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The Greatest Female Film Directors

List RulesOnly 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
    Big, A League of Their Own
    195
    88

    BirthplaceThe Bronx, New York City, New York, USA

    AgeDec. at 75 (1943-2018)

    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 sitcom  ...more

    #205 of 392 The 100+ Funniest People Of All Time#33 of 120 The Best Comedy Directors in Film History#39 of 250 The Funniest Female Comedians of All Time

  • 2
    Lost in Translation, The Virgin Suicides
    281
    148

    BirthplaceNew York City, New York, United States of America

    Age50

    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 debut  ...more

    The Bling Ring Movie Quotes#66 of 149 The Greatest Hollywood Screenwriters Of All-Time, Ranked#89 of 139 The Greatest Auteurs in Film History

  • 3
    weik addedWonder Woman, Monster
    181
    93

    BirthplaceVictorville, California, USA

    Age50

    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 1984  ...more
  • 4
    Zero Dark Thirty, The Hurt Locker
    277
    127

    BirthplaceSan Carlos, California, United States of America

    Age70

    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

    #56 of 57 The Best Horror Directors in Film History#114 of 269 The Most Powerful Women Of All Time#21 of 64 The Greatest Directors of the 1980s

  • 5
    Lady Bird
    113
    30

    BirthplaceSacramento, California, United States of America

    Age38

    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. Between  ...more
  • 6
    Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Clueless
    124
    75

    BirthplaceThe Bronx, New York City, New York, USA

    Age67

    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 at  ...more
  • 7
    carlybobarly addedWe Need to Talk About Kevin, Morvern Callar
    108
    57

    BirthplaceEurope, Eurasia, United Kingdom, Scotland, Glasgow

    Age51

    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 About  ...more
  • 8
    jobill addedLittle Man Tate, Home for the Holidays
    117
    81

    BirthplaceLos Angeles, California, United States of America

    Age59

    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 Golden Globe  ...more

    The Greatest Characters Played by Jodie Foster, Ranked#31 of 201 The Best Actresses Working Today#72 of 243 The Most Trustworthy Celebrities In The World

  • 9

    Jane Campion

    The Piano, The Portrait of a Lady
    153
    74

    BirthplaceWellington, New Zealand

    Age67

    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 and  ...more

    #108 of 251 The Greatest Living Directors, Ranked#223 of 461 The Greatest Directors In Movie History#276 of 309 Famous People Most Likely to Live to 100

  • 10
    weik addedBoys Don't Cry, Carrie
    80
    48

    BirthplaceUSA, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

    Age54

    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 Swank's  ...more
  • 11
    Jacquot de Nantes, Jane B. for Agnes V.
    109
    57

    BirthplaceBrussels, Belgium

    Age93

    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 development of the  ...more
  • 12
    Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail
    151
    92

    BirthplaceNew York City, New York, United States of America

    AgeDec. 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 Academy  ...more
  • 13
    American Psycho, The Notorious Bettie Page
    129
    70

    BirthplaceBracebridge, Ontario, Canada

    Age68

    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
  • 14
    weik addedLittle Women, Charlotte Gray
    52
    30

    BirthplaceMelbourne, Victoria, Australia

    Age70

    Gillian May Armstrong (born 18 December 1950) is an award-winning Australian feature film and documentary director, who specializes in period drama. Her films often feature female perspectives and  ...more
  • 15
    carlybobarly addedStories We Tell, Take This Waltz
    82
    71

    BirthplaceToronto, Canada

    Age42

    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 Quimby  ...more

    #6 of 14 Character Actors Who Became Successful Movie Directors#131 of 167 Taurus Moon Celebrities#19 of 33 33 Famous People with Scoliosis

  • 16
    Frida, Across the Universe
    92
    64

    BirthplaceUSA, Massachusetts, Newton

    Age68

    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 by  ...more
  • 17
    weik addedWinter’s Bone, Down to the Bone
    63
    49

    BirthplaceCambridge, Massachusetts

    Age58

    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 her  ...more
  • 18
    Ibetolis addedCertain Women, Night Moves
    53
    39

    BirthplaceUSA, Florida, Miami

    Age57

    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, rural  ...more
  • 19
    Wayne's World, Black Sheep
    64
    48

    BirthplaceUSA, New Orleans, Louisiana

    Age75

    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 known  ...more
  • 20
    André Godin addedDesperately Seeking Susan, She-Devil
    22
    3

    BirthplaceUSA, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

    Age68

    Susan Seidelman (born December 11, 1952) is an American film director, producer and writer. She came to prominence in the 1980s with Smithereens, the first American independent feature to be screened  ...more
  • 21
    Ibetolis addedFish Tank, Wuthering Heights
    64
    55

    BirthplaceDartford, United Kingdom

    Age60

    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
  • 22

    Ava DuVernay

    A Wrinkle in Time, Selma
    82
    37

    BirthplaceLong Beach, California

    Age49

    Ava Marie DuVernay (; born August 24, 1972) is an American filmmaker and film distributor. She won the directing award in the U.S. dramatic competition at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival for her  ...more

    #290 of 319 The Most Inspiring (Non-Hollywood) Female Role Models#70 of 88 Celebrities You Think Are The Most Humble#6 of 39 The Very Best Black Directors, Ranked

  • 23
    Mike Williams Mendes addedThe Babadook, The Nightingale
    49
    29

    BirthplaceBrisbane, Australia

    Jennifer Kent is an Australian actress, writer and director known for her debut feature The Babadook.  ...more
  • 24
    suzanne-scherrer addedThe Trouble with Angels, The Bigamist
    53
    30

    BirthplaceCamberwell, London, United Kingdom

    AgeDec. at 77 (1918-1995)

    Ida Lupino (4 February 1918 – 3 August 1995) was an English-American actress, singer, director, and producer. She is widely regarded as one of the most prominent, and one of the only, female  ...more

    #180 of 349 The Best Actresses In Film History#166 of 322 The Greatest American Actresses Of All Time

  • 25
    hrundo addedBastards, White Material
    60
    53

    BirthplaceFrance, Paris

    Age75

    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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List Rules: Only women who have directed major motion pictures or shorts