Top 20 Female Directors You Should Know

If you are a movie lover savvy enough to name film directors chances are the first names that come to mind are male: Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, James Cameron, David Fincher, to name a few probably front-runners. Most people are hard-pressed to name a female film director. When I thought about it I was able to list upwards of 20 directors who are women and, after researching, was able to dig up more than 20 more.

These talents behind the camera are deserving of every bit as much notoriety as any successful male director. After researching up to 40 female directors, using a combination of theatrical output, critical success, average box office, and good old subjective opinion, I have ranked the top 20 female directors you should know.

20. Marjane Satrapi

Best film: Persepolis   Total Theatrical Films: 3    Average box office: $8.2 million
Streaming: The Voices (Amazon Prime)
Until 2007, Marjane Satrapi was known for her autobiographical graphic novel, Persepolis, about growing up in Iran during the late '70s and early '80s. She later co-adapted her work with Vincent Paronnaud into an animated film in 2007 to rave reviews from both critics and fans of the graphic novel. Marjane worked with Vincent again to adapt another of Marjane's novels, Chicken with Plums, in 2011, this time with a mix of live action and creative visuals. It wasn't until 2014's The Voices, starring Ryan Reynolds, that Satrapi struck out on her own in the director's chair. The Voices was a change in direction for Satrapi. It was a horror comedy based on someone else's script (Michael Perry) about a mentally disturbed man (Reynolds) who goes off his medication and thinks his pet dog and cat are talking to him, telling him to do bad things to people.  She has since been away from film, although word has it she will be participating in the anthology sequel Berlin, I Love You. Regardless, if Marjane Satrapi decides to direct another film on her own, it will likely be something unique and totally different from her previous work.

19. Kimberly Peirce

Best film: Boys Don't Cry      Total Theatrical Films: 3   
Average box office: $19.2 million
Streaming: Stop-Loss (Amazon Prime)
Peirce turned heads when she debuted in 1999's festival circuit with Boys Don't Cry, the story about a real life transsexual male in Nebraska. Its attempts to humanize the young man's tragic case of abuse and murder made it ahead of its time, but it was important to Peirce to show the emotional side of the story the news reports failed to depict. Peirce went on to make Stop-Loss, addressing the war in Iraq, and an updated adaptation of Stephen King's Carrie. Peirce has yet to match the creative success of her debut film and has focused more on directing TV the past couple years. But she is definitely a creative voice worth familiarizing oneself with.

18. Mary Harron

Best film: I Shot Andy Warhol   Total Theatrical Films: 4   
Average box office: $9.4 million
Streaming: American Psycho and The Notorious Bettie Page (HBO Now), Moth Diaries (Shudder)
Mary Harron debuted with I Shot Andy Warhol, an indie about Valerie Solanas (Lili Taylor), the woman who committed the title act.  Mary Harron may be best-known for her cult adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho, starring a handsome, yet cold-blooded Christian Bale. She went on to direct the highly-anticipated biopic The Notorious Bettie Page, starring Gretchen Mol. Harron has a documentary background and her feature films retain that documentary eye. Furthermore, her films tend to focus on characters on the fringes: from Warhol's Factory of misfits to a serial killer yuppie to an S&M pin-up. Her films never judge, rather help us to relate and understand these outsiders. This alone makes her a director worth watching. Her most recent film was the 2011 gothic misfire The Moth Diaries, after which she went back to TV. Word has it that we'll see Harron in theaters once again next year with the Charles Manson drama The Family.

17. Jane Campion

Best film: The Piano    Total Theatrical Films: 7    Average box office: $15.5 million
Streaming: The Piano (Hulu)
With regard to notable female directors it's hard to ignore Jane Campion. Her output has stalled since the 2009 critical hit Bright Star, a biopic about poet John Keats. Before that, Campion hit a near decade-long slump with the duds The Portrait of a Lady, Holy Smoke, and In the Cut. BUT it is largely the beginning of Campion's career that puts her on the map, highlighted by 1993's The Piano, which made Anna Paquin the youngest actress nominated for an Oscar at age of 12. Campion has always had her greatest success with art house films and festival circuits (her slump was largely made up of mainstream attempts). Her focus lately has been on the miniseries Top of the Lake, a fine New Zealand crime story.

16. Lone Scherfig

Best film: An Education        Total Theatrical Films: 6    
Average box office: $6.6 million
Streaming: One Day (Netflix), The Riot Club (Netflix) 
Danish director got worldwide attention for her romantic comedies Italian for Beginners and Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself. But it was 2009's An Education that made her a filmmaker worthy of serious attention. A coming-of-age story about a teenage girl and her affair with an older man, An Education made Carey Mulligan an in-demand actress and gave Lone Scherfig a BAFTA nomination, among the nearly a hundred other nominations the film received, as well as its 30+ awards. It's a carefully crafted and intriguing take on such a story, which can be partially credited the excellent script by Nick Hornby. But Lone deserves credit, also, for her direction. She followed it up with One Day, a blip on the careers of Lone and Anne Hathaway, before moving on to material outside the romance box with The Riot Club. That film, through the story of a secret club in an English university, examined the privilege and entitlement of the wealthy and how far they can go without consequences. It's a very interesting reaction to the recent Recession and proof that Scherfig was ready to take on new material. Her latest film, Their Finest, is a World War II film about British propaganda filmmakers, lead by a woman (Gemma Arterton). It opens in the US in April and is receiving solid reviews so far. Lone Scherfig has established herself as one of cinema's reliable romance directors and is steadily spreading her wings into other material, growing more and more as a filmmaker, making her one of today's most exciting female directors.

15. Niki Caro

Best film: Whale Rider       Total Theatrical Films: 5    
Average box office: $27.8 million
Streaming: N/A
A young girl who believes she will be chief of her tribe. A woman working in a mine. A peasant who, through divine inspiration, strives to make the perfect wine. A group of Latin American farm workers form an unlikely team of cross-country runners. Niki Caro has made a career around stories about underdogs, those who fought for something when nobody believed in them.  Sometimes what results is a message movie like North Country or family-friendly Disney formula like McFarland, USA. But then there's a movie like Whale Rider, which provided us with a wonderfully defiant female character, a culture unfamiliar to most - all within an inspiring tale. Inspiration runs the spectrum with Niki Caro's films. It is her most defining trait as a director and she's arguably the most inspirational filmmaker on this list. Her adaptation of The Zookeeper's Wife opens at the end of the month, but it's her next project that has caught people's attention and may be the most anticipated movie of her career: Mulan. A straight-forward tale of a woman proving her worth in her people's army? Sounds like a perfect addition to her career.

14. Andrea Arnold

Best film: Fish Tank     Total Theatrical Films: 4     Average box office: $1.5 million
Streaming: Fish Tank (Hulu), Wuthering Heights (Amazon Prime)
Not only did Andrea Arnold create one of the most decorated British independent films ever, Fish Tank and with it introduce the world to one of its greatest actors of today, Michael Fassbender. But Andrea Arnold has become a unique voice in independent cinema about youth. Starting with her sophomore effort, Fish Tank, Andrea takes a understated approach that is less like John Hughes and more like Francois Truffaut or Luis Bunuel with a focus on lower class adolescents aspiring above their situation. Her adaptation of Wuthering Heights stripped away all melodrama and bombastic romance, preferring realism and loyalty to its source material and thereby being the first to feature a black actor as Heathcliff. There is a stillness about her film that works against expectations, yet offers a more intriguing feel to the story. Like Fish Tank, her latest film, American Honey, was heavily decorated and made many critics' Top 10 lists. Yet, she isn't well-known by most. If you haven't familiarized yourself with this unique filmmaker you should.

13. Gurinder Chada

Best film: Bend It Like Beckham    Total Theatrical Films: 7    
Average box office: $16.1 million
Streaming: Bhaji on the Beach (Amazon Prime), What's Cooking? (Amazon Prime), Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging (Netflix)
Gurinder Chada, being of Indian descent raised in London, offers a delightful body of work for Western filmgoers: a mix of Bollywood and Hollywood, a delicious blend of cultures on screen. Each of her films are sumptuous delights making a case for multi-cultural understanding and love, whether it's her feature debut, Bhaji on the Beach, her international hit football comedy Bend It Like Beckham, or her musical Jane Austen adaptation, Bride & Prejudice. Gurinder's films are warm, delightful, and often beautiful exposures of Indian culture to Western audiences and worth seeking out.

12. Gina Prince-Bythewood

Best film: Beyond the Lights      Total Theatrical Films: 3     
Average box office: $26.6 million
Streaming: The Secret Life of Bees (HBO Now)
Gina Prince-Bythewood may not be a household name, but her films speak to young black women who strive for a certain kind of success. Her impressive, if over-long, feature debut Love & Basketball follows a young woman who wanted to play basketball, but was told as a child she'll never be as good as boys. She commits the next 20 years of her life to proving that notion wrong while also having an on-again / off-again romance with a longtime friend with similar ambitions. The Secret Life of Bees isn't about a young black woman, but it is about a young girl in the Civil Rights Era South leaving an abusive home for one full of love and sweetness. That home is made up of three black adult sisters. It's probably Prince-Bythewood's more on-the-nose film, but also her most successful, making nearly $40 million. Her most recent film, Beyond the Lights, follows a young black woman who achieves huge success in the music industry, but loses herself in the process. At rock bottom, she is saved by a police officer who helps her break free of her industry expectations and get back to the roots of her passion. With her first and latest films we have different portraits of successful black women. Both reflect limits and expectations that are put upon them. In both the women find their way to their goals on their own, with the first act of Beyond the Lights showing the danger of losing oneself because of the success she desired. Gina has yet to direct a film since 2014, focusing on a TV crime miniseries she co-created with her husband. But we should all look forward to what else this director has to say in the future and what other strong black women she has in store for us.

11. Penny Marshall

Best film: Big       Total Theatrical Films: 7      Average box office: $118.7 million
Streaming:The Preacher's Wife (Hulu)
Penny Marshall is by far the most well-known on this list. Most people know her from starring in the sitcom Laverne & Shirley in the late '70s and early '80s. Her films include such well-known hits as Big and A League of Their Own. At a $118.7 million (adjusted) average box office, she is the most successful woman on this list. With the comedic thriller Jumpin' Jack Flash, the adolescent wish-fulfillment comedy Big, the medical drama Awakenings, the sports history drama A League of Their Own, the military comedy Renaissance Man, the holiday remake The Preacher's Wife, and the biopic Riding in Cars with Boys there is no consistent through-line to Penny's career. She's had successes and failures. She's had movies about women and movies about men. She took a break from directing films (she's had three TV projects since 2009), but will return later this year with a documentary about Dennis Rodman, her first documentary.  Big is considered a classic at this point. A League of Their Own is perfect pop-feminism wrapped in a lesson in forgotten history. And Awakenings, starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro, is an underappreciated bit of solid drama. At age 74, Penny has had the biggest impact of any female director as a mainstream Hollywood filmmaker than any of her contemporaries. Penelope Spheeris averaged about as much box office revenue and really only has Wayne's World to show for it. Nora Ephron was way more successful at $145 million average, but her only solid film was Sleepless in Seattle. Nancy Meyers is by far the most financially successful at $225.3 million, but her films are mediocre or worse. And, yes, Amy Heckerling gave us Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Clueless, but the rest of her films are pretty bad. Penny, on the other hand, had 3 bad movies, 1 mediocre film, and 3 great consecutive films. So, creatively and financially, Penny has set the bar for mainstream success for female directors and is deserving of her place on this list.

10. Debra Granik

Best film: Winter's Bone      Total Theatrical Films: 3   
Average box office: $3.2 million
Streaming: Stray Dog (Netflix)
So we go from one of the most popular female directors to one of the lesser-known. Debra epitomizes filmmaking as a passion. Her movies don't make a lot of money, in general, so she's probably not getting paid very much from them. But if you listen to her speak about her films she has a soft-spoken fascination with people on the fringes. Down to the Bone is a portrait of a wife and mother who cracks under the pressure of her life and turns to drugs as an escape. Winter's Bone, her most well-known film, nominated for Best Picture in 2011, is an Appalachian rural drama about a teen (Jennifer Lawrence, whose career took off immediately after this film) determined to find her addict father who's disappeared and whose bail threatens to take away the home his family depends on. It's a film full of rural blue-collars, rednecks, and welfare cases who'll dismiss the law when nobody is looking. Her most recent film, Stray Dog, is a documentary about a Vietnam vet biker. Granik's eye looks to the part of America few show interest in and that helps us better understand the full picture of our country and its individuals. She is a director to keep an eye out for. Her next film, My Abandoment, will star Ben Foster (Hell or High Water) and, I think, will continue to show us rural characters facing small hurdles that are insurmountable obstacles in their eyes. That's unique and very exciting work.

9. Ava DuVernay

Best film: Selma      Total Theatrical Films: 4     Average box office: $17.4 million
Streaming: This is the Life (Netflix), Middle of Nowhere (Netflix), Selma (Amazon Prime), 13th (Netflix)
Did you know Ava DuVernay made two theatrical films before 2014's Selma? Neither did most of the country, as her films I Will Follow and Middle of Nowhere opened to a couple dozen theaters and made a combined $373,000. Ava's career is about to explode. After Selma was a commercial and awards success, she had Marvel and Netflix courting her simultaneously. She decided to make the Oscar-nominated documentary 13th with Netflix and is now finishing a film for Disney called A Wrinkle in Time (you may have heard of it). Her film Selma is the first biopic about Martin Luther King, Jr. At an average of $17.4 million in box office, which is sure to grow soon and already just shy of Spike Lee's $18 million average, Ava is already one of the most successful female directors of color. And she's just getting started.

8. Sarah Polley

Best film: Stories We Tell       Total Theatrical Films: 3   
Average box office: $2.4 million
Streaming: Take This Waltz (Hulu), Stories We Tell (Amazon Prime)
Like Penny Marshall, Sarah Polley is an actress-turned-director. While she may not have the output of her predecessor, Polley's films carry enough emotional weight and truth to them to hit their audiences like a ton of bricks, winning her the immediate adoration of critics. Do you remember the bookend scenes in The Notebook? Polley's debut film, Away From Her, is like an immediate prequel to those scenes with all of the moving truths about love and marriage crushing down on its audience. It is a simple, yet great directorial debut. Polley followed-up with Take This Waltz about a woman in a perfectly healthy marriage who begins having an affair with her neighbor. It isn't new territory, but Polley's naked and honest approach made it feel fresh. What's more astonishing is Polley's documentary Stories We Tell. It's ostensibly about her family with a few twists here and there. The film ends up not only being a fascinating family tale, but also an intriguing sociology study of our memories and how we tell our stories, what we choose to omit and how our perspective shapes truth. Sarah Polley has quickly become one of our most fascinating filmmakers. She's been mostly dormant the past few years, writing a teleplay that is a murder mystery that dovetails with the concepts of memories introduced in Stories We Tell.

7. Mira Nair

Best film: The Namesake         Total Theatrical Films: 12    
Average box office: $11.8 million
Streaming: Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love (Netflix), The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Netflix)
Mira Nair is the essential Indian female director. But she has proven herself to be much more than that. Mira Nair's career largely focuses on stories of love, Indian culture, and its traditions. Those half dozen films alone are enough to make for an incredible career of beautiful and touching films. But Mira has gone outside that box with such historical films as Vanity Fair and Amelia, the post-9/11 thriller The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Disney's Ugandan inspirational Queen of Katwe. So, what do Nair's films do? They show us that no matter the culture or the time period, there are some universal truths that we all experience: love of country, love of heritage, love of self and to be loved, as well. Mira Nair shows us our differences are our similarities. Doing so largely through the lush visuals and traditions of India only makes it all the more appealing.

6. Lynn Shelton

Best film: Humpday      Total Theatrical Films: 6      Average box office: $630,641
Streaming: Your Sister's Sister (Netflix)
Lynn Shelton is one of a couple Pacific Northwest directors on this list. Her films are comedy-dramas that deal with intimacy and the ability for her characters to connect with others. She got some critical notice with her 2008 film My Effortless Brilliance, which was about a man reconnecting with a former friend. It was her 2009 film Humpday, a film about two heterosexual buddies who come up with the idea to create an indie gay porno for a Seattle porn festival and then must decide whether or not to go through with it, that got Lynn a lot of attention in the critical and art house communities and earning her several film festival awards, including the Special Jury Prize at Sundance Film Festival. This allowed her to get more notable talent, specifically Emily Blunt, for her what is her highest-grossing film so far, Your Sister's Sister, a film about three friends staying in a remote cabin and the relations that occur. What is probably Lynn's most 'commercial' effort is her last film so far, 2014's Laggies, starring Keira Knightley, Chloe Moretz, Ellie Kemper and Sam Rockwell. It's about a commitment-phobic and immature twenty-something (Knightley) who hides out from her fiancee with a teenager (Moretz). One of the unique things about Shelton is some of her films are set in Seattle, but they never show off their location with landmarks like the Space Needle or Pike Place Market. They always take place in Seattle neighborhoods or nearby woodlands. It shows Lynn isn't isn't interested in showing off as a director; she's interested in the normalcy and realness of her characters, which adds to how relatable their stories and conflicts are. Lynn has been focusing on some steady TV work for the past few years, but she's certainly made a mark on indie film.

5. Nicole Holofcener

Best film: Enough Said     Total Feature Films: 5       Average box office: $8 million
Streaming: N/A
Nicole Holofcener just might be queen of upper-middle class female stories. All of her films focus on women in their thirties or forties and their relationship issues. Yet there's always something interesting and even relatable about them. Let's take Friends With Money for example. Here you have one of Jennifer Aniston's most interesting performances where she plays a house cleaning business owner who is friends with a group of women who are wealthy. Money sort of plays a factor in her relationships: her friends want to give her money to help her, she has a tag-along deadbeat who insists on getting a cut of her pay even though he did nothing to help her, and she (SPOILERS) ends up meeting a guy who lives simply, but is incredibly wealthy and keeps it a secret because he knows how it can affect people's perception. Then you have (Holofcener's most-used actress) Catherine Keener and Jason Isaacs representing probably the most successful couple discovering they're actually drifting apart. Cut to 2010's Please Give, which stars Keener as a successful used furniture store owner who is constantly wanting to balance her wealth with giving to random strangers who look homeless, much to the resentment of her entitled daughter (Sarah Steele). Holofcener is looking at how money changes us and our relationships with others. Another example is Lovely & Amazing, a film about a wealthy matriarch undergoing plastic surgery at middle age. What affect does a mother like that have on her children? We get to see the answer reflected in the adult daughters played by Keener and Emily Mortimer. Interestingly, Holofcener plays with her female characters without judging them. Her best film so far, 2013's Enough Said, is no different in terms of her characters' financial situation, but the focus is far more on middle aged romance and the idea of starting over with someone at that point in your life. Holofcener has been focusing on TV in recent years, but has a new film to be released sometime this year called The Land of Steady Habits.

4. Lisa Cholodenko

Best film: The Kids Are Alright     Total Theatrical Films: 4       
Average box office: $8.8 million
Streaming: N/A
Lisa is not a prolific filmmaker, but she's a heavy-hitter. She came out of the gate in the late-'90s with High Art, a film starring former Brat Packer Ally Sheedy as a lesbian drug addict and photographer who becomes involved with a new magazine intern (Radha Mitchell). A film about a character who is a) a drug addict and b) a lesbian was as edgy as it got in relationship dramas that decade. The film was well-received, earning 7 awards and nominated for over a dozen others. Lisa waited a few years before following it up with Laurel Canyon, starring Frances McDormand, Christian Bale, Kate Beckinsale, and Natascha McElhone. The film wasn't as edgy as its predecessor, nor garner as much awards attention, but it did focus on an interesting grown-up son and less-than-responsible mom dynamic. Cholodenko went on to direct Cavedweller, a lesser-known, but no less interesting film starring Kyra Sedgwick, Aidan Quinn, Kevin Bacon, Sherilyn Fenn, and Jill Scott. The film is about a musician (Sedgwick), who, after experiencing an accident that kills her husband (Bacon), moves her and her daughter from California to Georgia with her abusive ex-husband (Quinn), their two daughters, and her ex-mother-in-law. It's a unique story ripe for dramatic tension. Aside from winning awards at the Seattle Film Festival and the Independent Spirit Awards, Cavedwellers did not get much visibility, but remains one of her most intriguing projects. Cholodenko returned to the spotlight with 2010's The Kids Are All Right, starring Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, and Annette Bening. The film, about a teenager raised by lesbians seeking out his biological father, is, by far, Cholodenko's most popular film, earning even an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, among 120 other award nominations and won a Golden Globe for Best Comedy, among 25 other awards. It is her best film, as it balances comedy and family drama without the aggressiveness of her other films, especially High Art.  Like so many others on this list, she hasn't made a film in several years, focusing on TV work, even reuniting with McDormand on the miniseries Olive Kitteridge. Cholodenko, however, is a pioneer in queer cinema and a skilled storyteller.

3. Sofia Coppola

Best film:  Lost in Translation    Total Theatrical Films: 5     
Average box office: $14.6 million
Streaming: N/A
Sofia Coppola is one of the most important female directors working today. When thinking of women directing movies, she's one of the first names you think of. Yet she's only made 5 films in nearly 20 years (she's preparing her 6th for release later this year). Whether it's her debut The Virgin Suicides or 2006's pop-period piece Marie Antoinette, Coppola is a unique teller of female stories. Her characters are women dealing with a sort of loneliness and isolation. And, with the exception of Marie, they are all contemporary, as well as young. She is capturing a mood and a feeling women are experiencing. Even her latest film, 2013's The Bling Ring, is about young women, who don't necessarily have the greatest relationships, being obsessed with celebrity. The thing is while Sofia's characters are very defined and wonderfully developed they are all white and somewhat privileged. There is no diversity in class or race in Coppola's characters, so the experiences depicted in her films are very specific. Think about The Virgin Suicides (suburban white teens), Lost in Translation (wife of a celebrity photographer), Marie Antoinette (Queen of France), Somewhere (daughter of an actor), and The Bling Ring (Hollywood Hills teens). Nobody is starving or pressured to commit any violent crimes here. I'm not even sure there's much in the way of her characters doing drugs. And there's nothing wrong with any of this. Sofia, being someone who grew up in Hollywood, is writing from what she knows. It's notable, but it takes nothing away from the greatness of her characters or even her soft, fuzzy, yet sometimes candy-colored visual style. Her next film, which is coming out this summer, is The Beguiled, a Civil War film set in a girls' school. After waiting four years it'll be great to see what else Sofia can bring to the silver screen.

2. Kelly Reichardt

Best film: Meek's Cutoff      Total Theatrical Films: 6    
Average box office: $575,125
Streaming: Meek's Cutoff (Netflix)
Kelly Reichardt is our other Pacific Northwest director on this list. While she was raised in Florida and her first film, River of Grass, is set in the Florida Everglades half of her films are set in the Pacific Northwest, usually in the rural areas. Old Joy was the first, a story about two friends camping in the Cascade Mountains in Oregon. That film gained Reichardt a lot of attention and won her an L.A. Film Critics award. She began a professional relationship with Michelle Williams with her 2008 film Wendy and Lucy and would carry on through to last year's Certain Women. Wendy and Lucy was a very simple story about a young woman passing through Oregon with her dog on the way to a new job in Alaska. With very little pomp and circumstance Reichardt unwittingly foretells the struggle to come for the average American, as this film hit the festival circuit months prior to the economic Recession in 2008. It's a powerful film that won AFI's Movie of the Year award, among a handful of others. The film made well below $1 million, but established Reichardt as one of the most exciting indie filmmakers of our time. Two years later, Reichardt stepped it up with a western - also starring Michelle Williams - Meek's Cutoff about a group traveling the Oregon Trail and possibly led astray. It is a masterful film that is deliberately slow in order to fully immerse its fast-paced texting audience into the pace of the time its story takes place, which is 1845. Reichardt succeeds in getting across how long the simplest of things took back then and making us realize how much we take for granted. Reichardt explores environmental terrorism with Night Moves and her most recent film, Certain Women, focuses on a group of women and their intersecting stories. Reichardt is steadily becoming not just one of our greatest female directors, but one of the greatest directors in independent cinema.

1. Kathryn Bigelow

Best film: Zero Dark Thirty     Total Theatrical Films: 9     
Average box office: $38.1 million
Streaming: The Loveless (Amazon Prime), Point Break (Hulu)
With a career like Bigelow's it's astounding that she is a distant second in terms of career average box office grosses on this list. Bigelow's career has flowed freely from horror (Near Dark) to crime (Blue Steel) to action (Point Break) to sci-fi (Strange Days) to military drama. Few women on this list have been as diverse (and creatively successful in doing so) as Kathryn Bigelow. Her films have a masculine quality to them that proves it doesn't take a Y chromosome in order to create exciting, action-packed movies. Bigelow started out in the '80s and her output per decade only increased with time. In the '90s and '00s, she released three films each, but it wasn't until 2009's The Hurt Locker that Bigelow's career exploded. Her adrenaline-junkie war film made Jeremy Renner a star and won 6 Academy Awards, including Best Director and beating  Inglorious Basterds for Best Picture. The film won over 100 awards and was nominated for another 100+. But Bigelow is the first and only woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director. Bigelow followed that film up with the timely Zero Dark Thirty about the long journey to finding Osama bin Laden and the woman who tirelessly lead the charge (Jessica Chastain). It is an exceptional film, perhaps one of the greatest of the decade, and introduced one of the most intriguing female characters of the decade: Chastain's Maya. Bigelow is working with Mark Boal, the screenwriter of The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, for a film set in 1967 Detroit about a police raid that led to a riot. That should come out in August of this year. It is guaranteed to be a must-see film.

Honorable Mentions:
Amy Heckerling (Clueless)
Karyn Kusama (Girlfight) 
Nancy Meyers (The Parent Trap)
Penelope Spheeris (Wayne's World)
Nora Ephron (Sleepless in Seattle) 
So there you have it: the best female directors. Be sure to seek out their work if you haven't already. With such diverse talent you're not likely to love every one of them, but you're guaranteed to find something you love.

Who is your favorite? Leave a comment below.


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