Thelma & Louise (1991): Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis Reunion for Benefit Event

The pair joined Oscar-winning screenwriter Callie Khouri–and the original 1966 Ford Thunderbird convertible–for a Cinespia charity event at the Greek Theatre.

They recall a baffling reception from male critics and hopes that the movie would lead to more women-fronted films.

When MGM’s Thelma & Louise hit theaters 30 years ago, Geena Davis said the press predicted it would change everything.

“There are going to be so many movies starring women, about women, female road pictures, whatever,” she recalled of the hype around the Ridley Scott film starring Davis and Susan Sarandon from a script by Callie Khouri.

We’re Still Waiting

“I’m thinking, hot dog, let’s sit back and wait for all this magic change to happen. We’re still waiting. It really did not happen. It seems like every five years or so, there’s another movie starring women that’s a huge hit and people say, ‘Well now certainly everything is going to change,’ and it really hasn’t.”

 

It did change the careers of all of the above as it scored six Academy Award nominations and one win for Khouri, effectively catapulting Davis, Sarandon and Khouri to new heights in Hollywood. The trio celebrated the wins, shared some behind-the-scenes dish and opened up on some of the shocking responses they fielded from critics on Friday night while attending a special 30th-anniversary drive-in screening event at Los Angeles’ Greek Theatre that featured a pre-show Q&A moderated by THR’s Rebecca Keegan.

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The event was a benefit for the LA Regional Food Bank and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.

It was mounted in partnership between MGM and Cinespia, which happened to fall at the end of a milestone week in Los Angeles as COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, including mask mandates and capacity limitations.

The news no doubt contributed to a positively relaxed vibe on the grounds of the Greek where attendees mingled maskless ahead of the screening, taking pictures of the stars and checking out the original 1966 Ford Thunderbird convertible, which was placed on the lawn on loan from the Petersen Automotive Museum. .

Davis and Sarandon arrived together in matching custom t-shirts designed by a friend of Davis that read, “She’s My Thelma & I’m Her Louise” on Sarandon while Davis’s flipped it to match her character, “I’m Her Thelma & She’s My Louise.”

Sarandon said that if there’s demand from fans for the shirts, perhaps the night’s charity partners can take over production and sell them as a fundraiser.

They stayed close throughout the night, doing all red carpet interviews together and hopping in the Thunderbird to pose for photos from the front seat where they also recreated the dramatic kiss from the end of the film, something that likely never would’ve happened a few months ago during a tense time in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Iconic Driving Sequences

Keegan commented on how fun it was to see the pair back in the original car and asked what it was like to film the iconic driving sequences. “It was really fun, especially in the desert,” Sarandon commented. “What I learned is that you do your best acting when you’re really just trying to drive a car and you’re not thinking about anything and getting the shots lined up. I was driving pretty fast by the time we finished the movie.”

They many Thunderbirds used for filming and Sarandon recalled that one caught fire, one was souped up to go really fast and several more were driven off a cliff.

Scott Gave All the Cars to Sons

She said Scott “gave all the cars to his sons except for this one which I thought really wasn’t fair. Shouldn’t we have gotten cars?” she asked the audience. They responded as drive-in audiences usually do, by honking repeatedly.

Davis said that the way women responded to the film had a profound influence on the parts she went on to play in the rest of her career. “It made me realize how few opportunities we give women to come out of a movie feeling empowered by the female characters. Men get that every movie they watch,” commented Davis, who told Keegan during the Q&A that Khouri’s script was the best she’d ever read, so much so that she had her agent called Scott’s office every week until he agreed to meet with her. “It made me really think about what women in the audience are going to think about my character from now on and led me to want to play parts where I could feel good about the choices the character makes. I turned down parts based on that thinking for sure.”

While women may have embraced it, Khouri said during the Q&A that found herself “completely shocked” by some of the other responses to the film, which follows the title characters on a road trip that turns into a run from the law. “With all the murder and mayhem that you see in movies that male critics would be going, ‘They killed the guy.’ But it was just one guy and he had it coming,” she explained of the male character who is shot by Louise after he attempted to rape Thelma. “Let’s not lose our heads here, it wasn’t exactly a murder spree.”

She also name-checked one critic in particular — U.S. News & World Report’s John Leo, who had a long-running column — for what he wrote. “I’ll never forget his name,” she said. “He called it neo-fascist. I was like, wow, you really got to have your tighties in a wad to call this movie neo-fascist after all the bullshit that women have had to put up with in every movie that’s ever been made.”

Lasting Cultural Impact

Sarandon also touched on the film’s reception and her surprise to be a part of something that has had such a lasting cultural impact.

“You saw Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? I thought this was a cowboy movie with women and trucks and it’s going to be a lot of fun, Ridley is a great director and it’s a fun script,” she pointed out to Keegan. “I completely underestimated that we were backing into territory held by white heterosexual males. They got offended and accused us of glorifying murder and suicide and all kids of things. It didn’t seem like a big deal, it seemed like it was unusual that there would be a woman that you could be friends with in a film. Normally, if there were two women in a film, you automatically hated each other for some reason. … Next thing we knew, all hell broke loose.”