Get the best of Netflix and Amazon Prime in your inbox →Our beloved newsletter The Watch is handpicked by our staff (not automated), spam-free, and reader-supported

The 50 Best Movies Directed By Women

Over the past couple of years, the number of women working in film has skyrocketed to an all-time high. And yet, female directors remain consistently underrepresented at award shows and “best-of lists”. Just consider that in the Oscar’s ninety-two years of existence, only one woman – Kathryn Biglow, the director of The Hurt Locker – has ever won Best Director, and that wasn’t until 2010. Facts like these reflect a gender divide that exists way beyond Hollywood, and the people who end up missing out are the cinema lovers who are hungry for fresh perspectives. So to balance it out, we’ve rounded up the best movies directed by women that are available to stream.

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2012)

Adapted from the Lionel Shriver novel of the same name, We Need to Talk About Kevin is the story of a mother (Tilda Swinton) that never quite bonds with her child, but not by her choice. The son grows up to do a heinous act that begs the question: nature or nurture? This film is an uncompromising view on the development of an unloved child. Silent pain gets voice. Feelings are shown by actions not emotions in an authentic, comprehensible and aesthetic manner. Great work.

(Anne-Sophie & Josh)
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Actor: Alex Manette, Ashley Gerasimovich, Blake DeLong, Erin Darke, Ezra Miller, J. Mallory McCree, Jasper Newell, Jennifer Kim, John C. Reilly, Joseph Melendez, Kenneth Franklin, Leslie Lyles, Maryann Urbano, Rocky Duer, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Tilda Swinton, Ursula Parker
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Rating: R

Free Watching Options:

Watch We Need to Talk About Kevin (2012) on Hulu for free
Toni Erdmann (2016)

Good movies usually aren't lengthy movies, unless we're talking about cases like Toni Erdmann. It's a supremely smart German-Austrian comedy that depicts the story of a Father-Daughter tandem in light of life’s weirdest, most inconvenient moments. Deciding to visit his daughter on a whim after his dog dies, Winfried (Peter Simonischek)—a man known for his outrageous pranks and many a disguise—flies to Bucharest. Ines (Sandra Huller), the daughter, buzzing with work to the brim in a very challenging job, to say the least, isn’t impressed. This leads to even more uncomfortable encounters as the estranged father poses as the title character, life coach to the disapproving daughter’s boss. On top of being a shrewdly observed and relevant movie, the brilliant writing by Maren Ade crafts something thoroughly enjoyable and heartfelt here, highlighting the importance of family bond in an oddly sweet way, and criticizing modern-day work ethic and the toll its taking on us. The beginning is a bit slow, but if you're a bit patient you will be surprised how much this movie will reward you.

(Christina Hale)
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Hadewych Minis, Hans Löw, Ingrid Bisu, Irene Rindje, Lucy Russell, Manuela Ciucur, Michael Wittenborn, Peter Simonischek, Ruth Reinecke, Sandra Hüller, Thomas Loibl, Trystan Putter, Valentin Popescu, Victoria Cocias, Vlad Ivanov
Director: Maren Ade
Rating: R
Time (2020)

This intimate and personal film is about Sibil Fox Rich, an entrepreneur and mother of six. Fox is driven by an unparalleled, contagious determination to succeed — so present in the mix of video diaries and present-day footage of her in Time.

For the past 20 years, Rich has channeled that tenacity towards the release of her husband, who is serving a 60-year sentence.

Through the video diaries and family footage, Time feels almost too personal. It’s like stepping into a person’s most intimate moments for 81 minutes, with all their ups and downs.

It could be seen as a commentary on the deeply flawed American justice system, but at its core Time is an uplifting portrayal of resilience, true, long-lasting love (she and her husband were high-school sweethearts), and boundless hope.

Genre: Documentary
Actor: Fox Rich, Freedom Rich, Rob Rich II
Director: Garrett Bradley
Rating: PG-13
The Watermelon Woman (1996)

This drama was the first feature written and directed by an out Black lesbian, Cheryl Dunye, and it is an absolute joy: a cheeky faux-documentary that ingeniously blends lesbian dating life with a historical dive into Black actors in 30s Hollywood.

Dunye plays Cheryl, a self-effacing version of herself, an aspiring director working at a video store who begins to research an actress known as the Watermelon Woman for a documentary. The more Cheryl dives into her research, the more she sees parallels between her subject and her own relationship. 

As incisive as it is funny, The Watermelon Woman shares some common ground with other major indie debuts of the era like Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It and funnily enough Kevin Smith’s Clerks, but Dunye’s style is wholly her own and a dazzling treat to experience.

 

(Igor Fishman)
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Actor: Guinevere Turner
Director: Cheryl Dunye

Free Watching Options:

Watch The Watermelon Woman (1996) on Showtime for free
Beau travail (1999)

Often considered Claire Denis’ best film, Beau Travail is an epic exploration of both masculinity and colonialism. Inspired by Melville’s Billy Budd, she transplants the story to Djibouti where the French Foreign Legion run seemingly aimless drills in an arid desert landscape while largely alienated from the local community. 

Denis inverts the male gaze and imbues charged eroticism to the bodies in motion as the men train and wrestle. Accompanied by the music of Britten’s Billy Budd opera, these movements transform into a breathtaking modern dance. Underneath her jaw-dropping direction is a cutting allegory on repression, desire, and violence, working on both the individual and geopolitical level. This incredible tale is capped off by one of the best end credit sequences of all time. 

(Igor Fishman)
Genre: Drama
Actor: Denis Lavant, Grégoire Colin, Michel Subor
Director: Claire Denis
Rating: Unrated
Vagabond (1985)

Even before Agnès Varda pivoted to documentary filmmaking, she was a pioneer of French cinema. Her film Sans toit ni loi (Vagabond) is one of her most harrowing dramas. 

Varda’s sensibilities as a burgeoning documentarian are apparent as the film opens on the corpse of a woman lying dead in a snow-covered ditch. Through flashbacks, we trace the titular vagabond’s steps to uncover how she ended up alone and dead. The camera follows its subject from a safe distance, as if tracking a wild animal. Alongside the woman, we hitchhike across the French countryside, encountering hostile men, treacherous winter weather, and occasional glimpses of hope, connection, and familiarity. Vagabond succeeds at portraying a complicated woman—Varda understood that women, above all else, are people, with dark interiors, difficult choices, and uncertain impulses. 

(Taylor Leigh Harper)
Genre: Drama
Actor: Agnès Varda, Macha Méril, Sandrine Bonnaire, Stéphane Freiss, Yolande Moreau
Director: Agnès Varda
Rating: Not Rated
Dick Johnson Is Dead (2020)

Dick Johnson Is Dead is a heartfelt and unconventional portrait of how one can live life to the fullest even in their darkest days. Kristen Johnson’s follow-up to the highly acclaimed documentary Cameraperson, Johnson shows that her skills are no fluke as she crafts a witty film where she masterfully balances surreal tonal shifts to create a compelling experience. While it does have a repetitive nature, the final thirty minutes are heartbreakingly comedic, and make this one worth a watch!

(Diego Andaluz)
Genre: Documentary
Director: Kirsten Johnson
Rating: PG-13
The Gleaners and I (2000)

Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse (The Gleaners and I) is one of the late Agnès Varda’s great documentaries. The film follows “gleaners”—scavengers and collectors of discarded garbage or abandoned items—from the French countryside into the city. The first of Varda’s subjects recalls, “Gleaning, that’s the old way,” marking a clear distinction: old versus new, rural versus urban, wasted versus repurposed.

Fans of Varda will recognize the signature tenderness with which she approaches both her subjects and their objects. Those new to her work will be sure to find something familiar in this documentary: a film largely about loss, but which approaches its ideas of modernization and time with humor and lightness. Among the rubble, there is joy yet to be found—and in this documentary, there is a great comfort, too, to be gleaned.

(Taylor Leigh Harper)
Genre: Documentary
Actor: Agnès Varda
Director: Agnès Varda
Rating: Not Rated
Winter’s Bone (2010)

A young girl is looking for her father while struggling to care for her family. The film is bleak and slow but great performances from the cast, especially the lead, will keep you engaged throughout. The story has a very real, raw, and natural feeling to it, so natural in fact that at times, you will forget it is a movie. And in many ways, it feels that Winter's Bone is to Jennifer Lawrence what The Believer was to Ryan Gosling, as her performance is nothing short of perfect.

(Richard Davis)
Genre: Drama
Actor: Dale Dickey, Garret Dillahunt, Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Kevin Breznahan, Sheryl Lee, Tate Taylor
Director: Debra Granik
Rating: R
Infinitely Polar Bear (2014)

A calm and cute story about a manic-depressive father in late 70’s Boston taking care of his two daughters. Starring familiar-face Mark Ruffalo in the lead. The film is inspired by its director’s own experience as one of the two daughters, which added to the amazing performances, makes for a movie made and filled with love. But as it manages to keep a smile on your face most of the time, it also doesn’t shy away from hard and moving sequences. A Sundance movie filled with heart.

(William)
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Ashley Aufderheide, Beth Dixon, Brianne Siddall, Imogene Wolodarsky, Keir Dullea, Mark Ruffalo, Wallace Wolodarsky, William Xifaras, Zoe Saldana
Director: Maya Forbes
Rating: R

More lists