Chasing Whimsy: 15 Films Spotlighting Manic Pixie Dream Girls

Male writers and directors habitually use quirky female love interests to help the male protagonists explore and learn about themselves. This trope is so prevalent in the media that it has a name: the manic pixie dream girl. From Elizabethtown (2005) to Yes Man (2008), these films spotlight a manic pixie dream girl. 

1. Vanilla Sky (2001)

Vanilla Sky Tom Cruise, Penélope Cruz
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

After he's disfigured in a car wreck caused by his jealous ex (Cameron Diaz), a man enters a relationship with a new woman (Penélope Cruz). The audience soon learns that Cruz's character has no other purpose than to sit in as the man's romantic image of what a good girlfriend looks like. One day, he wakes up, and his ex, who was presumed dead, takes the place of his current girlfriend beside him in bed and their happy photos as a couple. 

2. Garden State (2004)

Garden State Natalie Portman
Image Credit: Buena Vista International.

When Andrew (Zach Braff) returns to his hometown after years away for his mother's funeral, he must face the past he tried to leave behind. As he copes with his father's constant monitoring, he meets a mysterious musician named Sam (Natalie Portman), who is also a compulsive liar. But her character solely serves to show Andrew the life he wants to live in this indie road trip film. 

3. Paper Towns (2015)

Paper Towns Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Based on the John Green novel of the same title, Paper Towns is about a quiet high-school outcast who goes on one fantastic night filled with adventure with the most popular girl in school (Cara Delevingne) just before she disappears. Now obsessed with the beautiful, offbeat girl he spent one magical evening with, the boy attempts to track her down with the help of some goofy sidekicks. 

4. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Image Credit: Universal Pictures.

This rom-com follows Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera), the lead guitarist in an indie garage band who always gets whatever girl he wants. But when he meets Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the girl from his literal dreams, he discovers that winning her heart may be more complicated than he expected. But not because Ramona has her wants and needs. All her jealous ex-boyfriends stand in the way of Scott's pursuits. 

5. Ruby Sparks (2012)

Ruby Sparks Zoe Kazan
Image Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Ruby Sparks takes an interesting spin on the manic pixie dream girl trope. The film is about an award-winning author named Calvin (Paul Dano) who struggles to develop a plot for his latest novel. But suddenly, a vivacious woman with fiery hair named Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan) emerges from his imagination and into his real life. But she doesn't realize that her entire personality was created by the man she's falling in love with. 

6. Elizabethtown (2005)

Elizabethtown Kirsten Dunst, Orlando Bloom
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures.

Film critic Nathan Rabin coined the term manic pixie dream girl in a review of this very film. It's about Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom), a salesman who faces failure at work and in his romantic relationship. Floundering with no sense of purpose, Drew boards a flight back to his hometown, where he meets a kind and friendly flight attendant named Claire (Kirsten Dunst), who puts her entire life aside to help Drew find happiness again. 

7. (500) Days of Summer (2009)

(500) Days of Summer Joseph Gordon-Levitt Zooey Deschanel
Image Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures.

After Tom's (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) girlfriend Summer (Zooey Deschanel) dumps him unexpectedly, he spends his time reminiscing about the pleasant moments in their relationship. He's super confused because he thought their relationship was perfect. But he needed to look at the whole picture or see things from Summer's perspective. 

8. Yes Man (2008)

Yes Man Jim Carrey, zooey Deschanel
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.

After his wife leaves him, Carl (Jim Carrey) attends a positivity seminar, encouraging him to say yes to everything. Carl becomes obsessed with this concept, saying yes to everything anyone asks of him. Soon, he meets a quirky musician named Allison (Zooey Deschanel), who fits well into his adventurous new lifestyle. But when she learns that he only says yes because of the seminar, she doesn't know whether to trust him. 

9. Chungking Express (1994)

Chungking Express Faye Wong
Image Credit: Ocean Shores Video.

This Hong Kong crime thriller follows two stories, one featuring a manic pixie dream girl named Faye, who goes to extreme lengths to win over the man she desires. While working at a snack store, she gets her hands on a police officer's apartment keys. She decides to take the keys and use them to break into his apartment, clean up after him, and set up cute scenes to win his love. 

10. Something Wild (1986)

Something Wild Melanie Griffith
Image Credit: Orion Pictures.

When a whimsical, adventurous woman named Lulu (Melanie Griffith) pursues the uptight Ray (Ray Liotta), she asks him to pose as her husband at a high school reunion. What begins as a wacky misadventure becomes a journey of internal exploration for Ray. Lulu's purpose is to help Ray get out of his shell. 

11. Lost in Translation (2003)

Lost in Translation Scarlett Johansson
Image Credit: Focus Features.

Lost in Translation is a romance film about an aging movie star named Bob (Bill Murray) and a young newlywed named Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) who meet in a Tokyo hotel and develop a strong bond. The two explore hidden areas in the city while learning each other's deepest secrets and desires. But ultimately, Bob treats Charlotte like a prop to make his life more meaningful. 

12. Almost Famous (2000)

Almost Famous, Kate Hudson
Image Credit: DreamWorks Pictures.

This comedic drama film is about a teenager who develops a love for rock music and gets hired as a journalist to accompany a band on their tour and write about it for Rolling Stone. He meets the band members and their groupies there, led by Penny (Kate Hudson). The men treat Penny and the other groupies like commodities, trading them off during a poker game without considering their feelings. 

13. Annie Hall (1977)

Annie Hall Woody Allen, Diane Keaton
Image Credit: United Artists.

Centering around the opinion and perspective of one man, Alvy (Woody Allen), this comedic romance film tells Alvy's love story with his ex, Annie (Diane Keaton). Instead of painting Annie as a complex, realistic woman, the film focuses on Alvy's twisted perspective of a woman he idealizes. 

14. I Love You, Beth Cooper (2009)

I Love You, Beth Cooper Hayden Panettiere, Lauren Storm, Lauren London
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

When Denis (Paul Rust), one of the nerdiest kids in his high school, develops a crush on Beth (Hayden Panettiere), the popular girl, he struggles to let go of his intense feelings. On graduation day, Denis makes a big speech and announces his love for Beth in front of the school. Instead of giving him the cold shoulder, Beth takes Denis on a whirlwind adventure. 

15. Butterflies Are Free (1972)

Butterflies Are Free Goldie Hawn, Edward Albert
Image Credit: Columbia Pictures.

Butterflies Are Free is a romance film about a blind singer-songwriter who falls in love with his charming neighbor, Jill (Goldie Hawn). As their relationship develops, the singer-songwriter's mother is concerned because her son's last relationship ended in shambles. Will his relationship with this endearing actress last the test of time?

Source: (Reddit)

Maya (she/they) is a queer entertainment and culture journalist. They cover interviews, reviews, roundups, news, and more. She loves horror, history, and creativity. They hope their writing both entertains readers and inspires them to think critically. Her favorite pastimes include needle felting, gaming, and drawing.