Happy International Women’s Day everybody! We hope you have a fantastic day celebrating all the wonderful women in your life. We certainly are! We’ve compiled a comprehensive list of some of the top women in film, whether they’ve helped shape the landscape, were the first to achieve something, or are just damn good at their job, we’ve tried to recognise them.
That being said this list does not do all the amazing women who work in film justice and we’ve had to leave out some of our favourites. If there’s someone else you think should be highlighted please let us know and let’s keep sharing all the amazing women in film!
A - Agnès Varda
Of course, we have to start here, with Agnès Varda. Varda is one of the trailblazers of French cinema, with an illustrious career which spans 64 years she is often deemed ‘the Grandmother of French New Wave Cinema’. Over her life time she was directed over 24 films, including Cleo from 5 to 7, La Pointe Courte (arguably the first film of the French New Wave) and Vagabond, films which have overt feminist themes but also tackle marginalisation and self-reflection. Her contribution to film was recognised last year at the Academy awards as she received an Honorary Award.
B - Barbara McLean
Barbara McLean dominated the editing room of 20th Century Fox in the 1950’s, in her role as Chief Editor. Her position was significant particularly in regards to her gender in an extremely male dominated industry, however Barbara was known as being instrumental in many aspects of Hollywood and was said to “make stars — or leave their faces on the cutting room floor.”
C - Chloe Zhao
The Director of one of our favourite films of 2018, The Rider, absolutely has to be in our A – Z. Chloe Zhao has a natural ability to tell others stories, she often bases them in real life by using non professional actors to tell their stories. The outcomes of Zhao’s work in tender and moving glimpses into quiet and untold lives which have a universal appeal. Zhao is without a doubt a director to watch and we can’t wait to see more of her beautiful films.
D -Desiree Akhavan
Director Desiree Akhavan aka the friend we wish we had. Often addressing LGBTQ+ themes and stories, Desiree is fights to adjust the imbalance between who tells these stories – citing the fact that the majority of queer female stories are only told by men. Her most recent work includes The Miseducation of Cameron Post and Appropriate Behaviour. Both films address sexuality and living within societal or cultural oppression which looks to curb or squash same-sex relationships.
E - Edith Head
Quite frankly, Edith Head should just be your new role model. She designed costumes for all the greats between 1930 – 1980, including Doris Day, Audrey Hepburn, Bette Davis and Jane Fonda (there’s many more, but we don’t have time!). Look at any picture of Edith Head and it’s impossible not to desperately want to immolate her – she’s a bonified badass… also rumour has it she is also the inspiration for The Incredibles Edna Mode.
F- Frances Marion
Oh boy, where to start with Frances Marion? Journalist, director, screen writer, author, war correspondent, Francis did it all and did it in the 1910’s. Her success as a woman was unheard of at the time, at one point earning a yearly salary of $50,000, her name is credited on 300 scripts and over 130 produced films. Wow.
G - Greta Gerwig
The star of many mumblecore titles such as ‘Frances Ha’, Gerwig quickly cemented herself as feminist idol. Her latest film 'Lady Bird' was a huge success and widely praised as a touching and realistic portrait of growing up in the early 2000’s.
H - Haifaa al-Mansour
Haifaa is an Saudi Arabian film maker, beginning her career in short films she then moved on to her first feature debut; 'Wadjda' which premiered at the 2012 Venice Film Festival – which at that point made her the first woman to ever produce a feature length title in Saudi Arabia. Since then she has gone on to make the hit Mary Shelley which was released earlier this year.
I - Ida Lupino
Ida is widely regarded as one of the most prominent (and at times only) female film makers of the 1950’s. With her immense beauty she was often thought of as only a star but Lupino found acting boring saying she hated “someone else seemed to be doing all the interesting work.". Lupino showed a strong aptitude for film making and story telling and quickly became the only woman at the time to have made a noir; 'The Hitch- Hiker'.
J - Jacqueline Durran
Queen of the period costumes, Jacquelin Durran has worked with a multitude of designers, creating the costumes for 'Pride and Prejudice' (2005), 'Tinker Tailor Solider Spy', 'Darkest Hour' and 'Anna Karenina'. She has also been nominated for a BAFTA 8 times and winning 1 for 'Anna Karenina'.
K - Kathryn Bigelow
What would our list of film ladies be without THE ONLY FEMALE DIRECTOR TO WIN AN OSCAR FOR BEST PICTURE?! (Yep, let’s all just remember that for a minute). Kathryn took home the Oscar for 'The Hurt Locker' in 2010, yet she rejects the idea of being a ‘feminist filmmaker’, as she does not make films with overt feminist messages in them, but instead focuses on stories which interest her in different ways.
L - Lois Weber
Lois Weber has been identified by some critics as ‘the most important and prolific film directors in the silent film era’, credited with directing 135 films, writing 114 and appearing in 109. She also pioneered the first use of the ‘split scene’ in her film Suspense and was one of the first directors to begin experimenting with sound.
M - Maryse Alberti
Despite having no professional training, Maryse Alberti is one of the top cinematographers, working with directors such as Darron Aronofsky (The Wrestler) and Ryan Coogler (Creed). Although she’s worked on many feature lengths Alberti has a soft spot for documentaries, particularly shooting them in 16mm, saying there is always a lesson or adventure to be had when focusing on this format of film.
N - Nora Ephron
If you don’t know Nora you will absolutely know her work, she is the absolute Queen of the romantic comedy genre, directing classics such as When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail. Interestingly, Nora was also one of the few people to know the identify of Deep Throat, guessing correctly it was Mark Felt. Trailblazer of the romantic comedy genre and a great guest to have at a murder mystery night? Sounds like our kind of lady.
O - Olivia Coleman
Our pride and joy, Olivia. Where does one start? Coleman started her career on Peep Show and continued to work in television (may we all remember AA’s Bev and Kev advert forever). However, this year Coleman has finally got the exposure across the pond which she well deserves, winning awards (Oscar for Best Actress in The Favourite) and hearts with her adorably British attitude to everything.
P - Patty Jenkins
Patty Jenkins is one of the key writer/directors of our time. Starting off with her debut award winning feature – Monster, she has gone on to direct box office breaking hits such as 'Wonder Woman' and TV series such as 'The Killing' and 'I Am The Night'. With a sequel to 'Wonder Woman' penned for a 2020 release, we can expect more strong female led blockbusters in the future.
Q - Queen Latifia
After making waves in the music scene, Queen Latifa quickly dominated film and TV from the early 90s, starting off with her performance in 'Jungle Fever' - Spike Lee’s seminal film from 1991. She is a staple of popular culture and had appeared in over 90 films and tv shows, recently starring in 'Girls Trip' and '22 Jump Street'. Queen Latifa has had amazing success in films, TV and her own businesses and is a role model for many young women.
R - Rachel Morrison
Morrison started her career working on tv series and independent films, she quickly ascended and is now one of the best American Cinematographers of our time, working on beautiful, award winning and impactful films such as 'Fruitvale Station', 'Black Panther' and 'Dope'. Rest assured her amazing work will remain in the spotlight for years to come.
S - Sofia Coppola
Sofia Coppola quickly stepped out from behind her father’s shadow and is now known as an influential director/writer from the late 90s and 2000s. Her debut film 'The Virgin Suicides' kickstarted her career and she has since directed award winning films such as 'Lost in Translation' and 'Marie Antoinette'. Aside from her fantastic contribution to the film industry, she will also be remembered for being the first American woman to be nominated for Best Director Academy Award.
T - Tilda Swinton
Tilda Swinton is instantly recognisable and one of the most highly revered British actresses of all time. Starring in everything from big budget Marvel Movies such as 'Doctor Strange' all the way through to the films of Wes Anderson and Award Winning Independent American films such as 'We Need To Talk About Kevin'. Tilda Swinton is everywhere, and we couldn’t be happier about it.
U - Ursula Meier
French born Ursula Meier is a prolific Writer/Director whose work would be instantly recognisable to any art house cinema goer. Her debut films 'Home', 'Sister and Bridges of Sarajevo' garnered multiple awards including Best Foreign Language Oscar at the 85th Academy Awards for 'L’enfant d’en haut.'
V - Věra Chytilová
Věra Chytilová is a highly influential director of the 1960’s Czech New Wave of films and inspired and informed a generation of feminist film makers across the world. Her first feature 'Daisies' is considered one of the most important feminist films of all time, she sadly passed away in 2014 but she will forever be remembered for her contribution to film.
W - Wanuri Kahiu
Wanuri Kahiu is the creator of the Afrobubblegum genre, a vibrant, emotive and honest form that celebrates hope whilst highlighting injustices within society. Her most recent film 'Rafiki', won the Panafrican festival award for Best Actress (Samantha Mugatsia) whilst the film remains banned in Kenya, is currently being celebrated by audiences and critics alike… oh and did we mention, she’ll be coming to see us soon?! We’ll tell you more later 😉
X - Xue Xiaolu
Xue Xiaolu is widely considered one of the top Chinese female directors/writers of her time. Her first major feature starring Jet Li titled 'Ocean Heaven' successfully crossing borders and was greeted with international success and critical acclaim. Her most recent film, 'Finding Mr. Right 2' led her to become the female director with the highest-grossing film in 2016.
Y - Yvonne Rainer
Yvonne Rainer’s library of films resonated with feminist film makers and theorists during the 1970’s and informed important and pivotal texts such as Laura Mulvey’s Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. Rainer directed important and influential films such as 'Lives of Performers', 'Film About a Woman Who' and 'Privilege'.
Z - Zhang Nuanxin
Zhang Nuanxin joins the ranks as one of the greatest Chinese writer/directors of all time. Many of her films such as 'The Drive to Win' and Qing Chun Ji cover the female perspective in a male dominated medium. Her most famous film 'The Drive to Win' won the 2nd Golden Rooster special awards.