10 Best Female Directors

Saturday, January 29 by Karen Murdock

You regularly rattle off the names of obscure male directors, but when it comes to the 10 best female directors, you slink off in shame. Fill that film-knowledge gender gap, and imagine the points you will score with women. Use this list to learn about the ten best female directors based on artistic influence, awards nods, significant breakthroughs and coolness.

  1. Maya Deren: The Harvard Film Archive credits Deren’s disturbing psychodramas with spawning the postwar American avant-garde film movement, earning her a top spot on the list of best female directors. The daughter of a psychiatrist and artist, Deren plunged the depths of surrealism. Her best-known film, “Meshes of the Afternoon,” depicts a “phallic attack,” notes the Harvard Film Archive. Come on, you know you want to see the “phallic attack.”
  2. Sofia Coppola: As the first American woman nominated for Best Director, Sofia Coppola’s talent is definitely not “lost in translation.” Coppola perfectly depicts alienation and extreme loneliness in “Lost in Translation.” Her breakout film, “The Virgin Suicides,” made Josh Hartnett a star.
  3. Penny Marshall: In Hollywood, money never sleeps. Penny Marshall was the first female director to shatter the glass earnings ceiling—earning over 100 million in ticket sales for “Big.” Talk about a pretty penny.
  4. Kathryn Bigelow: Who said female directors only make chick flicks? Certainly not Kathryn Bigelow, who specializes in the kinds of action and suspense movies that make men swoon. Her movie “The Hurt Locker”—about the Iraq war—earned her the 2010 Oscar for Best Director. Not only was she the first woman in history to win that award, but she also beat ex-husband James Cameron for the trophy. With titles like “Point Break” and “K-19: The Widowmaker” under her belt, Bigelow will be your go-to director for non-chick-flicks.
  5. Lina Wertmuller: Anarchist lovers trying to take down Mussolini? A rich woman and a sailor literally swept away at sea? Lina Wertmuller may have worked as Fellini’s assistant, but she is a powerhouse director in her own right. In 1975, she became the first female director in history to receive a Best Director Oscar nomination for her film “Seven Beauties.” You might recognize her film “Swept Away” from the Madonna-Guy Ritchie remake. Check out “The Seduction of Mimi” and be seduced by this talented female director.   
  6. Darnell Martin: If you treasure your vinyl collection, you probably dug the movie “Cadillac Records,” which chronicled the stories of recording artists at the “Chess Records” label. Female director Darnell Martin scored a Best Film win at the Black Reel Awards.
  7. Nora Ephron: What other director writes for the “Huffington Post” and “New York Times?” What other female director confesses to “The Guardian” that all women inflict “bitchiness” on the world? If you want to impress your girlfriend, rent “Sleepless in Seattle” or “Julie & Julia”—and prepare to laugh, because Ephron is known for her wicked sense of humor.  
  8. Miranda July: With nods from Sundance, Gotham, the Independent Spirit Awards, and Cannes, Miranda July broke through on the Indie film scene in 2005 with “Me and You and Everyone We Know,” a movie about the isolation of modern life. According to IMDB, Filmmaker Magazine rated July first in their 2004 list of “25 New Faces of Indie Film.”
  9. Jane Campion: Not only did Jane Campion’s 1993 film ‘The Piano” introduce Anna Paquin to the world, but it also earned Campion both Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for Best Director.
  10. Barbara Peeters: Imagine a female director who makes the B-movies of your teenage dreams. That’s exactly what Barbara Peeters did in the 70s and 80s, directing such gems as “Humanoids from the Deep” and “Summer School Teachers.”