Top 10 Female Filmmakers

By Steph Greegor · April 17, 2015

The disparity between men and women filmmakers is an unfortunate truth in Hollywood. According to the Center for the Study of Women in Film & Television, at San Diego State University, women comprised just 17 percent of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers working on the top 250 (domestic) grossing films of 2014. In the directors-only category, women made up only 7 percent of those calling the shots last year.

They’re disheartening statistics, given that some of the best cinematic experiences, both critically and with audiences, were written and/or directed by women—The Hurt Locker, You’ve Got Mail, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Selma, Point Break—to name a few.

But instead of bemoaning those facts, we’re going to celebrate women filmmakers by calling attention to their awesomeness and helping you understand that many of the movies you love had a lady calling the shots. To that end, we bring you the top 10 women filmmakers. These women were selected for many reasons including their obvious talent as filmmakers, their ability to score big at the box office or during awards season, and for what they’ve done with their fame to make it better for others.

See what you think of these leading ladies, who are paving the way for women in film.


10. Anne Fletcher

The Proposal (2009); The Guilt Trip (2012)

Most well-known as a choreographer on several films including Boogie Nights (1997) and Titanic (1997), Fletcher made the transition to director with the dance hit Step Up (2006), followed by 27 Dresses (2008). She hit it big commercially with The Proposal, starring Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock, though critics were divided. Her notable move from choreographing films to calling the shots is inspiring and leaves us curious as to her next feature film—the 2015 flick Hot Pursuit, coming out in May and starring Reese Witherspoon.

9. Mira Nair

Salaam Bombay! (1988); Monsoon Wedding (2001)

This Indian film director’s debut feature film, Salaam Bombay! was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1988. One of her follow-up films, Monsoon Wedding, won the Golden Lion at the 2001 Venice Film Festival, as well as a Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. Nair established Mirabai Films as well as a filmmaker’s lab called Maisha, which supports up and coming East African artists.

8. Ava DuVernay

Middle of Nowhere (2012); Selma (2014)

DuVernay carries the honor of being the first black woman to win Best Director at the Sundance Film Festival in 2012 for Middle of Nowhere. Founder of the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement, an organization that empowers black filmmakers, DuVernay also made history by being the first black female director to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award and the first black female director to have a film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture for her work on Selma.

7. Lisa Cholodenko

High Art (1998); The Kids Are All Right (2010)

Cholodenko has brought LGBT films to the forefront with her provocative and emotionally moving films. High Art won the National Society of Film Critics award for Ally Sheedy’s performance and The Waldo Salt Screenwriting award at Sundance. Cholodenko, a 2012-13 member of the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, enjoyed critical success with The Kids Are All Right, as well. It won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture—Musical or Comedy and earned an Academy Award nod for Best Original Screenplay.

6. Amy Heckerling

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982); Clueless, (1995)

Who knew that one of the raunchiest teen movies in history was made by a woman? Heckerling directed Fast Times at Ridgemont High and later went back to her teen roots with the cult hit, Clueless, starring Alicia Silverstone. Her ability to strike box office gold as a female filmmaker made her a sought-after director. She also received the Women in Film Crystal Award given to women who have helped to expand the role of women within the entertainment industry.

5. Jane Campion

The Piano (1993); The Portrait of  A Lady (1996)

Campion, from New Zealand, is only the second of four women ever nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director for The Piano, for which she did win the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. She is also the first female filmmaker in history to receive the Palme d’Or for The Piano. Most recently, she served as head of the jury for the main competition section at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.

4. Sofia Coppola

The Virgin Suicides (1999); Lost in Translation (2003)

Coppola has certainly made a mark for herself as a director, becoming only the third woman of four nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director for Lost in Translation. She did win the award for Best Original Screenplay, however, for Lost. She also made history at the Venice Film Festival in 2010 when her drama Somewhere won the Golden Lion. She was the first American woman and fourth American filmmaker to win the prestigious award.

3. Nora Ephron

You’ve Got Mail (1998); Julie and Julia (2009); When Harry Met Sally…(1989)

Best known for her warm, romantic comedies, Ephron had a string of box office and critical successes, along with numerous Academy Award nominations. She was also awarded the Women in Film Crystal Award in 1994, for her contributions and for continuing to move the needle forward for women in film. Ephron died in 2012 at age 71 from pneumonia, caused by acute myeloid leukemia.

2. Nancy Meyers

What Women Want (2000); Something’s Gotta Give (2003); The Holiday (2006); It’s Complicated (2009); Private Benjamin (1980); Father of the Bride (1991)

Meyers, another director known for her well-written and well-directed romantic comedies, has been a huge box office success story across the decades, starting in the 1980s well into present day, from Private Benjamin—which nearly every studio rejected—to It’s Complicated. Interestingly, while critics tend to be divided on Meyers’ films, audiences love them and empty their wallets whenever her films release. I wouldn’t expect anything less with her next venture, The Intern.

1. Kathryn Bigelow

The Hurt Locker (2008); Point Break (1991); Blue Steel (1989); Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Bigelow became the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director with her film, The Hurt Locker. Bigelow is the rare female director that breaks the mold of what women should be directing—her male-heavy action flicks seemingly should have a man behind the lens, but she breaks all the rules with her eye for action and character development. Bigelow, named to the Time 100 list of most influential people of the year in 2010, shows a fearlessness that has paved the way for women to direct whatever they like.

Honorable Mentions

Penny Marshall – A League of Their Own (1992); Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1986); Awakenings (1990)


Betty Thomas – 28 Days (2000)



Trailer Credit

Catherine Hardwicke – Thirteen (2003); Twilight (2008)


Gina Prince-Bythewood – Love & Basketball (2000); The Secret Life of Bees (2008)