In 2018, there were only 7.6% of female directors in our industry, which is a shocking statistic.
By 2021, this number rose to 13.7%, which is still a low number considering the number of movies made every year.
Today, we put together a list of 20 female movie directors that are truly inspirational. And I promise you that there will be movies that you love in this list that you had no idea were directed by women.
From Ava Duvernay to Greta Gerwig and the late Agnés Varda, let’s dive into the art of cinema with these amazing women filmmakers.
- Ava Duvernay
Ava DuVernay made her directing debut with the documentary This is the Life (2008).
She then directed Selma (2014), a biopic about Martin Luther King Jr.
In 2017, DuVernay was added to the Time 100 list of the most influential people in the world.
In this video, Ava DuVernay speaks about her experience in the industry on CBS Sunday Morning.
- Greta Gerwig
Gerwig made the Time 100 list of the most influential people in the world in 2018.
In this video, Greta Gerwig speaks about taking the leap to direct her first movie.
- Kathryn Bigelow
Kathryn Bigelow’s first movie was The Loveless (1981). She co-directed it with Monty Montgomery.
She is the first woman to win an Oscar for Best Director in 2010.
In this video, Kathryn Bigelow speaks about the art of filmmaking.
- Patty Jenkins
Patty Jenkins started her career with the short films Just Drives (2001) and Velocity Rules (2001).
Those movies led her to direct her next movie and first feature film, Monster (2003) starring Charlize Theron.
She then spent many years directing television on shows like Entourage and Arrested Development.
In this video, Patty Jenkins talks about how to find the right projects.
- Nancy Meyers
Video: Nancy Meyers finds success in a male-dominated industry
- Olivia Wilde
Olivia Wilde started her career as an actress for many years. One of her early acting roles was in the medical drama series House (2007-2012). She also appeared in many movies and plays on Broadway.
Several years later, in 2019, Wilde made her directing debut with the comedy Booksmart about two teenage girls who regret not having had fun during their school year and who decide to have one last memorable party night before college.
The audience generally loved Booskmart because of how fresh it felt, and it immediately launched Wilde into the female directors to watch category.
In 2022, she directed her second feature film – a thriller – called Don’t Worry Darling starring Florence Pugh and Harry Styles. The film was praised for the actors’ performances and the cinematography.
In this video, Olivia Wilde speaks about directing her first feature.
- Gina Prince-Bythewood
Gina Prince-Bythewood started her career writing on TV shows.
As far as directing, she made her debut with Love & Basketball (2000), that she wrote based on her own teenage years. The script got into the Sundance directing and writing lab and became one of the most successful basketball movie of its generation.
She then directed a few adaptations such as Roxane Gay’s novel An Untamed State, Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall and Greg Rucka’s novel The Old Guard.
In this video, Gina Prince-Bythewood speaks about her latest movie.
- Sofia Coppola
Daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, Sofia Coppola made her acting debut in The Godfather (1972) when she was still a baby. She then had a few supporting roles, such as in The Godfather Part III (1990) and Peggy Sue Got Married (1986).
Ultimately, what Sofia Coppola wanted to do was to direct. In 1999, she directed her first feature The Virgin Suicides. A few years later, in 2004, she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Directing and was only the third woman to be nominated. That was for the movie Lost In Translation (2003).
One of Sofia Coppola’s most famous movies is Marie Antoinette (2006), and more recently, she directed the Bling Ring (2013), a Christmas Musical Special called A Very Murray Christmas (2015) for Netflix and On the Rocks (2020) that was released on Apple TV+.
Video: Sofia Coppola on directing
- Maggie Gyllenhaal
Maggie Gyllenhaal is the daughter of filmmakers Stephen Gyllenhaal and Naomi Archs. And… you guessed it, the sister of Jake Gyllenhaal.
She started her career in acting and eventually made her directing debut in 2021 with the movie The Lost Daughter. The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival and won Best Screenplay (she wrote the script as well). For this movie, Gyllenhaal was nominated for Best Director at the Golden Globe Awards.
Maggie Gyllenhaal speaks about directing her first movie in this video.
- Kimberly Peirce
Kimberly Peirce made her debut with the movie Boys Don’t Cry (1999), which starred Hilary Swank, who won an Oscar for Best Actress for this particular movie.
Video of Kimberly Peirce about the role of filmmakers and directors.
- Amy Heckerling
She speaks about her movie Clueless in this video.
- Mira Nair
Listen to Mira Nair’s advice to filmmakers in this video.
- Chloé Zhao
Chloé Zhao was born in Beijing, China. She’s known mainly for directing indie movies. The first film feature that she directed was Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015). The movie premiered at Sundance.
Her second feature is The Rider (2017) which won numerous awards.
A few years later, Zhao directed Nomadland (2020), which did amazing at the Venice Film Festival, the Toronto Film Festival and won the Oscars for Best Directing.
She was only the second woman to win the best director award at the Oscars. The first woman was Kathryn Bigelow.
Chloé Zhao talks about directing with the female gaze in this video.
- Mary Harron
Mary Harron is often described as one of the most predominant voices of the indie filmmaking movement.
Her first movie was I Shot Andy Warhol (1996).
Mary Harron’s hour-long masterclass is available here.
- The Wachowskis
Lana and Lilly Wachowski are trans-gender sisters who directed their first movie, Bound in 1996. Their second movie is the reason they became so famous… because that movie was none other than The Matrix (1999).
A couple of years later, The Wachowskis directed V for Vendetta (2005) and then found great successes in television with Sense8 and Work in Progress (2019).
The Wachowskis talk about returning to the Matrix in this video.
- Andrea Arnold
Andrea Arnold is a British filmmaker who won an Oscar for her short film Wasp (2005). She then made her feature directing debut with Red Road (2006), followed by Fish Tank (2009) and American Honey in 2016, which won at the Cannes Film Festival.
Arnold is also famous for her work in television on the show Transparent on Amazon and Big Little Lies on HBO.
Andrea Arnold speaks about the few amount of women directing in this video.
- Claire Denis
Claire Denis is a french filmmaker. She first worked as an assistant on set and made her feature film debut with Chocolat in 1988. Her second film was Man No Run (1989), followed by dozens of others.
Her most renowned movie is Beau Travail (1999) which many describe as one of the most memorable movies of the 90s.
Claire Denis’ masterclass is available here.
- Karyn Kusama
Kary Kusama made her debut as a director with Girlfight (2000). A few years later, in 2009, she directed the famous horror movie Jennifer’s Body, starring Meghan Fox and Amanda Seyfried. Since then, she’s been focusing on the horror genre quite a bit with movies such as The Invitation (2015), XX (2017), and Destroyer (2018).
Karyn Kusama speaks about directing genre movies in this video.
- Agnés Varda (1928 – 2019)
Agnès Varda was a French filmmaker born in Belgium. She is one of the most influential voices of French New Wave cinema.
Most of her work was in the documentary world, where she would target topics that had to do with women’s issues and social issues.
She was described by Martin Scorsese as one of the “Gods of Cinema.”
She received numerous awards at Cannes, Venice Film Festival, and the Oscars.
Agnés Varda speaks about the highlights of her career in this video.
- Nora Ephron (1941 – 2012)
Nora Ephron wrote the script for the romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally (1986) and made her directional debut with This is My Life (1992).
In the 2000s, she wrote and directed Julie & Julia (2009), starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams.
Ephron is remembered as one of the most respected directors in the rom-com genre.
Nora Ephron speaks about writing Sleepless in Seattle in this video.
I’m sure that when reading this article, you didn’t realize women were behind many of these iconic movies.
Sadly, even today, women still get many fewer opportunities to direct movies than men do.
This list should teach us that from comedies to war movies, from DC superheroes to thrilling horror movies, women can direct anything brilliantly, just like men can.
So… let’s keep on rising and turn this low percentage into equal opportunities, one movie at a time.