How Tank Girl Helped Bring the Spice Girls Together

There are many reasons to appreciate Tank Girl, the 1995 cult classic, including its contribution to the Spice Girls' origin story.

Tank Girl Movie
Photo: MGM

I already had many reasons to be thankful director Rachel Talalay has been behind the camera, making movies and TV shows, since the 90s, but add another one to the list. Talalay, who has directed Doctor Who, Sherlock, as well as at least one episode of much of the CW’s current lineup, is kinda, sorta partially responsible for bringing English pop group the Spice Girls together.

This is a bit of an overstatement, of course. There were several rounds of auditions including hundreds of women that went into selected one the members of the wildly-successful 90s group, but, as Talalay told EW (and, back in 2008, Den of Geek!) in a recent interview surrounding the 25th anniversary of cult classic Tank Girl, three of the members of the iconic group initially met in the audition line for a Tank Girl casting call.

“That was a publicity ploy,” Talalay told EW of the multi-country casting process. “I mean, that was all MGM doing their thing. But it was terribly fun and it spawned the Spice Girls. Three of the Spice Girls met in line for it. I tell people that I’m responsible for the Spice Girls, because I made them stand in a queue for so long that they said, ‘Screw this, we’re starting a band.'”

It seems fitting that Tank Girl would help spur the “girl power” pop group. While the light feminism of the Spice Girls was much more commercially-viable in our patriarchal society than the angry and unapologetic punk feminism of Tank Girl, both are cultural projects that put women in the spotlight, and have been inspirations in different ways to women in the 90s and beyond.

For the uninitiated, Tank Girl is a 1995 film adapted from a British post-apocalyptic comic book series of the same name. Starring Lori Petty, Naomi Watts, Ice-T, and Malcolm McDowell, it follows Tank Girl (Petty) as she, Jet Girl, and a group of super soldiers called the Rippers fight an oppressive corporation called Water & Power. It was a film far ahead of its time, and the box office total reflected that. The film made only about $6 million on a $25 million budget, though it has become a cult classic in the years since.

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In celebration of the film’s 25th anniversary on Monday, Talalay reflected back on working to get the film made, recalling to EW when she made the pitch to James Cameron’s company.

“I was passionately [talking] and at the end of it the executive looked at me and said, ‘We already have a film with a female lead,'” recounts Talalay. “What do you say, right? I went and I sat in my car and I called my agent and I said, ‘I can’t do this. I can’t do this if that’s what the response is going to be. I just can’t do this.'”

But Talalay did do it, eventually deciding to go with MGM as the studio behind the flick, which Talalay said “turned out to be a terrible decision,” as the studio interfered with much of Talalay’s vision for the film.

“There was a bit of interference while we were shooting,” Talalay told Den of Geek in 2008. “There was pressure on the script and there was some interference during the shoot. But there was full interference during post-production, during the editing.”

After the film was released, the box office disappointment put Talalay in what she calls “movie jail,” Talalay told EW, and it was a long time before the director would talk about the film.

“[Then,] people started coming to me and saying, ‘Oh, you know, I love that movie,'” said Talalay. “It’s just grown and grown, until six or seven years ago I stopped being embarrassed by it. I wasn’t embarrassed by it, I was embarrassed by this feeling of this massive movie jail I was still in. I mean, in so many ways this film is such a seminal part of us. It was such an unusual opportunity to [make] the feminist icon movie that then hasn’t been permitted for a long time.”

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The EW retrospective with Talalay has lot of other great details from the making of Tank Girl, and is definitely worth a full read.