A Year With Women: 103 Essential Films By Female Filmmakers

Find out more about A Year With Women here.

Lately I’ve become more and more frustrated with the various “best ever” lists that have been released because they rarely feature films by women, or if they do it’s usually one or two films. I think this is more a reflection of those who are polled for these kinds of lists, as well as a compounding of history on itself. For so long films by men have made up the bulk of the film canon and I think people are afraid to add new films to these revered lists. I also think many people haven’t seen very many films by women, or if they have it’s always the same handful of films. In an attempt to create a better, more inclusive list of great films by women, I polled over 500 critics, filmmakers, bloggers, historians, professors and casual film viewers, asking them to tell me what films directed (or co-directed) by women are essential viewing. Some people only responded with as little as five votes, others submitted hundreds of films. In the end, I received over 7,000 votes for 1,100+ different films. After tallying up this data, with ties factored in, I then had a list of 103 essential films directed by women.

103_female_directe_films

While this list is in no way the end all and be all of female filmmakers, it does include films from multiple countries, filmmakers of all ages, films from all kinds of genres and spans 9 decades. Also, I would like to point out that although the earliest film on this list is from 1935, there were several filmmakers from the silent era who were women (and whose films were in the initial 1,100+ list), including Alice Guy-Blaché, Lois Weber and others. This list should be looked at as a springboard, a way to get your feet wet with the most beloved films made by women. There are lots of resources to find even more great films by women. DirectedByWomen.com and TheDirectorList.com are two such invaluable places to start learning more about the thousands of women who have been making films since the beginning of cinema. So now, without further ado, please find (in descending order), 103 essential films directed by women!

La Mujer sin Cabeza (The Headless Woman), 2008 (dir. Lucrecia Martel) – 16 votes

103_the_headless_woman
Ishtar, 1987  (dir. Elaine May) – 16 votes

102_ishtar
Gas Food Lodging, 1992 (dir. Allison Anders) – 16 votes

101_gas_food_lodging
Born in Flames, 1983 (dir. Lizzie Borden) – 16 votes

100_born_in_flames
Il portiere di notte (The Night Porter), 1974 (dir. Liliana Cavani) – 17 votes

99_the_night_porter
The Bling Ring, 2013 (dir. Sofia Coppola) – 17 votes

98_the_bling_ring
Middle of Nowhere, 2012 (dir. Ava DuVernay) – 17 votes

97_middle_of_nowhere
Across The Universe, 2007 (dir. Julie Taymor) – 17 votes

Khaneh siah ast (The House is Black), 1962 (dir. Farugh Farrokhzad) – 18 votes

95_the_house_is_black
The Heartbreak Kid, 1972 (dir. Elaine May) – 18 votes

94_the_heartbreak_kid
Mikey and Nicky, 1976 (dir. Elaine May) – 18 votes

93_mikey_and_nicky
Girlfight, 2000 (dir. Karyn Kusama) – 18 votes

92_girlfight
Europa Europa, 1990 (dir. Agnieszka Holland) – 18 votes

91_europa_europa
Dance, Girl, Dance, 1940 (dir. Dorothy Arzner) – 18 votes

90_dance_girl_dance
Les glaneurs et la glaneuse (The Gleaners & I), 2001 (dir. Agnès Varda) – 19 votes

89_the_gleaners_and_i
Voskhozhdeniye (The Ascent), 1977 (dir. Larisa Sheptiko) – 19 votes

88_the_ascent
Somewhere, 2010 (dir. Sofia Coppola) – 19 votes

87_somewhere
Appropriate Behavior, 2015 (dir. Desiree Akhavan) – 19 votes

86_appropriate_behavior
The Matrix, 1999 (dir. Lana Wachowski & Lilly Wachowski) – 20 votes

85_the_matrix

Waitress, 2007 (dir. Adrienne Shelly) – 21 votes

84_waitress
Trouble Every Day, 2001 (dir. Claire Denis) – 21 votes

83_trouble_every_day

Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will), 1935 (dir. Leni Riefenstahl) – 21 votes

82_triumph_of_the_will
Titus, 1999 (dir. Julie Taymor) – 21 votes

81_titus
Le bonheur, 1965 (dir. Agnès Varda) – 21 votes

80_le_bonheur
Eve’s Bayou, 1997 (dir. Kasi Lemmons) – 21 votes

79_eve's_bayou
Dogfight, 1991 (dir. Nancy Savoca) – 21 votes


A New Leaf, 1971 (dir. Elaine May) – 22 votes

77_a_new_leaf

Ravenous, 1999 (dir. Antonia Bird) – 23 votes

76_ravenous

Paris is Burning, 1990 (dir. Jennie Livingston) – 23 votes

Love & Basketball, 2000 (dir. Gina Prince-Bythewood) – 24 votes

74_love_basketball
Frida, 2002 (dir. Julie Taymor) – 24 votes

73_frida
Enough Said, 2013 (dir. Nicole Holofcener) – 24 votes

White Material, 2009 (dir. Claire Denis) – 25 votes

71_white_material
Whip It, 2009 (dir. Drew Barrymore) – 25 votes

70_whip_it
Take This Waltz, 2011 (dir. Sarah Polley) – 25 votes

69_take_this_waltz
My Brilliant Career, 1979 (dir. Gillian Armstrong) – 25 votes

68_my_brilliant_career
Little Miss Sunshine, 2006 (dir. Valerie Faris & Jonathan Dayton) – 25 votes

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The Kids Are All Right, 2010 (dir. Lisa Cholodenko) – 26 votes

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Thirteen, 2003 (dir. Catherine Hardwicke) – 27 votes

65_thirteen
You’ve Got Mail, 1998 (dir. Nora Ephron) – 28 votes

64_you've_got_mail
Wanda, 1970 (dir. Barbara Loden) – 28 votes

63_wanda
The Decline of Western Civilization, 1981 (dir. Penelope Spheeris) – 29 votes

62_the_decline_of_western_civilization_i
Harlan County, U.S.A., 1976 (dir. Barbara Kopple) – 30 votes

61_harlan_county_usa
Sweetie, 1989 (dir. Jane Campion) – 31 votes

Monsoon Wedding, 2002 (dir. Mira Nair) – 31 votes

59_monsoon_wedding
Away From Her, 2006 (dir. Sarah Polley) – 31 votes

58_away_from_her
Desperately Seeking Susan, 1985 (dir. Susan Seidelman) – 32 votes

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Whale Rider, 2003 (dir. Niki Caro) – 33 votes

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Strange Days, 1995 (dir. Kathryn Bigelow) – 33 votes

55_strange_days
Belle, 2014 (dir. Amma Asante) – 33 votes

54_belle
Daughters of the Dust, 1991 (dir. Julie Dash) – 34 votes

53_daughter_of_the_dust

Sleepless in Seattle, 1993 (dir. Nora Ephron) – 35 votes

Morvern Callar, 2002 (dir. Lynne Ramsay) – 35 votes

51_morvern _callar
Monster, 2003 (dir. Patty Jenkins) – 35 votes

50_monster
À ma sœur! (Fat Girl), 2001 (dir. Catherine Breillat) – 35 votes


35 Rhums (35 Shots of Rum), 2008 (dir. Claire Denis) – 35 votes

48_35_shots_of_rum
Me and You and Everyone We Know, 2005 (dir. Miranda July) – 36 votes

47_me_and_you_and_everyone_we_know
But I’m a Cheerleader, 1999 (dir. Jamie Babbit) – 36 votes

46_but_i'm_a_cheerleader
Sans toit ni loi (Vagabond), 1985 (dir. Agnès Varda) – 38 votes

45_vagabond
Tomboy, 2011 (dir. Céline Sciamma) – 39 votes

44_tomboy
Bend it Like Beckham, 2002 (dir. Gurinder Chadha) – 39 votes

43_bend_it_like_beckham

Ratcatcher, 1999 (dir. Lynne Ramsay) – 40 votes

42_ratcatcher

Obvious Child, 2014 (dir. Gillian Robespierre) – 40 votes

A117_C002_0418MH

An Angel at My Table, 1990 (dir. Jane Campion) – 40 votes

40_an_angel_at_my_table

Bande de filles (Girlhood), 2014 (dir. Céline Sciamma) – 41 votes

39_girlhood
Wendy and Lucy, 2008 (dir. Kelly Reichardt) – 42 votes

38_wendy_and_lucy

Pariah, 2011 (dir. Dee Rees) – 42 votes

37_pariah
Beyond the Lights, 2014 (dir. Gina Prince-Bythewood) – 42 votes

36_beyond_the_lights
Wadjda, 2013 (dir. Haifaa Al-Mansour) – 43 votes

35_wadjda
Meek’s Cutoff, 2011 (dir. Kelly Reichardt) – 44 votes

34_meek's_cutoff
Little Women, 1994 (dir. Gillian Armstrong) – 44 votes

33_little_women
Marie Antoinette, 2006 (dir. Sofia Coppola) – 45 votes

32_marie_antionette
Persepolis, 2007 (dir. Marjane Satrapi & Vincent Paronnaud) – 47 votes

31_persepolis
Near Dark, 1987 (dir. Kathryn Bigelow) – 47 votes

30_near_dark

Wayne’s World, 1992 (dir. Penelope Spheeris) – 49 votes

29_wayne's_world
Fast Times at Ridgemont High, 1982 (dir. Amy Heckerling) – 50 votes

28_fast_times_at_ridgemont_high
Beau Travail, 1999 (dir. Claire Denis) – 54 votes

27_beau_travail
Bright Star, 2009 (dir. Jane Campion) – 55 votes

26_bright_star
The Hitch-Hiker, 1953 (dir. Ida Lupino) – 56 votes

25_the_hitch-hiker
An Education, 2009 (dir. Lone Scherfig) – 56 votes

24_an_education
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, 2014 (dir. Ana Lily Amirpour) – 57 votes

23_a_girl_walks_home_alone_at_night
We Need To Talk About Kevin, 2011 (dir. Lynne Ramsay) – 58 votes

22_we_need_to_talk_about_kevin
Stories We Tell, 2013 (dir. Sarah Polley) – 58 votes

21_stories_we_tell
Point Break, 1991 (dir. Kathryn Bigelow) – 58 votes

20_point_break

Orlando, 1992 (dir. Sally Poter) – 59 votes

Boys Don’t Cry, 1999 (dir. Kimberly Pierce) – 62 votes

18_boy's_don't_cry
Big, 1988 (dir. Penny Marshall) – 68 votes

17_big

Meshes of the Afternoon, 1943 (dir. Maya Deren & Alexander Hammid) – 69 votes

16_meshes_of_the_afternoon

A League of Their Own, 1992 (dir. Penny Marshall) – 69 votes

15_a_league_of_their_own
Sedmikrásky (Daisies), 1966 (dir. Věra Chytilová) – 70 votes

14_daisies
Zero Dark Thirty, 2012 (dir. Kathryn Bigelow) – 72 votes

13_zero_dark_thirty
The Babadook, 2014 (dir. Jennifer Kent) – 72 votes

12_the_babadook
Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, 1975 (dir. Chantal Akerman) – 74 votes

11_jeanne_dielman

Winter’s Bone, 2010 (dir. Debra Granik) – 75 votes

10_winter's_bone
The Virgin Suicides, 1999 (dir. Sofia Coppola) – 84 votes

9_the_virgin_suicides
Fish Tank, 2009 (dir. Andrea Arnold) – 84 votes

8_fish_tank
The Hurt Locker, 2009 (dir. Kathryn Bigelow) – 92 votes

7_the_hurt_locker
Cléo from 5 to 7, 1962 (dir. Agnès Varda) – 93 votes

6_cléo_from_5_to_7
American Psycho, 2000 (dir. Mary Harron) – 110 votes

5_american_psycho
Selma, 2014 (dir. Ava DuVernay) – 118 votes


The Piano, 1993 (dir. Jane Campion) – 120 votes

3_the_piano
Lost in Translation, 2003 (dir. Sofia Coppola) – 144 votes

2_lost_in_translation
Clueless, 1995 (dir. Amy Heckerling) – 147 votes

How many of these films have you seen? Thoughts? Complaints? Sound off in the comments! Please share this list far and wide! And keep supporting female filmmakers by going to see their films in theaters, renting their films, tweeting about their films, blogging about their films, buying them as gifts for friends, family and co-workers! It’s an uphill battle, but the more awareness there is about women who are making films now and have made films in the past, the more likely even more women will find their calling in the cinema and a more equal cinematic landscape will be had by all!

Find out more about A Year With Women here.

About cinemafanatic

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on August 22, 2015, in Top List and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 62 Comments.

  1. Marya, this list is AMAZING. The films on here that I’ve seen already I love. I’m excited to find so many more great films that are clearly must-sees. I’m impressed by the range and diversity of films that made the top list, too–which speaks highly of both the taste and breadth of film knowledge of your survey respondents and your process for compiling the list. Thank you for the massive undertaking of making this list happen. Brava!

  2. Just an observation: no films by the silent film pioneers Alice Guy (aka Alice Guy-Blache) or Lois Weber. They aren’t as well known or widely seen but Weber’s “Shoes” is very sophisticated and socially sharp and Guy’s early shorts are remarkably sophisticated.

  3. Half of these films suck. If you’re going to try to make a case for the importance of women filmmakers, you should at least be honest about quality & not insult the intelligence of your readers.

  4. Very sad to not see a single Japanese, Chinese or South Korean film on the list😦

    It would really great if you could publish the list of the 100 films that got the least votes, cause those are probably the ones that really need discovering.

    • I added votes to those, as well as Indian. xD

    • There were definitely several films from those countries submitted to the 1,110+ list and a few came really close to making it into the top 100. I had people submit lists from countries all over the world, unfortunately most of the people who responded were from the US/Europe, thus the Western bias.

      • It definitely goes to show that Asian Cinema is in need of spotlighting so great films like A Simple Life or Still the Water will be discovered by more people.
        It’s a very interesting list otherwise, lots still to discover and a year with women is a great project.

  5. Courtney Hunt’s Frozen River (2008) is, to me, a puzzling omission. And just one film each from Breillat (no Romance!) and Holofcener (no Walking and Talking!) and Reifenstahl (no Olympia!) is odd.

  6. Nice list and totally happy about Clueless being the “winner” here with most votes. That’s one of the best feel good teen movies out there!

  7. An absolutely essential list of essential films. Thank you for this. I smiled from ear to ear to see how much appreciation was received by films generally thought by more conventional critics to be ‘minor’ films–Little Women, Desperately Seeking Susan, You’ve Got Mail, etc. This list made my day.

  8. Reblogged this on Voices of Venus and commented:
    Movies, not books, but putting this list here anyway.

  9. The question was framed (and this list is also framed) as “essential films directed by women.” I don’t think that suggests that these films are necessarily superior to films that didn’t make the list – it does basically boil down to a popularity/what people know contest, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing in and of itself. It highlights what both critics and casual viewers a) have heard of, b) know was directed by a woman, and c) think are essential viewing. It’s not a scientific methodology and it was never framed as such. For what it is, I think it’s a very interesting and useful starting point.

    I would be interested in seeing a list of all 1100+ films that were mentioned, because as some other commenters have said, that’s where the real hidden gems will be. I’d especially be interested in the non-English language filmmakers people have mentioned are missing from the list; they’re a blind spot for me, for sure.

    Also, in response to one commenter – if half of these films suck, I must’ve been VERY lucky with the half I’ve seen, which seems statistically improbable.😉

  10. I shared this on facebook because I wanted everyone to see what wonderful films have been directed by women. I have not seen them all – but the ones I have are all films I liked. And shamefully I have to say that there were a couple I didn’t know were directed by women. (Head hanging.)

  11. This is a great list, brings back a lot of memories. Two movies I wish you’d included: “Hester Street”, directed by Joan Micklin Silver, and “House with a Turret”, directed by Eva Neymann.

  12. This is a great list, but really, no Lina Wertmueller? I realize it is hard for Americans to get a foreign vibe, but this woman is a genius and worth taking a look. Please just rent Love and Anarchy. Music by Nina Rota alone will make it worthwhile. There are few directors out there that can be so comical and so tragic at the same time. Watch all the way to the devastating end and tell me you saw that coming. Right.

    • I think the availability (aka lack thereof) of her work in the US on DVD/Blu has really lessened her impact on younger generations. It’s a shame her films are more accessible.

    • poitive ! lina wertmuller beats them all. so hard to tell which one better, mine would be Love and anarchy as well though… But Pascualino, Mimi metalo, and also swept Aways is so much fun!

    • Love and Anarchy, one of my two or three prefered movies of all times, no doubt. Finfd myself crying every time I watch it, with only hearing the first notes and words of the first song. I was surprised not to find it in this interesting list, but you mentionned it !

  13. Such a tremendous post! I haven’t seen a handful of these movies, and I didn’t realize that the majority of these films had female directors attached!

  14. Its rare for women to be recognized as good film makers, at least in the leagues of Scorsese and Burton. But this list just proves that women are able to make quality films.

  15. Did someone accidentally swap the places of Triumph des Willens and Clueless?

  16. I won’t cherish militaristic / jingoist films even if they are made by women

  17. dreaminterpreter

    Where is Ulrike Ottinger in this list?

  18. Im glad one ida lupino movie made it but she should be on here a half dozen times.

  19. Where is Aparna Sens’s Mr. and Mrs. Iyer (2002)
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0329393/

  20. Susanne Bier??

  21. Thank you very very much for this list!!

  22. Little man Tate (Jodie Foster) should ne on that list…

  23. How could Deepa Mehta be missed on this list? Canadian Director of stunning and powerful films such as Midnights Children , Water, Earth, Fire

  24. Any chance you could post the individual submissions? I’d love to see the variety of the films chosen, and I’d also be curious to see if the lists from critics, filmmakers and historians might have less recency bias than those from bloggers and casual viewers.

  25. Great list, and great project. Perhaps you should publish just a simple text list of films who were runners-up and as someone else pointed out – the ones that got the least votes. I am surprised more Catherine Breillat films didn’t make it on the list like “Last Tango in Paris” – she’s got an impressive discography. And Catherine Hardwicke’s excellent Red Riding Hood (2011) is an oversight IMO. I’m an Australian author, but also a huge film fiend. Did many people paricpate from Australia ? Thankyou for doing this – will be sharing everywhere.:)

  26. I question the addition of Th Matrix as Lana Wachowski was still Larry at the time. Other than that, this list shall be watched/reached by me. There are some great films in here. Some I’ve seen, some I haven’t yet seen.

  27. Lots of my favorite films on this list. Thanks. I’m surprised that there’s nothing by Nicole Holofcener. Lovely and Amazing is… lovely and amazing.

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