Film Review: 14 Awesome Films by Female Directors

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In a 2017 study, 92% of films had no female directors and a recent study revealed that women accounted for just 7% of directors in the industry. Cut to 2022 and we are starting to see real progress in the industry - with a report from IndieWire that stated all of the major studios have at least two female-directed features coming in 2022 and 2023. This has not always been the case in previous years but it gives us hope for the future of the film industry. There is still much work to be done for women in film and, in the spirit of International Women's Day, I thought I'd put together a list celebrating just a few of my favourite films by some very talented female directors...

The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, 2008)

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The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, 2008) - Won 6 Oscars including Kathryn Bigelow as the first women to win the Academy Award Best Director.

Following the death of his predecessor, Sergeant William James (Jeremy Reiner) is assigned to specialist army bomb squad during the Iraq War. However, his work ethic and maverick methods put his squad mates on edge when they find themselves in the midst of an ambush.

It's surprising to think that before this film, no women had won Best Director at the Academy Awards - naturally this had to be included on my list. Kathryn Bigelow has become recognised for the way she portrays masculinity and manhood in her films and The Hurt Locker is no exception. Whilst it is very much a character piece and a social statement on war, it is very much an edge-of-your seat thriller. For me, it is particularly standout in the way it both explores and celebrates the self-destructive military antiheroes and their inability to disconnect when they arrive home from war. An outstanding piece of cinema. Bigelow's other films include Point Break (1991), Zero Dark Thirty (2012) and Strange Days (1995).

You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay, 2017)

You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay, 2017) - Nominated for 1 BAFTA, 24 wins. 

Only six years in the making, Lynn Ramsey graced us with her follow-up to We Need To Talk About Kevin. In this brutal revenge thriller, Joaquin Phoenix stars as Joe, an ex-military hit-man for hire who can't shake his own demons. Having been hired by a mysterious new client, Joe finds himself in the seedy underbelly of child prostitution to rescue a kidnapped 13-year-old girl. To be expected, Ramsay delivers a magnificent melancholy piece with stunning cinematography throughout. Flash back scenes will leave your heart pounding whilst Phoenix serves up a heart-breaking performance as a haunting physical presence at the film’s dark heart. It is such a shame, however, that You Were Never Really Here was never submitted for consideration for the Academy Awards by Ramsey.

Nomadland (Chloe Zhao, 2020) 

Nomadland (Chloe Zhao, 2020) - Won 3 Oscars included Best Actress and Best Director. 

Winner of 3 Academy Awards, Nomadland follows Frances McDormand's 61 year old widower, Fern, as she embarks on a nomadic lifestyle following redundancy. Moving in to her van, Fern travels the west of America, finding odd-jobs, friendships and regaining her love for adventure as she moves from place to place. OK yes, Frances McDormand literally shits in a bucket - but Chloe Zhao's Nomadland is a masterful and profound piece of cinema; stunningly shot with breath-taking cinematography and tender from start to finish. Combined with McDormand's role of a lifetime, it's a must-see.

Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003)

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Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003) - Won 1 Oscar and another 96 award wins and a further 122 nominations.

An aging American actor, Bob Harris (Bill Murray), arrives in Tokyo to film a whisky advert and meets Charlotte; a young college graduate who is left neglected by her celebrity photographer husband. Charlotte is left feeling detached from her husband's lifestyle and disillusioned about their relationship whilst Bob's own 25-year marriage is strained as he goes through a midlife crisis. Having met in the Tokyo hotel, the pair form an unlikely friendship.

Sofia Coppola may be the queen of films about girls on the cusp of womanhood but Lost in Translation explores two people at two entirely different places in their lives. Beautifully stylised and with stunning cinematography by Lance Acord, Coppola is able to switch seamlessly between hilarious comedy and intimate romance within the magical setting of Tokyo. When I first saw this, I was very much on the fence and it took a while for me to revisit it but I'd strongly recommend giving it a watch, alongside some of Coppola's other films such as The Bling Ring (2013), Somewhere (2010) and The Virgin Suicides (1999). 

Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig, 2017) 

Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig, 2017) - Nominated for 5 Oscars and 122 wins. 228 award nominations in total.

Set in the early 2000's, seventeen year-old Christine 'Lady Bird' McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) prepares herself for college, whilst juggling the pressures of family life and high school in Sacramento, California. Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut was rightfully nominated for several Oscars. Focused very heavily around the relationship of Lady Bird and her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf), it is a perfectly-formed love letter to teenage girls and their long-suffering mothers everywhere. Gerwig channels her own life experiences and upbringing in Sacramento into the coming-of-age story that is both a smart and artistic. As always, Saoirse Ronan is flawless in the starring role - as if the role was written for her. She manages somehow to be likeable and charming yet infuriating all at the same time. Meanwhile, Laurie Metcalf earned her Best Supporting Actress nomination as she teases out subtle, tear-jerking emotion as Lady Bird's stern but dedicated mother. Daughters, see this with your mothers and have a pack of tissues handy. 

Little Miss Sunshine (Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, 2006)

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Little Miss Sunshine (Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, 2006) - Won 2 Oscars and received 68 other awards and 105 nominations. 

The Hoovers are a stressed fueled, dysfunctional family. Father, Richard (Greg Kinear) is desperately trying to get his business venture off the ground with little success; Uncle Frank (Steve Carell) is a shamed professor whose recent failed suicide sees him living back with his sister and brother, Dwayne (Paul Dano), is a mute. However, when seven-year-old Olive (Abigail Breslin) is invited to compete in the "Little Miss Sunshine" pageant in far-off California, the family decides to put their squabbles aside and set out on a road trip in support their daughter. 

OK so I'm cheating slightly on this one as Jonathan Dayton is a co-director but it doesn't change the fact that this is still directed by a woman. Little Miss Sunshine is way up there on my favourite films of all time and so I just had to include it. Whilst it was sold as a sharp, dry-humoured comedy, the film also features some deeply moving scenes which say a lot about humanity and the human condition - carried out by a phenomenal cast. I cannot recommend this film enough and it is impossible not to laugh (and maybe even cry) at this fantastic narrative about family and the importance of being weird. 

Wayne's World (Penelope Spheeris, 1992)

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Wayne's World (Penelope Spheeris, 1992) - 3 award wins and another 3 nominations

Wayne (Mike Myers) and Garth (Dana Carvey) are two best friends from Chicago - broadcasting a talk-show called "Wayne's World" on local public access television from Wayne's parents' basement. However, when the show begins to attract the attention of a network executive, Ben (Rob Lowe), who wants to produce a big budget version of the show, things don't quite go to plan. Battling against the studio, Wayne and Garth must work to save their show whilst also stopping Ben from trying to steal Wayne's girlfriend, Cassandra (Tia Carrere).

Without a doubt, Wayne's World is another one of my all time favourite films and so it only seemed fair to include in this list. Arguably, the film runs on a thin plot but let's face it - you don't watch a comedy such as this for it's awards recognition. The incredible, highly quotable jokes and hilarious performances and writing from Myers and Carvey is what makes this a true classic. If you haven't seen it yet...where have you been? My whole childhood was this movie. Spheeris' vast list of works also includes The Little Rascals (1994), Black Sheep (1996) and The Decline of Western Civilization (1981)

American Honey (Andrea Arnold, 2016)

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American Honey (Andrea Arnold, 2016) - Won 1 Oscar, 2 BAFTAs, 58 other wins and nominations

American Honey follows the story of Star (Sasha Lane), a young girl who has suffered abuse within a troubled home. Desperate to escape her situation, she decides to run away with a traveling sales crew who drive across the American Midwest selling door-to-door subscriptions. Finding her feet in this gang of teenagers, one of whom is Jake (Shia LaBeouf), she soon gets into the group's lifestyle of hard-partying nights, law-bending and drugs.

I'll be honest, I wasn't 100% sold on this film the first time around. There are times when it felt too long with very little actual plot points but it certainly holds the attention thanks to the performances by LaBeouf and the cool charisma of Sacha Lane. What really sold this film for me, was the incredible cinematography and the narrative which is ultimately a coming of age drama.

Selma (Ava Duvernay, 2014)

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Selma (Ava Duvernay, 2014) - Received 58 award wins and a further 88 nominations, won 1 Oscar and was nominated for 2. 

A powerful civil rights drama following the final marches led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr. (David Oyelowo) in 1965. Staging a series of peaceful protests, Selma, a small town in Alabama, becomes the theatre of a freedom march that is met by a bloody and violent resistance at the hands of the local authorities. In a bid to gain the right to vote without any tiered scrutiny, King is set to change the course of history as he and his fellow activists approach the final push for equality.

Selma is not entirely without it's flaws but cinematography is still well and truly there with some scenes beautifully shot. DuVernay plays on the biggest strengths of the film - the outstanding cast and the narrative's powerful message. Oyelowo delivers a truly heartfelt and moving performance which is truly Oscar-worthy. He is backed by a rich supporting cast, including executive producer Oprah Winfrey, dignified in the opening scene (as Annie Lee Cooper) where she is denied the right to vote by a racist bureaucrat, while Tim Roth, (as Alabama governor George Wallace), proves himself to be a pleasant surprise. Some note worthy cameos also come from Cuba Gooding Jnr, Martin Sheen and Giovanni Ribisi.

Saint Maud (Rose Glass, 2020) 

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Saint Maud (Rose Glass, 2020) - Nominated for 2 BAFTAS and 10 other wins.

Maud (Morfydd Clark) is a solitary young nurse and devoted born-again Christian following a traumatic experience. Now working as a hospice carer for wealthy retired dancer and cancer patient, Alice (Jennifer Ehle), Maud's faith quickly intensifies and consumes her with a need to save her ward's soul from eternal damnation, whatever the cost.

An astonishing directorial debut for Rose Glass, Saint Maud is unexpected, chilling and bold. Morfydd Clark's mesmerising as the newly religious nurse, an unsettling score and a deeply haunting narrative, Saint Maud will linger with you for a while. I can't wait to see what Rose Glass does next. 

Promising Young Woman (Emerald Fennell, 2020)

Promising Young Woman (Emerald Fennell, 2020) - Winner of 1 Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, 116 wins and 193 award nominations total.

Call The Midwife star and Killing Eve screenwriter, Emerald Fennell comes a new take on revenge that holds a big ole' mirror up to the sad state of our society and the #MeToo movement. Cassie (Carey Mulligan) was a promising young student doctor until her career is abruptly derails her future. Though, the trailer strongly implies she was the victim of sexual assault who received no support from her University or family following the attack. In a bid to rewrite her story and expose social injustice, an unexpected encounter gives Cassie a chance to get revenge on those who have wronged her in this thrilling and wildly entertaining story. Whilst the subject matter of Promising Young Woman highlights a sensitive issue for many women, it's refreshing to see a film straight up call men out on their shit. Promising Young Woman is released in UK cinemas on April 27, 2020. Watch the trailer for Promising Young Woman here. 

An Education (Lone Scherfig, 2009)

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An Education (Lone Scherfig, 2009) - Nominated for 3 Oscars and another 35 wins and 89 nominations.

Set in 1961, Jenny Mellor (Carey Mulligan) is an intelligent 16-year-old schoolgirl preparing for Oxford University when she falls for a charming older man, David Goldman (Peter Sarsgaard). David shows Jenny a life she never thought possible; taking her to Paris, concerts, clubs and fine restaurants whilst also manipulating her parents into approving of the relationship. However, having dropped out of school to pursue a life with David, giving him her virginity and innocence, Jenny is shocked to discover that he is not who he says he is. 

An Education really is a film with unforgettable central performances from Carey Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard. But whilst it's the stylish settings and acting which truly make this film worth a watch, it has a much deeper rooted meaning which arguably appeals to all women. Based on the memoir of journalist Lynn Barber, the film becomes a story of grooming - a young women being taken advantage of by an older male. Ultimately, this is something which is all too common and I'm sure many women can relate to when looking back at their teenage years. Scherfig does an excellent job of handling such a subject which is rarely portrayed in such a genre.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Céline Sciamma, 2019) 
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Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Céline Sciamma, 2019) - Set in 1770s France, Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is a painter, on the isolated island of Brittany, commissioned to do the wedding portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) - a reluctant young bride-to-be who refuses to pose for portraits. Marianne's instructions are to paint her without her knowing. She observes her by day, to paint her secretly. Soon, the pair form a forbidden affair. 

As we saw from Girlhood (2014), Sciamma is masterful in portraying complex female characters - enchanting audiences with deeply layered and prominent scenes. Portrait of a Lady on Fire does just that, creating an intimate story but constantly building and building towards its emotional climax. A must-see tragic love story with a rightful place in modern cinema.

American Psycho (Mary Harron, 2000)

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American Psycho (Mary Harron, 2000) - 5 award wins and another 8 nominations

Based on the Bret Easton Ellis novel, Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) is a wealthy New York banking executive, consumed by the yuppie lifestyle. Despite having a fiancee (Reese Witherspoon) and an active social life, Patrick hides his alternate psychopathic ego from his co-workers and friends as he escalates deeper into his illogical, dark and gruesome fantasies. 

OK so I know I mentioned this one recently but it's just as valid. Some people may fail to see how American Psycho is a feminist film due to the poor treatment and sexualisation of the female characters. However, it can also be argued that this in itself is a social statement. Ultimately, the film is a satirical narrative about fragile masculinity and the male compulsion to compete with each other. Set within the hyper-reality they've created for themselves, the women are presented as less important - something that the director shines a harsh yet somehow comedic light on. With an incredible story that also sees performances from Jared Leto, Willem Dafoe and Chloë Sevigny, American Psycho is forever on my list of top dramatic horrors.

Well, that's it for my favourite films by female directors. It was a real task to narrow this list down and some other honourable mentions go out to Ana Lily Amirpour for Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014), Eliza Hittman's Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020), Passing (2021) by Rebecca Hall and The Lost Daughter (2021) by Maggie Gyllenhaal. What are some of your favourite films which celebrate women in the film industry? As always, I love reading your comments so please do leave me lots of lovely ones down below.

Until next time,



  1. OMG ! I can't believe I didn't know American Pyscho was directed by a woman! It's one of my all time faves (just behind The Shining, obvs). Loved this post- Little Miss Sunshine has been on my list forever so I'm going to make sure I watch :)

    Maria x

    1. Aw you have to see it - Little Miss Sunshine is one of my all time favourite films, I really hope you love it :) Let me know what you think! xx

  2. That is an excellent list. The only film I haven't seen on it is American Honey (2016).

    An Education (2009) is where I realized how good Peter Sarsgaard is at playing a cad. I was yelling at my tv set when I first saw the movie and what his character had done to the girl who played Sally Sparrow.

    Little Miss Sunshine and Lost in Translation are two of my faves. I liked how the dynamics of the family in Little Miss. I think last year's Captain Fantastic might have done an homage to it regarding a family doing something to honor the wishes of a dead person. Lost in Translation has many wonderful scenes and it strikes a chord with me regarding the loneliness of being a traveler. I have a problem with only one scene and it is the one where Anna Faris (who is now Chris Pratt's wife) says she is using the assumed name 'Evelyn Waugh' : ScarJo's character assumes she doesn't know that Evelyn Waugh was a man but there is nothing to show the Anna Faris character is ignorant of this. What if the Anna Faris character was a big fan of the book Brideshead Revisited?

    I like historical dramas and I really enjoyed Selma, where MLK was shown warts and all especially in the scene where he was mortified by being blackmailed by J Edgar Hoover regarding his affairs. I am so glad you reblogged a post I had done because I got to see what a cool person you are, Sophie :)

    I noticed on your twitter account that you mentioned that you and Jack will visit Germany again. In my view, there is a lot going on there that is positive. I think that they still are not charging tuition for even foreign nationals at their universities. And there are many classes that are conducted entirely in English. It seems like a good place if you and Jack want to get graduate degrees. If I read it right that you will be heading to Germany, which places will you visit?

    1. I hope you don't mind the length of my post, Sophie. There are few good places to discuss movies anymore since IMDb shut down its message boards. Sorry if I am rambling too much.

    2. clarification: I liked the family dynamics in Little Miss Sunshine.

    3. I had to Google Sally Sparrow, sorry haha.

      I didn't take that from Selma actually - I took it more that he was being framed for having a single affair when in actual fact he wasn't. They'd just cut sounds together? Although I haven't seen it since the cinema so maybe I'm wrong.

      Jack's actually not coming with me this time - it's just me and my friend going to Berlin for the week. Probably will see the usual places as my friend has never been. The East Side Gallery, museums, tv tower, Reichstag etc. I've been a few times before so just revisiting some favourite spots and places to eat. Definitely more of a tourist visit as opposed to education - myself and Jack already had degrees though :)

    4. Yes, I know your degree was in film studies with a specialization in horror :) I think I may have the specific terminology wrong, so please correct me. Speaking of horror, I was able to watch Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and I understood that this was the origin of the "found footage" subgenre in horror. Oh, I saw Get Out as well and I enjoyed it. As for Germany, I was thinking I might like to get a graduate degree in Germany -- a Masters in Computer Science; tuition alone costs $45-60K a year in the US. It's better in the UK where tuition is legally capped at £ 9,000 plus the cost of inflation but the deal in Germany seems amazing. Of course, I'm sure it's difficult to get accepted in their programs.

      I have an aunt who was very supportive when my mom died last year. Unfortunately, her husband George died in January. He was there at my mom's funeral, too. He was born in Berlin and when I attended his memorial, I learned from his friends the term 'schatzi', which literally means 'treasure' and is like saying 'sweetheart'. Maybe you can get Jack to call you that :)

      I took a look at the scene in Selma and MLK is with his wife Coretta while they are listening to the tape. At first, MLK tries to deny that it's him but Coretta says she knows what he sounds like. She later asks him if he loves her and then asks if he loved any of the others. In my view, this humanizes them and does not diminish how right their cause was in the fight for civil rights.

    5. Was just Film yeah :)

      Yes I think Cannibal Holocaust was one of the first to attempt it. People thought it was real and the director actually had to go to court to prove that the actors in the film were still alive. Although I don't like what they did to that poor turtle, that was all real :(

      Ah great, I can't wait to see Get Out. It comes out this week here so I'll be going at the weekend.

      It's 9k a term in the UK so you still end up with a hefty bill but that doesn't include your accommodation or living costs. Also, most students aren't even at the Uni much during the week. For example, if you're in 3 days a week for lessons (some of them not all day) and you're only in class from May - October, that's a lot of money. I'd imagine that to get free education in Germany you'd have to be German or be a citizen or something? Else everyone would just go there?

    6. You'd think that it was only available to German citizens but take a look at this video from the BBC on youtube:

      You're absolutely right about it not including room and board but the case is the same in the US. The $45-60K annual tuition bill doesn't include room and board for most well-known universities.

      Now, this article from the Telegraph is from 2014 but it says the £9,000 is a cap in annual costs, not just for the term. I was thinking there might be changes to this cap but a tumblr mutual who studies Natural Sciences at Cambridge told me that that's what the current tuition is at Cambridge (plus inflation and not counting accommodation). They have to buy their own books but they get an allowance to offset the cost and they can borrow textbooks easily at their extensive library system. Here is a website for Cambridge tuition:

      Oh, I see. There is a difference between tuition for undergrad studies and for graduate studies at Cambridge: with them charging about twice the amount UK citizens get charged.

      I think the German no tuition policy is still in effect but the video link I gave is a few years old.

    7. Oops, here is the Telegraph article I mentioned:

      But now we know the cap doesn't apply to graduate studies.

    8. Yeah see I graduated in 2012 when they were charging £9k a year for a 3 year course. We had to buy our own books etc but we did have a library with the same books in if we needed them. Yes it's always been a thing here that foreign students get charged far more than UK citizens

    9. Sky high tuitions are a really big problem in the US. People going to college have to take on a massive amount of debt. It's a drag on the economy because with the debt it's hard for them to buy cars and homes. And I wonder what will happen to the EU students who are being charged the same amount as UK residents. After Brexit is implemented, I guess their tuition will be raised to the same amount as other non-UK citizens.

      Anyway, I hope you have a wonderful time with your friend in Germany, Sophie! :)

  3. I so rarely pay attention to directors unless it's a really famous one I already know I love so it's really interesting to know that some of these which I've already seen are directed by women and also add some more movies to my to-watch list, An Education and American Honey in particular. x

    1. Thanks hun. Yeah I was actually surprised at how many films I genuinely loved without realising they were all directed by a woman. Little Miss Sunshine being one of my all time favourite films :) I think you'd really both of those! xx

  4. I absolutely love this post Sophie! These are truly some of my favorite films as well. Particularly Little Miss Sunshine and Lost in Translation. I haven't seen American Honey yet so I will add that to my long list of films you've recommended that I must watch! Excellent post as always :)

    Ashley xx

  5. I hope your International Women's Day was a good one, Sophie!

    This updated list is just fantastic. One horror film that impressed me last year was Censor by Prano Bailey Bond. I thought Zola (which I think Stevie mentioned was a fav in a video) directed by Janicza Bravo was a blast to watch.


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