The Greatest Female Film Directors

Over 1.4K Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of The Greatest Female Film Directors
Voting Rules
Only women who have directed major motion pictures or shorts

The best female directors include an Academy Award winner, members of Hollywood's royal families, and a whole bunch of ladies who make beautiful things happen when they're behind the camera. Though women might be the minority among the greatest directors in movie history, they are not any less talented than male directors, and are behind the best movies directed by women. Who is the best female director? 

It's hard to argue against Kathryn Bigelow as a top pick for the best female director of all time. For her work on The Hurt Locker in 2009, she became the first woman to take home the prized Oscar for Best Director. Bigelow proved herself as no one-trick pony in 2012 when she received numerous accolades for her direction of Zero Dark Thirty.

Bigelow's Oscar buzz was easily the most mainstream of any female director in the recent past, but she surely isn't the first female director to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director. In 1976, Lina Wertmuller received a nomination for Seven Beauties; in 1993, Jane Champion was nominated for The Piano; and in 2003, Sofia Coppola, daughter of the great Francis Ford Coppola, was up for the award for Lost in Translation.

But for every Oscar-nominated female director, there are dozens right behind also creating great movies. Isa Lupino, Patty Jenkins, Penny Marshall, Nora Ephron, Nancy Meyers, and Amy Heckerling are just a few of those names and each directing poignant and quality films on a regular basis. Including American female film directors and more, this list of great women in directing has them all.

Vote for the best woman directors in Hollywood to move them to the top of this list.


Most divisive: Andrea Arnold
Ranked by
  • Greta Gerwig
    Lady Bird
    244 votes
    • Birthplace: USA, California, Sacramento
    • Age: 40

    Greta Gerwig has emerged as one of the most exciting new talents in Hollywood in recent years. With her debut film, Lady Bird, she crafted a moving and authentic coming-of-age story that earned critical acclaim and numerous accolades. As both a writer and director, Gerwig's work combines humor, heart, and keen insight into the human experience.

  • Kathryn Bigelow
    Zero Dark Thirty, The Hurt Locker, Point Break
    626 votes
    • Birthplace: USA, California, San Carlos
    • Age: 71

    Kathryn Bigelow is a highly acclaimed filmmaker, known for her intense and visually stunning films. Throughout her career, she has demonstrated an ability to expertly blend genres in movies such as The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. Her work often explores themes of power, politics, and war, making her a unique and formidable voice in contemporary cinema.

  • Jane Campion

    Jane Campion

    The Piano, The Portrait of a Lady, Bright Star
    394 votes
    • Birthplace: New Zealand, Wellington
    • Age: 69

    Jane Campion's illustrious career spans over three decades and has made her one of the most respected filmmakers in the industry. Her distinctive storytelling style is characterized by its poetic visuals and nuanced performances, best exemplified in her Oscar-winning film The Piano. Campion continues to be a trailblazer in the world of independent cinema, exploring complex themes with a fearless and innovative approach.

  • Penny Marshall
    Big, A League of Their Own, The Preacher's Wife
    470 votes
    • Birthplace: The Bronx, New York City, New York, USA
    • Age: Dec. at 75 (1943-2018)

    Penny Marshall blazed a trail for women in Hollywood with her work both in front of and behind the camera. As an accomplished actress, she made a successful transition to directing and went on to direct beloved films such as Big and A League of Their Own. Her warm, accessible style resonated with audiences, giving her a lasting impact on the entertainment industry.

  • Sofia Coppola
    Lost in Translation, The Virgin Suicides, Marie Antoinette
    647 votes
    • Birthplace: New York City, USA, New York
    • Age: 52

    Sofia Coppola's dreamy, introspective films are marked by their lush cinematography and atmospheric storytelling. The daughter of legendary director Francis Ford Coppola, she quickly established her own artistic voice with her feature debut The Virgin Suicides. Her work frequently delves into themes of fame, loneliness, and the complexities of the modern world, as seen in her critically acclaimed film Lost in Translation.

  • Agnès Varda
    Jacquot de Nantes, Jane B. for Agnes V., Le petit amour
    311 votes
    • Birthplace: Brussels, Ixelles, Belgium
    • Age: 95

    Agnès Varda was a pioneering figure in French cinema, known as the "mother of the French New Wave." Throughout her long and varied career, she tackled subjects ranging from feminism to social justice with a poetic and visually striking style. Varda's contributions to cinema have left a profound legacy, inspiring generations of filmmakers to follow in her footsteps.