Coming to VOD near you is Valley Girl, a musical remake of the hit 1983 teen rom-com. Directed by Martha Coolidge, the original gave all of America an insight into what it meant to be a “Valley Girl,” reveling in mall culture, bitchin’ slang, totally 1980s fashion, a kick-ass soundtrack and crushing on rising It Boy, Nicolas Cage. The film also gave rise to a fresh form of “dumb blonde,” a stereotype that’s been long used — and underestimated — in the movies.
In the new Rachel Lee Goldenberg-directed Valley Girl, out tomorrow, Jessica Rothe stars as Julie Richman, a pretty, popular and perky teen queen who seems to have it all. She’s even dating the school’s most coveted bachelor, Mickey. (He’s so fine!) However, Julie longs for something more than the world she knows. So, when a punk (Josh Whitehouse) from the wrong side of the tracks (Hollywood) crashes her friend’s party, she’s intrigued. That he encourages her to follow her fashion-designing dreams only makes him dreamier. But can their love survive peer pressure, culture clash and prom?
To celebrate Valley Girl, we’re looking back at some of the best “dumb blonde” movies in cinema history. While the stereotype has been kicked around for cheap jokes for ages, these fair-haired heroines show that being blond, beautiful and bubbly doesn’t mean being brain-dead. In matters of business, education, love and murder, these movies prove you shouldn’t underestimate the so-called “dumb blonde.”
Happy Death Day 1 & 2 (2017 & 2019)
Before Valley Girl, Rothe played a different kind of “dumb blonde” in this slasher and its sequel. In Happy Death Day, Tree Gelbman is introduced as a caustic co-ed who has no patience for her peers, no interest in the environment and no love for her beaus and sorority sisters. So, when she is slaughtered by a baby-masked murderer, there’s a long list of suspects. Lucky for Tree, her death day keeps rebooting in Groundhog Day-ish fashion, giving her plenty of chances to catch the killer… and die again and again and again.
College isn’t about education as much as genre convention in this franchise: It’s the perfect place for a pretty blonde to be menaced and murdered! Tree never goes to class and shows a disdain toward those who treat college as more than a social occasion. Still, she must put her wits to the test to sleuth out who’s out to get her. Then, in the sequel, Tree’s challenges become even more complicated as she dives into an alternate dimension. In Happy Death Day 2U, she not only has to crack the familiar-but-different murder case, but also take on a crash course in quantum mechanics to get her battered butt back to her original timeline.
Writer/director Amy Heckerling gave Jane Austen’s 1815 novel Emma a totally rad makeover with this classic comedy. Alicia Silverstone (who also appears in the new Valley Girl) stars as Cher Horowitz, a California teen with confidence that nearly outsizes her massive wardrobe. Cher was a Valley Girl for a new era, one where we loved a plaid mini-skirt, rolled with the homies and exclaimed, “As if!” With a deep knowledge of fashion and high school cliques, she thinks she’s the perfect mentor to a clueless new girl (Brittany Murphy). However, Cher’s not so sharp when it comes to matchmaking her classmates.
Cher doesn’t know how to pronounce “Haitians” and drives like a crash-test dummy, so, you might write her off as a “ditz with a credit card” or a “virgin who can’t drive.” But you’d be totally buggin’. This Beverly Hills blonde overcomes romantic misunderstandings, battles between besties and a crushing crush to do some real good. She perfectly pairs up two lonely teachers, spearheads a disaster-relief fundraiser and realizes that her true love was right under her nose… or on her stairwell.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1992)
At first glance, Buffy Summers (Kristy Swanson) might look like an airheaded Valley Girl, who only cares about her hair, shopping and cheerleading practice. However, once she’s approached by a mysterious man called Merrick (Donald Sutherland), she is changed forever. Officially declared The Slayer, she taps into incredible powers that shoulder her with a huge responsibility. It’s up to this teen queen to save L.A. from becoming a hellmouth overrun by vampires.
Buffy pulls from the Valley Girl playbook, showing its mall-loving blonde falling for a boy from the wrong side of the tracks. This vampire slayer swoons for a punk called Pike (Luke Perry), and learns from him how to loosen up. However, she needs to learn a lot more to take on the film’s fanged fiends (Paul Reubens and Rutger Hauer), who would make a meal out of her classmates and an abattoir out of prom. With her astounding athletic prowess, sassy zingers and an icy determination, this cheerleader will stick it to ‘em where it counts.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
In this Howard Hawks musical, showgirl Lorelei Lee (Marilyn Monroe) is described by maligning men as a “blonde bandit,” “mercenary nitwit” and “blonde mantrap.” Today, we might call her a gold digger for the way she juggles the affections of a besotted heir and a married tycoon. However, this showgirl’s no fool. She may not understand the etiquette of high society, the ways of the law or the terminology of banking, but she knows men. In one of the most iconic performances of her career, Monroe delivers Lorelei’s thesis with plenty of bravado in her “Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend” number.
After being rejected by her would-be fiancé, Lorelei tells him, “It’s men like you who’ve made me the way I am.” Then, she takes to the stage and sings of “louses” who promise love and jewelry and only deliver on the latter. “Men grow cold as girls grow old, and we all lose our charms in the end,” she belts. “But square-cut or pear-shaped, these rocks don’t lose their shape! Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.”
As Lorelei sees it, a girl’s got to watch out for herself because the affections of men for beautiful women turns fickle, especially as they age. Yet, she argues that’s not the only reason she’s interested in her affluent suitor. As she tells her future-father-in-law, “Don’t you know that a man being rich is like a girl being pretty? You might not marry a girl just because she’s pretty, but my goodness, doesn’t it help?”
This proves such a good argument that it sees her to a final scene in a wedding dress, with her beloved on her arm… and a big diamond ring on her finger.
Legally Blonde (2001)
“I need to marry a Jackie, not a Marilyn.”
Those were the words that broke the heart of Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon), a sorority sister who is unapologetically girly, vivacious and blonde. Her boyfriend dumps her because he needs a serious, elegant and book-smart woman to be his wife, the Jacqueline Kennedy — not a Marilyn Monroe — to his JFK. So, as he sets off to Harvard’s law school, Elle aims to follow him and show him blondes can have brains, too.
In this hit comedy, Elle doesn’t compromise who she is. She offers an admittance essay-video full of personality and sparkle. Her résumé is pink and perfumed. She wears violently vibrant outfits to court. No matter what the haters say, she’ll take her unique perspective and smarts to the classroom and the courtroom, winning justice for maligned Marilyns everywhere.
Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead (1991)
Christina Applegate played with the “dumb blonde” persona she’d built as Married…With Children’s Kelly Bundy in this high-concept comedy. Here, she stars as Sue Ellen Crandell, a 17-year-old high school graduate looking forward to a summer full of fun and sun in L.A. Then, her plans go belly-up like the babysitter. See, she and her four younger siblings were to spend two and a half months in the care of the crotchety Mrs. Sturak (Eda Reiss Merin), while their divorced mom took a much-need break in Australia. However, when the glowering battle-axe dies, the kids dump her at a funeral home to avoid bringing parenting back into the picture. That leaves them without cash, so this blonde’s got to go to work to put food on the table.
Sue Ellen has to grow up fast when she trades carefree beach days for stressful work days, and trips to the mall for trips to the ER. With a trumped up résumé and business suits snatched from her mother’s closet, she tries to find a cozy desk job and stumbles into a coveted position in fashion. However, she’s soon overwhelmed by demands from her boss, confounding computer tech and an office nemesis that’s dying to see her fail. On top of all that, she’s trying to whip her stoner brother into playing Mr. Mom and avoiding the lecherous hands of a creepy co-worker, while finding time for romance with a promising peer.
Against the odds, Sue Ellen shows there’s much more to her than meets the eye.
Goldie Hawn played a bevy of ditzy blondes throughout her career. In this comedy, she plays one who saved the day in a big way. Sunny Ann Davis is a working-class woman from Oregon, who’s been working as a cocktail waitress in Washington, D.C. No one would have suspected this everywoman would rescue a visiting Emir from an assassination attempt, but when Sunny saw a gun, she tackled the would-be shooter and got a bullet in the butt for her troubles! Just like that, she’s a national hero. Naturally, some scheming politicians plot how best to exploit her 15 minutes of fame.
Sunny is invited to be part of a diplomatic team who will look after the Emir. While she’s chiefly chosen for her popularity and sunny disposition, she takes the work seriously, studying up and showing the Middle Eastern visitors the best time she knows. Of course, that means a wild night at the cocktail bar where she works.
Despite a series of missteps and disastrous headlines, Sunny is sent overseas on a top-secret mission. But those above her underestimate this plucky patriot. Sunny not only uncovers the shady plans she’s been scapegoated into, but also finds a way to escape them, and carve out a better destiny for herself and the American people.
Born Yesterday (1950)
Based on the hit Broadway play, this George Cukor comedy stars Judy Holliday as chorus girl-turned-brassy moll Billie Dawn, who is underestimated by her gruff gangster boyfriend. Having manipulated and manhandled his way to wealth and influence, Harry Brock (Broderick Crawford) has traveled to D.C. to spread some wealth to influence crooked politicians in his favor. However, he worries that his street-smart girlfriend, who spits slang and oozes sex appeal, is a “dumb broad” who makes him look a fool. So, Harry hires educated and idealistic journalist Paul Verrall (William Holden) to “smarten her up.” Billie takes to lessons of grammar and government like a fish to water, and soon she’s teaching Harry about the law and Paul about love.
Holliday made a career out of playing “dumb blondes,” but she’s best remembered for Billie Dawn. The New York City-born actress originated the role in the 1946 Broadway run of Born Yesterday, then for Cukor’s adaptation, she not only reprised the part, she also took home the Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Actress. It’s also said she reprised the role in 1952: When called before the House Un-American Activities Committee for allegedly having communist sympathies, the actress with an IQ of 172 played dumb and didn’t name names. While others were blacklisted, Holliday continued performing in movies and on Broadway. Her blondeness, beauty, cheeky humor and brassy attitude would go on to inspire both queen of pop Madonna’s blonde ambition and the Joker’s sassy sidekick Harley Quinn, whose voice bares an undeniable resemblance to Billie Dawn’s.
Working Girl (1988)
Melanie Griffith followed in the footsteps of Holliday, not only remaking Born Yesterday in 1993, but also by showing the world not to underestimate a bold blonde with a New York accent! In this Oscar-winning Mike Nichols comedy, Griffith stars as Tess McGill, a Staten Island girl with big hair and bigger ambitions. But in the sexist world of Manhattan execs, her looks keep getting in the way. “I have a head for business and a bod for sin,” she laments. The former isn’t respected by many of the businessmen she meets because of their lust for the latter.
After fending off several corporate creeps, Tess finally finds an ally in the dashing Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford). Fearful her big ideas might be snatched by her deceitful boss (Sigourney Weaver) or ignored because she’s just a secretary, Tess masquerades as an executive to snatch the status that’s demanded to be heard. From there, she proves her quick-wittedness, tenacity and business acumen at a swanky wedding, in a gossipy office and when she’s put on the spot. In the finale, she’s got it all: the job of her dreams and her dream guy.