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The Greatest Female Film Directors

Updated September 15, 2020 8.8k votes 1.3k voters 81.5k views131 items

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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    Penny Marshall

    Big, A League of Their Own

    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

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    279
    144

    Sofia Coppola

    Lost in Translation, The Virgin Suicides

    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

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    The Bling Ring Movie Quotes#95 of 139 The Greatest Auteurs in Film History

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    176
    89

    Patty Jenkins

    Wonder Woman, Monster

    BirthplaceGeorge Air Force Base, Victorville, California, United States of America

    Age49

    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
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    277
    125

    Kathryn Bigelow

    Zero Dark Thirty, The Hurt Locker

    BirthplaceSan Carlos, California, United States of America

    Age69

    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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    115
    26

    Greta Gerwig

    Lady Bird

    BirthplaceSacramento, California, United States of America

    Age37

    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
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    106
    53

    Lynne Ramsay

    We Need to Talk About Kevin, Morvern Callar

    BirthplaceGlasgow, Scotland

    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
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    121
    74

    Amy Heckerling

    Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Clueless

    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
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    113
    80

    Jodie Foster

    Little Man Tate, Home for the Holidays

    BirthplaceLos Angeles, California, United States of America

    Age58

    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

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    151
    74

    Jane Campion

    The Piano, The Portrait of a Lady

    BirthplaceWellington, New Zealand

    Age66

    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

    More 

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  • 10
    77
    47

    Kimberly Peirce

    Boys Don't Cry, Carrie

    BirthplaceHarrisburg, Pennsylvania, United States of America

    Age53

    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
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    108
    57

    Agnès Varda

    Jacquot de Nantes, Jane B. for Agnes V.

    BirthplaceBrussels, Belgium

    Age92

    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
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    151
    92

    Nora Ephron

    Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail

    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
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    127
    69

    Mary Harron

    American Psycho, The Notorious Bettie Page

    BirthplaceBracebridge, Ontario, Canada

    Age67

    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
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    54
    38

    Kelly Reichardt

    Certain Women, Night Moves

    BirthplaceMiami, Florida, United States of America

    Age51

    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
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    63
    49

    Debra Granik

    Winter’s Bone, Down to the Bone

    BirthplaceCambridge, Massachusetts

    Age57

    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
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    51
    29

    Gillian Armstrong

    Little Women, Charlotte Gray

    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
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    90
    65

    Julie Taymor

    Frida, Across the Universe

    BirthplaceNewton, Massachusetts, United States of America

    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
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    80
    71

    Sarah Polley

    Stories We Tell, Take This Waltz

    BirthplaceToronto, Canada

    Age41

    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

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    82
    36

    Ava DuVernay

    A Wrinkle in Time, Selma

    BirthplaceLong Beach, California

    Age48

    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

    More 

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    64
    55

    Andrea Arnold

    Fish Tank, Wuthering Heights

    BirthplaceDartford, United Kingdom

    Age59

    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
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    52
    54

    Lisa Cholodenko

    The Kids Are All Right, Laurel Canyon

    BirthplaceSan Fernando Valley, California

    Age56

    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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    60
    48

    Penelope Spheeris

    Wayne's World, Black Sheep

    BirthplaceNew Orleans, Louisiana, United States of America

    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
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    17
    2

    Susan Seidelman

    Desperately Seeking Susan, She-Devil

    BirthplacePennsylvania, Area code 215, Contiguous United States, Philadelphia, United States of America

    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
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    47
    29

    Jennifer Kent

    The Babadook, The Nightingale

    BirthplaceBrisbane, Australia

    Jennifer Kent is an Australian actress, writer and director known for her debut feature The Babadook....  more
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    50
    29

    Ida Lupino

    The Trouble with Angels, The Bigamist

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