For as long as there have been movies, there have been the greatest films directed by women making them
These days, it’s easy to list off several respected, well-known greatest films directed by women considering Greta Gerwig, Olivia Wilde, and Ava DuVernay, to name a few. But it wasn’t so long ago while we’ve still got a long way to go it’s been 11 long years since a woman took home the Oscar for Best Director we’ve certainly taken big steps toward more equitable film sets. We’re taking a look back at some of the epic strides made in the industry, paying homage to the top 10 of the greatest films directed by women
Promising Young Woman
The most recent addition to the ever-growing ranks of female directors is English-born filmmaker Emerald Fennell. If you don’t know her name yet, you’re about to—especially in light of her buzzed-about psychological thriller, Promising Young Woman, which tackles rape culture in a post #MeToo era. Fennell’s revenge-seeking lead, Cassie Thomas (played by Carey Mulligan), makes quite the splash with her turn as a woman who feigns drunkenness as a way to lure predatory men into her trap. The film was one of three female-led pieces to be nominated for Best Director Golden Globe this year.
By now, there’s seemingly not a soul alive who hasn’t seen—and immediately fell in love with—Amy Heckerling’s 1995 masterpiece, Clueless. Adapted from the classic 1815 Jane Austen novel Emma, this motion picture has it all: Friendship. Sex. Love. Epic one-liners (“you’re a virgin, who can’t drive”). Throw in some of the era’s biggest stars, a kickass soundtrack, and a wardrobe that has changed the landscape of fashion, and you’ve got what just may be the best teen movie of all time, rivaled only by Heckerling’s other generationally-defining work, Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
Chloe Zhao’s contemplative, Golden Globe-winning film Nomadland has generated some well-deserved Oscar buzz since its debut at the Venice Film Festival last fall. If you’re still not familiar with the road movie that has swept this year’s awards season, the film takes a searing look at one woman’s journey through the American West all the while living in her van. Francis McDormand plays Fran, a gig worker who travels from badlands to the desert in search of income–and freedom. Along the way, she meets others who share her fate. The film appeared on numerous best-of-year-end lists, and took home the top awards at the Golden Globes, with Zhao becoming the second woman to win the best director.
For Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins, it was less about breaking glass ceilings and more about smashing them. Her 2017 flick, which follows warrior Diana Prince into an epic battle against evil, broke records the world over, becoming the first female-led superhero movie in more than a decade. It was also the second-ever movie to be led by a woman with a budget of more than $100 million. Wonder Woman would go on to have the biggest film opening of all time for a female director, with the biggest single-day gross earnings from a female director to boot.
Ava DuVernay’s triumph of a film, Selma, is a hugely important piece of cinematography for a multitude of reasons. Not only does it tell the real-life story of the history-making voting rights marches that occurred in 1965 led by Martin Luther King Jr., but DuVernay also made history herself with this movie’s 2014 release when she became the first Black woman to ever be nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Director. Told with plenty of emotion and heart by its cast, which includes David Oyelowo, Oprah Winfrey, Tessa Thompson, Angela Bassett, and Cuba Gooding Jr., this is one of the greatest films directed by women is a reflection of our nation’s collective heritage.
The Hurt Locker
Director Kathryn Bigelow didn’t shy away from blood, guts, or gore in her 2009 Academy Award-winning war film, Hurt Locker. Instead, she leaned into it, giving viewers a gripping look at life in combat. Told through the eyes of journalist Mark Boal, who himself was stationed with an American bomb squad in Iraq for two weeks in 2004, this action-packed flick earned Bigelow the title as the first—and only—Best Director winner in Oscar history. In addition, it cleaned up in other categories, taking home awards for Best Picture, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Sound Mixing.
Now and Then
Forget The Catcher in the Rye. For young women growing up in the ‘90s, Now and Then was the only coming-of-age story that mattered. Homeland alum Lesli Linka Glatter brilliantly guided this all-star female cast, which included Demi Moore, Rosie O’Donnell, Melanie Griffith, Rita Wilson, Thora Birch, Gabby Hoffman, Christina Ricci, and Ashleigh Aston Moore, as they navigated the highs and lows of friendship and adolescence, from first kisses and divorce to bodily changes and séances—and we relished every second of it.
A then-20-year-old Jennifer Lawrence wasn’t the only woman shining with Winter’s Bone—director Debra Granik took home plenty of accolades for her adaptation of the Daniel Woodrell novel of the same name, including a Sundance Film Festival best directing award. Raw and harrowing, this dark drama centers on a teenage girl who must find her missing father to avoid losing her home, which has been put up as a bond following his drug arrest. It’s gritty, it’s intense, and it’s emotional, and greatest films directed by women, it will have you on the edge of your seat until the last credits roll.
Across the Universe
Julie Taymor made history in 1998 as the first female to win a Tony award for Best Direction of a Musical (the stage version of The Lion King), but it was her stint as the director of 2007’s Across the Universe that we’re lasering in on. With it, she brilliantly weaves the musical catalog of The Beatles into the story of two young souls (played by Evan Rachel Wood and Jim Sturgess) who are struggling to navigate their relationship amid the political chaos of the ‘60s and the looming Vietnam War. Taymor’s film was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Picture/Musical-Comedy.
American Psycho co-writer and director Mary Harron left a lasting mark on horror with this 2000 classic, which stars Christian Bale as a cold, calculating banker with a dark and sinister secret beneath his seemingly perfect all-American exterior.