Clueless turns 20 on July 19, and Flavorwire is celebrating all week with a series of tributes to Amy Heckerling’s era-defining teen film. Click here to follow our coverage.
That Clueless ranks among the most influential, not to mention just plain best, films of the ’90s is undisputed. But how has that influence manifested itself onscreen? And more importantly, which characters don’t simply follow in the footsteps of power plaid enthusiast Cher Horowitz, but deserve the title of her true spiritual heir? In honor of the film’s 20th anniversary, we decided to find out — and present our results as a definitive ranking, of course.
10. Karen Smith
As a smart, female-centric, and infinitely quotable high school comedy, Mean Girls follows so clearly in Clueless’ footsteps that at least one of its title characters belonged on this list. But who? Cady’s too much of a high school neophyte, Regina’s too mean, and Janis is awesome, but she’s hardly Horowitz-esque. That leaves Karen, who fits the bill in some respects (well-intentioned, blonde, in the top percentile of her school’s notoriously rigid social hierarchy) but not others (the dumb blonde thing is less a deceptive appearance than an accurate identity for poor Karen), hence the #10 slot.
9. Veronica Mars
See “Summers, Buffy” for a more seminal example of the genre heroine subverting our expectations for female characters, and particularly which ones should be taken seriously. Still, while Veronica might deal with darker problems than Cher — she’s a survivor of sexual assault who solves serious crimes as a teenager, after all — she’s got a similar combination of easily dismissed appearance (at least to those unaccustomed to taking teenage girls seriously) and undeniable chops at her chosen profession, whether it’s private eye or matchmaker.
8. Jackie Burkhart
Canonically, of course, there’s no way the That ’70s Show character even knew who Cher Horowitz was. But someone’s gotta stand in for the Generically Bratty Sitcom Character that signifies Cher’s (diluted) influence on teenage protagonists in pop culture, and Jackie’s as good a candidate as any.
7. Tracy Flick
Kindhearted Cher would rather shred her Chanel bag than pull most of Tracy’s stunts — she’s more prone to setting up teachers with each other than having a career-ruining affair with one — but the similarities are undeniable. In Reese Witherspoon’s second appearance on this list (don’t worry, the other one is much higher-ranked), she plays a force of nature whose ambition allows her to bulldoze through obstacles like her much more popular opponent. Not that the real Cher would ever lose a popularity contest.
6. Shoshanna Shapiro
She might have a Sex and the City poster on the wall of her apartment, but a Clueless shrine would fit in just as well. Shosh is a fast-talking, Type-A planner straight from the Cher playbook — and more believably Jewish to boot. But while Cher may have appreciated Shoshanna’s eclectic taste in hair accessories, Shoshanna’s recent experiments in aimlessness, and unemployment, are where creator Lena Dunham’s touch overrides the Horowitz DNA.
5. Bianca Stratford
Matchmaking busybody with a tendency to intervene in others’ love lives? Protagonist of a beloved ’90s teen movie that’s also an adaptation of a classic? Romance with an actor who quickly graduated from playing unlikely love interests to full-blown leading men? Yeah, Bianca was in the top five before this post was even written.
4. Buffy Summers
Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s appeal lay in being many shows at once: a supernatural drama; a camp parody of same; and, for its first three seasons at least, a high school show. Linking together all three is its heroine, who subverted what it meant to be an action hero by also being pretty and a tad ditzy while still kicking ass. Creator Joss Whedon wrote a character whose femininity was part of — not opposed to — her capability. And while not necessarily book smart, she never lacked for good comebacks. Buffy’s stakes are higher than those of Clueless, but both Buffy and Cher are underestimated at their (probably misogynist) opponents’ peril.
3. Torrance Shipman
High school queen bee feels secure in her status until a shift in the status quo forces her to fight for her throne. Sound familiar? As portrayed by Kirsten Dunst, the protagonist of iconic cheerleading comedy Bring It On carries on in the finest tradition of wealthy, (endearingly) entitled blondes who came before her. There’s more athleticism, overt sexuality, and racial tension here than Clueless ever had, but the foundation remains the same.
2. Elle Woods
Clueless was the ur-text for a very specific kind of third-wave feminist, or perhaps even post-feminist, heroine: the woman who could care about “superficial” and “serious” things in equal measure, and maybe even—gasp!—break down the barriers between the two. No one represents that better than Elle Woods, sorority girl and Harvard Law student, who cracked a murder trial with her knowledge of perms. One imagines Cher could do the same with the skills she picked up in debate class. Still, Elle loses out by just a single blonde hair to…
1. Blair Waldorf
Uncanny as Elle and Cher’s resemblance may be, no one deserves the title of Spiritual Successor more than the Upper East Side’s reigning social monarch. Blair’s as meddlesome in the politics of her tiny fiefdom — remember when she literally banished Jenny Humphrey? — as she ultimately is vulnerable, buried as that vulnerability is beneath layers of acid one-liners and impeccably placed headbands. And if the evidence doesn’t speak for itself, the plaid jacket never lies.