Top 50 Films Directed by Women

We know that 50% of moviegoers are women, and yet in the top 100 grossing films of 2019, women only represented 10.7% of directors, rising to 16% in 2020. To combat this discrepancy will require systemic change in the industry and an overhaul of attitudes and approaches to filmmaking at all levels, but the disparity also means that the stories we're being told (unless actively seeking beyond mainstream blockbusters) are disproportionately told from a male (and largely white) perspective.

As a way to promote and celebrate some of the best cinema directed by women, in August (2021), I asked the online film communities on Instagram and Twitter to vote for their favourite films directed by women. People were asked to submit a ranked Top 5, which were sorted accordingly and organised into a Top 50.

Here are the parameters that were outlined for submitting the picks:

  • The choices can be from any country, year or decade, but must be a feature length film.

  • Trans women are women.

  • In situations where there is more than one director, at least 50% of them need to identify as a woman.

The vote resulted in a glorious array of films spanning seven decades, a wide range of genres, and a whole host of stories demonstrating innovation in cinematic storytelling. To be exact, the list includes 37 directors and films from 28 different years (with the 2010s being the most popular decade) and the number one film earned its spot by a landslide with 12% of the vote. For more facts and figures on the list, make your way to the end of this article!

For the films ranked 51-100, please check back to see them in another post. I was only ever planning on posting the top 50 but it feels remiss to ignore them completely.

Over 200 films were submitted. These are the ones which made it onto the list in reverse rank order:

50. Sleepless in Seattle

Director: Nora Ephron
Writers: Jeff Arch, Nora Ephron, David S. Ward
Stars: Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman, Rip Torn
Year of release: 1993
Budget: $40,000,000

49. Marie Antoinette

Director: Sofia Coppola
Writer: Sofia Coppola
Stars: Stars: Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman, Rip Torn
Year of release: 2006
Budget: $40,000,000

48. Werckmeister Harmonies

Directors: Béla Tarr, Ágnes Hranitzky
Writers: László Krasznahorkai, Béla Tarr, Péter Dobai
Stars: Lars Rudolph, Peter Fitz, Hanna Schygulla
Year of release: 2000
Budget: FRF 10,000,000 (French Francs)

47. Speed Racer

Directors: Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski
Writers: Lilly Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, Tatsuo Yoshida
Stars: Emile HirschMatthew FoxChristina Ricci
Year of release: 2008
Budget: $120,000,000

46. Capernaum

Director: Nadine Labaki
Writers: Nadine Labaki, Jihad Hojeily, Michelle Keserwany
Stars: Zain Al Rafeea, Yordanos Shiferaw, Boluwatife Treasure Bankole
Year of release: 2018
Budget: $4,000,000 (estimated)

45. Mustang

Director: Deniz Gamze Ergüven
Writers: Deniz Gamze Ergüven, Alice Winocour
Stars: Günes Sensoy, Doga Zeynep Doguslu, Tugba Sunguroglu
Year of release: 2015
Budget: €1,300,000 (estimated)

44. Wendy & Lucy

Director: Kelly Reichardt
Writers: Jonathan Raymond, Kelly Reichardt
Stars: Michelle Williams. Lucy, David Koppell
Year of release: 2008
Budget: $200,000 (estimated)

43. The Watermelon Woman

Director: Cheryl Dunye
Writers: Cheryl Dunye, Douglas McKeown
Stars: Cheryl Dunye, Guinevere Turner, Valarie Walker
Year of release: 1996
Budget: $300,000 (estimated)

42. Revenge

Director: Coralie Fargeat
Writer: Coralie Fargeat
Stars: Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Kevin Janssens, Vincent Colombe
Year of release: 2017

41. Near Dark

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writer: Kathryn Bigelow, Eric Red
Stars: Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen
Year of release: 1987
Budget: 5m

40. Jennifer’s Body

Director: Karyn Kusama
Writer: Diablo Cody
Stars: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Adam Brody
Year of release: 2009
Budget: $16,000,000 (estimated)

39. The Ascent

Director: Larisa Shepitko
Writers: Vasiliy Bykov, Yuri Klepikov, Larisa Shepitko
Stars: Boris Plotnikov, Vladimir Gostyukhin, Sergey Yakovlev
Year of release: 1977

38. First Cow

Director: Kelly Reichardt
Writers: Jonathan Raymond, Kelly Reichardt
Stars: Alia Shawkat, John Magaro, Dylan Smith, Orion Lee
Year of release: 2019

37. Big

Director: Penny Marshall
Writers: Gary Ross, Anne Spielberg
Stars: Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Perkins, Robert Loggia
Year of release: 1988

36. Shiva Baby

Director: Emma Seligman
Writer: Emma Seligman
Stars: Rachel Sennott, Danny Deferrari, Fred Melamed
Year of release: 2020

35. The Edge of Seventeen

Director: Kelly Fremon Craig
Writer: Kelly Fremon Craig
Stars: Hailee Steinfeld, Haley Lu Richardson, Blake Jenner, Woody Harrelson
Year of release: 2016
Budget: $9,000,000 (estimated)

34. One Sings the Other Doesn’t

Director: Agnès Varda
Writer: Agnès Varda
Stars: Thérèse Liotard, Valérie Mairesse, Robert Dadiès
Year of release: 1977

33. A League of Their Own

Director: Penny Marshall
Writer: Kim Wilson, Kelly Candaele, Lowell Ganz
Stars: Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Tom Hanks
Year of release: 1992
Budget: $40,000,000 (estimated)

32. A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

Director: Ana Lily Amirpour
Writer: Ana Lily Amirpour
Stars: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Marshall Manesh
Year: 2014

31. Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Director: Eliza Hittman
Writer: Eliza Hittman
Stars: Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder, Théodore Pellerin
Year of release: 2020

30. City of God

Directors: Fernando Meirelles, Kátia Lund
Writers: Paulo Lins, Bráulio Mantovani
Stars: Alexandre Rodrigues, Leandro Firmino, Matheus Nachtergaele
Year of release: 2002

29. The Babadook

Director: Jennifer Kent
Writer: The Babadook
Stars: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall
Year of release: 2014

28. The Virgin Suicides

Director: Sofia Coppola
Writers: Sofia Coppola, Jeffrey Eugenides (novel)
Stars: Kirsten Dunst, Josh Hartnett, James Woods
Year of release: 1999
Estimated budget: $9,000,000

27. The Nightingale

Director: Jennifer Kent
Writer: Jennifer Kent Stars:
Stars: Aisling Franciosi, Maya Christie, Baykali Ganambarr
Year of release: 2018

26. Booksmart

Director: Olivia Wilde
Writers: Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel
Stars: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams
Year of release: 2019
Estimated budget: $6,000,000

25. A Silent Voice

Director: Naoko Yamada
Writers: Yoshitoki Oima, Reiko Yoshida, Kiyoshi Shigematsu
Stars: Miyu Irino, Saori Hayami, Aoi Yûki
Year of release: 2016

24. Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

Director: Chantal Akerman
Writer: Chantal Akerman
Stars: Delphine Seyrig, Jan Decorte, Henri Storck
Year of release: 1975

23. Zero Dark Thirty

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writer: Mark Boal
Stars: Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt
Year of release: 2012

22. Vagabond

Director: Agnès Varda
Writer: Agnès Varda
Stars: Sandrine Bonnaire, Macha Méril, Stéphane Freiss
Year of release: 1985

21. Wonder Woman

Director: Patty Jenkins
Writers: Allan Heinberg, Zack Snyder, Jason Fuchs
Stars: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright
Year of release: 2017
Budget: $149,000,000 (estimated)

20. Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

Director: Cathy Yan
Writers: Christina Hodson, Paul Dini, Bruce Timm
Stars: Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Year of release: 2020
Budget: $84,500,000 (estimated)

19. The Hurt Locker

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writer: Mark Boal
Stars: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty
Year of release: 2008
Budget: $15,000,000 (estimated)

18. Promising Young Woman

Director: Emerald Fennell
Writer: Emerald Fennell
Stars: Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Alison Brie
Year of release: 2020

17. Daisies

Director: Vera Chytilová
Writers: Vera Chytilová, Pavel Jurácek, Ester Krumbachová
Stars: Ivana Karbanová, Jitka Cerhová, Marie Cesková
Year of release: 1966

16. Raw

Director: Julia Ducournau
Writer: Julia Ducournau
Stars: Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf, Rabah Nait Oufella
Year of release: 2016

15. Beau Travail

Director: Claire Denis
Writers: Claire Denis, Jean-Pol Fargeau, Herman Melville
Stars: Denis Lavant, Michel Subor, Grégoire Colin
Year of release: 1999

14. The Piano

Director: Jane Campion
Writer: Jane Campion
Stars: Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Sam Neill
Year of release: 1993

13. We Need To Talk About Kevin

Director: Lynne Ramsay
Writers: Lynne Ramsay, Rory Stewart Kinnear, Lionel Shriver
Stars: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly, Ezra Miller
Year of release: 2011

12. Clueless

Director: Amy Heckerling
Writer: Amy Heckerling
Stars: Alicia Silverstone, Stacey Dash, Brittany Murphy, Paul Rudd
Year of release: 1995

11. Point Break

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writers: Rick King, W. Peter Iliff
Stars: Patrick Swayze, Keanu Reeves, Gary Busey, Lori Petty
Year of release: 1991

10. The Farewell

Director: Lulu Wang
Writer: Lulu Wang
Stars: Shuzhen Zhao, Awkwafina, X Mayo
Year of release: 2019

9. You Were Never Really Here

Director: Lynne Ramsay
Writers: Lynne Ramsay, Jonathan Ames
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Judith Roberts, Ekaterina Samsonov
Year of release: 2017

8. Nomadland

Director: Chloé Zhao
Writers:Chloé Zhao, Jessica Bruder
Stars: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May
Year of release: 2020

7. The Matrix

Directors: Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski
Writers: Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss
Year of release: 1999

6. Little Women

Director: Greta Gerwig
Writers: Greta Gerwig, Louisa May Alcott
Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh
Year of release: 2019

5. Cléo from 5 to 7

Director: Agnès Varda
Writer: Agnès Varda
Stars: Corinne Marchand, Antoine Bourseiller, Dominique Davray
Year of release: 1962

4. American Psycho

Director: Mary Harron
Writers: Bret Easton Ellis, Mary Harron, Guinevere Turner
Stars: Christian Bale, Justin Theroux, Josh Lucas
Year of release: 2000

3. Lost in Translation

Director: Sofia Coppola
Writer: Sofia Coppola
Stars: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi
Year of release: 2000

2. Lady Bird

Director: Greta Gerwig
Writer: Greta Gerwig
Stars: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts
Year of release: 2017

1. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Director: Céline Sciamma
Writer: Céline Sciamma
Stars: Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel, Luàna Bajrami
Year of release: 2019

What would you submit as your Top 5? Do you think this is a good representation of the best films directed by women? I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback!

🎬 Top 50 Films Directed by Women - Round Up 🎬

Thank you to everyone who voted in this poll! Below are some images to conclude the post and to summarise some of the trends within the data (click to enlarge):

Top 50 Films Directed by Women - The Stats

Here’s a little explanation of each image in the post - you may have to zoom in to see the details on some of them:

  1. This pictogram serves as a reminder and visual illustration of the underrepresentation of women in film, particularly behind the camera. This is misaligned with who consumes film. Sources: The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative and the MPA Theme Report. In the interest of comparable data, the two figures used  (50% and 10.9%) are both from 2019. However, the latter percentage rose to 16% in 2020 according to a different report so that’s positive!

  2. The Top 50 films in rank order. A total of 209 films were submitted.

  3. A pie chart of the the vote percentage of the Top 50 films. POALOF was the clear frontrunner in terms of its ranked score AND the popular vote.

  4. Row chart of the directors with the most films in the Top 50.

  5. Donut chart of the countries of origin for the films in the Top 50.

  6. Donut chart of the most popular decades.

  7. Bar chart of the most popular years. I have only included years here where there were films voted on otherwise the data wouldn’t fit in!

Some final questions: Is there anything missing you’re surprised didn’t make it? Have any films been released in recent months (N.B. the data was captured in August - September 2021) which might make it in now? Do you think the heavy weighting toward recent releases is due to recency bias or something else? Could it simply be that more films are being made by women now than they were in previous decades?!

It’s been an absolute pleasure posting this countdown and hopefully it’s given you plenty of new films to add to your watchlist! 💜

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