The 20 Best Feminist Movies of All Time (And Why They're Great)

Feminist movies come in all shapes and forms. Forget the cash grab remakes! Here are the ones that made real impacts.
The 20 Best Feminist Movies of All Time (And Why They're Great)

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Ever since second-wave feminism surged through the Western world in the 1960s (with a third wave in the 1990s), Hollywood has made many movies to empower and celebrate women's voices.

Although not always successful—particularly in the case of poorly rebooted film franchises with all-female casts—there's a huge number of witty and progressive feminist films that deserve to be seen.

They might be made for women, about women, or by women, and they aren't always of the all-in-your-face type of feminism.

Here are my picks for the best feminist movies worth watching, how they were progressive, and what they did right in execution.

20. Birds of Prey (2020)

Directed by Cathy Yan

Starring Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Action, Comedy, Superhero (1h 49m)

6.0 on IMDb79% on RT

When thinking of great movies, Birds of Prey probably doesn't come to mind. In fact, nothing to do with DC's Suicide Squad does. However, this film's revamped version of Harley Quinn stands as a great feminist role model for younger viewers.

After 2016, practically every girl was sporting long blue-and-pink bunches for Halloween. Margot Robbie's tiny shorts and sexualized performance in Suicide Squad was questionable, but you can definitely tell that Birds of Prey was directed by a woman.

Cathy Yan ditched the long hair and skimpy outfit for something more humanizing. Instead of flirting her way out of trouble, Harley Quinn spends most of the movie using her brain and having sleepovers, balancing villainy with feisty feminist fun.

19. Suffragette (2015)

Directed by Sarah Gavron

Starring Carey Mulligan, Annie-Marie Duff, Helena Bonham Carter

Drama, History (1h 46m)

6.9 on IMDb73% on RT

When you hear the word "feminism," the first thing to come to mind is probably the fight for a woman's right to vote. A landmark for women's rights in the UK, the suffragette women risked their lives to fight for equality in the early 20th century.

Sarah Gavron's historical drama retells their revolutionary story with painful honesty. Although criticized for glossing over some details, there's no way you could fit an entire movement into one feature film!

Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne-Marie Duff, and Meryl Streep make up the cast of brave feminist icons, who battled their way through starvation, imprisonment, and riots to bring women a voice in the general elections.

18. Queen of Katwe (2016)

Directed by Mira Nair

Starring Madina Nalwanga, David Oyelowo, Lupita Nyong'o

Biography, Drama (2h 4m)

7.4 on IMDb94% on RT

Before everyone was binge-watching The Queen's Gambit on Netflix, Mira Nair had told her own story of women rising to the top of the chess world. Does a board game played by old men sound dull? Think again!

Chess is a game for only the most intelligent of people. It's been taken extremely seriously by nations around world since its conception thousands of years ago. It's that important.

Queen of Katwe recounts the true story of Phiona (played by Madina Nalwanga), who rose from a Ugandan slum to the Chess Olympiad in Russia. It makes space for underrepresented black women in cinema, co-produced by Mirabai Films that lends a voice to international stories.

17. Set It Off (1996)

Directed by F. Gary Gray

Starring Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah, Viviva A. Fox

Action, Crime, Drama (2h 3m)

6.9 on IMDb71% on RT

A heist movie where the criminals are all women? No, we're not talking Ocean's 8. This is Set It Off.

F. Gary Gray's action flick packs a punch, mainly from its powerful black female cast. Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah, Vivica A. Fox, and Kimberly Elise make up the team of unlikely thieves, who decide to rob banks to make up for their flimsy paychecks.

Gray takes the crowd-pleasing thriller and injects it with a bout of realism, compensating its adrenaline-pumped action sequences with smooth melodrama. Like most heist movies, Set It Off makes us root for the criminals, urging the four best friends to make it out in time.

16. Hidden Figures (2016)

Directed by Theodore Melfi

Starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe

Biography, Drama, History (2h 7m)

7.8 on IMDb93% on RT

Katherine Goble Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson (played by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe, respectively) were three genius women in Virginia who were disregarded and cast aside because of their gender and race.

Despite early-1960s segregation laws, these strong-willed mathematicians fought for their rightful places at NASA, aiding in the Space Race under the supervision of the white man (in this case, the fictitious STG leader Al Harrison, played by Kevin Costner).

Theodore Melfi's biopic may not be completely accurate, but it does bring to light an important story from a pivotal time in history for black women. Its melodramatics are what make Hidden Figures accessible to all, and these three women deserve the widespread recognition!

15. Frida (2002)

Directed by Julie Taymor

Starring Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Geoffrey Rush

Biography, Drama, Romance (2h 3m)

7.3 on IMDb76% on RT

There are so many influential women from throughout history who deserve to have their stories told. One such woman is Frida Kahlo, the Mexican painter and pioneer of surrealism.

Her self-portraits (using abstract images and the aesthetics of Mexican culture to express her innermost traumas) are distinctive for their popping colors and untamed monobrow.

In 2002, Salma Hayek embodied the artist's eccentric passion in Julie Taymor's bold biographical drama. Frida depicts both the private and professional life of Kahlo—her love affairs, politics, and alcoholism.

Information was sourced from the 1983 book Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera, and it won two Academy Awards.

14. Booksmart (2019)

Directed by Olivia Wilde

Starring Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams

Comedy (1h 42m)

7.1 on IMDb96% on RT

On the surface, Booksmart looks like another run-of-the-mill teen flick. But its high-scoring critical response that reached universal acclaim upon release speaks volumes to its smart writing and heartfelt performances.

It began with a limited release, and if it weren't for the resounding success of Lady Bird two years prior, Booksmart would have made much more noise as a strong female-led teen comedy movie.

Olivia Wilde gets creative in her depiction of contemporary life in suburban America, using animation to illustrate the protagonist's first experience with drugs.

At the core of Booksmart is the sparking chemistry between Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein, who star as two nerdy best friends celebrating their graduation with an uncharacteristic bang.

Friendship, sexuality, drugs... all the milestones of adolescence are explored, with a genuine sense of humor that's sure to make you laugh as much as you'll cry.

13. 20th Century Women (2016)

Directed by Mike Mills

Starring Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig

Comedy, Drama (1h 59m)

7.3 on IMDb88% on RT

With a title like 20th Century Women, how could I not include it? Although written and directed by a man, Mike Mills based his comedy-drama on his experiences growing up in a household of women.

Set in 1970s California, 20th Century Women centers around a 15-year-old boy (who we can assume is a version of Mills) living with his single mother and their tenant Abbie, plus his best friend Julie.

It's a volatile but loving household full of bickering, art, and pregnancy scares. Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, and Greta Gerwig make up the female-centric cast, each hailed for their soulful performances.

Though not the "modern" women we think of in today's terms, the 1970s marked the dawn of a new type of feminism that allowed for sexual liberation and female independence.

12. Little Women (2019)

Directed by Greta Gerwig

Starring Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh

Drama, Romance (2h 15m)

7.8 on IMDb95% on RT

If you like cottagecore, then tune into Little Women. Greta Gerwig presents this classic story with the aesthetics of a postcard, making it the seventh adaptation of the infamous 1868 novel by Louisa May Alcott.

Little Women is a treat for all the senses. Set in the 19th century, it follows the March family—four sisters and their loving mother who's basically their best friend. Despite their arguments, the four are touchingly close as they struggle through the hardships of Victorian life.

Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, and Laura Dern dazzle in this cozy coming-of-age-tale, though I also recommend the 1994 version by Gillian Armstrong.

11. Clueless (1995)

Directed by Amy Heckerling

Starring Alicia Silverstone, Stacey Dash, Brittany Murphy

Comedy, Romance (1h 37m)

6.9 on IMDb81% on RT

The 90s were a pinnacle time for the teen movie, including hits like 10 Things I Hate About You and Dazed and Confused.

"Ugh, as if!" Cher Horowitz shouts when a boy tries to touch her. Her iconic fashion, perfect manicure, wealthy father, and blinged-out Beverly Hills mansion put her at the top of the high school pecking order.

But Cher has gone on to become an icon of great feminine power. She and her best friend Dionne (played by Stacey Dash) strut the school halls with style, teaching the "tragically un-hip" newcomer Tai (played by Brittany Murphy) all the tricks of the trade.

10. Erin Brockovich (2000)

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Starring Julia Roberts, Albert Finney, David Brisbin

Biography, Drama (2h 11m)

7.4 on IMDb85% on RT

When it comes to the best female actresses, you can't overlook Julia Roberts. She's champion of the romantic comedy and the drama.

Don't believe me? Well, she won an Oscar for her performance as Erin Brockovich, the whistleblower who fought against Pacific Gas and Electric Company back in the 1990s.

And she did all that while being a single mother who was stuck juggling her new job between court cases, relationships, and casual office misogyny. It takes a strong woman to handle all of that.

When she's handed a bunch of real estate files, Erin discovers that the groundwater in Hinkley, California is seriously contaminated—and she investigates the case further while simultaneously suing her doctor for a traffic accident. Talk about a workload!

9. Alien (1979)

Directed by Ridley Scott

Starring Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt

Horror, Sci-Fi (1h 57m)

8.5 on IMDb98% on RT

If you've been living under a rock and never seen Alien, you might assume it's just another space sci-fi movie. You might not expect it to be a gruesome horror hybrid with a kick-ass female lead.

Most of the crew on board the Nostromo are men, obviously, but by the end of Ridley Scott's landmark film, it's only Officer Ripley who's left. Played by the now-iconic, then-unknown Sigourney Weaver, this female-led approach to an alien movie was pretty novel back in 1979.

Not only is Ripley the last (wo)man standing in the film's alien-fighting survival-of-the-fittest, but she's also shown with vulnerability. Yep, she isn't fearless like most 2D female action heroes. Instead, she feels the fear and still pushes on anyway.

8. Vagabond (1985)

Directed by Agnès Varda

Starring Sandrine Bonnaire, Macha Méril, Stéphane Freiss

Drama (1h 45m)

7.7 on IMDb100% on RT

Women living on the outskirts of society—misfits, geniuses, nerds, rebels, artists—are important subjects for empowering feminist films that give voice to all forms of womanhood.

In Vagabond, Agnès Varda takes the idea of "outsider" quite literally, wandering along the roadside with Mona Bergeron (played by Sandrine Bonnaire) who's hell-bent on living her truth.

Mona is passionate about radical living, about free-roaming liberation from a sexist, capitalist world. Her inspirational ideals end up with Mona freezing in a ditch, who went to such extremes to escape society.

Basically, Vagabond is a French version of Nomadland with fewer feel-good sunsets. Agnès Varda—pioneer of feminist cinema, known for location shooting—tells Mona's story as if it were a documentary, which lends even more impact to the film.

7. Legally Blonde (2001)

Directed by Robert Luketic

Starring Reese Witherspoon, Luke Wilson, Selma Blair

Comedy, Romance (1h 36m)

6.4 on IMDb71% on RT

Everything about Legally Blonde screams girly: the chihuahua in the purse, the fluffy robes, the gossiping about boys over a manicure, the hot pink saturation, and the sorority blonde at the center of it all.

Director Robert Luketic plays on our misogynistic presumption that Elle Woods is a dumb material girl when in reality she attends Harvard Law School. Fans loved Legally Blonde, not just for its fun personality but also its message that you can be stereotypically feminine and smart.

Reese Witherspoon's iconic performance led to a sequel in 2003 as well as a Broadway musical in 2007. What's even better is that Legally Blonde is based on the real-life experiences of Amanda Brown, who attended Stanford Law School and turned her stories into a book in 2001.

6. Roma (2018)

Directed by Alfonso Cuarón

Starring Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey

Drama (2h 15m)

7.7 on IMDb96% on RT

According to Alfonso Cuarón, Roma is a "love letter" to the women who raised him—specifically, his nanny Libo. Roma swept the Academy Awards in 2019 and won awards for Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best International Feature.

Set in 1970s Mexico City, Roma focuses on the lesser-told story of a maid. Cleodegaria "Cleo" Gutiérrez (played by Yalitza Aparicio) is an indigenous live-in servant for an upper-class family, who looks after the children and loves them despite the condescending matriarch Sofia.

In Roma, Cuarón explores timeless themes of love, heartbreak, family, privilege, classism, and war while remaining intensely personal.

5. Orlando (1992)

Directed by Sally Potter

Starring Tilda Swinton, Billy Zane, Quentin Crisp

Biography, Drama, Fantasy (1h 34m)

7.1 on IMDb84% on RT

If you like breaking gender norms, this is the movie for you. Orlando has been thoroughly studied by film academics, especially those who specialize in the fields of feminism and gender.

Orlando opens to Queen Elizabeth on her death bed, who gifts the androgynous Orlando with land for a castle. But here's the catch: he can only keep it if he doesn't grow old. Weird, right?

The whole movie is pretty bizarre, breaking the natural laws of time to explore themes of gender fluidity and female empowerment. Tilda Swinton is perfect as the unusual protagonist, who begins the movie as a 17th century nobleman and ends it as a modern woman.

Loosely based on Virginia Woolf's 1928 novel Orlando: A Biography, critics praised how director Sally Potter brought the book's visual world to life, partly filming in Khiva, Uzbekistan (home of the Juma Mosque).

4. Promising Young Woman (2020)

Directed by Emerald Fennell

Starring Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Alison Brie

Crime, Drama, Mystery (1h 53m)

7.5 on IMDb90% on RT

Carey Mulligan clearly has a passion for strong female roles, though this one takes place in a more familiar setting. Emerald Fennell paints her crime thriller in striking colors, where pink signals danger rather than the usual innocence and childlike femininity.

Haunted by her best friend's suicide—which was a result of rape—Cassie drops out of medical school in bloodthirsty vengeance.

Her routine is the same most nights: dress up, go to a bar, pretend to be drunk so that bad men take advantage, then, once alone in their homes, magically sober up and catch them like deer in headlights. This isn't enough for Cassie, though, and she takes her revenge even further.

Carey Mulligan was applauded for her performance as the daring and unpredictable "young woman" in light of the film's challenging themes.

3. Barbie (2023)

Directed by Greta Gerwig

Starring Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, America Ferrera

Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy (1h 54m)

7.1 on IMDb88% on RT

Barbie is the least subtle feminist of recent years, but "obvious" doesn't always mean "bad." In fact, the whole point of feminism is to give women space to shout and demand for equality, freedom, and expression.

Barbieland is the perfect matriarchy where everyone feels beautiful, respected, and lucky. Yet, there's something hollow about this lifestyle, which causes Barbie (played by Margot Robbie) to fall into an existential crisis and leave Barbieland in search of meaning.

Transported to the real world, Barbie and Ken (who gladly discovers the patriarchy, hilariously played by Ryan Gosling) learn the values of self-acceptance, empowerment, change, motherhood, outgrowing toxic gender roles, and not chasing after perfection.

Having such a female-centric filmography (Lady Bird, Little Women, 20th Century Women) means Greta Gerwig could not have been a better fit to direct this hot pink blockbuster!

2. Thelma & Louise (1991)

Directed by Ridley Scott

Starring Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Harvey Keitel

Adventure, Crime, Drama (2h 10m)

7.5 on IMDb86% on RT

Thelma & Louise is practically Bonnie and Clyde but for feminists. Director Ridley Scott takes the usual buddy road movie and gives it a gender swap, putting Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis in the lead.

Though the two women are completely different, their friendship stands strong after they grow bored of their homelives and decide to take a weekend vacation together.

The fact that the movie's title mirrors Bonnie and Clyde (who went on an infamous robbing spree during the Great Depression) means you can probably guess how this road trip goes.

When things go awry, Thelma (played by Geena Davis) and Louise (played by Susan Sarandon) accidentally end up criminals on the run. The film's strong feminist overtones have been frequently analyzed by scholars, who have dubbed it a "neo-feminist road movie."

1. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

Directed by Céline Sciamma

Starring Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel, Luána Bajrami

Drama (2h 2m)

8.1 on IMDb97% on RT

Greta Gerwig is often lauded for her ability to capture the female gaze. But do you know who else can? Céline Sciamma.

The French filmmaker received standing ovations for her direction of the historical romance drama Portrait of a Lady on Fire, which follows an aristocrat's lesbian affair with a painter in the late 18th century.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire made waves at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019, somehow managing to be both subtle yet thrilling. Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel deliver startling performances as the forbidden couple, who snatch pieces of each other's love whenever they can.

The slow-burning erotic drama has a rich cinematography and skillfully crafted script that celebrates the beauty of love and the power of art, able to distill the bond between two people long after their love ends.