The 50 Best Movies Directed By Women

The 50 Best Movies Directed By Women

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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.

30. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (2022)

best

8.5

Country

United Kingdom

Director

Female director, Sophie Hyde

Actors

Daryl McCormack, Emma Thompson, Isabella Laughland, Les Mabaleka

Moods

A-list actors, Discussion-sparking, Dramatic

There are only two main characters in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande: Nancy, a retired teacher who was recently widowed, and Leo, an adept sex worker with a mysterious past. They’re almost always in one place and work on a single goal: pleasure. But despite the seeming monotony, the movie is crackling with wit and sensuality every step of the way. It doesn’t waste any time getting to the heart of the matter. Nancy and Leo go back and forth about their past, with Nancy divulging much about the stigma of aging and Leo about the stigma of sex work. They also dive into the shame attached to pleasure, ultimately revealing more than just their naked bodies to each other and to the audience.

29. Cameraperson (2016)

best

8.5

Country

United States of America

Director

Female director, Kirsten Johnson

Actors

Jacques Derrida, Kirsten Johnson, Michael Moore, Roger Phenix

Moods

Original

In Cameraperson, documentarian and cinematographer Kirsten Johnson creates an incredible patchwork of her life—and her life’s work. Johnson has been behind the camera of seminal documentaries like Citizenfour, The Invisible War, and The Edge of Joy. Here, Johnson stitches together fragments of footage, shot over 25 years, reframes them to reveal the silent but influential ways in which she has been an invisible participant in her work. 

In one segment, Johnson places the camera down in the grass. A hand reaches into the frame briefly, pulling up weeds that would otherwise obscure the shot. Cameraperson is a must-see documentary that challenges us to reconsider and reflect upon how we see ourselves and others through the camera lens, and beyond it.

28. Eve’s Bayou (1997)

best

8.5

Country

United States of America

Director

Female director, Kasi Lemmons

Actors

Allen Toussaint, Billie Neal, Branford Marsalis, Carol Sutton

Moods

Sunday

Eve’s Bayou is a Southern Gothic tale of spirituality, family, secrets, and the ties that bind them together. The story follows the awakening, both spiritual and emotional, of young Eve Baptiste. The middle sibling of the Baptiste family, 10-year-old Eve, navigates childhood while enduring the tumultuous relationship between her mother and father. 

What lurks beneath a seemingly ordinary marital conflict is an insidious betrayal that could tear her entire family apart. Eve’s Bayou should be considered one of the greatest Black American epics of the past 25 years. I adore this film because it is unflinchingly real – and honest about the sometimes rocky reality of familial bonds. 

27. The Rider (2018)

best

8.5

Country

United States of America

Director

Chloé Zhao, Female director

Actors

Brady Jandreau, Derrick Janis, Mooney, Terri Dawn Pourier

Moods

Raw, Sunday, Suspenseful

This is quite the movie. It’s based on the true story of Brady Jandereau, an ex-rodeo star who suffered from an injury that took him away from riding horses. This is the best part, in the movie, he actually plays himself. His friends in the movie are his real-life friends. And the horse taming scenes are real wild horses being trained (by him). The line between reality and the filmmaking process is so thin here. An absolutely mesmerizing movie, directed by Chinese filmmaker Chloe Zhao. The Rider. Don’t miss it.

26. Happening (2021)

best

8.6

Country

France

Director

Audrey Diwan, Female director

Actors

Alice de Lencquesaing, Anamaria Vartolomei, Anna Mouglalis, Cyril Metzger

Moods

Challenging, Character-driven, Dark

It’s heartbreaking to realize that Happening, a film set in 1960s France tracking a young woman’s journey to dangerously and desperately terminating her pregnancy, is still very much relevant and relatable to this day. Around the world, abortion is still inaccessible, if not completely illegal, and women still struggle to lay full claim to their bodies. A lot of girls grow up with pregnancy statistics meant to instill fear, but Happening brings all that to brilliant life in intimate and unrestrained detail. The fears and wants of our protagonist Anne (played precisely by Anamaria Vartolomei) are palpable throughout. Nothing is held back in this film, and if you find yourself sick in parts, then it has achieved its goal of realistically conveying what it’s like to stay alive in a society that fails to recognize your needs. 

 

25. Playground (2021)

best

8.6

Country

Belgium

Director

Female director, Laura Wandel

Actors

Anne-Pascale Clairembourg, Karim Leklou, Laura Verlinden, Sandrine Blancke

Moods

Challenging, Dark, Depressing

In Playground, we follow seven-year-old Nora as she navigates friends and school. Through her eyes (and often on her eye level), we witness her and her brother trying and often failing to fit in.

The film is an unfiltered account of their formative years, and possibly a reflection of our own. Commercials and kid-friendly media would have us believe that childhood is simple and pure, but the truth is it isn’t exempt from the major pitfalls of humanity. Children will mimic whatever they see, reasonable or otherwise, and the resulting order won’t always be ideal. Case in point: in the schoolyard, free of adult supervision, Nora and her peers push and tease and harass one another. 

It’s painful but relatable, a microcosm of our own complicated world, and though the film doesn’t shy away from the cruelties of bullying, it’s also filled with moments of empathy and warmth.

24. Shiva Baby (2021)

best

8.6

Country

Canada, United States, United States of America

Director

Emma Seligman, Female director

Actors

Ariel Eliaz, Cilda Shaur, Danny Deferrari, Deborah Offner

Moods

Funny, Grown-up Comedy, Inspiring

A young bisexual woman attends a shiva, caught between her parents and their expectations, her ex, and her sugar daddy. Rachel Sennott’s Danielle is yet to find her path in life and everyone is determined to remind her of that. Taking place almost entirely in real-time, the film’s sharp wit is contrasted with constant anxiety, complemented by Ariel Marx’s horror-like score, full of discordant pizzicato that sounds like every last bit of sanity snapping. 

It’s a sex-positive take on 20-something life, treating bisexuality as wholly unremarkable and passing no judgment on Danielle’s sugar daddy income. Its specificities about Jewish customs and traditions are non-exclusionary, while its social claustrophobia is achingly universal. It’s comforting in the way it portrays the social horrors we all face, the feeling that everyone but you has life figured out, and that – ultimately – those who matter will pull through, eventually. One of 2021’s best.

23. Sink or Swim (1990)

8.6

Country

United States of America

Director

Female director, Su Friedrich

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Original, Thought-provoking

One of the most notable avant-garde filmmakers, Su Friedrich is both a tour-de-force of documentary filmmaking and queer cinema. In Sink or Swim, Friedrich explores the complicated dynamic between a distant, work-oriented father and young daughter longing for his attention, approval, and love.

At just barely 45 minutes, Sink or Swim is cinematic poetry. The movie slowly unfolds across six vulnerable vignettes, through which Friedrich invites the viewer to meditate on the past alongside her. Through photographs, archival footage, and loose narrative storytelling, Freidrich shows that storytelling is a way of both healing the past and learning to live with its ghostly figures.

22. 35 Shots of Rum (2008)

8.6

Country

France, Germany

Director

Claire Denis, Female director

Actors

Adèle Ado, Alex Descas, Djédjé Apali, Ériq Ebouaney

Moods

Mind-blowing

This bittersweet film about a father and a daughter marks one of the more tender spots in Claire Denis’ brilliant filmography. Frequent collaborator Alex Descas plays Lionel (the father), while Mati Diop, now a director in her own right, plays Josephine (the daughter.) The film captures the two at a crossroads, with their closely-knit relationship tested as Josephine grows closer to her boyfriend, and Lionel must face the possibility of finally letting her go.

A melancholy lingers in the air as we learn more about their lives and the small community of neighbors and coworkers in their orbit. Meanwhile, the film’s climax holds a mesmerizing sequence set to the Commodores’ Nightshift, which has to rank as one of the best needle drops in cinema from a director who already has an all-timer under her belt. (see. Beau Travail)

21. For Sama (2019)

best

8.6

Country

Syria, Syrian Arab Republic, UK

Director

Edward Watts, Female director

Actors

Hamza Al-Khateab, Sama Al-Khateab, Waad Al-Kateab, Waad Al-Khateab

Moods

Depressing, Intense, Touching

This story of a filmmaker who stayed in Aleppo, Syria during the war, got married then had a child called Sama, is a mix of difficult and inspiring.

There are stories of unsurmountable loss, as the filmmaker’s husband is one of the 30 remaining doctors in Aleppo (a city of almost 5 million), and she films many of the victims that come to his hospital. But while this is happening, there are also uplifting stories of resilience and rare but profound moments of laughter and joy.

We’re growing too sensitized to violence in Syria, and this movie, possibly the most intimate account of the war, can stir back a much-needed awareness of the injustices that take place.

When things get really bad in the documentary, it’s hard not to wonder where the humanity is in all of this. You quickly realize that it’s right there, behind the camera, in Sama and her mother’s will to live.

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