything. You just have to have your heart in it. Ridley is actually quite a feminist, and almost all women run his company and work with his company. He loves and reveres women.”

Davis explained how Scott’s vision of the film gave the rather intimate story of two friends on the run a massive scale, which comes via the vast shots of the Southwestern desert as the characters flee to Mexico. “He gave it a scale and vista that really elevated it. It was very, very important, and we’re really grateful,” Davis said.

The unique blend of such directorial decisions, two strong and nuanced performances from its leads, and the cultural temperature at the moment that made the original a smash hit 33 years ago point to why such a remake may never work. And perhaps these are some of the reasons an attempt at a musical with Evan Rachel Wood starring and songs by Neko Case was scrapped. Or why the rumored modern-day Thelma & Louise remake that allegedly had Beyoncé and Lady Gaga attached to take on the titular roles went poof.

This lesson may be learned — or hey, Davis and other doubters may end up pleasantly surprised — by Jennifer Anniston’s upcoming update of early feminist comedy 9 to 5. But the reaction from Lily Tomlin, who starred in the 1980 original, veers toward Davis’ “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude.

Having taken a scratch at the script about the workplace to the era of COVID and working from home, comedy legend Tomlin sent her sympathies to Aniston and the remake’s writer, Diablo Cody: “It’s going to be tough to make [the movie] happen.”

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