Off the Cliff

How the Making of Thelma & Louise Drove Hollywood to the Edge

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A quarter of a century since Thelma & Louise turned Hollywood on its head, breaking all the rules about the place of women in cinema, Becky Aikman shines a light on the brazen group of young actors, writers, and filmmakers who created a classic—but have things actually progressed since then?

When a 30-year-old production assistant, Callie Khouri, had the wild idea to write a movie unlike any she had ever seen, about outlaw women on the run fleeing dull and disenchanted lives, the obstacles were almost too numerous to overcome. The bleak reality of Hollywood was that women screenwriters and filmmakers were practically unheard of in the 1980s, and movies about women were just as rare. Frustrated, intelligent, and full of thwarted talent, Khouri persisted, and today, Thelma & Louise, for which Khouri became the first woman writing on her own to receive an Oscar for best original screenplay since 1932, continues to electrify audiences and remains a cultural statement of defiance. In OFF THE CLIFF, Becky Aikman tells the extraordinary story behind this cinematic masterpiece, which crashed through barriers and upended traditional Hollywood.

Drawing on over 150 exclusive interviews with stars Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, director Ridley Scott, actors, studio bosses, producers, as well as a huge cast of lesser-known characters who pushed for the film to be made, Aikman crafts an exhilarating narrative driven by vivid personalities, from the old-school studio chief Alan Ladd Jr. to a newcomer named Brad Pitt.  More importantly, backed with groundbreaking social and cultural commentary, she shines a light on the current state of the film industry. Aikman examines how women's participation in film has made little progress since Thelma & Louise marked a high point, and why audiences of women and girls still rarely get to view themselves portrayed as persons of consequence and agency on the silver screen.

OFF THE CLIFF is a deeply-researched story of success in the face of challenging hurdles—but a success which somehow failed to shift the film industry towards more female-driven films. Aikman looks at how the struggle for women's voices to be heard in Hollywood that a bold team of filmmakers faced 25 years ago still looms today and shows what we can learn from one of the rare moments when the movies got it right.


“‘Thelma & Louise’ is both historic and anomalous—historic because it is so anomalous. Becky Aikman has told its story with the same propulsion as the film itself and manages to ground it in the sexual politics of Hollywood when a movie like ‘Thelma and Louise’ seemed an impossibility. Entertaining, informed, and unfortunately still timely in its perspective on women and the movies, Off the Cliff is one of the very best behind-the-scenes books you are likely to read.”—Neal Gabler, author of Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination and An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood

“A making-of book on ‘Thelma & Louise,’ one of the few diamonds among the films released by the studios in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, is long overdue. This breezy, smart, and informative account is it. Thank you, Becky Aikman!”—Peter Biskind, author of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and-Rock 'N' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood

“Thelma and Louise are a modern Damon and Pythias. Until they choose to go out in blazing glory, they live through a free-wheeling, slam-bang, bad-ass, sisterhood adventure saga. It’s great to learn how a modern movie that says women’s lives are important got made and to contemplate what it means in film history and American culture. A great read!”—Jeanine Basinger, Founder of the Film Studies Department and Curator of Cinema Archives at Wesleyan University, and author of I Do and I Don’t: A History of Marriage in the Movies and A Woman’s View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women, 1930-1960

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