17 Essential Films for Women's History Month

Iron Jawed Angels (2004)

By Simone Morgen

In honor of National Women’s History Month and the visual depiction of women’s lives in general, here’s a list of some widely available feature films about women. (Even when based on historical events, these are not documentaries.)

Wild (2014) – The fact that a woman’s journey is a type of story that is more usually devoted to men’s lives by itself qualifies this for inclusion. She hikes the entire Pacific Coast trail in a quest to recover a sense of purpose and direction. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée.

Iron Jawed Angels (2004) – Alice Paul and the restructuring of 1910s feminism to fight for one of the basic elements of citizenship: voting. Directed by Katja von Garnier.

Erin Brockovich (2000) – The triumph of an ignored and disrespected legal assistant’s campaign to bring justice to victims of industrial pollution, based on actual events. Directed by Steven Soderbergh.

All About my Mother (1999) – Pedro Almodovar, a director who has made several movies revealing a deep appreciation for women in society as well as an openness toward issues such as homosexuality and transsexualism, here produces one of his typically madcap movies. 

The Piano (1993) – An exploration of a woman’s journey toward sexual satisfaction and love, set in 19th century New Zealand. Directed by Jane Campion.

Orlando (1992) – An entertaining romp through several centuries by a male figure who changes to a female around two-thirds of the way through, with trenchant observations of male privilege. Based on a Virginia Woolf novel of the same name and directed by Sally Potter.

Thelma and Louise (1991) – The iconic women’s buddy/road movie; two working-class women shoot a rapist and go on the run. Directed by Ridley Scott.

Daughters of the Dust (1991) – First feature film by an African-American woman. Julie Dash studies three generations of Gullah women on St. Helena Island in 1902 as they prepare to move north.

Fried Green Tomatoes (1991) – A middle-aged and unhappy housewife on a visit to a nursing home meets an elderly free spirit and is strengthened by learning of female friendships against abusive experiences. Directed by Jon Anvet.

Clueless (1995) and Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) – Amy Heckerling’s approach to female empowerment, from a cheerful adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma (Clueless) to an understanding of teenage angst (Fast Times).

Nine to Five (1980) – Three put-upon secretaries take control of their abusive boss to hilarious effect. Directed by Colin Higgins.

Alien (1979) – The story of a spaceship crew that has unwittingly acquired a dangerous alien. In a departure from most sci-fi movies, the central heroic character is a woman (Sigourney Weaver). Directed by Ridley Scott.

Here are some other, less widely available, films that are worth pursuing; some are available from organizations such as Women Make Movies: 

I Will Follow (2010) – An early film  by Ava Du Vernay (Selma) that sensitively explores grief and family relationships.

Women without Men (2009) – Women in Tehran during the 1953 coup d’etat find solace and independence in an orchard. Adapted by the Iranian artist Shirin Neshat from a story by Shahrnush Parsipur, made outside Iran.

Sisters in Law (2005) – Two female magistrates seek justice for raped, abused and neglected women in Cameroon, West Africa, under Muslim systems of law. Directed by Florence Ayisi and Kim Longinotto.

Between Heaven and Earth (1992) – An allegorical, sci-fi approach to a story of a pregnant woman who questions the world around her when her child objects to being born. Directed by Marion Hansel.

A Question of Silence (1982) – Violence and oppression in a male-dominated society in the trial of three women who murder a man, made when many legal protections for women were not yet provided. Directed by the first woman director to win an Oscar for best foreign film (Antonia’s Line),  Dutch filmmaker Marleen Gorris.

See “Essential Feminist Films” on flavorwire.com for a more extensive list.

 SimoneMorgenAID_100.png A member of Columbus, Ohio DSA, Simone Morgen serves on DSA’s National Political Committee.

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