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.

50. In the Same Breath (2021)

best

8.1

Country

China, United States of America

Director

Female director, Nanfu Wang

Moods

Instructive, Thought-provoking

The culture of propaganda and cover-ups that kicked off the pandemic is the subject of this compelling documentary by award-winning director Nanfu Wang (One Child Nation). Wang, who traveled with her family to China in January 2020, saw and filmed the pandemic firsthand, and wrote to major newspapers like The New York Times to convince them to write about it. They never did. 

Media and government in both China and the U.S. played down the threat, and this documentary asks how different everything would have gone otherwise. More dauntingly, it’s an examination of how the Communist Party in China managed to use the event to its advantage. 

49. Wendy and Lucy (2008)

best

8.1

Country

United States of America

Director

Female director, Kelly Reichardt

Actors

Ayanna Berkshire, David Koppell, Deirdre OConnell, Gabe Nevins

Moods

A-list actors, Challenging, Depressing

Wendy (Michelle Williams) is a drifter driving up to Alaska in hopes of finding work. When her car breaks down, she and her dog Lucy are stranded and forced to scrounge for food and repairs, hitting one roadblock after another on her path to an uncertain dream. This sympathetic and solemn look at poverty from director Kelly Reichardt serves as a reminder of how easy it is to fall through the fragile American safety net.   

Reichardt’s uncompromising approach paired with Williams’s restrained performance makes the experience authentic and intense, recalling the work of Ken Loach. This natural sharpness makes for an engrossing watch that builds in power until the emotional release of the film’s heartbreaking conclusion. 

48. Queen and Slim

best

8.1

Country

Canada, United States of America

Director

Female director, Melina Matsoukas

Actors

Andre De'Sean Shanks, Andy Dylan, Benito Martinez, Bokeem Woodbine

Moods

Action-packed, Thrilling

On their drive back from a Tinder date that was only average, a couple are pulled over by a racist police officer. Things escalate unexpectedly and the couple, one of whom is a lawyer aware of the corruptedness of the system, start a life on the run together. This thrilling set-up mixing social commentary and romance is a movie that’s actually many movies in one. And almost as if to cut in-between the different tonalities, there are so many quiet and beautiful shots of the couple: silent, still or dancing – these moments are true cinematic magic. 

47. The Tale (2018)

best

8.1

Country

Germany, United States of America

Director

Female director, Jennifer Fox

Actors

Chelsea Alden, Common, Daniel Berson, Deana Deatherage

Moods

Challenging, Dramatic, Emotional

Sometimes you can just tell a movie means way too much to the people who made it. That makes me want to watch it more than once, which is what I wanted to do with The Tale. But while I think it’s such an amazing movie and everyone should watch it, I don’t think I can stomach a second watch.. It is based on the director/writer Jennifer Fox’s own story – recounting her first sexual experience at a very young age. It’s about the stories we tell ourselves to deal with trauma, and in that sense, and with utmost honesty, it invites grief and closure for similar experiences. A powerful movie led by a powerful performance by Laura Dern as Jennifer.

46. Private Life (2018)

best

8.1

Country

United States of America

Director

Female director, Tamara Jenkins

Actors

Alyssa Cheatham, Caroline Martin, Danny Deferrari, Denis O'Hare

Moods

Grown-up Comedy, Romantic, Slice-of-Life

Paul Giamatti, man. Ever watched Win/Win? What a performance. I didn’t think he could do any better than that. But here he did.

This movie is now on Netflix. It’s about a couple that is trying to have a kid but can’t. Their frustration grows, but so does their willingness to do whatever it takes to become parents. They try to adopt, go to fertility clinics and ultimately ask their niece to donate her eggs. To really work, such a plot requires well-written, multifaceted characters one can relate to. I did, and it really worked.

45. Mustang (2015)

best

8.1

Country

France, Germany, Qatar

Director

Deniz Gamze Ergüven, Female director

Actors

Ayberk Pekcan, Bahar Kerimoğlu, Bahar Kerimoğlu, Burak Yiğit

Moods

Depressing, Emotional, Thought-provoking

Five orphaned sisters are put under house arrest by their uncle and grandmother after they are seen horsing around with local boys from school. While their actions were purely innocent, their behavior is viewed as scandalous and shameful by the conservative elders in their small Turkish village. After this incident, their grandmother turns her attention towards marrying off her granddaughters. Each of the five sisters rebel in their own way, but it is the youngest and rowdiest sister, Lale, who is the central protagonist of the film. She watches helplessly as each of her older sisters is married off with an increasing sense of dread and desperation. While this may sound hopelessly depressing, the movie is equal parts beautiful and tragic and floats across the screen in a dreamlike manner. Not all of the sisters escape their oppressive surroundings or their assigned fate, but the message is clear: it’s crucial to try.

44. Quo Vadis Aida? (2020)

best

8.2

Country

Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, France

Director

Female director, Jasmila Žbanić

Actors

Alban Ukaj, Boris Isaković, Boris Ler, Emina Muftić

Moods

Challenging, Depressing, Discussion-sparking

This Oscar-nominated drama tells the story of the events leading up to the Srebrenica massacre, in which 8372 Bosnian Muslims were killed. It focuses on one U.N. worker who was caught between trying to protect her family, herself, and helping people in need.

The film is as horrific as it is relevant: up until the actual killing starts, people are constantly being assured that everything is under control and that there is no reason to panic. This gives an eerie feeling of resemblance to the tone many minorities in distress receive nowadays.

Still, Quo Vadis, Aida? stops at depicting any of the acts that were committed that day. Instead, it focuses on Aida’s unrelenting race against the clock to save whatever she can.

43. The Forty-Year-Old Version (2020)

best

8.2

Country

United States of America

Director

Female director, Radha Blank

Actors

Antonio Ortiz, Ashlee Brian, Haskiri Velazquez, Imani Lewis

Moods

Feel-Good, Funny, Uplifting

This fun comedy-drama is about a New York playwright called Radha who never hit big. When she turns 40, she decides to reinvent herself as RadhaMUSPrime, a rapper.

And it’s all a personal affair: Radha Blank plays the main character (named after herself) and is also the writer, director, and producer.

The story is about rap and theater, but being so connected to reality, it feels like it’s about Blank making the movie itself. Its very existence feels like a triumph against the pressure of age, the misunderstanding of others, and the weight of unreached goals.

42. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

best

8.2

Country

France

Director

Céline Sciamma, Céline Sciamma

Actors

Adèle Haenel, Adèle Haenel, Armande Boulanger, Christel Baras

Moods

Heart-warming, Romantic, Well-acted

This unique romance is set during a time when a man would be sent the painting of the woman he was to marry before the wedding could take place. Héloïse, secluded with her mother and a maid on a remote island, doesn’t approve of her upcoming wedding and refuses to be painted. Her mother sends for a new painter, Marianne, to try to paint her without her noticing. Marianne has to take on this near-impossible task when she starts having feelings for Héloïse. This makes for a riveting romance where Marianne has to choose between her heart and her art while keeping a huge secret from her love interest.

41. Your Sister’s Sister (2012)

best

8.2

Country

United States of America

Director

Female director, Lynn Shelton

Actors

Emily Blunt, Jeanette Maus, Kate Bayley, Mark Duplass

Moods

Dramatic, Easy, Feel-Good

The acting… oh the acting! Your Sister’s Sister is a fantastic comedy which makes great use of the amazing talents and suitability of its cast, including the criminally underused Emily Blunt. Far smarter, quicker and grown-up than most other Rom-Coms, it’s a film built on secrets, lies and, yes, love, sex and family.

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