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THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT
Photo Credit: Suzanne Tenner

The 100 best feminist films of all time

We salute the women – onscreen and off – of Hollywood’s most rousing triumphs and classics from around the world

Joshua Rothkopf
Written by
Joshua Rothkopf
Written by
Abbey Bender
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Slowly, year by year, the dial is moving for female filmmakers and female-led storytelling in Hollywood. The dinosaurs are being shoved out to pasture (or sent to prison), and a more diverse range of filmmakers are gradually being handed the chance to get movies made in one of the most laggard industries in town. This year’s International Woman’s Day throws the spotlight on a drive for full equality that’s been jet-powered in recent times by the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements.

But it’s important to remember that brilliant women have been making, writing, shooting, editing and starring in brilliant films for the past hundred years. From Daughters of the Dust to The Piano, Agnès Varda to Gurinder Chadha, and Louise Brooks to Linda Hamilton, our list of the 100 greatest feminist films celebrate them in all their glory. This century of movies over the past century weren’t all directed by women, but they’re all feminist landmarks that demand to be revisited and reappreciated. 

Written by Abbey Bender, Cath Clarke, Phil de Semlyen, Tomris Laffly, Helen O'Hara, Joshua Rothkopf & Anna Smith. Produced by Hannah Streck.

Best feminist movies

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels (1975)
  • Film

Among the greatest films ever made, Chantal Akerman's nearly three-and-a-half-hour masterpiece (not a second overlong) puts a widowed housewife, stuck in a mundane life and made invisible by social order, front and center. In this searing homage to nameless mothers and homemakers everywhere (including her own), Akerman creates the cinematic equivalent of a hypnotic metronome as she meticulously presents Jeanne (Delphine Seyrig) and her checklist of tasks—cooking, cleaning, shopping, parenting and, with a shock, sex work—to make ends meet over the course of three suffocating days. Thanks to Akerman's rhythmic discipline, each of Jeanne's slightly out-of-the-ordinary acts land with a disturbing thud as they grow in number and tip the banal domestic balance, eventually driving her to cold-blooded murder. Groundbreaking in its unblinking, real-time portrayal of unglamorous house chores as a means of validating female frustration, Jeanne Dielman's feminist resonance is cemented in perpetuity.Tomris Laffly

His Girl Friday (1940)
  • Film

It's depressing that a 78-year-old comedy offers a more hopeful depiction of workplace gender relations than most movies today. Rosalind Russell's Hildy Johnson is a star news reporter with a soaring career and unrivaled professional respect. Her mostly male peers treat her with wary deference while her boss and ex-husband (Cary Grant's Walter Burns) engineers a byzantine plot to win back her love and—not so incidentally—her byline. After all, while Walter claims to have taught her everything she knows, Hildy is a woman who has always had the gumption, self-belief and tenacity to do whatever she wants. Her ability to listen better than her bullish peers, to offer sympathy and warm confidence, is the key to her scoops, though she can also get down and dirty with the lowest of muckrakers to land a story. Her relationship with Walter is based on being smarter, funnier and more quick-witted than anyone else, and that's a feminist's dream front-page headline.Helen O'Hara

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The Piano (1993)
  • Film

Jane Campion awakened a generation of female filmmakers with movies about women that were too wild, too difficult, too rebellious for societies that stifled their independence. Her best and most loved film is this one, starring Holly Hunter as Ada, a mute pianist living in 19th-century Scotland who is married off to a man she’s never met in New Zealand (Sam Neill). After her husband refuses to lug her instrument up from the beach to his house, Ada exchanges sexual favors with a local ex-sailor (Harvey Keitel) to get it back, key by key. But Ada is no victim. The Piano explores eroticism and fetishism through a female gaze. And like all Campion’s female protagonists, Ada is thrillingly complicated and contradictory. The movie garnered acclaim and awards, including Cannes' Palme d’Or and three Oscars. Grim statistic alert: Campion was only the second woman in history to be nominated for Best Director by the Academy. She lost to Steven Spielberg but her film is an all-time winner.Cath Clarke

Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962)
  • Film
  • Drama

France's Agnès Varda has long been a feminist film icon, and it's heartening to see her still making movies well into her eighties (including the recent Faces Places). The work for which she is best known, Cléo from 5 to 7, is a sensitive, deceptively simple portrait of womanhood. Corinne Marchand plays Cléo, a young singer awaiting the results of a serious medical test during the title's evening time frame. Over the course of the plot, we aren't subjected to over-the-top melodrama but rather, are immersed in Cléo's psyche. We see how she defines herself, frequently gazing into mirrors and contemplating her beauty (and confronting her nerves), and feel some of the struggles she endures in dealing with men who don't take her seriously. Varda's style is intimate, allowing us to get to know this person in real time. The decision to show a woman considering her own mortality—without judgement or excessive emotion—is an inherently political one, and Varda executes it beautifully.Abbey Bender

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A Woman Under the Influence (1974)
  • Film

The phrase "strong female character" only gets you so far. What about the women who suffer mental-health problems, who are fragile or flawed, unable to cope? In A Woman Under the Influence Gena Rowlands gives one of the movies' fiercest performances as Mabel, a housewife married to a construction worker (Peter Falk). Mabel tries hard to keep it together, but she's drinking and on the edge. Directed by Rowlands’ husband, the indie legend John Cassavetes, this is a film about a person who is unwell, verging on breakdown. But it’s also one about the roles of Italian-American stay-at-home moms in 1970s Los Angeles. Mabel has been ignored, her spirit broken. It’s a tribute to the realness of the film and Rowlands’s three-dimensional portrait that you end up wondering: What kind of life did Mabel dream of, this quirky woman who ended up in a one-bedroom apartment full of kids and no room to breathe?Cath Clarke

Daughters of the Dust (1991)
  • Film
  • Drama

A film unlike anything you've seen (or will see), Julie Dash's rapturous feature debut is set at a moment of wrenching cultural crisis, when the island-dwelling Gullah—former African slaves living off the coast of South Carolina—decide in August 1902 to head to the nearby American mainland and endure the pain of a second separation from their past. The movie has the softness of a dream, from its pink-hued beaches and painterly compositions (shot by Arthur Jafa) to the lilting, incantatory sound of these West African-inflected accents. But a deeper attachment comes with the plot's evocation of old traditions slipping through the fingers of the matriarchal Peazant clan. Dash, who broke out at 1991's Sundance Film Festival alongside such nobodies as Richard Linklater and Todd Haynes, never enjoyed the career she rightfully deserved. But notably, Daughters of Dust would be the first film directed by an African American woman to gain theatrical distribution. Beyoncé's Lemonade cribs from Dash's visual serenity and defiance; do your part and check out the source.Joshua Rothkopf

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4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007)
  • Film
  • Drama

Unambiguously pro-choice, writer-director Cristian Mungiu's reckoning with Romania's shameful history against women hits a present-day nerve, as safe and easy access to women's healthcare hangs by a thread in America. Set in 1987 at the tail end of Nicolae Ceaușescu's oppressive regime, 4 Months unfolds in elaborate long takes (one of them took five days to get right). It follows Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) as she helps her college roommate, Găbița (Laura Vasiliu), secure an illegal—and potentially fatal—abortion through an erratic plan involving a predatory provider. Suffused with imminent physical threat, Mungiu's Palme d'Or winner makes the viewer an involuntary eyewitness to acts of escalating desperation, necessitated by governmental tyranny in a world where women aren't allowed to make decisions about their own bodies. The onscreen restlessness of the two characters grows with our sympathy for them—and for those around the world robbed of options.Tomris Laffly

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
  • Film
  • Action and adventure

The road warrior meets his match in George Miller’s staggering, nutso Mad Max reboot. Boasting an entirely unprecedented cinematic marriage of exploding vehicles and feminist fury, its spark is lit by Charlize Theron’s enraged, full-throttle Imperator Furiosa, a woman who really doesn’t care if you think she looks cool in an armor-plated truck. In fact, the film’s putative hero, Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy), is reduced to onlooker for most of the action, squirreled away in the rig and kept away from the important buttons. It’s Furiosa who drives both vehicle and story, hitting back at the bilious patriarch Immortan Joe by liberating his wives and making a run for it. Is it a feminist masterpiece? Maybe the ending lets it down, with Max getting his hero moment while Furiosa lies wounded, and maybe the wives, sorta-clad and supermodel beautiful, are as much eye candy as mythical totems of womanhood. Maybe. But how many movies have a clutch of kickass women basically tearing down a malignant patriarchy with their bare hands? And how many action films stick the man in the passenger seat? This one deserves saluting.Phil de Semlyen

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Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains (1982)
  • Film

Movies don't come cooler than this early '80s cult classic, featuring Diane Lane as Corinne Burns, the teenage leader of an all-girl punk band, the Stains. The group may not be the most musically talented but they possess admirable style and brash confidence. The film is a fiery testament to the enduring power of teenage girlhood: As the Stains grow in popularity, hordes of female fans start dressing up like Corinne (in her severe red-and-black look, with heavy Aladdin Sane eye makeup), and the shots of these crowds are strangely moving. Punk, with its embrace of the profane, was often considered masculine territory, but Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains, showed how it could be just as vital (if not more so) as an act of female rebellion and self-expression. Corinne is wildly quotable: Her musing that "every girl should be given an electric guitar on her 16th birthday" is downright inspiring.Abbey Bender

Thelma & Louise (1991)
  • Film
  • Comedy

"How would you feel if someone did that to your mother, your sister, your wife?" That’s Louise (Susan Sarandon), letting it rip at a truck driver who’s been making disgusting gestures on the highway. Thelma & Louise recently turned 25 but depressingly, its enough-is-enough message—calling time's up on sexual harassment and predators—has never been more timely. When Louise shoots dead the creep who attempts to rape Thelma (Geena Davis), they don’t call the police, knowing  they won’t be believed. Would they do anything differently in 2018? Thelma & Louise revolutionized female buddy movies with its game-changing portrayal of a pair of avenging friends on the run. Was its victory limited? Here’s Sarandon at the Cannes Film Festival in 2017: "After Thelma & Louise, they predicted there would be so many films starring women. But it didn’t happen." There's still time to make this come true.Cath Clarke

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Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)
  • Film

Director Susan Seidelman captured lightning in a bottle with this wildly funny NYC ode to the power of the girl crush. Madonna is the ultimate downtown lust object, and Rosanna Arquette is the idle housewife who only wants to be her. Blessedly, Seidelman turns good girl-bad girl archetypes on their head by letting both women flourish.Abbey Bender

Diary of a Lost Girl (1929)
  • Film

This silent film is more a catalogue of horrifying misogyny than a tale of female empowerment, but it's still compelling to watch Louise Brooks—iconic for her bob alone—go from rape victim to sad prostitute to belated heroine. In contrast, Brooks herself was born a fighter, embodying the entire flapper era and standing up to the studios long before it was cool.Helen O'Hara

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Orlando (1992)
  • Film
  • Fantasy

As far as movie pitches go, "Tilda Swinton bending gender across space and time" is our kind of bold. Extremely loosely based on a Virginia Woolf novel (but with every change a purposeful one), director Sally Potter's one-of-a-kind odyssey is a sumptuous feast of shifting identities and queerness, with Swinton's regal, mysterious presence at its center.Abbey Bender

  • Film
  • Thrillers

Hannibal Lecter may hog the internet memes but it's Clarice Starling who solves the case. She does all the convincing, develops the clues and ends up in that dark room alone with the killer. Jodie Foster's performance—terrified but tenacious—is better than Anthony Hopkins's lip-smacking turn, and her struggle for professional success drives the story.Helen O'Hara

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  • Film
  • Comedy

Trailer-park-dwelling teen Rosetta (Émilie Dequenne, on fire) just wants to keep her crummy job at the waffle shack. But a fickle boss and an untrustworthy coworker take advantage of her in this knockout by Belgium's close-hovering Dardenne brothers. Impressively, a rumor arose that Rosetta inspired real-life tweaks to its country's worker-protection laws; that wasn't the case, but you could believe it.Joshua Rothkopf

Alien (1979)
  • Film
  • Fantasy

Set on a grungy space freighter prowled by a creature that essentially impregnates crew members, Ridley Scott's sci-fi-horror landmark is loaded with examples of what theorists call the "monstrous feminine." But there's no denying the presence of Sigourney Weaver, chain-smoking her way toward icon status, coolly upending conventions and even saving the cat.Joshua Rothkopf

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  • Film

Few images symbolize the complexity of womanhood as potently as the abstract yet startlingly intimate close-ups of Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann in Ingmar Bergman's arthouse classic. A key visual referent for over fifty years, the film is an intense dive into female psychology and the ways it can both seduce and fracture.Abbey Bender

  • Film

Here's your first lesson in any serious appreciation of Pam Grier Studies—and you will enroll. Statuesque and fearless, Grier ruffled feathers even during an era when women onscreen and off were getting louder: Her character goes beyond vengeance into viciousness, and the take-no-shit power of it all is intoxicating. Grier's creation still puts men on notice, as they should be.Joshua Rothkopf

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Female Trouble (1974)
  • Film
  • Comedy

John Waters may be known as trash-cinema royalty but there's a surprising layer of feminist empathy in his work, hidden under all the dark humor. Female Trouble places Divine at the center of a truly epic criminal tale, Manson-inflected and unhinged, one that subverts stereotypes and aligns our sympathies with the fabulously brazen drag icon.Abbey Bender

One Sings, the Other Doesn’t (1977)
  • Film

This deeper Agnès Varda cut may feel a little dog-eared and dated (the sporadic French folk tunes will induce cold sweats in the unwary), but as a no-bullshit drama about reproductive rights and a pure-hearted torch song to female friendship and solidarity, it remains as current as any of the great French director’s films.Phil de Semlyen

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The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
  • Film

Watch Carl Theodor Dreyer's silent masterwork—which is haunted by the boundlessly expressive face of Maria Falconetti in the role of the legendary French warrior and saint—and you'll detect traces of countless others who sat in that unsympathetic chair of cruel male tormentors, designed to intimidate women into fear and silence. Feminist acting starts here.Tomris Laffly

Born In Flames (1983)
  • Film

A slice of sci-fi feminism with a punk spirit and an electro soundtrack, Michigan maverick Lizzie Borden’s docu-dystopia has nothing even slightly staid or conventional about it. Born in Flames is set ten years after the Second American Revolution in a New York where women are striving for the same rights as men and are led by a militant army trying to seize them. Borden herself continues to champion it as a call to arms for millennials. The fire still burns.Phil de Semlyen

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Erin Brockovich (2000)
  • Film

A mainstream feminist movie is arguably more important than an indie: It reaches larger audiences and isn't necessarily preaching to the converted. So all hail the Oscar-winning Erin Brockovich, which tells its inspiring story of corporate comeuppance with a smile as big as that of star Julia Roberts.Anna Smith

  • Film

This mesmerizing experimental short explored female identity at a time when most avant-garde artists concerned themselves with the oh-so-bruised male psyche. Rich in symbolism, it was written by Maya Deren, who co-directed it with Alexander Hammid. As if unable to conceive of a female director, several commentators at the time opined that Hammid did all the heavy lifting.Anna Smith

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Aliens (1986)
  • Film
  • Science fiction

Following in the female-powered footsteps of its 1979 predecessor, James Cameron's sequel deepens the inner life of Alien's sole survivor, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), by adding a maternal dimension to her workload. As iconic as the first film's chestburster scene, Ripley's fearless stride in battle ("Get away from her, you bitch!") is a feminist gift to sci-fi.Tomris Laffly

  • Film

In Gillian Armstrong's brainy adaptation of Miles Franklin's 1901 novel, the aspiring writer Sybylla Melvyn (Judy Davis) stubbornly resists the traditional demands of family, turns down eligible suitors and chases grand professional ambitions. Hardened by her non-negotiable life goals, she sketches a roadmap to autonomy, setting an enduring example.Tomris Laffly

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The Circle (2000)
  • Film

Jafar Panahi's harrowing drama critiques Iran's punishing treatment of women, both inside its prison system and out. A deeply political statement on entrenched societal sexism, it observes through scenes that are both explicit and understated the everyday fight of a group of unrelated co-protagonists, defying their burden-from-birth status in patriarchal eyes.Tomris Laffly

Bound (1996)
  • Film
  • Drama

Most erotic thrillers can’t in good faith be called feminist but the Wachowskis’ sharp, stylized debut is that rare exception. Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly are butch and femme, respectively, and they don't play to the male gaze: These women are destined to come out on top, with no one else in sight.Abbey Bender

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  • Film
  • Comedy

At once funny and surprisingly poignant, Working Girl offers a big-haired yet forever relevant portrait of the struggle for women to get ahead professionally. The image of Melanie Griffith changing from sneakers to heels in the office is a perfect pop symbol of gender and power in the Reagan era.Abbey Bender

Kill Bill (2003/2004)
  • Film
  • Action and adventure

The badass descriptor is overused when it comes to portrayals of powerful women onscreen, but as the Bride, a former assassin hell-bent on vengeance, Uma Thurman truly earns it. With her steely-eyed gaze, yellow tracksuit and expert fighting ability, the Bride is an icon of ultracool hard-edged femininity. Even in the wake of Quentin Tarantino's recently revealed on-set negligence and Harvey Weinstein's abhorrent abuses, it remains an influential, widely successful woman-centered action film, something that's all too rare in Hollywood.Abbey Bender

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All About My Mother (1999)
  • Film

Gloriously strong, complex women feature in all the movies of Pedro Almodóvar. All About My Mother has more of them than most, and none of the characters come close to stereotype (can you think of another film with an HIV-positive nun who's pregnant by a transgender prostitute?). It's a warm, witty celebration of female survival skills.Anna Smith

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
  • Film
  • Action and adventure

A female character without romantic interests who's focused on her career? What's that? By giving "Maya" (Jessica Chastain), the CIA agent chiefly responsible for tracking down Osama bin Laden, her onscreen due (the real operative is still undercover), genius director Kathryn Bigelow brought a historic achievement out of the shadows of a male-dominated field. It was controversial at the time; it shouldn’t have been.Tomris Laffly

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Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)
  • Film
  • Comedy

The New Hollywood era is filled with machismo, but this subtle film from Martin Scorsese stands out from his early work due to its sensitive portrait of a single mother and widow, brought to nonjudgmental life by Ellen Burstyn. Alice's road trip with her son is filled with frustrations and small victories—it's a clear-eyed vision of one woman's life.Abbey Bender

All About Eve (1950)
  • Film

Joseph L. Mankiewicz's monumental showbiz drama sharply examines sexism in a plot that probes generational enmity among women. With brutal honesty in her infinitely quotable scenes, stage legend Margo Channing (Bette Davis) mourns the sacrifices required by a career in which her male colleagues never seem to age: "Bill's 32. He looks 32. He looked it five years ago. He'll look it 20 years from now. I hate men."Tomris Laffly

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  • Film
  • Comedy

The tragedy of 9 to 5 is that its feminist message about equal pay, sexual harassment and male privilege is still valid today. The joy of it? Everyone's have an insane amount of fun making a serious point. Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton (belting out that anthemic theme song, still widely karaoked) are brimming with righteous fizz.Anna Smith

Norma Rae (1979)
  • Film
  • Comedy

Fierce and unapologetic, the hardheaded and sexually liberated Norma (Sally Field, who Oscar voters really, really liked) unionizes the mistreated workers of her North Carolina textile mill, silencing its machines with a now-iconic sign. Inspired by a true story, Martin Ritt's film progressively treats Norma's male counterpart, a labor organizer from New York (Ron Leibman), as her ideological equal as opposed to a romantic savior.Tomris Laffly

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The Hunger Games (2012)
  • Film
  • Fantasy

For years, the dinosaurs that roamed Hollywood’s back rooms told us that female-led action movies didn't sell. Then along came Katniss Everdeen, exploding that lie once and for all. Bow and arrow at the ready (whether the odds were in her favor or not), Jennifer Lawrence iconically showed us that girls could disrupt the paradigm in a sci-fi context and audiences would pay to see it, hand over fist.Cath Clarke

The Women (1939)
  • Film

Featuring a radiant cast of exclusively women (over 130 speaking parts), The Women and its gossiping femmes—all preoccupied with man troubles—doesn't scream feminist. Yet director George Cukor's witty, quietly radical satire is thoroughly sympathetic to female-specific dilemmas concerning financial inequality and power imbalance, normalized at the time.Tomris Laffly

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The Kids Are All Right (2010)
  • Film
  • Comedy

Historically, lesbians had been treated in a sensationalist way by Hollywood (if they were treated at all), so this understated, beautifully acted drama was a welcome corrective. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore are perfect as two imperfect women in love, trying to raise two smart teens while defending their decades-long love affair against temptation, complacency and conflict.Helen O'Hara

Daisies (1966)
  • Film

Czech New Wave director Věra Chytilová's gleefully anarchic film centers on two young pranksters (Jitka Cerhová and Ivana Karbanová) who cause mischief rather than succumb to political oppression. The spectacle is at once a delight and a provocation: Daisies is downright punk in its approach, and the message of colorful rebellion rings truer than ever today.Abbey Bender

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Carrie (1976)
  • Film
  • Horror

Stephen King's intuitive understanding of the terrors of early womanhood (it's a bloodbath) found ideal expression in Brian De Palma's horror classic—a gruesome tale of high-school vengeance. Carrie's telekinetic powers cast a timeless spell on audiences, especially those bullied and oppressed by their own families and communities. Cool kids are pretty mean.Tomris Laffly

  • Film
  • Comedy

Writer-director Amy Heckerling created one of the most delightful teen movies of all time with this update of Jane Austen's Emma. The film embraces female friendships and fun fashion wholeheartedly, and Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone, immortal for this performance) is more than just a bratty rich girl. The script imbues her with genuine sweetness and wit.Abbey Bender

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Winter’s Bone (2010)
  • Film

Before she became world-famous as Katniss Everdeen, Jennifer Lawrence was an unknown 19-year-old from Kentucky. She got her big break in this bleak thriller set in the Ozark Mountains as the tough, resourceful Ree Dolly, searching for her missing dad while negotiating an unpredictable terrain of desperate poverty, sexual leers and worse.Cath Clarke

Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
  • Film
  • Comedy

Director Gurinder Chadha's crowd-pleaser is a feminist take on the traditionally masculine genre of the sports movie. With its light sense of humor and cross-cultural savvy, the film is a touchstone of girl power and a reminder of the unifying bonds of team play. World, meet Keira Knightley.Abbey Bender

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Gravity (2013)
  • Film
  • Science fiction

The Mercury-era myth of the superhuman, buzz-cut male astronaut still lingers, making it difficult for us to believe they might have struggled in any way. Enter Sandra Bullock's Ryan Stone, the hastily trained, hesitant specialist who finds herself facing down orbital disaster and her own grief to survive in space. It's proof that fresh casting makes for better stories.Helen O'Hara

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
  • Film
  • Science fiction

Ripped, gun-toting and furious, Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is the spooked, future-aware soul of James Cameron's relentless sequel; she's an aspirational and atypical female image. Packing muscles and resourcefulness, Sarah battles skeptics and an invincible android to protect her son and the fate of the planet. Arnold Schwarzenegger says "I'll be back" in the first movie, but she's the one we were waiting for.Tomris Laffly

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The Babadook (2014)
  • Film
  • Horror

Jennifer Kent's extraordinary directorial debut is unusual for grounding its monster in the idea of motherhood itself. The story of the bereaved, exhausted Amelia (Essie Davis) and her terrified young son (Noah Wiseman) is ultimately about the fear of failing as a parent and—the ultimate horror—perhaps willfully harming your own child, making a taboo subject vivid and real.Helen O'Hara

Show Me Love (1998)
  • Film

Sweden's Lukas Moodysson has thus far made it a career project to celebrate the inner strength of women, from his harrowing Lilya 4-Ever to the euphoric punk-girl riot We Are the Best! But his feature debut is still his sweetest and most supportive film. Show Me Love is about two confused high-school girls who fall in love; their public coming out is as rousing as endings get.Joshua Rothkopf

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Princess Mononoke (1997)
  • Film
  • Animation

Animator Hayao Miyazaki has spun his greatest successes around female protagonists, from the plucky Chihiro in Spirited Away to the powerful Sophie in Howl's Moving Castle. But none of them are as fierce or passionate as this film's San, the wolf-riding heroine who fights to protect the natural world from the destruction of encroaching humanity (i.e., men).Helen O'Hara

  • Film

Set in a safe space where men are almost entirely absent, Ida Lupino's late-career coming-of-age comedy lovingly spreads its protective wings over two mischievous wisecrackers at an all-girls Catholic high school (Hayley Mills and June Harding), as each independently discovers her own purpose. It's hard to imagine a Lady Bird without it.Tomris Laffly

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Heavenly Creatures (1994)
  • Film

Years before The Lord of the Rings made him a household name, Peter Jackson broke through with this fantasy-infused drama, rooted in the intensely passionate friendships of teenage life. Admittedly, few such bonds are as toxic as that between Melanie Lynskey's Pauline and Kate Winslet's Juliet, based on a real-life duo that committed murder, but the build-up of shared experience, giggling fantasy and mutual need is a familiar female experience.Helen O'Hara

3 Women (1977)
  • Film

Robert Altman's riff on Ingmar Bergman's Persona is a dreamlike, pastel-drenched study of feminine subjectivity. Grasps on reality weaken as we are submerged into a strangely compelling California desert town. Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek give performances of considerable depth, both laying bare the insecurities so often at the heart of womanhood.Abbey Bender

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Dance, Girl, Dance (1940)
  • Film

Long before the term male gaze was coined, Dorothy Arzner—Hollywood's only working female director of the 1930s—gave us this headstrong ballerina drama about Judy (Maureen O'Hara), who shames an auditorium of catcallers in a profound monologue. Arzner's musical honors hardworking women as allies and rivals alike, and respects their individual dreams.Tomris Laffly

Walking and Talking (1996)
  • Film
  • Comedy

Nicole Holofcener's feature debut, about the neurotic affection between two longtime Manhattan friends (Catherine Keener and Anne Heche, both effortlessly believable) proved her talent for writing smart, complex women. The tale itself you've seen before—dating, men, marriage, tension—but Holofcener's nuanced perspective is filled with wry humor and a focus on the real textures of women's interactions.Abbey Bender

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Shut Up & Sing (2006)
  • Film

At a 2003 concert in London, the Dixie Chicks spoke out against George W. Bush (lead singer Natalie Maines: "We don't want this war, this violence, and we're ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas") and found themselves vilified by many of their fans, some who issued anonymous death threats. This documentary charts the band's mutual support, endurance and comeback with all its messiness and upheaval. The sisterhood is inspiring.Helen O'Hara

Frozen (2013)
  • Film
  • Animation

You think you know how this animated musical is going to end: a curse that can only be broken by true love. And there's a handsome prince too, right? Wrong. This plot's most important connection is between sisters, because princes are unreliable. It's a welcome corrective to, well, pretty much every Disney film that came before it. To those movies, Frozen would say: Let it go.Helen O'Hara

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A Question of Silence (1982)
  • Film

What if alliances of ill-treated women lashed out against male supremacy? Infused with dark humor, Dutch writer-director Marleen Gorris's provocative stunner imagines one such scenario, in which three female strangers—a mom, a high-powered secretary and a waitress—all sane and unprovoked, fatally go to town on a shopkeeper. The three women elect to go silent in court, letting their act stand symbolically.Tomris Laffly

Mustang (2015)
  • Film
  • Drama

Both a reflective dramatic plunge and a dreamlike liberation fantasy, director Deniz Gamze Ergüven's Oscar-nominated film topples the Turkish patriarchy with its story of five female siblings standing up wild and tall against adult abusers and old-fashioned traditions. Universally relatable, Mustang exposes the hidden-from-sight horrors of too many male conservatives.Tomris Laffly

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Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
  • Film

A movie about a gold-digging feminist? Yes, please. As Marilyn Monroe's Lorelei Lee neatly illustrates via "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend," gold digging is a feature of the patriarchy, not a bug. Besides, who's watching the men anyhow? Lorelei's brassy friendship with Dorothy Shaw (Jane Russell) is the most important love story onscreen.Helen O'Hara

The Gold Diggers (1983)
  • Film

Director Sally Potter's radical black-and-white feature debut was made with an all-female crew, which immediately earns it major feminist points—especially back in 1983. Julie Christie and Colette Laffont are terrific in this surreal, thought-provoking experiment with plenty to say about the commodification of women.Anna Smith

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  • Film
  • Action and adventure

After too many blockbusters starring white guys called Chris, what a relief it was see a big, bold superhero movie starring a woman (the instantly iconic Gal Gadot). But it wasn't just the novelty: In Patty Jenkins' telling, Wonder Woman stands for warmer virtues than her male counterparts, things like compassion and forgiveness, lending her roundhouse kicks an extra emotional heft.Helen O'Hara

My Life to Live (1962)

62. My Life to Live (1962)

Jean-Luc Godard's most sensitive film, My Life to Live observes with a quiet sense of realism the doomed life of a prostitute (played by the director's muse, Anna Karina). The close-up on Nana's tear-streaked face as she watches The Passion of Joan of Arc in a state of rapture is a stirring early example of the female gaze.Abbey Bender

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Safe (1995)
  • Film

Todd Haynes plunges into the darkest corners of a suburban L.A. housewife's psychology in this unforgettably eerie tale of "environmental illness." The film offers no easy solutions to the tragedy of feeling inexplicably broken, but it gives its protagonist (an excellent Julianne Moore) time and space rather than writing her off as hysterical.Abbey Bender

Audition (1999)
  • Film

A movie that makes sushi out of douchebag predators and the whole notion of Japanese female docility, Takeshi Miike's gauntlet of a horror film (difficult even for gore fans) is comeuppance at its most savage. After a pair of bros decide to stage auditions for a fake movie, they discover Asami (the spooky Eihi Shiina), who brings needles and razor wire to a subsequent date.Joshua Rothkopf

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Girlhood (2014)
  • Film
  • Drama

We've gotten countless movies about the lives of teenage boys growing up in rough neighborhoods. What about their sisters? The young French filmmaker Céline Sciamma’s judgment-free drama is the story of 16-year-old Marieme (Karidja Touré) living in the exurban Paris projects. She falls in with a denim-clad girl gang and is empowered by her new friendships (along with Rihanna's "Diamonds," in the film's most euphoric moment).Cath Clarke

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Ghostbusters (2016)
  • Film
  • Comedy

It may not have been the best film of 2016 but from a feminist point of view, it was easily the most thrilling, angry online "Ghostbros" be damned. The rebooted all-female squad—including the extraordinarily weird Kate McKinnon as an implicitly gay scientist with killer dance moves—felt like a major milestone: These are funny, identifiable heroes who just happen to be female.Anna Smith

Morvern Callar (2002)
  • Film

Yes, it's directed by a woman, Scotland's Lynne Ramsay, and has a complex female protagonist (played by Samantha Morton), but there's something more groundbreaking about Morvern Callar than that: Our hero isn't judged or punished for her transgressive behavior. It's an intimate, compelling portrait of a woman who's unapologetically out of place in both class and gender terms.Anna Smith

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Fargo (1996)
  • Film
  • Thrillers

The Coens' dark crime comedy features one of Frances McDormand's finest performances. As Marge Gunderson, a police chief in small Minnesota town, McDormand blends homespun appeal with a no-nonsense attitude. She's able to bring down criminals with wood chippers and deliver perfectly sharp dialogue—all while her character is seven months pregnant.Abbey Bender

The Love Witch (2016)
  • Film
  • Comedy

Magnificently strange and self-possessed, Elaine (Samantha Robinson) cruises the California coast, brewing potions and luring men to their doom. But don't call her a Playboy pinup; even through retro-obsessed filmmaker Anna Biller styles the movie like a 1960s artifact, her gender politics are decidedly woke and she's got years of scores to settle.Joshua Rothkopf

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Tiny Furniture (2010)
  • Film

Here's where it all started for Lena Dunham. At age 23, she wrote, directed and starred in this no-budget indie, a proto-Girls. Tiny Furniture portrays sex and female friendships in a refreshingly real way. And by putting her body front and center, Dunham challenged conventional screen-beauty norms.Cath Clarke

The Color Purple (1985)
  • Film
  • Comedy

Pitched at the intersection of a myriad themes including racism, domestic abuse and sexual oppression, Steven Spielberg's ambitious Alice Walker adaptation attentively chronicles the life of a black Southern woman (played by Whoopi Goldberg). She survives the pre-eminence of male authority that cruelly separates her from her beloved sister, facing down that most noxious social structure—Jim Crow—along the way.—Tomris Laffly

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Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)
  • Film

Two generations of defiant Alabama women oppose marital neglect and abuse, challenging injustice with a little help from each other and "Towanda, righter of wrongs, queen beyond compare!" An empowering celebration of womanly love (friendship and beyond), director Jon Avnet's film dismembers male privilege and feeds it back to entitled intruders.Tomris Laffly

I Shot Andy Warhol (1996)
  • Film

Downtown NYC fringe artist Valerie Solanas wrote the radical SCUM Manifesto (that's Society for Cutting Up Men); she also took a few point-blankers at Andy Warhol in 1968 after being rejected by his Factory clique. Director Mary Harron and a just-this-side-of-crazy Lili Taylor do heroic work in imparting dignity to Solanas, whose desperation explodes into fury.Joshua Rothkopf

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The Day I Became a Woman (2000)
  • Film

By choosing to focus on three Iranian women of different generations, director Marzieh Meshkini neatly depicts the patriarchy of Islamic culture. That she does so with a light touch is particularly impressive, making this an accessible and involving film as well as an urgent call to action.Anna Smith

Prevenge (2016)
  • Film
  • Horror

In her nightmarish black comedy, writer-director Alice Lowe exorcised her own fears about pregnancy (she was eight months pregnant when she shot it). It’s a serial-killer movie with Lowe playing a woman who believes her unborn baby is telling her to commit murder.Cath Clarke

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Mystic Pizza (1988)
  • Film

With lessons learned through romantic heartbreak and class conflict, the wise women of Mystic Pizza formulate their own secret ingredient to happiness amid an all-female ecosystem of support. Director Donald Petrie's trope-rejecting rom-com might end with a wedding, but you can bet she'll be keeping her name.Tomris Laffly

Smooth Talk (1985)
  • Film

This underseen gem, featuring a standout early performance by Laura Dern, adapts a haunting Joyce Carol Oates short story, envisioning a slow-burn portrait of a teen girl's world. Sexual menace lingers throughout , coming to a head in a late scene, but it's never treated in the crudely sensationalized way you might expect.Abbey Bender

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Whale Rider (2002)
  • Film
  • Drama

A young girl (dazzling newcomer Keisha Castle-Hughes) takes on the entrenched system of tribal Māori rule in this inspiring New Zealand story that brought its feminist message all the way to the Oscars. Writer-director Niki Caro has since been hired to helm Disney's live-action Mulan remake: here's hoping her Whale Rider spirit will live on.Anna Smith

Under the Skin (2013)
  • Film
  • Drama

Filmed like a stealth documentary, this uniquely challenging sci-fi film is ripe for feminist readings. As Scarlett Johansson's fur-coated alien prowls Glasgow in search of conquests, a hidden camera reveals how real men react, while the next act explores a wholly different gender dynamic. If Under The Skin raises more questions than it answers, it does so in the best possible way.Anna Smith

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Brooklyn (2015)
  • Film
  • Drama

Courageously rising above her dead-end employment options and a marriage-minded 1950s Irish backdrop, the young émigré Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) embarks on a sister-enabled journey across the ocean. Two gentlemanly suitors on different continents throw her into a quandary, but her own dreams ultimately define home in this feminist coming-of-age film.Tomris Laffly

Suffragette (2015)
  • Film

Though set in 1912, Suffragette is more than a mere period drama. By telling the story of the female foot soldiers who struggled for the British right to vote, it’s a movie with something to say about patriarchal power today. Carey Mulligan plays a working-class laundry woman, sexually harassed by her boss, who finds her voice in the movement.Cath Clarke

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  • Film

Both Winona Ryder and an Oscar-winning Angelina Jolie supplied top turns in this affecting tale of young women living in a 1960s mental institution, based on the bestselling memoir by Susanna Kaysen. Tricky subjects like depression, anorexia and self-harm are explored with sensitivity and grace, in a movie that pays tribute to the binding strength of female friendship.Anna Smith

Raw (2016)
  • Film
  • Horror

Horror movies are full of teenage girls screaming as they run away from some unspeakable madman (always a man) while not wearing a lot of clothes. With her queasy cannibal horror movie, French writer-director Julia Ducournau turns the tables completely; her story concerns Justine (Garance Marillier), a cool-headed 16-year-old enrollee at veterinary college, freshly arrived and awakening to dark appetites.Cath Clarke

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Battle of the Sexes (2017)
  • Film
  • Drama

As the debate about equal pay in sports rages on, Battle of the Sexes looks back to a critical, near-comic moment when tennis champ Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) refused to back down to sexist pig Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell). It's a stirring feminist story with plenty of air-punching moments and a strong LGBT angle, courtesy of the heartbreaking Andrea Riseborough.Anna Smith

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
  • Film
  • Horror

Please, not another black-and-white Iranian feminist vampire Western. This one is utterly its own thing. The joke of Ana Lily Amirpour's feature debut is that the lonely girl gliding along in a chador is a predator, not a victim, and interestingly—as with a few other female-penned vampire tales—she preys chiefly on those who take advantage of others.Helen O'Hara

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Lady Macbeth (2016)
  • Film
  • Drama

It has nothing to do with the Shakespeare, alas, but take heart: This 19th-century set British period drama does feature a woman on a killing spree. Rising-star Florence Pugh plays Katherine, a teenager married off to a sniveling man twice her age but with half her spark or intelligence. Needless to say, she makes a few changes around the house.Cath Clarke

Persepolis (2007)
  • Film
  • Animation

Illustrator-turned-director Marjane Satrapi adapted her own graphic novel about growing up in Tehran into this powerful animated memoir. It takes us from Satrapi's cozy, cultured childhood under the last days of the Shah through a rebellious adolescence in a suddenly restrictive country for women, and lets Satrapi's warmth, humor and wisdom shine.Helen O'Hara

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Grandma (2015)
  • Film
  • Comedy

Scientists estimate that any film becomes 75 percent more feminist by the mere presence of world-weary Lily Tomlin, though Grandma was already running close to 100 percent to begin with. Ticking off every controversial box there is, Tomlin plays a widowed lesbian poet and activist who escorts her teenaged granddaughter to get an abortion, but the politics are served with tough love and glittering humor.Helen O'Hara

Girlfriends (1978)

90. Girlfriends (1978)

“It’s a wonderful film,” raved one fan of director Claudia Weill’s gem of female friendship when it came out. “One of the most interesting American films that I've seen in a long time.” That fan? Stanley Kubrick. The story follows Susan (Melanie Mayron) as she and roommate Anne (Anita Skinner) gradually drift apart due to life’s vagaries. Experiences with discrimination and male dilettantism play out with the kind of wit and poignancy that deserved a much bigger audience. Still, at least one person noticed.Phil de Semlyen

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Adam’s Rib (1949)
  • Film
  • Comedy

The reason that Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn's films worked so well is that they generally took on roles that cast them as equals in their fields. In this case, they're married lawyers who go toe-to-toe over a domestic-violence case. She wins the case, he wins the personal fight that follows, and everything ends as it began, in love and sparring merrily.Helen O'Hara

Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980)
  • Film

If Sissy Spacek herself calls country-music legend Loretta Lynn a feminist, we see no reason to argue with that. Spacek's Oscar-winning turn depicts a Kentucky dreamer caught up in the swirl of fame but tenaciously holding onto her sense of purpose as a working woman. This is a mighty film, resting on the flint (and actual singing voice) of an actor who sparkles in every scene.Joshua Rothkopf

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Moana (2016)
  • Film
  • Animation

The evolution of the Disney princess from the insipid Cinderella to the intrepid Moana tracks with the development of feminism itself. From sewing and housework, we've reached a point where our animated heroines can dream of leadership and exploration, and saving people. The next generation of little girls has the benefit of extraordinary role models.Helen O'Hara

Certain Women (2016)
  • Film

“Your wife works for you?” a man is asked Kelly Reichardt’s triptych of pastoral tales. “No, she’s the boss,” comes the reply. Cocking an impatient eyebrow at lazy sexism and the society that enables it, Reichardt’s sixth and best feature sketches out a quartet of complex, inspiring women (played by Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart and the revelatory Lily Gladstone) carving out a place for themselves on unforgiving Montana soil.Phil de Semlyen

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The Contender (2000)
  • Film

A film so fierce, it'll make you wish for a daughter so you could show it to her and say, "That's what you're aiming for." Joan Allen scorches the lens as an American vice-presidential candidate grilled over a long-ago sex scandal, maintaining her composure while those around her are losing theirs. Any resemblance to a pantsuited politician is wholly incidental.Helen O'Hara

Vagabond (1985)
  • Film

Unlikable female protagonists are hard to come by in movies; mainly, women are expected to be warm and maternal. But if you’re looking for an exception, try French filmmaker Agnès Varda’s challenging yet compassionate drama. It's a portrait of a drifter, Mona (Sandrine Bonnaire), whose body is found frozen in a vineyard at the start of the film. Varda then pieces together the final days of Mona’s tough life.Cath Clarke

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  • Film
  • Action and adventure

It's political correctness gone mad, apparently: Who could believe that a woman could harness a power like the Force, while two others could occupy positions of top authority in the Rebellion? Whatever the more rabid fanboys claimed, the colorful, brave women at Jedi's heart are key to its surprises, its emotional blows and those hopeful final moments.Helen O'Hara

Elle (2016)
  • Film

Rape is often handled ham-fistedly onscreen, but director Paul Verhoeven and star Isabelle Huppert treat it as both a devastating crime and an act which does not necessarily define its victim's life. Huppert's Michèle reacts in an unexpected, even glib way to her assault, and yet her strength and agency are never in doubt.Helen O'Hara

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The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
  • Film

One of the most quotable comedies of the aughts, The Devil Wears Prada filled a pop-feminism void left vacant after the end of Sex and the City. Poking much-needed fun at the snobbery of the fashion world, the film brings a sharply observant eye to interactions between women in the workplace, positioning a fearsome queen (Meryl Streep's Anna Wintour stand-in Miranda Priestly) at the apex of power.Abbey Bender

Girlfight (2000)
  • Film

Writer-director Karyn Kusama's indie thunderbolt launched the snarling Michelle Rodriguez toward a fast-and-furious future with her turn as a young Brooklyn boxer training to compete in a man's world. Subverting sports-movie clichés, Girlfight makes no mystery of its feminist message: She's out to win—and win she does.Anna Smith

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