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Thelma & Louise is a 1991 American road movie featuring two female leads. Directed by Ridley Scott and written by Callie Khouri, the film's plot revolves around Thelma and Louise's escape from their troubled, caged lives. It stars Geena Davis as Thelma and Susan Sarandon as Louise, and co-stars Harvey Keitel as a sympathetic detective trying to trace them as they go on the run after killing a rapist. Michael Madsen plays the role of Louise's boyfriend. Brad Pitt (in his first significant role in a major Hollywoodmarker film) plays a parolee robber.

Thelma & Louise became an instant critical and commercial success, becoming one of the highest-grossing films of 1991, and receiving six Academy Award nominations, winning one for Best Original Screenplay. Both Sarandon and Davis were nominated for their roles in the same category.


Thelma (Geena Davis) is a passive, goofy housewife, married to a controlling husband, Darryl. Louise (Susan Sarandon) is a single waitress who appears organized and strong, with some unnamed trauma in her past. The film follows the women as they head out in Louise's teal 1966 Thunderbird convertible for a two-day vacation of fishing in the mountains that nosedives into a nightmarish situation before they even reach their destination, but which sees them change from victims of circumstance into outlaw heroines of the road.

At the Silver Bullet, a cowboy bar and dance hall, Thelma meets a man called Harlan (Timothy Carhart), with whom she dances. She gets drunk and the man attempts to rape her in the parking lot. Louise finds them and threatens to shoot Harlan if he doesn't stop, using a gun Thelma brought with her. Harlan stops but then defiantly tells Louise that they were "just having a little fun." Louise replies that "when a girl is crying like that, she's not having any fun". Harlan replies that he "should have gone ahead and fucked her" and tells Louise to "suck my cock." At that, Louise shoots and kills him. Thelma wants to go to the police right away, but Louise is worried that because Thelma was drunk and had been dancing with Harlan, no one would believe he was trying to rape her. Afraid that the authorities will prosecute her, Louise decides to run away, and Thelma follows.

Louise is determined to reach Mexicomarker but is unwilling to do so via Texasmarker, despite the fact that they are in Oklahomamarker and the fastest route to Mexico leads through Texas. It is revealed that something bad happened to Louise in Texas years ago, though Louise refuses to say exactly what it was. They flee west and on the way they meet a handsome, personable young man J.D. (Brad Pitt), whom Thelma immediately likes. She convinces Louise to let him hitch a ride with them. Louise, meanwhile, contacts her boyfriend Jimmy (Michael Madsen) and asks him to send her life savings via Western Union. When she goes to pick it up, she discovers that Jimmy has come to see her in person. They go to talk in his room, while Thelma guards the money. Thelma invites J.D. into her room; it turns out that he is a robber who has broken his parole. He and Thelma become intimate, and Thelma experiences a sexual awakening. During their time together, J.D. describes how he conducted his hold-ups. Meanwhile, Jimmy asks Louise to marry him, and she refuses, as well as refusing to tell him what is going on. They spend the night together, and he leaves after breakfast the following morning. After Jimmy leaves, Thelma arrives and tells Louise about her night with J.D. Suddenly, Louise asks where J.D. is and becomes alarmed when Thelma tells her that she left the money back in her room. They rush to Thelma's room to find both J.D. and the money gone. Louise is distraught, and a guilty Thelma decides to take the lead while Louise is frozen with fear. She uses what J.D. taught her to rob a store. All this time the FBImarker has been tracking them, and after separately questioning both J.D. and Jimmy, begin putting the pieces together and are getting closer and closer to their trail. Detective Hal Slocumb (Harvey Keitel) finds out what happened to Louise in Texas, and appears to be sympathetic to her predicament. During a couple of brief phone conversations, Slocumb almost establishes a rapport with Louise, yet can't convince her to come back in.

Their actions continue to spiral out of control as the two of them make their way across the country, particularly with the ever-more-daring Thelma, who has shed her giggly, goofy personality for a determined, aggressive, hard-drinking one. When a policeman (Jason Beghe) stops them for speeding, Thelma threatens the policeman with her gun, steals his gun, and locks him in the trunk of his cruiser. They encounter a truck driver who repeatedly makes obscene sexual gestures to them on the road. They pull over to demand an apology from him, but he refuses and they shoot his tanker truck, which explodes. Thelma and Louise are finally cornered by police at the edge of a 2000-foot cliff. Detective Slocumb arrives on the scene, but is dissuaded from making one last attempt to bring the women in without incident. Rather than be captured and spend the rest of their lives in jail, they decide to drive the car over the cliff and commit suicide. The film ends with a freeze frame of the car in mid-air. End credits begin over a montage of their happiest moments together during the weekend.


The primary filming locations for the movie are rural areas around Bakersfield, Californiamarker and Moab, Utahmarker. The Grand Canyon scenes were filmed just south of Dead Horse Point State Parkmarker.


Scott originally considered Cher for the role of Thelma; however, after the success of Moonstruck, her salary proved to be too high. Meryl Streep was approached to star as Thelma but became pregnant and she couldn't take the part. Jodie Foster was approached to star as Thelma but dropped out before filming began. Geena Davis accepted the part. Scott didn't want Davis for the part and wanted to cast Barbara Hershey instead. Christine Lahti and Debra Winger were also considered. Soon after Thelma & Louise had established itself, as well as jump-starting the career of Geena Davis, she soon began to suffer from typecasting.

The role of Louise was originally intended to be played by a younger star: Annie Potts, Holly Hunter, Michelle Pfeiffer, Frances McDormand, Sela Ward, Jennifer Jason Leigh or Meg Ryan. Pfeiffer agreed to sign on, but dropped due to script concerns. Melanie Griffith was approached to star as Louise, but she became pregnant before filming began. Eventually the choice was made to age the character, and after Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton, Sigourney Weaver, Sissy Spacek and Anjelica Huston declined, Susan Sarandon was hired for the part.


Critical reception

The film was a huge critical success. The website, which compiles and averages reviews from leading film critics, gave the film an 88 out of 100. This makes it their 88th best reviewed movie of all time. Janet Maslin of The New York Times, like many other critics, had nothing bad to say about the film in her 1991 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." Roger Ebert also praises the film, but withholds 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."

The film was screened out of competition at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival.


  • The film was ranked on the Australian programme 20 to 1, in the episode Magnificent Movie Moments.

Cultural significance

  • The final sequence in the Grand Canyon has been parodied or mentioned many times in popular culture, and has also served as a serious source of inspiration. Singer/songwriter Tori Amos wrote "Me and a Gun", the story of her rape six years earlier, which she had told no one about, after watching this film and being 'triggered' by the events portrayed, resulting in Amos' sobbing publicly in a crowded movie theater. Two Argentinemarker composers wrote songs related to the film. Fito Paez was inspired by the film to compose a song called "Dos dias en la vida" (Two days in life), featured on the album "El amor despues del amor" and Kevin Johansen wrote a song in English dedicated to Susan Sarandon's character in his Logo Album named Susan Surrender. They are also mentioned in a line of Today 4 U in the popular broadway and film musical Rent.

  • In Wayne's World 2, Wayne and Garth speak to the camera saying that the movie needs an end, and then they show a parody of the Grand Canyon fall, Wayne and Garth holding hands as they accelerate over the edge. In mid-air, Wayne says, "Hey, we don't want to end the movie like this".

  • In an episode of Animaniacs, various celebrities are shown arriving to a fancy studio party. Davis and Sarandon enter when the teal convertible from the movie falls from the sky in front of the building. Sarandon says "Finally, we landed!"

  • In an episode of The Simpsons entitled "Marge on the Lam", Marge becomes close to her neighbor, who steals her ex-husband's car, and runs away. In the end, the two women run in direction of an abyss (Though unlike the titular characters, Marge and Ruth were apparently unaware that they were driving right towards the chasm), with the police force in pursuit. Homer implores Marge not to jump over the cliff, which makes them realize what was about to happen, and they stop the car. Homer and Wiggum fail to stop and drive off the cliff, but they are saved by a huge garbage mountain which has filled the canyon.

  • In the episode "Finger" from the early 1990s British Comedy television show Bottom, the two main characters Richard and Eddie steal a Ford Cortina belonging to a Welshmanmarker named "Cannonball Taffy O'Jones". Richard compares the situation to Thelma and Louise, with Eddie replying "Well, we are driving on the wrong side of the road!".

  • The claymation series Gary & Mike centers around the two titular characters taking a road trip. In the final episode, they are pursued by the police after Gary is framed for murder. When their car is cornered at an incomplete bridge, Gary, seeing nothing left to live for, instructs Mike to drive over the bridge. The two of them hold hands just like Thelma and Louise. The series was canceled before the intended second part of the episode could be produced, therefore it could be assumed that the duo had died in the crash, when it was previously intended for them to survive.

  • In "Robot Chicken", there is a sketch that shows how things would look after Thelma & Louise had driven off the cliff.


  • Thelma & Louise and Women in Hollywood by Gina Fournier (McFarland & Co., Inc. Publishers, 2007)
  • Thelma & Louise Live! The Cultural Afterlife of an American Film, Bernie Cook, Ed. (The University of Texas Press, 2007)


  8. 101 list

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