Gender and comedy in post-Bridesmaids Hollywood cinema: the rise and fall of the Womance Comedy

Author: Claire Whitley

  • Thesis download: available for open access on 20 Sep 2026.

Whitley, Claire, 2023 Gender and comedy in post-Bridesmaids Hollywood cinema: the rise and fall of the Womance Comedy, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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This thesis identifies the unique industrial and cultural context in which Bridesmaids (2011) was released and argues that the film’s success instigated a film cycle which I term the “womance comedy” cycle. Early films of the womance comedy cycle were characterised by depictions of unruly womanhood, ambivalent textual engagement with contemporary feminism, and a discursive interest in the feminine incursion into generic, textual, and thematic spaces historically reserved for masculine performers and audiences.

This spike in production was jeopardised by attempts made to align the womance comedy with serialised franchise filmmaking in 2016 with the release and failure of Ghostbusters: Answer the Call (2016). The hostile reception context of this film caused a splintering of the cycle in its final phase, which manifested in an emphasis on intersectionality and diversity in its films and their marketing, the production of generic hybrids that intertwined the womance comedy with more established genres, and a proliferation of reboots and remakes that applied the lessons learned from the failure of Answer the Call.

This research draws strength from its utilisation of both socio-cultural and industrial frameworks – analysing the close relationship between the industrial processes of the cycle and the feminist rhetoric that has permeated popular culture and media in recent years. In doing so, I seek to demonstrate that the womance comedy cycle is a unique entity. Firstly, it is emblematic of an industry attempting to remain viable during a significant shift which saw streaming services replace cinemas as the dominant exhibition mode. Second, it mirrors the increased industrial focus on reboots, remakes, and seriality. Third, it demonstrates how intertwined the film cycle and its social and cultural context can become in its more explicit engagement with feminism and feminist discourse. Finally, the integration of successful elements of the womance comedy – including this feminist engagement – into other films and genres, even after its demise as a film cycle, consolidates its importance as an object of academic analysis.

Keywords: Hollywood, comedy, film theory, screen studies, critical film theory, industry studies, feminist film theory, feminism, popular feminism, popular media, unruly woman, womance comedy, womance, Paul Feig, Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids, Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, Girls Trip

Subject: Humanities thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2023
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Julia Erhart