One of my fondest memories is when my grandma lived in the basement apartment in my parents’ house. I would go downstairs, she’d make me popcorn in her spin popper, I’d grab my favorite crocheted afghan, and we’d watch Pretty Woman. It’s to Garry Marshall’s credit that a movie about a hooker is both family appropriate and still worth watching today. In the wake of his passing, I find myself in awe of his wizardry. So often, he took characters that should never belong together like a wealthy businessman and a streetwalker, and put them together not in some profound or pretentious way, but in a way that was accessible, human, broad, and just the right amount of cheesy. This past week, I wrapped myself in that blanket once again and reaching for the popcorn so that I can hear that fantastic chorus: “Welcome to Hollywood. What’s your dream?”

By all accounts, Garry Marshall had a habit of asking that question in real life. He helped his sister Penny become a director, he helped fantastic actresses like Julia Roberts and Anne Hathaway find mainstream success, and he gave us some of the best television sitcoms that catapulted the likes of Henry Winkler and director Ron Howard to success.

He also gave his audiences permission to embrace our own dreams in that beautiful, romantic way that only movies can. Perhaps, with enough laughter and love and tears, two people can stay best friends forever. A nerd can become a princess. A vengeful carpenter can convince a rich heiress to be his wife. Okay, so Overboard might be a bridge too far, but Garry Marshall harnessed Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn’s perfect chemistry so that we could all share in it, even for just a couple hours. His movies may have been schmaltzy, but it’s that unabashed sincerity, that belief in magic even after we’ve long outgrown fairy tales, that made his movies so special. So in honor of one of our greats, here are my four favorite Garry Marshall chick flicks.

Writer: Mary Agnes Donoghue, based on a novel by Iris Rainer Dart
Key Cast: Bette Midler, Barbara Hershey

In Short
CC and Hillary meet in Atlantic City when they are both 11-year-old girls in need of a friend. Despite the fact that their upbringings and personalities could not be more different, they stay in touch through letters over the years. Hillary moves to New York and lives with CC for awhile, but when she returns to San Francisco and gets married after her father’s death, the two have a falling out. After both of their respective marriages fail, they reconnect, and CC helps Hillary raise her daughter. Hillary gets sick with a terminal heart condition, and CC cares for her through the end. She adopts Hillary’s daughter, Victoria, and she makes sure the little girl never forgets her mother.

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The Horror
Beaches will bring you to tears. I don’t care who you are or how miserable and soulless you believe yourself to be. It will make you cry. CC and Hillary’s relationship, based on mutual appreciation and acceptance despite their many and obvious flaws, feels like a punch to the gut each and every time I watch it. So often, we talk about romantic love as being the thing that conquers all, but there’s something truly awe-inspiring about a friendship that transcends time, space, social class and broken hearts. It’s completely illogical and impossible that these two would have had this journey in real life, but it’s an ideal to which I think so many people strive — a perfect fantasy of unconditional love. It doesn’t hurt that Bette Midler is also a force of nature who sweeps the unsuspecting audience along for the ride like the tornadoes in Twister or that she has the voice of a Broadway angel.

As with many of Garry Marshall’s movies, there’s also a focus on class discrepancy without ever addressing it directly. Hillary is very affluent, and CC is much less so. Neither woman’s life is romanticized, and CC’s drive and ambition eventually make her the more successful of the two, but it speaks to a fascinating pattern and one of the clearest throughlines in Garry Marshall’s work: we’re more similar than different, even when society tells us otherwise.

Writer: J.F. Lawton
Key Cast: Julia Roberts, Richard Gere, Jason Alexander, Laura San Giacomo

In Short
Vivian, a Hollywood Boulevard prostitute, gets picked up by wealthy businessman Edward Lewis when he gets lost in Los Angeles. He hires her to act as his date for the week, and the two end up falling in love. Vivian inspires Edward to do something more productive with his business, and he helps her find her ambition and drive as well.

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The Horror
At face value, Pretty Woman is pretty bleak. Vivian is a prostitute whose roommate has traded their rent for drug money and left them $200 in the lurch with a pimp and drug dealer. She’s never finished high school, and she takes a job with a wealthy businessman who cracks and tells his lawyer who she is within five minutes of being questions. This poor hooker with a heart of gold was originally supposed to be tossed out on the street in a very tragic ending, but Garry Marshall used his particular alchemy to transform that story into a modern romantic classic. The power dynamic between Vivian and Edward still isn’t great, and it’s impossible to see how their relationship would work out in the long term, but the fantasy, the fairy tale, is all that matters. Vivian and Edward are, despite their differences, more alike because of their humanity.

Vivian and Kit are also never deemed unworthy of love or value because of their choices. Even though Vivian is mad at Kit for using drugs and spending their money, she never abandons her, and Marshall never vilifies her. In fact, she’s inspired by just being on the periphery of Vivian’s romance — an audience surrogate for this powerful and sweet love story. It’s the same for Mr. Thompson, the hotel manager who, although at first wary of Vivian, becomes her greatest ally. If we operate from a place of commonality, the movie posits, we can rescue each other from our worst parts.

Writer: Leslie Dixon
Key Cast: Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell

In Short
Wealthy heiress Joanna hires a carpenter, Dean, and treats him poorly. When she falls overboard and loses her memory, her real fiance refuses to claim her. Dean takes revenge by pretending she’s his wife and forcing her to take care of him and his four boys. Joanna ends up falling for Dean and forcing him to grow up and be a parent. When her memory returns, she chooses to stay.

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The Horror
Honestly, this movie is despicable save for the chemistry of Kurt and Goldie. Dean is vindictive, psychotic, and a total jerk. Joanna and her fiance and mother are insufferable and cruel. The kids are gross. But it’s funny as hell, and the chemistry between the two leads is perfect. The ending, when they yell “Katerina!” and “Arturo” as they dive for one another is genuinely romantic, even if it’s the byproduct of actual kidnapping and psychological abuse. It’s proof that good casting and a deft hand can make anything palatable. We’re lucky Garry Marshall only ever used his powers for movie making.

Writer: Gina Wendkos, based off the book series by Meg Cabot
Key Cast: Anne Hathaway, Julie Andrews, Hector Elizondo

In Short
Mia Thermopolous, the most awkward and invisible 15-year-old at her high school, learns that her recently-deceased father was the king of a small country in Europe and that she’s the heir to the throne. Her grandmother, Clarice, comes to San Francisco to give her princess lessons in hope that she’ll take her rightful place on the throne.

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The Horror
Aside from Mia’s mop-headed love interest and Hector Elizondo, almost every prominent character in this movie is a woman with a lot of opinions and principles. Mia gets to learn valuable lessons from each and every one of them — her social justice-focused best friend Lily, her independent artist mother, and her small European state-running grandmother. She also receives support from tertiary female characters including her principal and gym teacher. It’s really incredible to see a movie for young women that provides not just a single lone-wolf example of strong femininity, but a series of varied and beautiful examples of womanhood in all stages of life. While it does fall into several Disney princess tropes, including a very superficial makeover, the film is all about growing up and becoming the best woman you can be.

Even the romances in this movie has a slight feminist bent. Michael, unlike the rest of the school, sees how cool Mia is whether she’s working as a princess or trying to afford to fix up her car. He never questions her ability to be a leader, and he doesn’t play games with her or demand extra penance when she screws up. He treats her as an equal human, not an object of desire or an inferior. Similarly, Clarice, in mourning for both her husband and son, finds solace in her bodyguard, Joe, who admires her courage and strength and love for her country. He knows where her priorities lie — he certainly doesn’t try to force her to bring their relationship into the open before she’s ready — and instead is happy to take a backseat and help her lead.

Garry Marshall had a knack for finding optimism despite inequality — he sought to find the humanity that connects us all and present it in the broadest and most fun light possible. His movies also repeatedly showcase the power not only of romantic love, but of friendship, and how a little kindness can go a long way in transforming the world. Sure, it may be too good to be true in real life, but it provides, just like any good fantasy, a framework and an ideal toward which we can strive. Rest in peace, Mr. Marshall, and thank you so much.

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