Walter White. Don Draper. Tony Montana. Batman.

The ranks of the antiheroes are filled with men. Dark, complicated men all seeking something. They act selfishly more often than not. Their compulsions damage their families. They make mistakes with grave, if not deadly consequences.

And we absolutely love them for it.

No one [or almost no one] watching Breaking Bad or The Sopranos thinks meth should be legal or that murder is fine. But we don't really want their brooding heroes to change course, do we? What would the show be if they did? We'd have to say goodbye.

There's a lot to like about antiheros. Their grittiness, no matter how extreme, can make them feel real in ways that Indiana Jones or Luke Skywalker don't. But there's always been something missing from the picture: women.

And I don't mean refrigerator women. Not wives left at home to worry about their men. Not corpses in the closet. Not first act casualties. Not kidnap victims.

Where are the female antiheroes?

There are a host of interesting and complex women found in many of these movies, shows, and books, to be sure. But we're not reading or watching their stories. Their complexity is of a different breed. It's the dark, complicated woman that feels so invisible.

Where are the women that choose their own desires above all else? The women that fuck up and don't apologize for it? Where are the women with flaws that we celebrate without sexualizing them, diminishing them, objectifying them?

I know two: Thelma and Louise.

The smoke, they drink, they steal, they kill, they run. And they don't do any of it in a catsuit or for the embrace of a man.

When Louise kills Harlan, for example, the film makes it explicitly clear that she doesn’t kill him to save Thelma. Thelma is already safe, Harlan’s backed off, and it’s so obvious that they can walk away. What pushes Louise over the edge is that after delivering one of the most empowering and honest lines in the film—”In the future, when a woman’s cryin’ like that? She isn’t havin’ any fun!”—Harlan looks her dead in the eye and calls her a bitch. It’s then and only then that, with fire in her eyes, Louise pulls the trigger.

That’s not something Princess Leia would do, that’s something Tony Soprano would do.

Scenes like this reappear again and again throughout the movie until by the end, violence is the first choice, not a last resort. They could have left the vulgar truck driver to his route or let the highway cop call them in, but be honest—did you really want them to? They turn from the “right” answer and the “moral” answer time and again to pursue a freedom that’s much more than just the freedom to live free of the constraints and violence of men, but freedom to live. 

They're tough and unapologetic, and they hold up way too well for characters in a movie made 25 years ago.

I think on some subconscious level that this must have been what my 18-year-old brain was responding to when I watched for the first time in my parents' living room. They were the essence of cool. They were my James Dean. My Han Solo. My Bruce Willis.

Looking back at it now, it both shocks me with its boldness and depresses me with the way it shocks me. Great movies are being made with great women in them. But mainstream Hollywood isn't really telling stories like this, and they haven't been more or less since Thelma & Louise came out in 1991.

Ghost World [2001] and Heavenly Creatures [1994] are often considered to be in the same vein as Thelma & Louise, but both were more cult hit than blockbuster, and I'm not entirely sure either really fits the antihero mold. Beyond that I find myself staring blankly at the page, wracking my brain for the examples I'm certain I'm missing. I'm searching through memories of everything I've ever seen to think of names to add to a list of men I came up with in a minute flat.

Clearly, Thelma & Louise filled a void, but it's one that still seems to persist. You look at the movie and it holds up so well it's almost painful. This tale of female friendship that trumps all else, these women that need men like a fish needs a bicycle [or so the saying goes]. It's all still so fresh and so singular. And it hurts because when Thelma asks why they can't report her rape to the police and Louise shouts, "We don't live in that kind of world, Thelma!" you know that we still don't.