30 Best Feminist Movies to Watch for Women’s History Month
From action to comedy, these are the feminist movies you need to watch, featuring smart, resourceful women who live to subvert expectations. Equality now!
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Feminism is defined as the belief that men and women deserve equal rights in everything—personally, socially, economically, and politically. Seems like a no-brainer, right? Yet even in 2021, we are far from gender equality. From tech to medicine to politics, most industries are dominated by men, and that goes for the movies, too. Whether they’re feel-good movies for the end of a long week, or movies so scary you need to sleep with the light on, most movies (around 60 percent) feature a male protagonist. Most directors, producers, and writers are male, and men win all the awards: the only woman ever to have won an Oscar for Best Director is Kathryn Bigelow, for 2009’s The Hurt Locker. Of course, as individuals we don’t have the power to change an entire industry, but we can choose what we consume and what we encourage others to consume, and in that way we can influence what gets made. We can call out injustice and inequality wherever we see it, whether that’s online or in person, and if you don’t know where to start, adding feminist movies to your watchlist is a great way to get fired up. Whether you want to educate yourself, the men or young people in your life, there’s a cathartic feminist movie where powerful women fight patriarchal norms for everyone! Oh, and there’s a great book written by a female author for that, too.
Hidden Figures (2016)
This inspiring film follows three Black American women—Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe)—working as mathematicians at the race- and sex-segregated Langley Research Center at NASA. Fighting misogyny and racial discrimination, the three women make indispensable contributions to the space race, becoming instrumental in the eventual successful launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit. For more incredible women in STEM, check out these facts about the women of NASA.
Thelma and Louise (1991)
One of the best female buddy movies of all time, Thelma and Louise was an instant classic when it came out in the early 1990s, and it remains so today. Thelma and Louise are best friends living unhappy lives in Arkansas; Thelma (Geena Davis) is married to a controlling car salesman, while Louise (Susan Sarandon) works as a waitress and is dating a ne’er-do-well musician. The pair set out on a weekend fishing vacation which turns into a thrilling road trip as they meet nasty after disappointing man, all of whom they defeat. The ending to this feminist movie is absolutely iconic and will not be spoiled here! Get your girlfriends together and prepare to laugh, cry, and cheer. You’ll be planning a girls’ road trip before you know it.
Salma Hayek stars as the queenly monobrowed Mexican artist in this wonderful biopic. Frida Kahlo is famous for her self-portraits and her surrealist painting style, both of which she used to explore gender, race, class, and post-colonialism in Mexico. Every feminist movie needs a strong woman who marches to the beat of her own drum, and Kahlo was always unapologetically herself, serving as an inspiration to women everywhere. Hayek brings the artist to life, from her tempestuous love life, incredible artistic achievements and personal struggles. Few women have made as great of an impact on the art world as Kahlo, and her influence continues to be felt amongst artists of all genders today. Kahlo is one of the amazing Hispanic women who changed the world.
The First Wives Club (1996)
This flick follows the story of four college friends (Stockard Channing, Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn, and Diane Keaton) who reconnect after one of them dies. Finding that they are all middle-aged and divorced or suffering from marital problems, their husbands having become involved with younger woman. The three remaining friends form the First Wives Club, seeking restitution for the harm the men in their lives have done to them. This film is a hilarious look at female friendships, social ambitions, generational rivalry, and the problems with our patriarchal society’s dismissal of older women. These moments changed women’s history forever.
Drawing from Polynesian mythology, this is a fantastic film in Disney’s new era of modern princess stories. Moana is the daughter of the chief, chosen by the ocean to restore the heart of a goddess that was stolen by Maui, the trickster god, 1000 years ago. When her island home suffers from a blight which causes her people to go hungry, Moana sets out to fulfill her destiny, tangling with gods and monsters along the way. Like all Disney movies, the message is that dreams can come true with a combination of self-belief and teamwork (and singing), so kids will get an extra kick out of it, but people of all ages will enjoy this feminist movie. Everyone will love these funny family movies.
Legally Blonde (2001)
In the 20 years since this movie came out, Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) has become a feminist icon for blondes everywhere, and brunettes everywhere, and redheads everywhere… basically, for every person who has ever had a man tell them they can’t do a thing because of their gender (or hair color). Elle Woods is all set to marry her boyfriend when he tells her she’s not serious enough to be his wife. Galvanized, Elle sets out to win him back, but once she focuses her drive and confidence on herself, she finds that she would much rather fulfill her potential and build her dream career. This feminist movie is endlessly quotable, inspiring, and re-watchable. These are the funniest movies of all time.
A League of Their Own (1992)
This classic sports movie is set during World War II, when Major League Baseball was threatened by all the men going off to war, and the Cubs’ enterprising owner Walter Harvey starts a women’s league. The film follows the women who go on to form the Rockford Peaches, including the protagonists, sisters Dottie (Geena Davis) and Kit (Lori Petty). Even if you’re not a baseball fan, seeing the women bust stereotypes by being apologetically athletic and strong makes this one of the great feminist movies. Ever wondered how Galentine’s Day came to be a thing?
Whale Rider (2020)
A beautiful and feminist movie, Whale Rider is set in a small Māori village in rural New Zealand. Pai (Keisha Castle-Hughes) is the direct descendant of her ancestor Paikea, who rode a whale from the ancient home of the Polynesian people to New Zealand, and whose male descendants become the leader of the village. Pai, whose twin brother and mother died at birth, is disallowed from inheriting the leadership because she is female, despite her ancestry. Castle-Hughes’ performance won her an Oscar nomination, and the story of Pai fighting against patriarchal tradition is truly stirring. She definitely deserves to be on this list of women pioneers.
The Joy Luck Club (1993)
This is a story of mothers and daughters, and the balance between two cultures, Chinese and American. Based on the acclaimed book by Amy Tan (who also co-wrote the screenplay, the film also features a prominent female producer, and is edited and scored by women. Because the film is so closely focused on the women’s stories, director Wayne Wang filled 50 speaking parts with female actresses, and only ten with male. The combination of female-led cast and crew makes for a great feminist movie! The story details the lives of the mothers before and after they left China, and the effect their experiences has had on their daughters, born in the United States. It’s a fascinating portrayal of these close relationships, and was praised at the time for elevating the onscreen portrayal of Chinese-Americans outside the usual stereotypes. You probably didn’t learn about these amazing Asian-Americans in school.
Wonder Woman (2017)
With director Patty Jenkins at the helm, 2017’s Wonder Woman immediately became a classic feminist movie. From her home island inhabited entirely by warrior women, to her entry into World War I-era society where women were not even allowed to vote, Diana Prince (aka Wonder Woman) shows that her true power and strength comes not just from her lasso and sword, but from her traditionally “feminine” qualities: empathy, kindness, and emotional intelligence. Also, it’s somehow extremely satisfying to see a bunch of incredible warrior women defeat an army of men. Watch this one with your girls.
Starring Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern, this feminist movie is based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of her time walking 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail in the 1990s. Witherspoon optioned the rights to the book as part of her production company’s focus on women’s stories. Strayed’s decision to hike the PCT came as her life descended into chaos after the death of her mother, and the dissolution of her marriage. As Strayed undertakes the challenging hike, her story of grief and loss is told in flashbacks as she works through her emotions. Filled with amazing experiences, this movie will make you want to hit the trail yourself.
Alien is the classic story of a woman and her cat overcoming impossible odds to survive. Sigourney Weaver is Ripley: smart, brave, resourceful, and trying desperately to escape an alien attack on board the spaceship Nostromo. The role launched Weaver’s decades-long career, and provided a template for female leaders in sci-fi movies and television that was sorely needed. Ripley became an icon of feminist movies, and a hero to all. And don’t worry about the cat, Jonesy: he survives with all nine lives intact.
Nine to Five (1980)
Co-written by Patricia Resnick and starring feminist icons Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton, and Lily Tomlin, Nine to Five is both unbelievably hilarious and one of the best feminist movies of all time. The three women, who work together, suffer under their misogynistic and bigoted male boss until they team up to bring him down—whereupon productivity soars! (As we all know, sexism hurts everybody). The movie also features the iconic Dolly Parton song 9 to 5, written by Parton when she was inspired during filming. Everybody needs to see this movie (and sing along!)
This animated film is adapted from the autobiographical graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi. The story follows a young Iranian girl growing up against the backdrop of the 1978-79 Iranian Revolution, which overthrew the Shah but resulted in many freedoms being restricted, especially for women, as strict Islamic law was enforced. As many of her middle-class family’s friends flee to the United States and Europe, Satrapi rebels by wearing denim jackets and buying Western punk and heavy metal music. In many ways she is carrying out a typical teenage rebellion, but under vastly higher stakes than many teenagers experience. This is a story of a young woman fighting for self-actualization in a changing society, and that struggle is what makes this one of the best feminist movies.
Little Women (2019)
Although the iconic book by Louisa May Alcott has been adapted for film seven times, this version of the movie is definitely one of the best. Written and directed by Greta Gerwig, and produced by an all-woman team, the story follows four girls as they grow to women against the backdrop of the American Civil War. Although this is a period piece, the issues facing these young women are just as relevant today: figuring out love, career goals, and how to stay true to yourself. Shot on location in Alcott’s home town of Concord, Massachusetts, Gerwig’s version brings the story to life in a fresh, modern way. These other places around the country have become landmarks of women’s history.
Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)
Starring Madonna (in her first major film role) and Rosanna Arquette, the story follows Roberta, a bored housewife who becomes obsessed with a mysterious bohemian woman named Susan whose messages she sees in the personal column of the newspaper. Anyone who has ever looked up to and wanted to emulate the attitude (and style!) of a cool female friend or big sister can relate to this movie. Ultimately, what makes this a feminist movie is the friendship between the two women, and Roberta’s gradual awakening to her own power and freedom as she takes charge of making her life more exciting.
His Girl Friday (1940)
One of the greatest screwball romantic comedy films of the 1930s and ’40s, His Girl Friday stars powerhouses Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. However, this film is also one of the greatest feminist movies ever because of Russell’s incredible character, Hildegard “Hildy” Johnson. Russell and Grant play divorced newspaper reporters covering one last story together (and maybe falling in love all over again?). What’s remarkable, however, is the portrayal of Hildy as Grant’s equal both personally and professionally. Hildy is respected at work (despite being the only female reporter) and is smart, talented, and resourceful. The two leads are intensely charismatic and the classically rapid fire script is deliciously witty. If you haven’t seen this film already, you definitely should. Do you know these everyday things that cost more for women?
Daughters of the Dust (1991)
This film had a recent boost for becoming known as one of Beyoncé’s inspirations for her Lemonade project, but has long held a place on the list of best feminist movies not only for its story, but because it was the first film directed by an African-American woman (Julie Dash) to gain a general theatrical release. Set in 1902 on the islands off the Georgia coast, the film follows the Gullah people, descendants of enslaved people brought to the island plantations, who have developed their own language and culture, Gullah creole. The movie takes place at a time of change on the islands, as three generations of Gullah women prepare to leave the islands and migrate north.
Erin Brockovich (2000)
This inspiring story is based on the real-life case of Erin Brockovich, who took on the Pacific Gas and Electric Company and won. Brockovich (played here by Julia Roberts) was a single mom when she discovered that PG&E had been knowingly poisoning the groundwater that serves the town near their plant for years. Many residents in the area had developed cancers and other illnesses as a result of the contamination. Brockovich puts together a class action lawsuit with other members of the town. This film is infuriating and satisfying, with Roberts delivering a blockbuster performance worthy of one of the great feminist movies. These amazing women are changing lives across the world.
Hairspray (1988, 2007)
Both the original 1988 movie (directed by John Waters) and the 2007 remake are utterly delightful singalongs that everyone should see. The story follows Tracy Turnblad, a “pleasantly plump” high schooler living in Baltimore int he 1960s who dreams of dancing on a local TV show, and rallies against racial segregation, befriending her Black classmates and learning new dance moves from them. Tracy is an absolute icon, both as an advocate of body positivity and racial justice, making this a true feminist movie classic.
Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
Looking for an adorable film about girl power, sports, and a young woman fighting to achieve her dreams while trying to juggle conflicting cultures? Then British comedy Bend It Like Beckham is the feminist movie for you. Jess Bhamra is the 18-year-old daughter of British Indian Sikhs living in West London. Her parents want her to go to college and pursue a professional degree, but Jess is obsessed with soccer and wants nothing more than to play for one of the professional teams in America. Her conservative family does not approve, so she joins a local team in secret. This movie is hilarious, touching, and uplifting, and you will be cheering for Jess even if you’re not into sports. These are the reasons women still aren’t equal to men.
Shut Up & Sing (2006)
In 2003, the Dixie Chicks had sold more albums in the United States than any other female band in history. Then, during the first concert in London on their “Top of the World” tour, lead singer Natalie Maines introduced one of their songs by criticizing President Bush’s (their fellow Texan) decision to invade Iraq. Country fans tend to skew conservative, and the backlash to Maines’ comments was immediate and wide-ranging. The band received death threats and abuse, to the point where the FBI recommended that they cancel their 2006 concerts due to security risks. This is important viewing. Women speaking up in any capacity are often silenced, and the Dixie Chicks were often told to stick to music rather than standing up for the values they hold dear—in other words, to shut up and sing. As a feminist movie, this is a searing view of celebrity, gender, and politics.
This hilariously dark crime movie is by the Coen brothers, and stars Frances McDormand as Minnesota police chief Marge Gunderson. Although not the most obvious pick for a list of the best feminist movies, as with His Girl Friday, the character of Marge is the feminist hero of the story. Not only is she the police chief, but she carries out the entire investigation while 7 months pregnant. Can we get a whoop whoop? These are the most inspiring women alive today.
Starring Meryl Streep, Helena Bonham Carter, and Carey Mulligan, this powerful feminist movie tells the story of the women who fought to give British women the vote. Set in 1912, it tells the story of the sometimes violent protests these brave women undertook, and the punishment they often received, as they fought for the rights we are lucky enough to enjoy today. Essential viewing for everyone, especially around election time!
Battle of the Sexes (2017)
The question of unequal pay in men’s and women’s sports continues to haunt us, as the recent lawsuit by the multi-World Cup winning, yet underpaid U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team shows. In 1970, Billie Jean King (ranked #1 in the world the year before) and nine other women refused to play in a tournament where the women’s prize was 1/8th of the man’s prize, despite equal ticket sales, setting up the Women’s Tennis Association Tour instead. Meanwhile, washed-up former professional tennis player Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) challenges the top female player to a match, boasting that he can beat any woman even though he is 55. In 1973, King (Emma Stone) agrees to play him. This film, based on an amazing true story, is an instant feminist movie classic. These are great movies that got rotten reviews.
Adam’s Rib (1949)
This classic romantic comedy stars Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy as married lawyers who each take one side of a husband-wife adultery/attempted murder case with Hepburn defending the wife, and Tracy the husband. What follows is an hilarious yet subtle investigation into the differences and similarities between men and women, and the inequalities of judgement passed upon them. Hepburn and Tracy have amazing chemistry, and Hepburn lives up to her status as a feminist icon as usual, as Tracy’s equal both personally and professionally.
This beautiful film follows a ten-year-old girl, Wadjda, who desperately wants to own a particular green bike she passes every day on her way to school. The bike is expensive, and although Wadjda works to earn money to buy it, her conservative community and family do not approve of girls riding bikes. This was both the first film to be shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, and the first to be written and directed by a Saudi Arabian woman, Haifaa al-Mansour, making it a groundbreaking film well worth inclusion on any list of the best feminist movies. You might not know that all of these hit movies were once books.
On the Basis of Sex (2018)
The great Ruth Bader Ginsburg may have passed, but her legacy lives on forever in feminist movies like this biographical portrait. Following the young Bader Ginsburg as she completed her law degree and takes on her first court case. The case is one of gender discrimination—in this case, against a man. However, Bader Ginsburg works to turn it into a precedent for gender discrimination cases, under the logic that if a man cannot be discriminated against for his gender, neither can a woman. This movie shows the work of Bader Ginsburg and helps to reinforce her standing as a modern feminist icon. These Ruth Bader Ginsburg quotes will stay with you.
This feminist movie is based on the true story of three female Fox News employees who set out to expose CEO Roger Ailes’ chronic sexual harassment by suing him personally. The story made international news headlines as it played out, and this story is a fascinating and frustrating look at the structures of power, and how women may benefit or be flattened by them, often as men dictate. These are the most scientifically inaccurate movies ever.
Whip It! (2006)
Seventeen-year-old Bliss (Elliot Page, credited as Ellen Page) is a misfit in small town Texas, pushed to enter pageants by her former beauty queen mother despite her shyness. Shopping in Austin one day, she sees some cool older women advertising for roller derby tryouts and finds herself intrigued, and then obsessed. Along with her friend Pash (Alia Shawkat) she joins a team and tries to hide it from her family. This is a sweet, feel-good coming of age feminist movie, as Bliss tries to reconcile her own desires with that of her parents, and finds her own strength and confidence along the way. Next, check out the best movies to watch this Easter.