15 of the Best Female Film Directors Ever

In 2014-2015, women accounted for 18% of directors working on narrative features screening at all major film festivals. Just seven percent of the Top 250 films in 2014 were made by female directors and only four women have been nominated for a best director Oscar – with just one winning.

To showcase the work that goes on in the film industry by women, Wow247 have pulled together a list of some of the best ever female directors.

Penny Marshall

Getty / FREDERIC J. BROWN

After starting out as an actress, most notably playing Laverne DeFazio in the Happy Days spin off Laverne and Shirley, Marshall decided to move into directing with her first feature film being Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1986), starring Whoopi Goldberg. She then went on to direct the ’80s classic Big (1988) which became the first film directed by a woman to gross in excess of $100 million at box office. Awakenings (1990) was nominated for an Academy Award.

Watch Big (1988), Riding in Cars with Boys (2001), Awakenings (1990), A League of their Own (1992)

Jane Campion

Getty / Sean Gallup

New Zealander Jane Campion was the second of only four women ever nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director, and was also the first ever female to recieve the Palme d’Or for her critically acclaimed film The Piano (1993). This also won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. After directing several shorts, her feature length debut Sweetie (1989) won international awards. An Angel at My Table (1990) is a powerful portrait of the New Zealand poet Jane Frame.

Watch: The Piano (1993), Sweetie (1989), An Angel at My Table (1990)

Mary Harron

Canadian director Mary Harron

Getty / ALBERTO PIZZOLI

Canadian Mary Harron directed her feature debut I Shot Andy Warhol in 1996 and went on to make cult classic American Psycho in 2000, The Notorious Bettie Page in 2005 and, most recently, The Moth Diaries in 2011She has also directed television series including Six Feet Under, Oz and The L Word and is currently developing a film about the New York punk scene, which she was heavily entwined with in the ’70s.

Watch: I Shot Andy Warhol (1996), American Psycho (2000) The Notorious Bettie Page (2005)

Sofia Coppola

Sofia Coppola
Getty / Neilson Barnard

Sofia Coppola received an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for the poignant Lost In Translation (2003) and became the third woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director. The daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, this validated her place in the film industry following nepotism-related criticisms in her early career. Her most recent film was The Bling Ring (2013) which told the story of a circle of Californian teens burgling the homes of the rich and famous between 2008-2009.

Watch: Lost in Translation (2003), The Virgin Suicides (1991), The Bling Ring (2013)

Lisa Cholodenko

Getty / Kevin Winter

This Californian director is best known for the 2010 tale of artificial insemination and non-traditional family life, The Kids Are All Right; nominated for an Academy Award, a BAFTA and winning a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy. She began her film career working as an apprentice editor on John Singleton’s Boyz in the Hood (1991), and most recently directed the opening episode of The Slap – a mini-series based on the book by Australian author Christos Tsiolkas.

Watch: The Kids Are Alright (2010), High Art (1998) Laurel Canyon (2002)

Andrea Arnold

Andrea Arnold

Getty / Andreas Rentz

Born and bred in Kent in the UK, Arnold started out her film career as a television presenter, later going on to study directing at the AFI Conservatory in LA, and screenwriting in Kent. Her early short films inlcluded Milk (1998), Dog (2001) and the critically acclaimed Wasp (2003). Her feature debut was Red Road (2006), a revenge story set in a notorious housing estate in Glasgow. Specialising in gritty, real, kitchen sink style drama, her style is affecting and engaging.

Watch: Red Road (2006) , Fish Tank (2009), Wasp (2003)

Lone Scherfig

Getty / ANDREW COWIE

Lone Scherfig is a Danish director who has been actively involved with Lars Von Trier’s avant-garde filmaking movement, Dogme 95. She has made a total of seven films, including the Oscar-nominated An Education (2009). She also directed the reasonably commercially successful rom-com One Day, based on the David Nicholls novel of the same name. She has very much been identified as a blossoming talent, developing her directorial style with each film she produces. Her latest offering came in the form of the 2014 Oxford University based The Riot Club.

Watch: Italian for Beginners (2002), Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself (2002), An Education (2009)

Kathryn Bigelow

One of the few female directors to be given a shot at directing an action movie, Bigelow has directed several including Point Break (1991), Strange Days (1995), The Hurt Locker (2009) and Zero Dark Thirty (2012). Not only is Bigelow the only ever woman to win an Academy Award for Best Director for The Hurt Locker, she did it with an action packed war thriller. With an impressive filmography behind her, Bigelow is arguably the most influential female director ever.

Hurt Locker also saw her awarded the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Direction, the BAFTA Award for Best Direction and the Critics Choice Movie Award for Best Directing. She became the first ever woman to win the Saturn Award for Best Director in 1995 for Strange Days and the first woman to win the National Board of Review Award for Best Director, when directing Zero Dark Thirty. It’s safe to say that Bigelow is an outstanding example of a woman challenging the patriarchy, and in April 2010 she was included in the Time 100 most influential people of the year list. 

Watch: New Order: Substance (1989), Zero Dark Thirty (2013), Point Break (1991), The Hurt Locker (2008)

Ana Lily Amirpou

Getty / Neilson Barnard

After her “Vampire Spaghetti Western” feature-length debut A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014), there are high hopes for this Iranian-American filmmaker. When the film premiered, Eddy Morretti (the Creative Director of VICE, who distributed the film) described Amirpour as “the next Tarantino”. The director’s next project comes in the form of a post-apocalyptic cannibal love story set in a Texas wasteland, which she has described as being both “very violent” and “very romantic”.

Watch: A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014)

Ava Duvernay

Getty / Rob Kim

In 2012, Ava Du Vernay became the first ever African-American woman to win Best Director for her feature film Middle of Nowhere at the Sundance Film Festival. For Selma – released only last year –  she is the first ever black female director to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. DuVernay is currently in development on a film chronicling a love story and murder mystery during the time of Hurricane Katrina. She’s also executive producing upcoming drama series Queen Sugar with Oprah Winfrey, and is set to direct a new crime drama pilot for CBS.

Watch: Selma (2014), The Door (2013), I Will Follow (2011)

Lynne Ramsay

Getty / Ernesto Ruscio

Lynne Ramsay is a Scottish fdirector, writer and producer with her best known feature films being Ratcatcher, Morvern Callar and the wonderfully disturbing We Need to Talk about Kevin. Her unique style focuses on young people and the recurring themes of death, grief and guilt. Low dialogue, bleak montages and disturbing imagery have made her one of the most distinctively stylish Scottish directors of recent years.

Watch: Morven Callar (2002), Ratcatcher (1999), We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

Kira Muratova

Kira Muratova is a Ukrainian award-winning director, known for her unusual filmmaking style. Muratova studied at the Moscow Film School then went on to direct at the Odessa Film Studio, where she made her feature film Our Honest Bread (1964). Due to her unorthodox style, her films underwent a great deal of censorship in the Soviet Union but after the collapse of the union, she went on to achieve high critical acclaim at film festivals throughout the world. The Asthentic Syndrome in particular garnered critical appraisal and Muratova won a Locarno Leopard of Honour for her life’s work in 1994.

Watch: Brief Encounters (1967), The Tuner (2004), The Asthenic Syndrome (1989)

Penelope Spheeris

Getty

Penelope Spheeris started her own company, Rock ‘N Reel, in 1974 – the first production house in LA to specialise in making music videos. After creating videos for many bands throughout the ’70s and ’80s, Spheeris then helmed the Grammy nominated ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ video for her seventh feature film Wayne’s World. As well as the cult classic Wayne’s World, Spheeris is best known for the documentary trilogy entitled The Collapse of Western Civilisation, which told the story of the LA punk scene. Part two in the trilogy was The Metal Years while part three focused more on the societal issues surrounding the scene than the music itself.

Watch: Wayne’s World (1992), The Decline of Western Civilization (1979)

Claire Denis

Getty / Ian Gavan

Claire Denis is a French director and writer, who grew up in West Africa – something which has had a clear impact on her filmmaking. Most of her works centre around the theme of colonialism and post-colonialism in Africa. Her debut feature film Chocolat (1988) was selected for the Cannes Film Festival, and won her critical acclaim for the semi-autobiographical look at African colonialism. In 2013, Denis was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Stockholm Film Festival. Denis has announced that she is currently working on a sci-fi film set in space with award winning writer Zadie Smith. Robert Pattinson has been announced as the lead role. This will be her first ever English language feature film, and will certainly be one to keep an eye out for.

Watch: Beau Travail (2000), Chocolat (1988)

Agnès Jaoui

Starting out as an actress, Jaoui directed her first feature film The Taste of Others, in 2000. In 2001, the film won four Cesar Awards and was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Her second film Look at Me (2004)  was selected for Cannes and won the prize for Best Screenplay. Her most recent offering Under the Rainbow (2013) received great praise from French critics and viewers, and explores themes of fairytale and and make believe.

Watch: The Taste of Others (2000). Under the Rainbow (2013)
If you have a keen eye for film and would like to make an impression on the film industry, as those above have, we have tremendous media facilities at our brand new Centre for Creative Industries, including a theatre, photography studios and  television studios complete with brand new equipment. To find out more please follow http://www.sheffcol.ac.uk/Vocational-Areas/Arts-Performance-and-Media

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