Thelma & Louise

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Thelma & Louise
Thelma & Louise poster.png
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRidley Scott
Written byCallie Khouri
Produced by
  • Ridley Scott
  • Mimi Polk Gitlin
CinematographyAdrian Biddle
Edited byThom Noble
Music byHans Zimmer
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release dates
  • 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 comedy-drama film directed by Ridley Scott and written by Callie Khouri. The film has elements of multiple genres and has been described as a drama, adventure or road movie[2] with elements of a romantic comedy.[3] It stars Susan Sarandon as Louise and Geena Davis as Thelma, two friends who embark on a road trip that ends up in unforeseen circumstances. Filming took place in California and Utah from June to August 1990. The supporting cast include Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, Christopher McDonald, and Brad Pitt in one of his first major film roles.

The film was 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.

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 and Louise Sawyer 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 housewife, is married to disrespectful and controlling carpet salesman Darryl, while sharp-tongued Louise works as a waitress in a diner and is dating easygoing musician Jimmy, who is on the road most of the time.

On the way, they stop at a roadhouse bar, where Thelma dances with a flirtatious stranger, Harlan. He takes her to the parking lot and tries to rape her until Louise intervenes and threatens to shoot him. As the women walk away, Harlan yells vulgarities at them, so Louise shoots him in a fit of rage.

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 a claim of attempted rape as Thelma was drinking and dancing with Harlan and also having no evidence of the rape, and they will be charged with murder. They decide to flee to Mexico, but Louise demands they travel there without going through Texas, as something happened to her there several years earlier which she refuses to reveal. Heading west, they come across an attractive young drifter, J.D., to whom Thelma takes a liking. Louise contacts Jimmy, asking him to wire her life savings to her. He surprises her by delivering the money in person, and they spend the night together. Jimmy proposes to Louise, but she refuses. Thelma invites J.D. to her room, and they sleep together. She learns he is a convicted armed-robber who has violated the terms of his parole.

The following morning, they discover 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 J.D.. Meanwhile, the FBI closes in on them after witnesses at the bar identify Louise's 1966 Ford Thunderbird convertible. Their whereabouts are also questioned by the owner of the fishing cabin after they failed to arrive.

Arkansas State Police Investigator Hal Slocumb, 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 killing (partly due to Louise's own experience in Texas). During a few 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 recalls the incident with Harlan and tries to ask Louise if what happened with Harlan 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 they are wanted for murder and armed robbery, 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 furious 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 the women refuse his last chance to talk them into surrendering. Rather than be captured, 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, as Hal desperately pursues them on foot, they accelerate over the cliff to their presumed deaths.


Credits adapted from American Film Institute.[4]



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.[5] 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).[5] 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.[5]

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.[5]


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.[5]

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.[5] George Clooney, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Grant Show, John Mellencamp, Dylan McDermott, James LeGros and Dermot Mulroney were also considered for the role of J.D.[6][7] Davis did test scenes with Clooney, Show, Ruffalo and Pitt; her advice to the directors was to choose Pitt.[8]


Principal photography for Thelma & Louise began on June 11, 1990, and concluded on August 31, 1990.[4] 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.[9] 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.[10]


Pete Haycock on slide guitar contributed to Thunderbird, the theme music for the film.[11] 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 ("Kick The Stones"), Martha Reeves ("Wild Night" written by Van Morrison), Toni Childs ("House Of Hope"), Marianne Faithfull ("Ballad of Lucy Jordan" written by Shel Silverstein), Charlie Sexton ("Badlands"), Grayson Hugh ("I Can't Untie You From Me"), B.B. King ("Better Not Look Down" written by Joe Sample & Will Jennings), Michael McDonald ("No Lookin' Back"), The Temptations ("The Way You Do The Things You Do" written by Smokey Robinson & Bobby Rogers), and Johnny Nash ("I Can See Clearly Now").[12][13]


Thelma & Louise was screened out of competition as the closing film at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival.[14] Theatrical release was delayed due to financial turmoil at MGM-Pathé.[15] The film eventually opened in American theaters on May 24, 1991[4] and was a box-office success, grossing $45 million within the country.[16]

In February 2023, The Criterion Collection announced the film would be joining the collection in May that year.[17]


Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis both received 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.[18]

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."[19]

After watching the film, singer-songwriter Tori Amos wrote "Me and a Gun", the story of her rape several years earlier.[20][21]

The final scene, where the two embrace before committing suicide by driving off a cliff, has become iconic.[22] Numerous homages and parodies of the scene have appeared, including alternate film endings, cartoon parodies,[23] video game "Easter eggs",[24] and as a tragic ending to television series, music videos,[25] and commercials.[26][27] Right after the film's release, there were even a few copy cats who committed suicide by driving off the edge of the Grand Canyon.[28]

The film also received harsh criticism from those who thought it was biased against men and that its depictions of men were unfairly negative.[29][30]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 86% based on 147 reviews, with an average rating of 7.9/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "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."[31] On Metacritic, the film received a score of 88 based on 12 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".[32]

The film placed second to The Silence of the Lambs as the best film of 1991 in a poll of 81 critics.[33]


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,[34] while Kenneth Turan calls it a "neo-feminist road movie".[35] 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.[36]

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.[37]

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."[38] Smith's review focused on the terrible decisions these female characters make throughout the entire film.[38]

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".[39] However, she also said that women-themed films have since been losing ground.[39]


Award Category Nominee(s) Result
20/20 Awards Best Picture Nominated
Best Director Ridley Scott Nominated
Best Actress Susan Sarandon Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Geena Davis Won
Best Original Screenplay Callie Khouri Won
Academy Awards[40] Best Director Ridley Scott Nominated
Best Actress Geena Davis Nominated
Susan Sarandon Nominated
Best Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen Callie Khouri Won
Best Cinematography Adrian Biddle Nominated
Best Film Editing Thom Noble Nominated
Australian Film Institute Awards[41] Best Foreign Film Mimi Polk Gitlin and Ridley Scott Nominated
Awards Circuit Community Awards Best Motion Picture Nominated
Best Director Ridley Scott Nominated
Best Actress in a Leading Role Geena Davis Nominated
Susan Sarandon Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Callie Khouri Won
Best Cinematography Adrian Biddle Nominated
Best Film Editing Thom Noble Nominated
Best Cast Ensemble Nominated
Best Stunt Ensemble Nominated
Bodil Awards Best Non-European Film Ridley Scott Won
Boston Society of Film Critics Awards[42] Best Actress Geena Davis Won
British Academy Film Awards[43] Best Film Mimi Polk Gitlin and Ridley Scott Nominated
Best Direction Ridley Scott Nominated
Best Actress in a Leading Role Geena Davis Nominated
Susan Sarandon Nominated
Best Screenplay – Original Callie Khouri Nominated
Best Cinematography Adrian Biddle Nominated
Best Editing Thom Noble Nominated
Best Original Film Score Hans Zimmer Nominated
British Society of Cinematographers[44] Best Cinematography in a Theatrical Feature Film Adrian Biddle Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards[45] Best Film Nominated
Best Director Ridley Scott Nominated
Best Actress Geena Davis Nominated
Susan Sarandon Nominated
Best Screenplay Callie Khouri Nominated
Most Promising Actor Brad Pitt Nominated
César Awards[46] Best Foreign Film Ridley Scott Nominated
Dallas–Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards Best Film Nominated
Best Actress Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon Nominated
Best Screenplay Callie Khouri Won
David di Donatello Awards Best Foreign Film Ridley Scott Nominated
Best Foreign Actress Geena Davis Won[a]
Susan Sarandon Won[b]
Directors Guild of America Awards[47] Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures Ridley Scott Nominated
Faro Island Film Festival Best Film (Golden Train Award) Nominated
Best Actor (Audience Award) Brad Pitt Won
Golden Globe Awards[48] Best Motion Picture – Drama Nominated
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama Geena Davis Nominated
Susan Sarandon Nominated
Best Screenplay – Motion Picture Callie Khouri Won
London Film Critics Circle Awards Film of the Year Won
Director of the Year Ridley Scott Won
Actress of the Year Susan Sarandon (also for White Palace) Won
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards[49] Best Actress Geena Davis Nominated
MTV Movie Awards Best Female Performance Nominated
Best On-Screen Duo Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon Nominated
Nastro d'Argento Best Foreign Director Ridley Scott Nominated
Best Female Dubbing Rossella Izzo (for dubbing Susan Sarandon) Won
National Board of Review Awards[50] Top Ten Films 4th Place
Best Actress Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon Won
National Film Preservation Board National Film Registry Inducted
National Society of Film Critics Awards[51] Best Actress Susan Sarandon 3rd Place
Best Supporting Actor Harvey Keitel (also for Bugsy and Mortal Thoughts) Won
New York Film Critics Circle Awards[52] Best Actress Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon Runner-up
Best Screenplay Callie Khouri Nominated
Online Film & Television Association Awards[53] Hall of Fame – Motion Picture Won
PEN Center USA West Literary Awards Screenplay Callie Khouri Won
Sant Jordi Awards Best Foreign Actress Susan Sarandon Nominated
Turkish Film Critics Association Awards Best Foreign Film 3rd Place
Valladolid International Film Festival Golden Spike Ridley Scott Won[c]
Best Film (Audience Award) Won
Writers Guild of America Awards[54] Best Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen Callie Khouri Won

The British Film Institute published a book about the film in 2000[55] as part of a Modern Classics series. On the Writers Guild of America Award's list of 101 best screenplays, it made No. 72.[56]


  1. ^ Tied with Susan Sarandon.
  2. ^ Tied with Geena Davis.
  3. ^ Tied with Atom Egoyan for The Adjuster.


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  4. ^ a b c "Thelma & Louise". American Film Institute. Archived from the original on May 1, 2021. Retrieved May 1, 2021.
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  6. ^ Harris, Hunter (June 27, 2017). "Brad Pitt's Breakout Role in Thelma & Louise Almost Went to Robert Downey Jr." Retrieved October 11, 2021.
  7. ^ "John Mellencamp is Still Making Music for Everybody, No Matter Who They Voted for". March 2017.
  8. ^ Perry, Kevin (October 22, 2022). "'I was screwing up his audition': Geena Davis on the moment she knew Brad Pitt was perfect for Thelma & Louise". The Independent. Retrieved October 22, 2022.
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  13. ^ "Various – Thelma & Louise (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)". July 2022. Retrieved July 31, 2022.
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  17. ^ 'Thelma & Louise,' 'Petite Maman,' and More Coming to Criterion in May
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  21. ^ "Tori Amos on Her New Album and the "Muses" That Inspire Her Songs". CBS This Morning. November 11, 2017. Archived from the original on April 28, 2018. Retrieved April 27, 2018.
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  23. ^ "References Thelma and Lousie". Archived from the original on August 26, 2018. Retrieved August 26, 2018.
  24. ^ Jenkins, Steve (November 1, 2013). "Best GTA 5 Easter Eggs: UFOs, Bigfoot, Playboy Mansion, and more!". Archived from the original on August 26, 2018. Retrieved August 25, 2018.
  25. ^ Gorton, Thomas (July 2, 2015). "All the cult film references in 'Bitch Better Have My Money'". Archived from the original on August 26, 2018. Retrieved August 25, 2018.
  26. ^ Ouzounian, Richard (June 6, 2011). "Driving off a cliff into movie lore". The Star. Archived from the original on August 26, 2018. Retrieved August 25, 2018.
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  29. ^ Carlson, Margaret (June 24, 1991). "Is This What Feminism Is All About?". Time. Archived from the original on July 7, 2018. Retrieved July 7, 2018.
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  44. ^ "Best Cinematography in Feature Film" (PDF). Retrieved June 3, 2021.
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  56. ^ Writers Guild of America West. "101 Greatest Screenplays". Writers Guild of America West. Archived from the original on November 22, 2016. Retrieved July 7, 2018.

Works cited[edit]

  • Sturken, Marita (2000). Thelma and Louise. London: British Film Institute. p. 11. ISBN 0-85170-809-9.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]