75 Essential Feminist Movies You Need to See

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Alien (1979)

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Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley is one of science fiction’s most memorable female characters. She’s not a damsel in distress—she’s a ferocious final girl, and the only survivor to defeat the monster that mutilated and destroyed every other member of the Nostromo crew.

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Set It Off (1996)

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Queen Latifah, Vivica A. Fox, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Kimberly Elise play a group of friends who find themselves at the mercy of intersectional violence, turning to robbing banks as their only way of dealing. F. Gary Gray’s 1996 heist film is a seminal feminist thriller that tells the stories of its working-class characters in an incredibly entertaining, compassionate, and empathetic way.

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Hidden Figures (2016)

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While the male brains at NASA fretted over how to put a man in space before their Russian adversaries, there were three brilliant African-American women doing the math that would actually get him there. Their names were Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe). And now, thanks to this Oscar-nominated film, these American heroes will never ever be forgotten.

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The First Wives Club (1996)

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If the sight of Diane Keaton, Bette Midler, and Goldie Hawn reclaiming their independence from their manipulative ex-husbands while singing in unison to Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” isn’t a pop-filmic ode to feminism, then we don’t know what is.

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Moana (2016)

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It takes a strong woman to join the single-moniker club occupied by the likes of Beyoncé, Madonna, and Elsa, but this Polynesian voyager princess is worthy of her membership. A near-perfect Disney film with a solid Lin-Manuel Miranda soundtrack, it’s a fairy tale, yes, but the happily ever after here has nothing to do with a prince and everything to do with self-discovery.

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Wild (2014)

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Reese Witherspoon has a resume full of films about women who won’t back down. Take Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, Tracy Enid Flick in Election, and recent, award-worthy performance on The Morning Show as Bradley Jackson. Here, she laces up her hiking boots to embody Cheryl Strayed, the real-life novice who made an 1,100-mile trek up the Pacific Crest Trail solo.

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Revenge (2018)

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Parisian filmmaker Coralie Fargeat rips the rape thriller from the clutches of male directors and transforms it into a stylized hell ride saturated in neon and the blood of her protagonist’s victims. Rather than play into the exploitation tropes the genre all too often falls into, Fargeat takes her leading lady, Matilda Lutz, on a grindhouse killing spree through the desert of an unnamed country—filtered through a gaze that’s decidedly female.

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A League of Their Own (1992)

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The late Penny Marshall directed this gem about the very first female professional baseball league. Geena Davis stars as the World War II-era catcher fighting the patriarchy, and Tom Hanks plays the cranky team manager with a heart of gold. As inspirational as it is just plain entertaining (hello, Madonna), the film encourages female viewers young and old to embrace the champion stifled inside each one of us.

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Roma (2018)

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Writer and director Alfonso Cuarón has described Roma as a love letter to all the women who raised him. It’s a beautiful rumination on all the “hoods” women go through: girlhood, womanhood, motherhood. A domestic drama about a maid and the middle-class family she cares for in Mexico City, the story is told in crisp black-and-white, but it doesn’t take long to see that a woman’s work never ventures far from the gray area.

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The Joy Luck Club (1993)

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A ’90s drama that starred entirely Asian women in its principal roles, The Joy Luck Club explores the relationships between four mothers and their daughters. And though it didn’t immediately change Hollywood the way critics thought it would, it still managed to leave its mark.

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Wonder Woman (2017)

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Patty Jenkins’s Wonder Woman stars Gal Gadot as the namesake DC Comics superhero who fights against injustice with strength, courage, and her golden Lasso of Truth. A box-office smash that scored more than $100 million on opening weekend—a record for a female-helmed film—it definitely positions Wonder Woman as the antidote to toxic masculinity her original creator imagined her to be.

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‘Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels’ (1975)

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There’s no rioting, protesting, or marching for civil rights here. Jeanne Dielman, single mother and sometime sex worker, has a simple life: laundry, dinner, the occasional John. The mundanity of being a housewife is on achingly tedious display for three-plus hours in Chantal Akerman’s experimental film. And that’s why it’s brilliant.

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‘The Passion of Joan of Arc’ (1928)

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Carl Dreyer’s silent French film is as much an example of female strength today as it was 90 years ago. Based on the actual record of the trial of Joan of Arc, it explores the martyr as a Christ-like figure whose strength, will, and determination endures even as she’s led to a stake to be burned alive.

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‘Whale Rider’ (2002)

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Girls aren’t allowed to be Whangara chiefs. But that’s not acceptable to Paikea (Keisha Castle-Hughes), the 11-year-old powerhouse who believes her destiny is to ride whales and lead her tribe. Courage, leadership and defiance are all at play in this Kiwi drama from Niki Caro.

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‘Clueless’ (1995)

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A “way existential” 1990s time capsule of fashion, pop culture and Valley-girl verbiage, Amy Heckerling’s rom-com riff on Jane Austen’s Emma celebrates female friendship and sexuality, and it puts a woman’s self-fulfillment above finding a man. Even if “fulfillment” technically includes finding a man.

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‘Thelma and Louise’ (1991)

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Susan Sarandon and Gena Davis lock arms—and fates—in this buddy road trip drama with a feminist legacy that runs deeper than the Grand Canyon. Sure, it’s directed by Ridley Scott, but the screenplay about a pair of outlaws who are anything but passive comes from a woman (Callie Khouri) and it shows.

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‘Nine to Five’ (1980)

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The workplace has long been a breeding ground for machismo and sexual harassment. In this 1980 classic, Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton aren’t going to take it anymore: the trio suit up and get revenge on their egotistical bigot of a boss.

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‘The Trouble with Angels’ (1966)

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A romp through a Catholic girls’ school courtesy of a pair of mischievous teens, this Hayley Mills classic is all about sisterhood. But the real feminism is happening behind the lens: Ida Lupino, the sole working female director of the ’50s, was blazing a trailer for the woman directors who would follow.

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‘I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing’ (1987)

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Canadian avant-garde cinema mostly seen and analyzed by college students, Patricia Rozema’s fairy-tale whimsy, about an artist on a her journey to self-discovery, is one you should seek out—particularly because it’s made by a fantastic team of women.

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‘Wendy and Lucy’ (2008)

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Director Kelly Reichardt recruits Michelle Williams for her character study mapping out the evolution of homelessness and destitution. With nothing but her pup Lucy, Williams’ Wendy fights to survive in a recession-era landscape. Like all of Reichardt’s characters, she’s flawed, willful, and above all, strong.

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Headshot of DeAnna Janes

DeAnna Janes is a freelance writer and editor for a number of sites, including Harper’s BAZAAR, Tasting Table, Fast Company and Brit + Co, and is a passionate supporter of animal causes, copy savant, movie dork and reckless connoisseur of all holidays. A native Texan living in NYC since 2005, Janes has a degree in journalism from Texas A&M and  got her start in media at US Weekly before moving on to O Magazine, and eventually becoming the entertainment editor of the once-loved, now-shuttered DailyCandy. She’s based on the Upper West Side.

 

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