Ferocious feuds between women—colloquially known as “catfights”—have a long and complicated history in cinema. Are they exploitative, degrading moments that cater to the straight male gaze? Often times, yes. Are they show-stopping, gasp-inducing scenes that you find yourself wanting to watch over and over again? Also yes!
Considering the overwhelming majority of films over the decades have been lensed by men, it’s easy to view catfights as the creation of the leering male gaze—but what about the “male gays,” the WLW, and the rest of the queers who get a kick out watching two of their favorite actresses go toe-to-toe, kicking, clawing, scratching, hair-pulling, biting, and slapping their way to domination? Is it so wrong to be exhilarated—or even empowered—by catfights? Again, it’s complicated.
By pitting two glamorous stars against one another and having them get all rough-and-tumble, there’s an inherent queer appeal to the movie trope. Plus, it’s worth noting that one of the earliest and most celebrated filmic catfights can be found in the 1939 Western, Destry Rides Again: A long, unbroken brawl scene between Una Merkel and none other than Marlene Dietrich, one of the original gay icons of the silver screen.
In more recent years, it feels like a number of films have been built around their catfights, pulling audiences in with the promise of some fierce girl-on-girl action. And, you know what? It gets us every time!
Let’s take a look back through recent movie history—roughly the past 20 years—and reflect on six of the wildest catfights committed to film, the sensational skirmishes that never fail to have queer audiences hooting and hollering.
Aunjanue Ellis vs. Denise Richards, Undercover Brother (2002)
Released twenty years ago last month, the deliriously silly Undercover Brother—from Girls Trip director Malcolm D. Lee—is actually what inspired this very list. A satire of ’70s Blaxpoitation films, the comedy is well-versed in the history of cinematic catfights within the genre, as well as their tendency to cater to the male gaze. At one point, the fight between “Sistah Girl” (bisexual icon Ellis) and “White She Devil” (Richards) goes slo-mo in the shower so that Undercover Brother (Eddie Griffin) can pull out the popcorn and gawk. Like we said, it’s all extremely silly, but it’s a thrill to watch the cartoonish way these two toss each other around.
Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, and Lucy Liu vs. Demi Moore, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003)
In many ways the peak of campy, early 2000s movie maximalism, the Charlie’s Angels sequels gave fans more winking one-liners, more ridiculous costumes, and more action, due in no small part to the addition of one more (reformed) Angel: Demi Moore’s Madison Lee. Dressed like a power lesbian, Madison is a fearsome foe—who certainly inspired a number of sexual awakenings—and her final brawl with the Angels is a sapphic blast, using wire fu stunt choreography that was big in the American zeitgeist after Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon‘s runaway international success a few years prior.
Uma Thurman vs. Everyone, Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003) and Vol. 2 (2004)
Speaking of Lucy Liu, she plays one of the many Deadly Viper assassins who The Bride (Thurman) battles in her bloody quest for vengeance across Quentin Tarantino’s pulpy, grindhouse-evoking Kill Bill films. Just about every woman-on-woman fight scene in these movies is one for the books, but our personal favorite is the very first: The Bride vs. Vernita Green (Vivica A. Fox). Set in an idyllic Pasadena home, these two tear the place—and each other—apart, only pausing to greet Vernita’s young daughter as she returns from school.
Penelope Cruz vs. Salma Hayek, Bandidas (2006)
Bandidas is a Mexican-set action-comedy that earned middling reviews at the time, and it might’ve been forgotten if it weren’t for the fact that it brought Cruz and Hayek together, forging a real-life friendship on set. The two star as women from different walks of life who team up to take down a cruel land baron (Dwight Yoakim) threatening their town. But their partnership wasn’t without its hiccups, like when the “bandidas” argue over what to do with the money they stole. We can’t help but feel tickled watching these old pals throw each other to the ground.
Beyoncé vs. Ali Larter, Obsessed (2009)
Given the astronomical trajectory of her pop star-icon career, Obsessed could go down in history as Queen Bey’s last on-screen role. And while we hope that’s not the case, she sure went out with a bang! This mid-budget domestic thriller pits Sharon (Beyoncé) against Lisa (Ali Larter), a woman who can’t mind her own business and decides to get flirty with Sharon’s husband (Idris Elba, which: Understandable!). The whole film is pretty much leading to their big confrontation, and the catfight doesn’t disappoint as they pummel each other across Sharon’s entire home. Bless Obsessed for giving us this scene, and countless one-liners from Beyoncé like, “I’m going to wipe the floor with your skinny *ss!”
Anne Heche vs. Sandra Oh, Catfight (2016)
Well, its’ right there in the title! This pitch-black comedy wasn’t entirely a success, but, come on, aren’t you dying to see a movie built around a premise that has Oh and Heche going at each other again and again and again? Between Oh’s presence, its queer characters (Heche and Alicia Silverstone play partners), and its many, many scenes of woman-on-woman violence, Catfight is basically a proto-Killing Eve, and what’s so wrong about that?