In 2005 film critic Nathan Rabin coined the term “manic pixie dream girl.”
Manic pixie dream girls were fictional characters who “exist solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.”
They are usually adorably quirky (but still hot), have multi-colored hair, and seem to know all kinds of secrets that main character man is still trying to figure out.
Luckily, the manic pixie dream girl trope is dying down.
Here are some of the most well-known manic pixie dream girls. Hold on to your whimsically-colored umbrella!
Claire Colburn, played by Kristen Dunst in Elizabethtown, was the first character to be called a MPDG.
Claire Colburn is a bubbly flight attendant who helps Drew, played by Orlando Bloom, come to terms with his father’s death while teaching him about life’s mysteries along the way.
She doesn’t really seem to have any discernible wants of her own, except to show Drew, a guy she just met, the beauty of the world.
But the first depiction of a MPDG was probably in the 1938 movie Bringing up Baby with Katharine Hepburn as Susan Vance.
In Bringing Up Baby Cary Grant plays a serious paleontologist, who meets Katharine Hepburn, a fun-loving heiress who needs to find a place for her pet leopard to live.
Yeah, she has a pet leopard.
The two go on a zany adventure, teaching Grant’s character that life isn’t all about serious stuff like science, it can be about fun stuff like running around with potentially vicious jungle creatures.
Natalie Portman as Sam in Garden State is probably the worst MPDG of them all.
Sam is the ultimate MPDG. She’s unbelievably quirky with her hamster-maze covered house and her medically prescribed helmet.
She teaches Zach Braff’s character to scream in the rain, appreciate indie rock, and in probably the most MPDG moment ever recorded on film: do a weird body movement that nobody has ever done before to express his individuality.
But what’s Sam’s deal? No idea. She’s just there to help Braff work it out.
Is Belle from Beauty and the Beast a MPDG?
Belle does have wants of her own: she wants adventure in the great, wide somewhere!
She loves books and wants something more than the provincial life her fellow French townsfolk are living! She doesn’t need six eggs!
All she needs is picture books about fairy tales, which honestly, might be below her reading level as a grown woman.
The movie starts off promising, but then quickly turns from being about Belle wanting to have an adventure, to being about Belle helping the Beast break his curse by cleaning his wounds and challenging him to snowball fight.
So while Belle doesn’t start as a manic pixie dream girl, she kind of gets sucked into the troupe by the end of the movie.
She never did get that adventure, but hey, now she gets to be married to a hot dude who lives in a castle down the road.
And he really learned a lot about himself.
Marilyn Monroe in Some Like it Hot was another old school MPDG.
Her character plays a ukulele on a train and sings about how carefree she is. Need I say more?
Are there more MPDGs? Oh, you bet there are. Put on a flowy peasant top and grab your comically large headphones because there are more this way.
Maria from The Sound of Music is arguably a MPDG.
Although she is a pretty realized character, if we are defining MPDGs by how to influence and change men, Maria is one.
She brings light, music, and fun to the von Trapp household and changes the whole family for the better.
But does Maria herself have much of a storyline? Not really.
The movie literally describes her as a “willo the wisp” and “flibbertigibbet.”
She sings an entire song about how enchanted she is with random objects. How much more manic pixie dream girl can you get?
Kate Hudson as Penny Lane in Almost Famous.
Penny Lane is a groupie with a drug problem in Almost Famous.
But for William Miller, Rolling Stone writer, and child prodigy, she’s an inspirational, fun-loving MPDG who shows him how to let loose.
Charlize Theron as Sara Deever in Sweet November.
In Sweet November, Keanu Reeves plays Nelson, a busy executive who meets Sara when they fail a driving test together.
She invites him back to her apartment to literally live there for a month so she can change his life.
What’s in it for her? Seemingly nothing?
And what’s more, she’s done this with other guys before! She’s a serial manic pixie dream girl.
Sandy Dennis as Sara Deever is the 1968 version of Sweet November!
Sweet November was a remake which means there are two of these MPDGs running around.
Margo Roth Spiegelman in Paper Towns was written specifically to turn the MPDG troupe around, but still ends up being a MPDG.
Cara Delevingne plays Margo in this John Green novel adapted into a movie.
She sneaks into the main character Q’s room in the middle of the night to drag him on adventures.
When she disappears, Q naturally assumes she wants him to find her. Except it turns out she really doesn’t.
Even though John Green has said he specifically wanted to write Paper Towns as an anecdote to manic pixie dream girl-ism, by having his main character realize Margo is a fully fledged person with her own stuff going on, it never quite works out.
She kind of just ends up being a manic pixie dream girl. Nice try, though!
Can a man be a manic pixie dream boy? Turn to the next page to find out!
In 500 Days of Summer, Summer, played by Zooey Deschanel, is another example of a MPDG trope turned on it’s head.
Summer is definitely a manic pixie dream girl: she has bangs, she’s spontaneous, she takes Tom, the main character, to Ikea and they play pretend.
But in the end, we realize that Tom only saw Summer for her MPDG qualities, not for who she really was.
Summer was only a MPDG in Tom’s eye’s, and he’s the one who has been telling the story.
Ferris Bueller is a manic pixie dream boy.
Manic pixie dream girls are usually, well, girls, but that doesn’t mean the troupe of “carefree person with seemingly endless energy who convinces people to live their best lives” is only for female characters.
Ferris Bueller is a perfect example of a manic pixie dream boy.
We don’t actually know much about Ferris as a person.
But we do know that he wants to show Cameron that life moves pretty fast and if you don’t stop and look around once and awhile, you might miss it.
He does this by dragging him around Chicago to various tourist attractions and ultimately performing in a parade.
If this isn’t MPDG behavior, I don’t know what is.
Rachel Bilson plays MPDG Kim in The Last Kiss.
Zach Braff loves to play a character shaken up by a manic pixie dream girl.
In this film, Kim challenges how he feels about his relationship and his boring life by being…not boring?
And pretty much nothing else.
Marla Singer in Fight Club showed us that you don’t have to be happy to be a MPDG.
Helena Bonham Carter plays Marla in Fight Club, Tyler Durden’s goth girlfriend who is obsessed with death, smoking, and visiting support groups.
She has really no inner life of her own, but she helps encourage Tyler to find himself through fighting other dudes in a basement and making soap from human remains.
Audrey Hepburn is a MPDG in basically everything.
We all love her, but she truly mastered the role of the pretty girl who shows men the way to excitement and fun.
Click next for even more MPDGs (wow there are a lot of these, we should really write better roles for women in film.)
Is Annie Hall a MPDG in Annie Hall?
Some people definitely think she is and she does have some of the qualities of a MPDG: she’s impulsive, fun-loving, wears men’s clothing but looks cute in it.
But she also has her own hopes and dreams.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall had a MPDG in Mila Kunis’ character, Rachel.
After Peter’s (Jason Segel) girlfriend breaks up with him, he goes on a trip to Hawaii where, unfortunately, she is also staying with her new rockstar boyfriend.
But don’t worry! He meets a MPDG in Rachel. She is funny, adventurous, and most of all, she encourages him to write his vampire musical.
Her character does get a bit of an inner world apart from how she makes Peter feel, we know she wants to attend school, but it’s pretty weak.
It’s rare to see MPDG on TV, but Dharma and Greg might be an example.
It’s hard to have a manic pixie dream girl on TV because, well, you can’t keep up a whole TV show with someone who barely has a personality outside of like, wearing chip clips as hair clips and eating gummi bears in her cereal.
But Dharma is about as close as you can get.
Although she does have her own arcs, Dharma is a great example of the wacky girl who helps a serious man find his inner child and relax.
Another manic pixie dream boy! Jack from Titanic.
Titanic is one of my favorite movies and maybe this is why: it features a woman who is in need of a fun, attractive artist to draw her naked and convince her to have sex in someone else’s car to show her that life is worth living instead of the other way around.
We know very little about Jack’s motivations except that he is a free-spirit who won a trip to Titanic in a card game.
But hey, he sure knows how to party and teach up-tight socialites how to spit off the side of a boat.
Too bad about the whole door thing.
The geese from Fly Away Home.
They teach Amy to live again. But who are they, as geese? The movie never tells us. They are manic pixie dream geese.
Do you hate the manic pixie dream girl trope? Love it?
Share this list with your friends and followers and let them decide if it’s time for the MPDG to finally die.
(Like, the trope, not the actual characters, because it seems like them dying at the end of the movie actually happens a lot).