From French New Wave classics to violent genre films and Oscar-nominated dramas, some of the greatest films of all time have been crafted by female directors. In celebration of International Women’s Day (8thMarch), here are just ten of the finest films directed by women:
Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962)
A pioneering trailblazer in the French New Wave movement, Agnés Varda has made a career out of telling stories about women (including numerous documentaries about her own life). Her entire filmography is worth checking out, but her masterpiece might be the 1962 French New Wave classic Cléo from 5 to 7, a real-time drama about a singer awaiting the results of an important medical test.
Near Dark (1987)
The lone female recipient of the Academy Award for Best Director, Kathryn Bigelow has received critical acclaim for intense thrillers like The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. However, before she was an award-winner, Bigelow directed violent, testosterone-fuelled films like Near Dark, a stylish vampire film that overcame poor box office returns to become one of the definitive cult films of the eighties.
Throughout the eighties and nineties, Penny Marshall was the most influential female director in Hollywood. Having previously established a prolific career in television, Marshall’s big Hollywood break came in 1988 when she directed Big, a warm-hearted fantasy comedy that launched Tom Hanks into the mainstream and earned two Oscar nominations.
Before Easy A and Mean Girls, there was Clueless. A smart, quotable update of Jane Austen’s Emma, Clueless was further proof that writer-director Amy Heckerling understood teenagers after her terrific 1982 high school comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Remembered for its iconic Alicia Silverstone performance, Clueless still holds up as one of the best teen comedies ever made.
Jesus’ Son (1999)
The most underrated film of the nineties? Adapted by Alison Maclean from a collection of Denis Johnson’s short stories, Jesus’ Son follows Billy Crudup’s hapless heroin addict as he schemes his way across the American Midwest. Darkly funny and filled with terrific actors (including Samantha Morton and Dennis Hopper), Jesus’ Son is like a more laidback Trainspotting, and should have made Maclean a bigger name.
Lost in Translation (2003)
Though she’s the daughter of one of America’s greatest directors, Sofia Coppola has established herself as an auteur in her own right. While The Virgin Suicides and Marie Antoinette are lyrical dramas about strong women struggling against the patriarchy, her masterpiece is the Oscar-winning Lost in Translation. Depicting the tender romance between Bill Murray’s lonely actor and Scarlett Johansson’s unhappy spouse, Lost in Translation still makes audiences swoon.
Fish Tank (2009)
From the ‘angry young men’ of the 60s to award-winning filmmakers like Mike Leigh and Ken Loach, British social realism is a male-dominated genre. Of the few female voices, Andrea Arnold’s films might be the most striking, and 2009’s Fish Tank is one of the best British films of the decade. Focusing on a troubled teenager’s affair with her mother’s charismatic boyfriend (an early Michael Fassbender performance), Fish Tank is one of the definitive depictions of teenage girls in film.
The Babadook (2014)
Is The Babadook the scariest female-directed horror film of all time? Jennifer Kent’s Australian chiller is a terrifying portrait of motherhood, showing a widowed mother (the outstanding Essie Davis) as she discovers a sinister children’s book is invading her and her disturbed son’s lives. Kent’s latest film, The Nightingale, is due out this year; by all accounts, it’s just as intense.
Lady Bird (2017)
Since 1929, only five women have been nominated for Best Director. Alongside Bigelow, Coppola, Lina Wertmüller, and Jane Campion, Greta Gerwig was deservedly-nominated in 2017 for autobiographical coming-of-age drama Lady Bird. Sharply written and featuring Oscar-nominated performances from Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird is a warm-hearted exploration of a girl on the cusp of adulthood, trying to find herself under the watch of her overbearing mother. The tearjerking ending ensures every audience member phone their mothers in floods of tears.
You Were Never Really Here (2018)
Lynne Ramsay may be the greatest living director, regardless of gender. Though she’s only directed four features in twenty years, each one is something special. Her most recent film, You Were Never Really Here, takes a standard thriller and transforms it into a nerve-shredding study of PTSD and trauma. Winner of Best Screenplay and Best Actor (for Joaquin Phoenix) at the Cannes Film Festival, You Were Never Really Here is a future classic, and further proof that Ramsay is a talent unlike any other.