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The Greatest Female Film Directors

Updated September 15, 2020 8.6k votes 1.3k voters 78.3k 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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  • 1
    Patty Jenkins is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
    187
    79

    Patty Jenkins

    Wonder Woman, Monster

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

    Age48

    Patricia Lea Jenkins (born July 24, 1971) is an American film and television director and... more on Wikipedia
  • 2
    Sofia Coppola is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
    291
    149

    Sofia Coppola

    Lost in Translation, The Virgin Suicides

    BirthplaceNew York City, USA, New York

    Age48

    Sofia Carmina Coppola (; born May 14, 1971) is an American screenwriter, director, producer,... more on Wikipedia

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  • 3
    Penny Marshall is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
    194
    95

    Penny Marshall

    Big, A League of Their Own

    BirthplaceThe Bronx, New York City, New York, USA

    Age76

    Carole Penny Marshall (October 15, 1943 – December 17, 2018) was an American actress,... more on Wikipedia

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  • 4
    Kathryn Bigelow is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
    283
    134

    Kathryn Bigelow

    Zero Dark Thirty, The Hurt Locker

    BirthplaceSan Carlos, California, United States of America

    Age68

    Kathryn Ann Bigelow (; born November 27, 1951) is an American film director, producer, and... more on Wikipedia
  • 5
    Greta Gerwig is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
    105
    21

    Greta Gerwig

    Lady Bird

    BirthplaceUSA, California, Sacramento

    Age36

    Greta Celeste Gerwig (born August 4, 1983) is an American actress, screenwriter and film... more on Wikipedia
  • 6
    Lynne Ramsay is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
    113
    50

    Lynne Ramsay

    We Need to Talk About Kevin, Morvern Callar

    BirthplaceGlasgow, United Kingdom

    Age51

    Lynne Ramsay (born 5 December 1969) is a Scottish film director, writer, producer, and... more on Wikipedia
  • 7
    Jodie Foster is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
    124
    80

    Jodie Foster

    Little Man Tate, Home for the Holidays

    BirthplaceLos Angeles, California, United States of America

    Age57

    Alicia Christian "Jodie" Foster (born November 19, 1962) is an American actress, director, and... more on Wikipedia

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  • 8
    Amy Heckerling is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
    120
    83

    Amy Heckerling

    Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Clueless

    BirthplaceThe Bronx, New York City, New York, USA

    Age66

    Amy Heckerling (born May 7, 1954) is an American film director. An alumna of both New York... more on Wikipedia
  • 9
    Jane Campion is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
    164
    77

    Jane Campion

    The Piano, The Portrait of a Lady

    BirthplaceWellington, New Zealand

    Age65

    Dame Elizabeth Jane Campion (born 30 April 1954) is a New Zealand screenwriter, producer, and... more on Wikipedia
  • 10
    Agnès Varda is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
    112
    57

    Agnès Varda

    Jacquot de Nantes, Jane B. for Agnes V.

    BirthplaceBrussels, Belgium

    Age91

    Agnès Varda (French: [aɲɛs vaʁda]; 30 May 1928 – 29 March 2019) was a Belgian-born French film... more on Wikipedia

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  • 11
    Kimberly Peirce is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
    79
    47

    Kimberly Peirce

    Boys Don't Cry, Carrie

    BirthplaceHarrisburg, Pennsylvania, United States of America

    Age52

    Kimberly Ane Peirce (born September 8, 1967) is an American filmmaker best known for her debut... more on Wikipedia
  • 12
    Mary Harron is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
    136
    72

    Mary Harron

    American Psycho, The Notorious Bettie Page

    BirthplaceBracebridge, Ontario, Canada

    Age66

    Mary Harron is a Canadian filmmaker and screenwriter. She gained recognition for her role in... more on Wikipedia
  • 13
    Sarah Polley is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
    87
    70

    Sarah Polley

    Stories We Tell, Take This Waltz

    BirthplaceCanada, Ontario, Toronto, Americas

    Age40

    Sarah Ellen Polley (born January 8, 1979) is a Canadian actress, writer, director, producer... more on Wikipedia

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  • 14
    Debra Granik is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
    67
    48

    Debra Granik

    Winter’s Bone, Down to the Bone

    BirthplaceCambridge, Massachusetts

    Age56

    Debra Granik (born February 6, 1963) is an American filmmaker. She is most known for 2004's... more on Wikipedia
  • 15
    Nora Ephron is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
    152
    103

    Nora Ephron

    Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail

    BirthplaceNew York City, Manhattan, Area code 917, Contiguous United States, New York

    AgeDec. at 71 (1941-2012)

    Nora Ephron ( EF-rən; May 19, 1941 – June 26, 2012) was an American journalist, writer, and... more on Wikipedia

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  • 16
    Gillian Armstrong is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
    51
    29

    Gillian Armstrong

    Little Women, Charlotte Gray

    BirthplaceMelbourne, Victoria, Australia

    Age69

    Gillian May Armstrong (born 18 December 1950) is an award-winning Australian feature film and... more on Wikipedia
  • 17
    Kelly Reichardt is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
    54
    36

    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... more on Wikipedia
  • 18
    Julie Taymor is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
    92
    66

    Julie Taymor

    Frida, Across the Universe

    BirthplaceNewton, Massachusetts, United States of America

    Age67

    Julie Taymor (born December 15, 1952) is an American director and writer of theater, opera and... more on Wikipedia
  • 19
    Andrea Arnold is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
    66
    55

    Andrea Arnold

    Fish Tank, Wuthering Heights

    BirthplaceDartford, United Kingdom

    Age58

    Andrea Arnold, OBE (born 5 April 1961) is an English filmmaker and former actress. She won an... more on Wikipedia
  • 20
    Ava DuVernay is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
    81
    37

    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... more on Wikipedia

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  • 21
    Jennifer Kent is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
    48
    27

    Jennifer Kent

    The Babadook, The Nightingale

    BirthplaceBrisbane, Australia

    Jennifer Kent is an Australian actress, writer and director known for her debut feature The... more on Wikipedia
  • 22
    Claire Denis is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
    63
    53

    Claire Denis

    Bastards, White Material

    BirthplaceFrance, Paris

    Age71

    Claire Denis (born 21 April 1946) is a French film director and writer. Her feature film Beau... more on Wikipedia
  • 23
    Penelope Spheeris is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
    64
    51

    Penelope Spheeris

    Wayne's World, Black Sheep

    BirthplaceNew Orleans, Louisiana, United States of America

    Age74

    Penelope Spheeris (born December 2, 1945 or 1946; sources differ) is an American film... more on Wikipedia
  • 24
    Mira Nair is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
    49
    52

    Mira Nair

    The Namesake, Monsoon Wedding

    BirthplaceRourkela, Eurasia, Odisha, India, East India

    Age62

    Mira Nair (born 15 October 1957) is an Indian-American filmmaker based in New York City. Her... more on Wikipedia
  • 25
    Niki Caro is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list The Greatest Female Film Directors
    41
    37

    Niki Caro

    Whale Rider, The Zookeeper's Wife

    BirthplaceWellington, New Zealand

    Age52

    Nikola Jean Caro (born 1967) is a New Zealand film director and screenwriter. Her 2002 film... more on Wikipedia
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