A short screenplay illustrating the concept of the chick flick in modern society:
Two friends, BOB and CHARLIE, are hanging out by the office copier on a Monday morning.
I saw the most horrible movie this weekend.
Yeah? Why'd you do that?
Alice dragged me to it. It was a total chick flick!
Ooooh, sucks to be you. I'll avoid that one like the plague.
INT: AN OFFICE. DAY
DAPHNE is sitting at her COMPUTER as ALICE walks up to her.
Bob and I saw a great movie this weekend that you'd just love.
Oh, definitely. It was a total chick flick!
Hmmmm. Maybe I can get Charlie to go see it...
What is a chick flick?
As the above scene suggests, the phrase "chick flick" holds different connotations depending on who is using it. Among men, the term is derisive, used to dismiss any movie they perceive to be boring, sappy or otherwise un-manly (often regardless of the film's quality). Men usually claim the only way they'll see one is if their girlfriend drags them to one. Women use it more as a means of justifying the fact that they like a bad movie that happens to be overly sappy. In other words, the term seems to address the content of a movie while also passing judgment upon the movie. I find the term distasteful for this reason, as well as the fact that it implies there are some movies that you have to be a woman to enjoy.
Attempts to nail down exactly what a chick flick is are nearly impossible due to the inherently subjective nature of the phrase. The other writeups in this node seem to define chick flicks as movies that are romantic or strongly feature women and which are relatively non-violent. This is vague and unsatisfactory to me. Is Gone With the Wind a chick flick? I've heard it described as such and it meets the general criteria: it's a love story and has a strong woman as the protagonist. But it's also a trueclassic film, a phenomenal character study and, I believe, more than capable of holding the interest of any man willing to give it a shot. Casablanca might also be considered a chick flick, but it's also funny, exciting and stars Humphrey Bogart who is one of the most manly actors of all time.
The problem explained
I love chick flicks when they are not insulting to my intelligence. Of course, in that case they're not "chick flicks" but simply good movies. -- Roger Ebert, movie critic
Ebert's point is one well worth considering. A good movie is a good movie, regardless of who its target audience is. When people use the term, they are basically saying that either they're willing to give the movie a pass despite the fact that it's stupid or that they're unwilling to consider liking the movie because nothing explodes. This ultimately results in worse movies for everyone: movie studios assume that women will see any crappy movie so long as it is vaguely romantic. The studios also assume that men won't see romantic movies, even if they're good. Always with their eyes firmly fixed on the bottom-line, studios take the path of least resistance and continue to churn out bad movies with Sandra Bullock.
Take, for instance, the state of romantic comedies. I am a man, and I quite enjoy romantic comedies that are good. They can be funny, insightful and genuinely touching if done right. If you'd like two examples of good romantic comedies, check out Kenneth Lonergan's You Can Count On Me or Kevin Smith's Chasing Amy. Neither is entirely conventional but both are great movies. They both deal with relationships, romance and love but I couldn't imagine applying the term chick flick to either. In addition, both should appeal to guys as well as women.
A call to action
Now that I've gone to all this trouble to explain what "chick flick" means, I'd like to suggest we stop using the term altogether. It does nothing but penalize good movies and let bad movies off the hook (please note that I think it's fine to like a movie that is stupid and sappy; it's when people try to excuse badness by calling a movie a chick flick). If we all try and keep our minds a bit more open (the hallmark of the Enlightened Movie Watcher), we will be rewarded with better movies all-around.
The Roger Ebert quote is from his "Ask the Answer Man" column in the Chicago Sun-Times; appeared June 16, 2002.
The Internet Movie Database was used to verify spelling of names and titles.