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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

Dogfight, 1991 (dir. Nancy Savoca) – 21 votes

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wanda, 1970 (dir. Barbara Loden) – 28 votes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

Little Women, 1994 (dir. Gillian Armstrong) – 44 votes

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

An Education, 2009 (dir. Lone Scherfig) – 56 votes

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

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

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

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


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

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

Big, 1988 (dir. Penny Marshall) – 68 votes


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


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

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

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

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

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


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

The Virgin Suicides, 1999 (dir. Sofia Coppola) – 84 votes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Marya E. Gates

Cinephile to the max.

Posted on August 22, 2015, in Top List and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 71 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. Reblogged this on libros rojos.

  13. 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 !

  14. 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!

  15. 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.

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

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

  18. dreaminterpreter

    Where is Ulrike Ottinger in this list?

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

  20. Where is Aparna Sens’s Mr. and Mrs. Iyer (2002)

  21. Susanne Bier??

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

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

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

  25. 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.

  26. 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. 🙂

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. I wonder how would the list looked like if it was only directors and critics pool, without casual film viewers.

  30. Rebecca Verdia

    That was amazing – thank you!

  31. Karla Liduário

    I’m gonna say one which might be controversial but hear me out (although, compared to Triumph of the Will, this is as unproblematic as it could get).

    This movie is Twilight.

    Why? Because it’s a masterpiece? No. But it’s a movie directed, written and based on a book by a woman with a female protagonist targeted mostly towards a female audience. And yet, it provoked heated debates on feminism, female representation and healthy relationships for all the wrong reasons. Still, it was a cultural phenomenom, broke so many records for a movie directed by a woman, I believe it was for a long time the highest-grossing movie by a female filmmaker. It also inspired another book series written by a woman that also became a cultural phenomenom, one of the best-selling book series, and was adapted into a movie directed and written by women that also broke many other records and caused, I’d say in an even bigger scale, A LOT of controversy and discussions on these female issues. It’s a pretty big fucking deal, no? I’m not saying it should be regarded as one of the best movies ever, not in the least, but I do believe it still should be considered an essential movie by a female filmmaker for its impact, success, cultural importance and how it motivated conversations and changes on how women are portrayed in the media even if it’s not for the reasons intended. Am I being nonsensical? I do have to admit that Twilight (and the series in general) was a huge part of my teenagehood and it influenced a lot in my passion for movies and, consequently, my decision to pursue a career as a filmmaker. Obviously, looking back at it I can see all its problems, technical and social, but it doesn’t erase what it represents to me. So yeah, I’m definitely being biased here.

    • Karla Liduário

      Also, millions of girls AND grown women were obsessed by it. It’s intrinsically connected to women in every way you look at it.

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