There are many things in this life men simply don't understand. The difference between bone and taupe. A woman's need for 17 different pairs of black shoes. And our ongoing love affair with chick flicks.

Throughout life, we women turn to our cinematic friends after breakups and bad haircuts, for Girls Nights Out and Me Nights In, when we need a good laugh or a good cry, when we're feeling frumpy or flirty, happily in love or hormonally imbalanced. (My friend Max says the difference between chick flicks and guy movies is that in the former, one person dies slowly, and in the latter, a lot of people die really quickly.)

Because of the important role these movies play in our life, there's nothing worse than plunking down your nine bucks at the theater or your rental card at the nearest Blockbuster and getting fooled by a Chick-Flick Wannabe. You know, like the much-touted Pretty Woman. Power through prostitution? Puh-leez. True chick flicks don't require you to check your brain or your morals at the door.

So to save you from such cinematic mishaps, we compiled a list of ten can't-miss chick flicks. Movies about true girl power, that celebrate women and our relationships with each other, our family, our significant other, our world. Flicks about women finding love, hope, friendship, reconciliation, a sense of purpose, their voice—and often themselves.

I'll admit that choosing such a list is not-so-unlike choosing a favorite from among those 17 pairs of black shoes. Each has such unique merit! So this is by no means a definitive best-of list—just a jumping off place of some classics and a few lesser-known gems for your next chick flick fix.

One more thing: Here's a handy chart for your specific cinematic needs:

H—Hunky Guys
K—Kleenex Alert
C—Wondrous Costumes
M—Marvelous Music
L—Lovely Locale

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Roman Holiday (1953)

(H, L)

This movie perfectly captures why we love Audrey Hepburn. Right out of the box, in her very first movie, she plays European royalty—and oh-so-convincingly. And when she sneaks away for a needed day off from all her royal duties, she goes shoe shopping, has her hair done, spends a leisurely afternoon at a sidewalk café , zips around town on a Vespa, goes dancing down by the river, and caps off the day with some passionate (though PG-rated) parking with dreamy Gregory Peck. When it's back to life as usual, she looks as regal and poised as ever. Proof positive that sometimes a girl's just gotta get away.

Strictly Ballroom (1992)

(H, M, C)

For any woman who's ever been upstaged by a Tina Sparkle, this one's for you. Frumpy Fran is stuck dancing with another woman in her ballroom dancing class, until she catches hunky Scott, a competitive ballroom dancer, trying out his innovative but strictly verboten dance moves one night after lessons. The two join forces, lose their hearts while choreographing a routine with soul, and encounter all kinds of roadblocks (including the aforementioned Ms. Sparkle) to their dream of performing it at the championships. This ballroom-dancing spoof (written by Baz Luhrmann of Moulin Rouge fame) is full of more hairspray and sequins than a 1980s prom, hilarious flashbacks, a magnificent makeover (of course Frumpy Fran doesn't stay that way), and occasional moments of sweetness that make it surpass the typical spoof. And if you don't want to get up and dance by the end of this flick, you must not have a pulse!

Ever After (1998)

(H, C, L)

This is Cinderella with a feminist twist. Instead of mooning around the castle singing "Someday My Prince Will Come," this Cinderella (Drew Barrymore) is busy reading books, saving her family's servants from debtor's prison, and trying to be as gracious as possible to her dysfunctional (that's PC for evil) stepmother and stepsister. When the prince finally realizes what a jewel he's found in this woman from the wrong side of the moat and rushes to the bad guy's castle to save her, he doesn't find a damsel in distress but a plucky, clever woman who's just saved her own hide and is walking out of the castle—and into his arms, of course—on her own two feet. You go, girl!

Enchanted April (1992)

(C, L)

When Englishwoman Mrs. Lotty Wilkins spies an ad in the local newspaper seeking someone to rent an Italian castle for the month of April, she practically salivates at the chance for a reprieve from her loveless marriage. She recruits Rose Arbathnot, a pious woman who secretly fears she's boring her husband; Mrs. Fisher, a curt old widow whose only friends are dead authors; and Lady Caroline, a sophisticated beauty who's tired of men always "staring and groping," to join in her journey. As they loll about the flower-drenched grounds of this castle nestled on the Mediterranean, unlikely friendships are forged, losses are finally grieved, and marriages are transformed. Next April, we're signing up!

The Joy Luck Club (1993)


Eight lives—four mothers, four daughters. And in the telling of each of their interwoven stories—of love and loss, honor and humiliation, hope and disappointment, competition and camaraderie, expectations and apathy, losing themselves and finding their voice—we see the staggering way one generation's choices affect the next. This movie perfectly captures the complex relationship between mother and daughter, between immigrant and new adopted culture, and it does so without the typical Hollywood emotional manipulation, but with all the intelligence and dignity each of these strong Chinese women exudes.

Sense and Sensibility (1995)

(H, C, L)

What woman can't see at least a little of herself in one of the polar opposite Dashwood sisters, whose only hope for a good future now that their father is dead is landing a good man? Type-A, pragmatic women no doubt cringe when they watch uptight Elinor keep herself from the love of her life because she won't reveal her true feelings. And the hopeless romantics surely feel a painful tug of familiarity as they watch impulsive Marianne practically drown a completely unworthy man with her affections while shrugging off the advances of a less-scintillating, perfectly proper gentleman. Ah, if only life always turned out this well in the end for women so far to the right or left of sanity and balance. For those of us still shy of a happily-ever-after, at least we can live vicariously through this sweet and sweeping rendition of an Austen favorite.

Bend It Like Beckham (2002)

(H, C)

Jess is torn. Her parents want her to follow the traditional route for women of Indian descent by marrying a nice Indian man. But her soccer talents are opening doors for her to achieve her life-long dream of going pro, like her hero, real-life soccer star David Beckham. Eventually she's forced to choose between honoring her family and her God-given talent. This tale of culture clash is handled with sensitivity—and loads of quirky humor. There's a great sequence toward the end where Jess is playing in an important soccer game while her more traditional sister is dancing at her wedding reception. These parallel scenes show both women's happiness with their chosen path in life. And the female soccer players in this flick rule. Unlike other modern movies in which women sport cleavage or tote an Uzi to show strength, this is a great example of true girl power.

While You Were Sleeping (1995)


Lucy (Sandra Bullock), a stereotypical single woman, is smitten with a man she doesn't know (who of us hasn't been?). She sees him every day and never musters the guts for more than a "hello." But when she gets the chance to save his life, on Christmas Day no less, she suddenly finds herself immersed in the lives of his lovably kooky family, who get the mistaken notion she's his fiancé . Much confusion and hilarity ensue while they all wait for him to awaken from his coma. What's great about this flick is that it goes beyond a woman's desire for romance and explores her longing to belong. And it shows the delicious process of two people falling for each other, as Lucy discovers that her crush's brother is a pretty swell guy. A sweet and funny reminder that sometimes what we wish for isn't really what we want.

Little Women (1994)

(K, C)

Who can resist the March sisters, who stage plays in their attic and have rousing sing-alongs around the family piano? But all isn't sweetness and light in this story that beautifully captures the innocence of youth and sisterhood in a kinder, simpler age (Victorian-era America). As the movie progresses, we're taken into the complicated territory of adolescence and the Civil War. This coming-of-age tale focuses on the war without and the wars within the four strong March females, who come to grips with life and death, love and loss. Thankfully, the movie deftly avoids cheesy or manipulative sentimentality as it traces the journey of each of these little women to their big dreams and bold, sometimes unexpected futures.

Return to Me (2000)


Much revolves around a human heart in this sweet, quirky love story. First there are broken hearts—Bob loses his wife in a car crash, and Grace is near death due to heart problems. Then there are tentative hearts, as these two wounded souls reluctantly risk a relationship with one another. Then, well, it's a love story, so you can figure it out. But what's just as wonderful as this sweetly awkward romance are all the peripheral characters. There are wonderful scenes of friendship—between Grace and her best friend and between Grace's grandpa and his three poker buddies. And what a fun, real portrayal of married love Bonnie Hunt and James Belushi offer. It's the overall community that's so winning here. That, and the fact that we start out crying tears of pain and end up crying tears of joy.

10 More We Can't Resist:

  • Next Stop Wonderland (1998), for its portrayal of a strong single woman who isn't afraid to dine alone in public
  • Out of Africa (1985), for dreamy scenery and musical score, and for the scene where Robert Redford washes Meryl Streep's hair (mmmmm)
  • Calendar Girls (2003), for reminding us that older gals still got it going on
  • Miss Congeniality (2000), for Sandra Bullock's stunning makeover and for pure guilty-pleasure fluff (William Shatner and Candace Bergren are spoof-tacular!)
  • French Kiss (1995), for Meg Ryan at her perky (and sometimes endearingly pathetic) best, and for the fun, flirty French music
  • Mona Lisa Smile (2003), for showing that we've come along way, baby, and for reminding us that many chosen paths through life are equally wonderful for women
  • Emma (1996), for the wonderful costumes and countrysides, and for Gwyneth at her elegant, and slightly flighty best
  • My Big, Fat Greek Wedding (2002), for including women of all glorious shapes and sizes
  • Mansfield Park (1999), for reminding us that sometimes nice girls do finish first
  • Legally Blonde (2001), for proving that one can wear hot pink and still command a courtroom