The R-Rated Sci-Fi Film On Streaming That Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn Owes A Debt

By Robert Scucci | Published

Tank Girl

These days, film adaptations of comic book properties typically boast a PG-13 rating, but the 90s were a different time, and we have to talk about Tank Girl. This Lori Petty starring post-apocalyptic waste-land odyssey may not have hit it out of the park upon its initial release, but clearly influenced filmmakers with its unique aesthetic and costume design. If you were to stream Tank Girl on MGM+, you’ll see what we mean, as Margot Robbie’s portrayal of Harley Quinn has a similar delivery to Lori Petty’s Tank Girl that cannot be ignored but rather celebrated.

Sci-fi cult classic Tank Girl came out after Harley Quinn’s debut, but it’s clear that Margot Robbie’s live-action performance has a lot in common with Lori Petty’s freedom fighter.

Set in the year 2033, 1995’s Tank Girl is your classic battle between good and evil, but with a lot more raunchy dialogue and too many sexually driven one-liners to count. We quickly learn about the greedy and ruthless Kesslee (Malcolm McDowell), who controls the Earth’s water supply through his Water & Power (W&P) corporation. After a decade-long drought that was the direct result of a comet colliding with Earth, the Australian outback commune in which Rebecca “Tank Girl” Buck resides is raided by Kesslee and his goons because the commune operates one of the last known water wells that W&P has yet to seize.

Tank Girl gets captured by Kesslee, and is imprisoned at his W&P compound. It doesn’t take long for her to befriend a brilliant but introverted jet mechanic aptly named Jet Girl. Despite Jet Girl’s insistence that Tank Girl accepts her fate, our titular hero has other things in mind and shows us that she can take a beating while dishing out plenty of insults at her captor’s expense.

Tank Girl

One such force of torture that Tank Girl endures is being shoved headfirst down a narrow pipe that “gets smaller and smaller the deeper you go,” inducing claustrophobia. But the pipe is no match for her indomitable spirit and razor-sharp wit. When Tank Girl is threatened with such an extreme form of torture, she tells Kesslee that it “sounds wicked,” and asks if she could go in first.

The primary source of comedy in Tank Girl comes in the form of gratuitous sexual overtones and Tank Girl’s unflappable personality. These personality traits are evident during a scene when she’s shoved in a meat freezer wearing a straitjacket, and suggests that her biggest concern at the moment is that she’s going to have difficulty playing with herself while locked inside. But despite the film’s excessive use of what would be considered by many to be nothing more than eighth-grade toilet humor, there is a through line of female empowerment that cannot be overlooked.

Tank Girl’s flippant one-liners and care-free attitude about danger paved the way for Harley Quinn.

Jet Girl, who was just about ready to accept her station in life as a prisoner being exploited for her obvious talents, is inspired by Tank Girl’s unrelenting ability to overcome her adversaries and take down W&P from the inside with the help of a group of renegade super soldiers with human and kangaroo DNA known as the Rippers. Though we don’t actually see the use of a tank until the third act, we’re reminded of the Mad Max films when Tank Girl and Jet Girl make a daring escape and devise a plan to reclaim not only their water but their way of life.

Upon its release, Tank Girl was a commercial flop, only pulling in $6 million against its budget of $25 million. Box office earnings for Tank Girl are very much in line with the film’s critical reception, and it received a 41 percent critical score on Rotten Tomatoes. But in recent years, retrospective reviews have been more favorable, making it a sci-fi cult classic that deserves a second look.

Tank Girl

Though Tank Girl comes off as a bit disjointed, there are a number of aspects of the Lori Petty starring film that shouldn’t be glossed over. The soundtrack, which was assembled by Courtney Love, actually got more attention than the film itself, and features music from Devo, L7, Hole, Bush, Portishead, Veruca Salt, and even Ice-T (who plays a Ripper named T-Saint).

The costume design was also highly praised upon Tank Girl’s original theatrical run. By expertly combining both a steam-punk and grunge aesthetic, this movie is unmistakably a 90s movie, but you can’t blame the film for being a product of its time, and the look works when you consider the comic book that inspired the film adaptation. The use of hand-drawn comic strips to segue between scenes also adds a level of camp that’s not without charm.

Tank Girl was a massive box office bomb, earning only $6 million against a budget of $25 million, but it’s since become a cult-classic.

At the end of the day, Tank Girl suffered from being just a little ahead of its time. But looking at the film through the lens of hindsight in the year 2023, we can now understand its impact. In other words, Tank Girl was a rough prototype that didn’t really get a chance upon its release, but its undue influence clearly inspired films like 2016’s Suicide Squad.

In many ways, Tank Girl created the template for the modern comic book film adaptation and deserves your attention if you want to take things a little less seriously. By ignoring some of the inherent flaws that can be found in Tank Girl, you’ll certainly have a great time watching this movie at a party, or with friends who want to take a wild ride through the Australian outback while admiring its audacity.