Thelma & Louise

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Thelma & Louise
Thelma & Louise poster.png
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Ridley Scott
Written by Callie Khouri
Produced by
  • Ridley Scott
  • Mimi Polk Gitlin
Cinematography Adrian Biddle
Edited by Thom Noble
Music by Hans Zimmer
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • May 20, 1991 (1991-05-20)(Cannes)
  • May 24, 1991 (1991-05-24)(United States)
Running time
129 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$16.5 million [1]
Box office$45.4 million [1]

Thelma & Louise is a 1991 American female buddy road crime film directed by Ridley Scott and written by Callie Khouri. It stars Geena Davis as Thelma and Susan Sarandon as Louise, two friends who embark on a road trip that ends up in unforeseen circumstances. Filming took place from June to August of 1990. The supporting cast include Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, and Brad Pitt in one of his first major film roles.


Despite some controversy at the time of its release, accusing the movie of portraying a negative view of men, the film became a critical and commercial success, receiving six Academy Award nominations and winning for Best Original Screenplay. Scott was nominated for Best Director, and both Sarandon and Davis were nominated for Best Actress. To date, this is the most recent film to have two actors nominated in the same category for either Best Actor or Best Actress. It influenced other films and artistic works and became a landmark of feminist film.[ citation needed ] In 2016, the United States Library of Congress selected the film for preservation in the National Film Registry, finding it "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".


Best friends Thelma Dickinson (Geena Davis) and Louise Sawyer (Susan Sarandon) set out for a weekend vacation at a fishing cabin in the mountains to take a break from their dreary lives in Arkansas. Thelma, a ditzy housewife, is married to a disrespectful and controlling carpet salesman, Darryl (Christopher McDonald), while sharp-tongued Louise works as a waitress in a diner and is on–off dating an easygoing musician, Jimmy (Michael Madsen), who spends most of his time on the road.

On the way, they stop for a drink at a roadhouse bar, where Thelma meets and dances with a flirtatious stranger, Harlan (Timothy Carhart). Later in the parking lot, he starts kissing her and taking her clothes off without her consent. Thelma resists, but Harlan becomes violent and then attempts to rape her. Louise finds them and threatens to shoot Harlan. Harlan stops, but, as the women walk away, he yells that he should have raped Thelma, before further insulting Louise. In a fit of rage, Louise shoots Harlan in the chest, killing him instantly. A horrified Thelma ushers Louise to the car and the pair flee the scene.

At a motel, they discuss how to handle the situation. Thelma wants to go to the police, but Louise fears that no one will believe Thelma's claim of attempted rape since Thelma was drinking and dancing with Harlan, and they will be subsequently charged with murder. They decide to go on the run and flee to Mexico, but Louise insists that they travel there without going through Texas. Heading west, the women come across an attractive young drifter, J.D. (Brad Pitt), whom Thelma quickly falls for, and Thelma convinces Louise to let him hitch a ride with them. Louise contacts Jimmy and asks him to wire transfer her life savings to her. Jimmy surprises her by delivering the money in person, and the two spend the night together. Jimmy proposes to Louise, but she refuses. Meanwhile, Thelma invites J.D. to her room, and they sleep together. She learns he is a thief who has broken parole.

The following morning, the two discover that J.D. has stolen Louise's life savings and fled. Louise is distraught, so a guilty Thelma takes charge and later robs a nearby convenience store using tactics she learned from listening to J.D. Meanwhile, the FBI closes in on the fugitives after witnesses at the bar identify Louise's 1966 Ford Thunderbird convertible. Arkansas State Police Investigator Hal Slocumb (Harvey Keitel), leading the investigation, questions both J.D. (who was caught) and Jimmy, and taps into the phone line at Darryl's house. He sympathizes with the pair's situation and understands why they did not report Harlan's murder (partly due to Louise's own experience in Texas). During a couple of brief phone conversations with Louise, Hal expresses his sympathy but is unsuccessful in persuading her to surrender.

Thelma tells Louise she understands if she wants to go back home, knowing she has Jimmy waiting for her, but explains she cannot go back to Darryl. Louise promises they will keep going together. While back on the road, Thelma reflects on what Harlan had done with her and tries to ask Louise if what happened with her was what happened to Louise in Texas. Louise responds angrily and tells Thelma to never bring it up again. Later, they are pulled over by a New Mexico state trooper for speeding. Knowing he will soon discover their true identity, Thelma holds him at gunpoint and locks him in the trunk of his police car. Driving further west, they encounter a foul-mouthed truck driver who repeatedly makes obscene gestures at them. They pull over and demand an apology from him; when he refuses, they fire at his fuel tanker, causing it to explode. The women leave him stranded in the desert with the tanker's wreckage.

Thelma and Louise are finally cornered by the authorities only one hundred yards from the edge of the Grand Canyon. Hal arrives on the scene, but he is refused the last chance to talk the women into surrendering. Rather than be captured and spend the rest of their lives in jail or die by execution, Thelma proposes that they "keep going". Louise asks Thelma if she is certain, and Thelma says yes. They kiss and then hold hands, Louise steps on the gas, and they accelerate over the cliff as Hal desperately pursues them on foot.


Credits adapted from American Film Institute. [2]



The idea for Thelma & Louise originated in the spring of 1988 when Callie Khouri, then a music video producer, was driving home from work to her apartment in Santa Monica. She spent the following six months working on her first screenplay, which was noted to have drawn inspiration from her own experience as well as her friendship with country music singer Pam Tillis. [3] She had intended it to be a low-budget independent film, directed by herself and produced by fellow music video producer Amanda Temple (wife of English filmmaker Julien Temple). [3] After shopping the project around and finding no takers, Temple showed the script to her friend Mimi Polk Gitlin, who ran Ridley Scott's Percy Main Productions (later Scott Free Productions). Gitlin in turn showed the script to Scott, who expressed great enthusiasm for the project. He agreed to produce the film and bought the film rights for $500,000. Pathé Entertainment, then led by Scott's friend and collaborator Alan Ladd Jr., came on board as a co-producer and financier. [3]

Scott considered four people for the role of director, all of whom turned down the opportunity. Per Gitlin's recollection, three of the candidates were Bob Rafelson, Kevin Reynolds and Richard Donner. Scott was reluctant to direct the film himself but eventually took on the role, having been persuaded by Michelle Pfeiffer to do so. [3]


Michelle Pfeiffer and Jodie Foster were originally chosen for the leads; both accepted their roles with enthusiasm. As pre-production of the film dragged on, the two eventually dropped out, with Pfeiffer going on to star in Love Field and Foster in The Silence of the Lambs . Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn then offered to play the leads, but Streep later dropped out due to scheduling conflicts while Hawn was not considered right for the part. Geena Davis (who had been vigorously pursuing the lead role for nearly a year) and Susan Sarandon were ultimately chosen. The two took extensive driving and shooting lessons in preparation for their roles. [3]

Scott personally convinced Harvey Keitel to take on the role of Hal, the sympathetic Arkansas detective. The two had previously collaborated in Scott's feature directorial debut, the 1977 film The Duellists . Davis recommended her ex-boyfriend Christopher McDonald for the role of Darryl, Thelma's controlling husband. Scott wanted Michael Madsen for Harlan, Thelma's would-be rapist, but Madsen was unwilling; he eventually won the role of Jimmy, Louise's boyfriend. Brad Pitt auditioned for the hustler J.D.; however, the part originally went to Billy Baldwin. Pitt eventually secured the role after both Baldwin and his replacement dropped out. [3]


Principal photography for Thelma & Louise began on June 11, 1990, and concluded on August 31, 1990. [2] Although the setting for the film is a fictional route between Arkansas and the Grand Canyon, it was filmed almost entirely in the states of California and Utah. The primary filming locations were rural areas around Bakersfield, California and Moab, Utah. The Grand Canyon scenes were filmed just south of Dead Horse Point State Park in Utah. [4] Parts of the film were also shot at Shafer Overlook, Monument Valley, La Sal Mountains, La Sal Junction, Cisco, Old Valley City Reservoir, Thompson Springs, Arches National Park, and Crescent Junction in Utah. [5] Shafter, and also Taft, California


Pete Haycock on slide guitar contributed to Thunderbird, the theme music for the film. [6] In addition to Glenn Frey's "Part of Me, Part of You", which became the film's primary theme song, the soundtrack included songs performed by Chris Whitley, Martha Reeves, Toni Childs, Marianne Faithfull, Charlie Sexton, Grayson Hugh, B.B. King, and Michael McDonald.


Thelma & Louise was screened out of competition as the closing film at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival. [7] Theatrical release was delayed due to financial turmoil at MGM-Pathé. [8] The film eventually opened in American theaters on May 24, 1991 [2] and was a box-office success, grossing $45 million within the country. [9]


Susan Sarandon at the set of 'American Mirror' cropped and edited.jpg
Geena Davis 2013 (cropped).jpg
Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis both received various accolades for their performances, including nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actress.

The film received critical acclaim. Janet Maslin of The New York Times had only praise for the film in her review:

Mr. Scott's Thelma and Louise, with a sparkling screenplay by the first-time writer Callie Khouri, is a surprise on this and many other scores. It reveals the previously untapped talent of Mr. Scott (best known for majestically moody action films like Alien, Blade Runner and Black Rain) for exuberant comedy, and for vibrant American imagery, notwithstanding his English roots. It reimagines the buddy film with such freshness and vigor that the genre seems positively new. It discovers unexpected resources in both its stars, Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, who are perfectly teamed as the spirited and original title characters. [10]

Roger Ebert also praised the film but withheld a perfect score on the basis of "the last shot before the titles begin. It's a freeze frame that fades to white, which is fine, except it does so with unseemly haste .... It's unsettling to get involved in a movie that takes 128 minutes to bring you to a payoff that the filmmakers seem to fear." [11]

After watching the film, singer-songwriter Tori Amos wrote "Me and a Gun", the story of her rape several years earlier. [12] [13]

The final scene, where the two embrace before committing suicide by driving off a cliff, has become iconic. [14] Numerous homages and parodies of the scene have appeared, including alternate film endings, cartoon parodies, [15] video game "Easter eggs", [16] and as a tragic ending to television series, music videos, [17] and commercials. [18] [19]

The film also received harsh criticism from those who thought it was biased against men and that its depictions of men were unfairly negative. [20] [21]

Metacritic lists a composite critical score of 88 out of 100 based on 12 reviews, meaning "universal acclaim." [22] Rotten Tomatoes records a score of 85%, and an average rating of 7.9/10, based on 71 reviews. The site's consensus states: "Simultaneously funny, heartbreaking, and peppered with action, Ridley Scott's Thelma & Louise is a potent, well-acted road movie that transcends the feminist message at its core." [23]

"Thelma & Louise" placed second to The Silence of the Lambs as the best film of 1991 in a poll of 81 critics. [24]


Numerous critics and writers have remarked on the strong feminist overtones of Thelma & Louise. Film critic B. Ruby Rich praises the film as an uncompromising validation of women's experiences, [25] while Kenneth Turan calls it a "neo-feminist road movie". [26] In her essay "The Daughters of Thelma and Louise", Jessica Enevold argues that the film constitutes "an attack on conventional patterns of chauvinist male behavior toward females". In addition, it "exposes the traditional stereotyping of male–female relationships" while rescripting the typical gender roles of the road movie genre. [27]

In her review for the Los Angeles Times , film critic Sheila Benson objects to the characterization of the film as feminist, arguing that it is more preoccupied with revenge and violence than feminist values. [28]

In his review for the New York Post , film critic Kyle Smith describes the film as "a misogynist tale about unbelievably ditzy women who lose what remains of their reason under pressure and suffer the ultimate punishment." [29] Smith's review focused on the terrible decisions these female characters make throughout the entire film. [29]

In an article commemorating the film's 20th anniversary in 2011, Raina Lipsitz called it "the last great film about women" and said that it heralded the achievements of women that caused 1992 to become "the year of the woman". [30] However, she also said that women-themed films have since been losing ground. [30]


The British Film Institute published a book about the film in 2000 [31] as part of a Modern Classics series. On the Writers Guild of America Award's list of 101 best screenplays, it made No. 72. [32]

Academy Awards [33] Best Director Ridley Scott Nominated
Best Actress Geena Davis Nominated
Susan Sarandon Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Callie Khouri Won
Best Cinematography Adrian Biddle Nominated
Best Editing Thom Noble Nominated
BAFTA Awards [34] Best Film Ridley Scott and Mimi Polk GitlinNominated
Best Direction Ridley ScottNominated
Best Original Screenplay Callie KhouriNominated
Best Actress Geena DavisNominated
Susan SarandonNominated
Best Music Hans Zimmer Nominated
Best Cinematography Adrian BiddleNominated
Best Editing Thom NobleNominated
Golden Globe Awards [35] Best Motion Picture - Drama Nominated
Best Screenplay Callie KhouriWon
Best Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama Geena DavisNominated
Susan SarandonNominated

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Works cited

Further reading