Oscar-winning actress Geena Davis says shooting the heroine road movie Thelma & Louise profoundly changed her life because the reaction to the film from women was so extraordinary.
"All of a sudden people were grabbing me by the lapels to tell me what the movie meant to them or telling me their story and: 'My friend and I acted out your trip!"' Davis told a crowd of about 1,800 at Tuesday night's " Thelma & Louise: The 20th Anniversary Homecoming" event at Roy Thomson Hall.
"So it really made me realize how few opportunities we give women to feel that way about a movie, about the female characters in the movies."
Davis, 55, noted the film was "kind of a phenomenon" but despite all the excitement, it didn't become the catalyst for more female-centric films that many thought it would.
"The press predicted when this movie came out that: 'Oh my God, now it's been proven that female road movies or female buddy movies or whatever could be very successful and we're going to see a whole stream of them,' and nothing happened," she said.
"I mean, we really haven't build any momentum since this movie came out."
Davis and her Thelma & Louise co-star Susan Sarandon stopped in the city to celebrate this month's 20th anniversary of the landmark 1991 film, which was a hit with critics and won an Oscar for best screenplay.
Davis stars as Thelma, a bored Arkansas housewife who's married to a controlling husband (Christopher McDonald). Sarandon plays Louise, her friend and a headstrong waitress.
Together they hop in a 1966 Thunderbird convertible for a weekend getaway of fishing and bonding. Things go awry, however, when Louise shoots a man who tries to rape Thelma.
With the cops (one of them played by Harvey Keitel) surrounding them on the ground and in the air, the accidental outlaws choose to end the chase in tragic fashion: by slamming on the gas of the T-bird and driving it off the edge of the Grand Canyon in a dusty haze.
That final scene has become a classic cinematic moment and yet it only took just a few minutes to shoot, said the stars, noting director and co-producer Ridley Scott filmed it on the last day.
"By that time we'd been through so much, we'd put in so many hours in the car together and we'd done everything that really we earned that scene and we earned the sentiment of that scene," said Sarandon, 64, who won an Oscar for Dead Man Walking.
"If we had had to do it in the beginning I think it would have been more forced, but by the time we got to it, it was the perfect time to do it."
Callie Khouri won an Oscar for penning the Thelma & Louise screenplay. The film also received five other Oscar nominations, including one each for Davis and Sarandon, and one for Scott.
With its original plot and portrayal of female friendship, the drama became a touchstone for many women, yet Scott didn't set out to make a feminist film, said Sarandon.
"It wasn't trying to be a polemic, it wasn't trying to be anything and he's not a feminist, really, and so it was a turning point for him too," she said during a Q&A session.
"I think it could've been a very small movie if a very serious feminist had made it that didn't put it in this heroic, I mean, that's what he does, he just put us in this huge heroic kind setting and we took care of the human part. So we have to thank him for making it iconic."
Davis - who won an Oscar for The Accidental Tourist - said she thinks one of the reasons why there haven't been more standout female-centric movies since is that the male-dominated industry isn't writing enough interesting female characters, even in children's entertainment.
"The female perspective is not really fleshed out as well," said Davis, who founded the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media in 2007, which studies gender representation in media, especially children's media.
"I think that's a big part of the problem is there's a great lack of imagination in creative female characters. The best advice I give anybody in the industry is, 'Change the male characters to female."'
Of course, Thelma & Louise also launched the career of Brad Pitt, who plays J.D., a strapping paroled robber who befriends and hustles the girls on their journey.
Davis, whose character has a steamy motel sex scene with Pitt's character, said Billy Baldwin had originally landed the part but backed out to do another film. When Pitt walked in to read for the part, she was gobsmacked and could barely get through her lines.
"I kept losing my place and I'm like, 'Oh my God, I'm totally screwing it up for this guy,'" she said, noting she wasn't the only person onset who was taken aback by his good looks.
"Ridley was personally spraying Evian (water) not on me, on Brad's stomach (for the love scene)."
Money raised from Tuesday's event will benefit the Women's College Hospital Foundation.