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The Greatest Female Film Directors 

Jeff Moore
Originally by
Updated May 21, 2020 9.5k votes 1.2k voters 76.7k views 122 items

List 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. Feel free to add any good female directors missing from the list. Only women who directed movies are qualified. 

 

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1
Kathryn Bigelow is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
Zero Dark Thirty, The Hurt Locker, Point Break

Birthplace: San Carlos, California, United States of America

Age: 68

Kathryn Ann Bigelow (; born November 27, 1951) is an American film director, producer, and screenwriter. Covering a wide range of genres, her films include Near Dark (1987), Point Break (1991), ...more

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#50 of 226 The Greatest Living Directors, Ranked #56 of 267 The Most Powerful Women Of All Time #93 of 778 The Greatest Directors In Movie History

2
Sofia Coppola is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
Lost in Translation, The Virgin Suicides, Marie Antoinette

Birthplace: New York City, USA, New York

Age: 48

Sofia Carmina Coppola (; born May 14, 1971) is an American screenwriter, director, producer, and former actress. The daughter of filmmakers Eleanor and Francis Ford Coppola, she made her film ...more

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#59 of 226 The Greatest Living Directors, Ranked #13 of 50 The Best Celebrity Star Wars Cameos, Ranked #16 of 24 31 of the Wackiest Celebrity Wedding Gowns

3
Penny Marshall is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
Big, A League of Their Own, The Preacher's Wife

Birthplace: The Bronx, New York City, New York, USA

Age: 76

Carole Penny Marshall (October 15, 1943 – December 17, 2018) was an American actress, director, and producer. She came to notice in the 1970s for her role as Laverne DeFazio on the television ...more

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#191 of 362 The Funniest People Of All Time #50 of 286 The Funniest Female Comedians of All Time #321 of 771 American Public Figures Who Are National Treasures

4
Patty Jenkins is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
weik added Wonder Woman, Monster, Wonder Woman 2

Birthplace: George Air Force Base, Victorville, California, United States of America

Age: 48

Patricia Lea Jenkins (born July 24, 1971) is an American film and television director and screenwriter. She directed the films Monster (2003), Wonder Woman (2017), and the upcoming Wonder Woman ...more
5
Jane Campion is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
Jane Campion The Piano, The Portrait of a Lady, Bright Star

Birthplace: DVD Region 4, Oceania, Wellington, Wellington Region, Realm of New Zealand, + more

Age: 65

Dame Elizabeth Jane Campion (born 30 April 1954) is a New Zealand screenwriter, producer, and director. Campion is the second of five women ever nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director ...more

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#125 of 226 The Greatest Living Directors, Ranked #247 of 778 The Greatest Directors In Movie History #289 of 313 Famous People Most Likely to Live to 100

6
Mary Harron is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
American Psycho, The Notorious Bettie Page, I Shot Andy Warhol

Birthplace: Bracebridge, Ontario, Canada

Age: 66

Mary Harron is a Canadian filmmaker and screenwriter. She gained recognition for her role in writing and directing several independent films, including I Shot Andy Warhol (1996), American Psycho ...more
7
Agnès Varda is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
Jacquot de Nantes, Jane B. for Agnes V., Le petit amour

Birthplace: Brussels, Belgium

Age: 91

Agnès Varda (French: [aɲɛs vaʁda]; 30 May 1928 – 29 March 2019) was a Belgian-born French film director, photographer and artist. Her work was pioneering for, and central to, the ...more

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#310 of 778 The Greatest Directors In Movie History #79 of 139 The Greatest Auteurs in Film History #186 of 192 And The (Honorary) Academy Award Goes To ...

8
Nora Ephron is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail, Julie & Julia

Birthplace: New York City, Manhattan, Area code 917, Contiguous United States, New York, + more

Age: Dec. at 71 (1941-2012)

Nora Ephron ( EF-rən; May 19, 1941 – June 26, 2012) was an American journalist, writer, and filmmaker. She is best known for her romantic comedy films and was nominated three times for the ...more

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Every Nora Ephron Movie, Ranked Best to Worst #141 of 341 The Greatest American Writers of All Time #52 of 122 The Best Comedy Directors in Film History

9
Jodie Foster is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
jobill added Little Man Tate, Home for the Holidays, The Beaver

Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, United States of America

Age: 57

Alicia Christian "Jodie" Foster (born November 19, 1962) is an American actress, director, and producer. She has received two Academy Awards, three British Academy Film Awards, two ...more

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The Best Jodie Foster Movies #71 of 274 The Most Trustworthy Celebrities in the World #21 of 327 The Best Actresses Working Today

10
Amy Heckerling is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Clueless, National Lampoon's European Vacation

Birthplace: The Bronx, New York City, New York, USA

Age: 65

Amy Heckerling (born May 7, 1954) is an American film director. An alumna of both New York University and the American Film Institute, she directed the commercially successful films Fast Times ...more
11
Julie Taymor is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
Frida, Across the Universe, A Midsummer Night's Dream

Birthplace: Newton, Massachusetts, United States of America

Age: 67

Julie Taymor (born December 15, 1952) is an American director and writer of theater, opera and film. Since her adaptation of The Lion King debuted in 1997, 24 global productions have been seen ...more

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#467 of 778 The Greatest Directors In Movie History #17 of 21 The Greatest Modern Day Renaissance Women

12
Lynne Ramsay is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
carlybobarly added We Need to Talk About Kevin, Morvern Callar, Ratcatcher

Birthplace: Glasgow, Scotland

Age: 50

Lynne Ramsay (born 5 December 1969) is a Scottish film director, writer, producer, and cinematographer best known for the feature films Ratcatcher (1999), Morvern Callar (2002), We Need to Talk ...more
13
Sarah Polley is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
carlybobarly added Stories We Tell, Take This Waltz, Away from Her

Birthplace: Toronto, Canada

Age: 40

Sarah Ellen Polley (born January 8, 1979) is a Canadian actress, writer, director, producer and political activist. Polley first garnered attention as a child actress for her role as Ramona ...more

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#213 of 327 The Best Actresses Working Today #532 of 940 The Best Actresses in Film History #121 of 139 The Greatest Auteurs in Film History

14
Andrea Arnold is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
Ibetolis added Fish Tank, Wuthering Heights, American Honey

Birthplace: Dartford, United Kingdom

Age: 58

Andrea Arnold, OBE (born 5 April 1961) is an English filmmaker and former actress. She won an Academy Award for her short film Wasp in 2005. Her feature films include Red Road (2006), Fish Tank ...more
15
Kimberly Peirce is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
weik added Boys Don't Cry, Carrie, Stop-Loss

Birthplace: Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, United States of America

Age: 52

Kimberly Ane Peirce (born September 8, 1967) is an American filmmaker best known for her debut feature film, Boys Don't Cry (1999), which won the Academy Award for Best Actress for Hilary ...more
16
Leni Riefenstahl is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
micktravis added Lowlands, The Blue Light

Birthplace: Berlin, Germany

Age: Dec. at 101 (1902-2003)

Helene Bertha Amalie "Leni" Riefenstahl (German: [ˈʁiːfn̩ʃtaːl]; 22 August 1902 – 8 September 2003) was a German film director and actress.Born in 1902, Leni Riefenstahl grew up with ...more
17
Penelope Spheeris is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
Wayne's World, Black Sheep, The Little Rascals

Birthplace: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States of America

Age: 74

Penelope Spheeris (born December 2, 1945 or 1946; sources differ) is an American film director, producer and screenwriter. She has directed both documentary film and scripted films. Her best ...more
18
Claire Denis is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
hrundo added Bastards, White Material, 35 Shots of Rum

Birthplace: Paris, France

Age: 71

Claire Denis (born 21 April 1946) is a French film director and writer. Her feature film Beau Travail (1999) has been called one of the greatest films of the 1990s. Other acclaimed works include ...more

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#139 of 226 The Greatest Living Directors, Ranked #719 of 778 The Greatest Directors In Movie History #34 of 63 50+ Celebrities Born On April 21

19
Debra Granik is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
weik added Winter’s Bone, Down to the Bone, Leave No Trace

Birthplace: Cambridge, Massachusetts

Age: 56

Debra Granik (born February 6, 1963) is an American filmmaker. She is most known for 2004's Down to the Bone, which starred Vera Farmiga, 2010's Winter's Bone, which starred Jennifer Lawrence in ...more
20
Nancy Meyers is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
wiabux added The Parent Trap, It's Complicated, The Holiday

Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Age: 70

Nancy Jane Meyers (born December 8, 1949) is an American film director, producer and screenwriter. She is the writer, producer and director of several big-screen successes, including The Parent ...more

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#348 of 778 The Greatest Directors In Movie History #109 of 122 The Best Comedy Directors in Film History #54 of 101 The Greatest Hollywood Screenwriters Of All-Time, Ranked

21
Kelly Reichardt is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
Ibetolis added Certain Women, Night Moves, Meek's Cutoff

Birthplace: Miami, Florida, United States of America

Age: 51

Kelly Reichardt (; born March 3, 1964) is an American screenwriter and film director. She is known for her minimalist-style films, many of which deal with working class characters in small, ...more
22
Greta Gerwig is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
Lady Bird

Birthplace: USA, California, Sacramento

Age: 36

Greta Celeste Gerwig (born August 4, 1983) is an American actress, screenwriter and film director. She first garnered attention after working on and appearing in several mumblecore films. ...more
23
Drew Barrymore is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
PeteBoyle added Whip It

Birthplace: Los Angeles, Culver City, California, United States of America

Age: 44

Drew Blythe Barrymore (born February 22, 1975) is an American actress, producer, director, author, model and entrepreneur. She is a member of the Barrymore family of actors, and the ...more

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Drew Barrymore Stories From Her Wild Years #69 of 274 The Most Trustworthy Celebrities in the World #262 of 362 The Funniest People Of All Time

24
Lisa Cholodenko is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
weik added The Kids Are All Right, Laurel Canyon, Cavedweller

Birthplace: San Fernando Valley, California

Age: 55

Lisa Cholodenko is an American director and screenwriter who has worked in film and television. She wrote and directed the films High Art (1998), Laurel Canyon (2002), and The Kids Are All Right ...more

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#691 of 778 The Greatest Directors In Movie History #60 of 65 The Best Directors Never Nominated for Oscars

25
Lone Scherfig is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
carlybobarly added An Education, One Day, The Astronaut Wives Club

Birthplace: Copenhagen, Denmark

Age: 60

Lone Scherfig (born 2 May 1959) is a Danish film director and screenwriter who has been involved with the Dogme 95 film movement and who has been widely critically acclaimed for several of her ...more