It is not a novel idea to have female directors. Some of your favorite movies come from them. We’re talking about The Matrix, Lost in Translation, The Babadook, and more. So, we’re here to enlighten you on the 15 best movies from female directors to give you an idea of what to add to your watchlist. We’ve got thrillers, romcoms, coming-of-age movies, and more.
Without further ado, let’s go!
1. Lady Bird – Greta Gerwig
Greta Gerwig’s portfolio is continuously expanding with a host of great movies. She is easily making her name in the industry, and Lady Bird is one of her first few movies that kickstarted her rise to fame. With the release of Barbie earlier this year, it is safe to say that she is one of those female directors you should watch out for.
Lady Bird is a coming-of-age story that stands out from the countless movies stacked in the genre. However, it is raw, compelling, and wild. We literally watch the main character throw herself out of the car to avoid listening to her mother. That’s how wild.
Throughout the movie, we watch as she struggles with a strict high school life and her relationship with her mother and those around her. She juggles between trying to be popular and getting into a prestigious school as senior year ends.
2. Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles – Chantal Ackerman
The duality that is Jeanne Dielman should not be overlooked. A mother by day and a prostitute by night, Jeanne is an interesting look into a mother’s sacrifice for her child. Yes, the title is stupidly long, and this is a 70s movie, but it stands the test of time. Plus, it takes place almost entirely in one area – her apartment.
But everything takes a different turn as you continue watching. One day, This lonely widow ends up killing one of her clients with scissors, and chaos ensues. The movie can be considered a slice-of-life movie, and everything within the movie takes place within three days.
It is an excellent example of slow cinema, with its long takes and contained pace. Hence, it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the movie did develop a cult following over the years.
3. Promising Young Woman – Emerald Fennell
One of the more recent entries on this list of the best movies from female directors is a dark comedy movie with themes of revenge and trauma. There is a lesson on feminism buried deep within its story of vengeance and forgiveness.
Cassie Thomas is a med-school dropout haunted by her best friend’s death. Allegedly, her best friend was raped by another classmate and turned to suicide as a way out. She proceeds to devise a plan to figure out the truth and bring justice for her death.
You could say that the movie tackles rape culture in the era of the #MeTooMovement with a lot of feminist rage. This psychological thriller has some violent elements, so proceed with caution.
4. Nomadland – Chloe Zhao
It is a beautiful movie that excels in visuals and its storyline. Chloe Zhao is one of the industry’s best female directors, and her work continues to astound. Part of the magic with Nomadland is that the cast consists of non-actors and actual indigenous nomads in South Dakota, aside from its main character, Frances McDormand, and one supporting character.
We follow the journey of Fern as she ventures across the American West to find work while living in her van. She is recently widowed and leaves behind everything she owns to become a nomad. Along the way, she is met with others who share the same fate. It is a road trip movie with no certainty in sight.
This movie is based on a nonfiction book by Jessica Bruder and an impactful insight into another version of life that is altogether beautiful, scary, and captivating.
5. Beau Travail – Claire Denis
You don’t get movies like this very often. Beau Travail is shot entirely in 35mm film, encapsulating the beauty of its characters and environment in vivid colors. This movie is an interesting look into masculinity and emotional vulnerability in a bright beachside world.
An ex-soldier of the French Foreign Legion named Galoup recalls his time in Djibouti, overseeing a group of soldiers who look up to him. One day, a new soldier joins their ranks, and Galoup develops an instant hate for the man due to jealousy. The new recruit is berated and treated with hostility throughout his time with the team.
The movie feels like a hazy dream filled with jealousy that ventures into regret. This is a beautiful drama movie with a magnificent opera soundtrack to boot.
6. Selma – Ava DuVernay
Another icon in the world of female directors, Ava DuVernay, takes up the challenge of portraying a legendary persona as a flawed and striking man. We all know of Martin Luther King and have heard the story. But nothing beats watching it unfold as if it happened yesterday.
The movie tells the story of the real-life voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery led by Martin Luther King himself. We watched him make his heartfelt speeches and media appearances, which leads to more constructive change in Congress at the time. It is amusing to see how perception can be changed through media.
Selma is a powerful movie that continues to remind us of one person’s power and how they can change the world. Additionally, it works as a tremendous historical reminder for generations to come.
7. The Piano – Jane Campion
It should be noted that Jane Campion comes out with movies that consistently speak of feminism, but The Piano is one of her best works. The movie is set in the mid-19th century and is a twist on the Bluebeard folk tale.
We are met with a mute woman who is arranged to marry a stranger and move to an isolated part of New Zealand. Along with her, she has a daughter and a piano, which she immerses herself in. She uses sign language and the piano to communicate with others, but she stubbornly decides to stay when they are determined to leave the piano behind.
This movie explores self-expression and desires as Ada grows into the person she wants to be. She learns to demand her needs and wants against all odds, even against those who want to take them away from her.
8. American Psycho – Mary Harron
We’re adding this murderous story to spice things up a little. American Psycho is adapted from Bret Easton Ellis’ novel of a man on a downward spiral. Mary Harron’s take on it, from its minute detail to Patrick Bateman’s degenerate fantasies, is one to take pleasure in.
Here, we have a narcissistic man who leads a life of luxury as a New York investment banker. However, he has a dark side as he goes on a murderous killing spree of those all around him, from a homeless man to his obnoxious co-worker.
The movie explores the superficiality of humans today, highly focused on trends and how they look in the eyes of others. It also ventures into what happens when the superficiality reaches an all-time high.
9. Mudbound – Dee Rees
Mudbound is a historical drama based on a novel by Hillary Jordan. This time, we look into two soldiers returning from WWII, one white and one black. Both returned to rural Mississippi and dealt with racism and the tolling trauma of war in their own ways.
Naturally, both experience things differently and are treated differently, one with respect and the other with disdain. As such, Mudbound provides a thought-provoking storyline and insight into war veterans and racial profiling. You can’t help but compare the situation back then to the modern day, as we see remnants of racism still running rampant.
This award-winning movie deserves more eyeballs and praise for its subject matter and compelling characters. So, if you’re in the mood for a good period piece, this is a good pick from our list of best movies from female directors.
10. Winter’s Bone – Debra Ganik
She is venturing into something darker and harrowing with Winter’s Bone by Debra Ganik. We center on Jennifer Lawrence as a teenage girl, Ree, who needs to locate her missing father or lose their home. She also bears the burden of caring for two of her younger siblings.
Set in the Ozarks, Ree finds herself in a mess of drug rings and dangerous criminals. The world feels and seems bleak as she gets confronted by numerous intimidating characters and has to stand her ground. This story of survival and isolation is as intense as you can imagine it to be.
As you continue, you’ll be greeted with anger, fatigue, and helplessness at the whole situation. Winter’s Bone definitely takes an emotional toll, whether or not you are willing to pay it.
11. Fast Times at Ridgemont High – Amy Heckerling
In this 80s movie of a group of high school kids, we get a coming-of-age comedy that stars four titular characters: Stacy Hamilton, Mark Ratner, Linda Barett, and Mike Damone. The latter two are older and thus believe themselves wiser than their younger friends. That’s never the case for high school kids, though.
There are two subplots within the movie. We have a stoner going up against a teacher and a popular senior debating whether he should end his relationship with his girlfriend. The story is split into the four character’s trials and shenanigans.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High is an interesting and humorous look into the lives of teenagers in the 80s. It’s a colorful and witty movie that defines an entire teen generation. Amy Heckerling is one of the best female directors at the time, and this further cements that.
12. The Matrix – Lilly and Lana Wachowski
We’ve all heard of The Matrix in one way or another. It has been replicated, parodied, and memed so often in pop culture that it’s hard not to know anything about it. Such is the cultural impact of the Wachowski sisters’ movie. There have been four movies in the franchise so far, with the reboot – The Matrix Ressurections released in 2021.
The Matrix explores a dystopian world where humanity is unknowingly trapped within a simulated reality known as the Matrix. This world is governed by evolved machines that harness humans as a source of energy. When Neo gets enlightened to the truth, he joins others who have been freed from the Matrix in a rebellion to take the machines down.
This sci-fi action film transcends time and uses a mix of time manipulation and martial arts to make things more interesting. We get sequences where time seems to slow down and freeze, with Neo programmed to be a martial arts master. It’s a treat to watch.
13. Now and Then – Leslie Linka Glatter
A good dose of nostalgia and a trip down memory lane makes Now and Then a classic worth revisiting. This delve into girlhood and female friendship turns Leslie Linka Glatter’s movie into a 90s cult favorite for coming-of-age movies.
Four childhood friends reunite as one is about to give birth to her first child. They recount the one summer that they spent together back in 1970, each highlighting their own struggles at the time as kids. We get into the struggles of puberty, divorce, and first kisses, as well as some fun nightly seances.
This movie feels like a good trip down familiar roads, and its all-female cast did a wonderful job of bringing it to life. There’s mischief and misdemeanor. There’s humor and tears. All you need is packed into one nostalgic movie.
14. Lost in Translation – Sofia Coppola
There are a lot of iconic movies spearheaded by Sofia Coppola, and Lost in Translation is a good example of one. This rom-com drama is a look into loneliness and companionship. You know the feeling of being alone in a crowd? Yeah, this movie is the epitome of it.
An actor going through a midlife crisis lands in Tokyo for a job. Here, he meets a young post-grad woman, Charlotte, who is lost in her own young adult way. Set against the bustling foreign city, the two find a connection within each other that they cannot seem to find anywhere else.
Lost in Translation defies the conventions of a typical rom-com movie and dives into something somewhat atypical. It talks about the alienating feeling of being in a country where no one speaks your language or has any cultural significance to you. Hence, this movie spotlights Sofia Coppola as one of the world’s renowned female directors.
15. Cleo From 5 to 7 – Agnes Varda
Truthfully, this movie has all the makings of an iconic cult classic. Cleo From 5 to 7 has cameos from the infamous Jean Luc-Godard and Anna Karina, with a musical score from the renowned Michel Legrand. Like it or not, Agnes Varda is propelled to the top as one of the defining filmmakers of the French New Wave for this alone.
The movie has a simple plotline as we follow a pop star, Cleo Victoire, awaiting her biopsy medical results. Yet, with such a simple plotline, so much is packed into the movie. We get to explore themes of existentialism, mortality, and even some feministic viewpoints.
Clearly, Cleo does not want to die – her thoughts reflect that pretty well. Furthermore, it is interesting to see how she decides to pass her time before her diagnosis. We venture from one scene to another with all sorts of bad omens popping up in her way.
16. We Need to Talk About Kevin – Lynne Ramsay
This movie is a disturbing and confusing journey into a woman’s psyche before and after her son commits a terrible crime. Lynne Ramsay’s expertise in putting together this psychological thriller, paired with Tilda Swinton’s magnificent acting as Eva, deserves all the praise in the world.
Throughout the movie, we go through jarring glimpses of her past with her psychotic son, who is now imprisoned. We go through his childhood and the difficulties Eva has to go through in raising him. Here, we get glimpses of his dark tendencies and manipulation, leading him to commit terrible acts.
We Need to Talk About Kevin has a jarring timeline that leaves its audience to piece together its meaning and events independently. This results in an unnerving story that fills you with despair as you continue to the end.
17. Something’s Gotta Give – Nancy Meyers
With all these serious and complicated movies, here’s one you don’t need to put much brainpower into. Nancy Meyers is one of the female directors known for her unique storylines when it comes to rom-com movies. Something’s Gotta Give is a great example of that.
We have Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson as the primary love interests in this unconventional rom-com. Both are successful 50 and 60-somethings that somehow find an attraction towards each other. The two are complete opposites but find solace in each other’s company when forced to stay under the same roof.
It’s fun and refreshing to see stories of people finding love at a later point in life. These stories typically don’t get much spotlight or love. However, Nancy Meyers showcases that these stories can be as fun and entertaining as young love.
18. The Babadook – Jennifer Kent
There is a lot to digest in The Babadook. This psychological thriller is a mix of the uncertainties of motherhood, mental illness, grief, and a demon that won’t go away. It also brings the term ‘elevated horror’ to light regarding the horror genre.
A six-year-old boy is convinced that a monster is living in his house as he gets disturbing visions of them recurring. His behavior affects his widowed mother, who descends into paranoia at the existence of the being while having a lot to juggle on her plate.
The Babadook is a fascinating depiction of how too much emotional turmoil and stress can manifest into something else entirely. What starts as a supernatural threat turns into a genuine one by the movie’s end.
19. Persepolis – Marjane Satrapi
You can’t forget movies on the animated front! Here we have Persepolis, a unique, lively autobiography from the same novel, directed by the same author. The creative talent is through the roof. Marjane Satrapi has countless notable works and is one of those female directors you should watch.
Persepolis dives into a girl’s life during the Iranian revolution and is a coming-of-age story. There is a switch between the present day and the past depicted by scenes in black and white or color, which is a nice touch. It is a profoundly personal movie since it is an autobiography of the director’s life, but it has values and issues that resonate even in the world today.
The heroine is complex, and the visuals are stunning as they resemble the graphic novel from which it adapts. You will be led through an emotional, challenging journey filled with homesickness and tough decisions.
20. Girlhood – Celine Sciamma
A list of best movies from female directors without touching on Girlhood seems like a crime. This movie is an emotional and visual about stepping out of one’s shell and into the light. Celine Sciamma’s coming-of-age drama discusses some tough themes on race, gender, and class while its characters try to grow up.
Marieme is a teenager living in the run-down outskirts of Paris that gets approached by a gang of girls. She joins the gang, where they fight and steal from others while doing all sorts of illegal things. Yet they are very supportive and share so much love with each other. But great things don’t last forever, as they each struggle with their own problems, and a rival gang shows up.
Aside from bringing to light some challenging themes, Celine’s objective is to shine a spotlight on Black characters who are underrepresented in French media. It’s safe to say she did a great job at it.
And that’s the 20 best movies from female directors! These are only a small dent in the list of great movies out there, but it is a good start if you’re looking for some to add to your watchlist. If you’re looking for more female-centric movies, here’s one with the best femme fatales.
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