Women in Road Movies    

Road Movies represent the myth of mobility and freedom. These values are more likely to be associated with masculinity than feminine. This is probably the reason why most of the heroes in Road Movies are men.

Women however play certain roles in the genre of Road Movies which are more important than they seem if you take a closer look.


        “The women are essentially along for the ride, and are not part of what is constantly being redefined as an exclusive male enclave.”

Williams, M.: Road Movies: The complete Guide to Cinema on Wheels. New York/London: Proteus, 1982, p. 8.


The importance of women in Road Movies is comparable to that in the Western.

“Time after time, one can detach the females without endangering the structure of the main plot.” 

Woods, F: Hot Guns and Cold Women. In: Films and Filming. Vol. 5, No. 6, March 1959, p. 30.


Generally you can say that the appearance of women in a typical Road Movie is passive rather than active. They are the objects while men are the subjects; But, although women are passive, they greatly influence the story’s plot. George N. Fenin and William K. Everson (1977) call the woman a “plot motivator”.

“Defence of her honour and rights became as important in themselves as the battle between law and lawlessness.”

Fenin, G. K./Everson, W. K.: The Western: From Silents to the Seventies. New York/ Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977, p. 40.


We can often find gender-specific characters in Road Movies in which women play the weak parts and men have to protect them.

Examples for this frequent stereotype would be:

·        The hero of Coast to Coast (1980) fights for the rights of a woman.

·        The female characters of The Gauntlet (1977) and Fast Charlie – the Moonbeam Rider (1979) symbolize the weak passivity that has to be defended by a man.

·        Another example is Badlands (1973) where Holly influences the plot  passively. Kit’s love for Holly is the reason for their escape and  is therefore the main force in the story.


Although women don’t play the central roles in typical Road Movies, their characters often are very distinct. Still - their importance for the plot is defined by their relationship to the male protagonist.

There is a strong polarization in the way the personalities of women are represented. They may be the whore, the brave innocent girl, or sometimes even a virgin. The influence of the man changes this radical characteristic. On the one hand, the whore learns to live a civic life and to love only one man. On the other hand, the prudish girl learns to have fun and looses her virginity.

The stereotyped woman of the Road Movie can be compared to the typical woman of the Western.

         “The image of the western woman, as rendered by Hollywood,

stands confused, between the sentimental and mythological

conception of the pure but weak and defenceless female, without

any personality of her own, essentially dependent on the hero, and

the titillatingly  sexual and aggressive heroine.”

Fenin, G. K./Everson, W. K.: The Western: From Silents to the Seventies. New York/ Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977, p. 40.


Though the situation of women in society changed at the time Road Movies’ rising popularity, many Road Movies still used the image of the western women.

A very frequently found combination of good and bad is characteristic of all the female models in the following movies:

·        The female probation officer in Cannonball (1976) evolves from a brave and boring person to an active woman full of adventurous spirit.

·       The wife of the male protagonist in Pursuit (1981) wishes to have an average life at the beginning but starts joining her husband for his adventures and even likes danger at the end of the movie.

·        In Lost in America (1985) the scared wife of the hero turns into a wicked gambler.


 However, there are also examples of women who turn from bad into good.

·        Pick-up is the provocative girl in High Ballin (1978), but at the end she has to be rescued by the male hero, Rane.

·        The female protagonist in Roadhouse 66 (1985) is the owner of a shop for car replacement parts and is introduced as a very strong and masculine woman. After a while her love for the male hero changes her behaviour radically and she starts acting like a weak woman who has to be protected by a man.

·        We can also find this concept in The Gauntlet (1977). A prostitute is influenced by a man and starts a good life with him.


There is a third way women are represented in Road Movies – the armed woman. Usually, she is  a strong and masculine woman who plays a role which a man normally would.

·        In Convoy (1978) there is a woman called Widow Woman who participates in a fight between truckers.

·        There are armed women in Made in USA (1986) and in Return to Macon County (1974) who are stronger and more courageous than all the men.

·        Carol in The Getaway (1972) acts as masculine as her partner, especially when she uses arms.

·        At the ending of Zabriskie Point (1969), it’s a woman, Daria, who releases the bomb.

·        The female protagonists in Cannonball (1976) and The Cannonball Run (1980) even use sex as their weapon to win races.



Still there are some Road Movies where we can find female heroes. Like in all Road Movies, the women have certain reasons for their trips and these reasons can be different. However, it’s often because those women are running away from a man. Examples for Road Movies with female heroes are:

·        Boys on the Side (1995): Whoopi Goldberg, Marie-Louise Parker, and Drew Barrymore have 3,000 miles of bonding experiences while driving across the country.


·        Coast to Coast (1980): Dyan Cannon is a nutty woman who travels cross country with Robert Blake, who plays a trucker who isn’t exactly normal either.

·        Even Cowgirls get the Blues (1994): is about a young woman who has a big thumb and, therefore, becomes a hitchhiker.

·        The Great Dynamite Chase (1977): Female bank robbers hit the road.

·        The Sugarland Express (1974): Stephen Spielberg´s first theatrical release follows a fugitive couple fleeing to Sugarland, Texas. Goldie Hawn stars.

·        Truck Stop Women (1974): This movie is all about the lives of truck-stop women.

·        Thelma and Louise (1991): Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis hit the highway but take the wrong turn.

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