Enough with the studios like 20th Century Fox, Sony, Paramount, and the Weinstein Company, none of which put out even a single film this year that was directed by a woman.
Enough with the executives who would rather hand a lucrative blockbuster to a man who’s never made a movie before (like Seth Grahame-Smith, the novice director recently picked by Warner Bros. to direct a big-budget adaptation of The Flash) than a woman who has.
And enough with the producers who claim that there’s still just a shallow pool of female directors to draw from, because we’ve got 100 reasons why that’s not the case.
Below, we’ve compiled a list of the best and brightest female directors in the industry, very few of whom are afforded the same major opportunities as their male counterparts. Some are promising up-and-comers, while others are award-winning veterans. Their talents run the gamut from comedy to drama, and from action to arthouse. Contrary to what Hollywood would have you believe, it wasn’t hard to assemble such an enormous list of smart, eminently hireable female directors. The only difficult part was culling it down to just 100.
A former fighting champion in real life, Alexander specializes in kicking ass onscreen, as seen in her films Green Street Hooligans and Punisher: War Zone (the rare comic-book adaptation helmed by a woman). Alexander’s not afraid to fight back on Twitter either, calling out industry sexism on the regular.
Studios haven’t done a great job of handing big movies to female filmmakers, but the statistics are even more woeful when it comes to women of color. Why not poach Debbie Allen, a pioneer who’s directed countless episodes of television over nearly 30 years? Recently, Allen’s lent her skills to Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, and the actress-director continues to appear on the latter show in a recurring role.
Ana Lily Amirpour
Watch this poetic, patient encounter from Amirpour’s acclaimed A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and you’ll understand why the Iranian-American director has enticed Jason Momoa, Keanu Reeves, and Jim Carrey to star in the badass-sounding The Bad Batch, a postapocalyptic cannibal love story produced by Megan Ellison.
I used to think of Anders as something of a distaff counterpart to Gus Van Sant, as both of them brightened the independent-movie scene by focusing on unrepresented subcultures with warmth and specificity. Of course, Van Sant and the other men who ruled the indie scene (like Richard Linklater) are now sought-after film directors, while Anders is working in television. The woman who made Gas Food Lodging and Mi Vida Loca deserves more big-screen opportunities.
My Brilliant Career was Armstrong’s breakout, but it could also describe a wide-ranging CV that includes Little Women, Mrs. Soffel, and Oscar and Lucinda. Armstrong introduced audiences to Aussie powerhouses like Cate Blanchett and Judy Davis, and she’ll next make a documentary about Oscar-winning costume designer Orry-Kelly, entitled Women He’s Undressed.
An Oscar winner for Best Live-Action Short Film (for 2003’s “Wasp”), Arnold has become one of the most intriguing British filmmakers working. She gave Michael Fassbender a charismatic, sexy showcase in 2009’s Fish Tank, and two years later directed a stunningly gorgeous adaptation of Wuthering Heights. Next up, she wrangles Shia LaBeouf for the indie American Honey.
Asante’s Belle, the rare costume drama to star a black protagonist, was one of last year’s biggest indie sleepers, making more money than buzzed-about specialty films like Inherent Vice, Under the Skin, and A Most Violent Year. She’s currently shooting the provocative racial drama A United Kingdom, which romantically pairs David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike.
Babbit directed the cult classic But I’m a Cheerleader before she had even turned 30. (How are your 20s working out?) In addition to her current indie Addicted to Fresno, starring Judy Greer and Natasha Lyonne, Babbit has also directed episodes of just about every hit TV show out there, including Girls and Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
After producing the surprise hit Pitch Perfect (as well as appearing in it as a cappella commentator Gail), Banks took the helm for this summer’s big sequel, which almost tripled the first film’s haul with an eye-popping $183 million. Universal just landed Banks to direct the third Pitch Perfect, too, but the busy actress-director is also said to be circling a Charlie’s Angelsreboot.
This great Dane has a knack for intimate dramas like After the Wedding, Brothers, and In a Better World (which won the Oscar for Best Foreign-Language Film). She’s also directed English-language movies like Things We Lost in the Fire and Serena, and while the latter didn’t quite work, we’re still excited for her upcoming mini-series The Night Manager,starring Tom Hiddleston.
The first woman to win the Oscar for Best Director, Bigelow cut her teeth on terrific genre fare like Near Dark, Point Break, and Strange Daysbefore segueing to wartime thrillers The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. She’s currently crafting a project on Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl, the controversial figure whom popular podcast “Serial” is circling, too.
Along with her co-director Ryan Fleck, Boden helmed the stunning, subtle Half Nelson, which earned Ryan Gosling an Oscar nomination for playing a smack-addicted grade-school teacher. Boden and Fleck can find the weary humanity in just about anybody, and that gift is on display in their current gambling movie Mississippi Grind, starring Ryan Reynolds and Ben Mendelsohn.
Campion was only the second woman ever to receive a Best Director nomination, and while she didn’t take home that trophy for 1993’s The Piano, she did win that year for the film’s screenplay. (The Academy would later pull the same trick with Sofia Coppola, the next woman nominated for Best Director.) Campion’s entire oeuvre is pretty incredible, from her dark and delightful debut Sweetie to her acclaimed mini-series Top of the Lake, which she’ll next direct a second season of.
Caro is one of a mere handful of women who directed a film for the major studios this year, helming Disney’s McFarland, USA. This New Zealander first came to Hollywood’s attention for the Oscar-nominated 2002 film Whale Rider, and we’re excited that she’s currently shooting The Zookeeper’s Wife with star Jessica Chastain, who has been outspoken about hiring more female directors.
Chadha directed Bend It Like Beckham, which helped launch the careers of so many actors (like Keira Knightley, Parminder Nagra, and Archie Panjabi), and another British film you may not have heard of in the States, Angus, Thongs, and Perfect Snogging, which raised the profile of the now-ubiquitous Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Chadha could rest on her talent-scouting abilities alone, but she’s currently working on an animated DreamWorks musical about Bollywood.
Chapman was the first woman to co-direct a major studio’s animated film (1998’s The Prince of Egypt), which eventually landed her on Pixar’s radar. Though she was replaced by Mark Andrews on Brave after creative differences with the studio, Chapman still retained co-director credit and, as such, became the first female winner of an Oscar for Best Animated Film.
In an era where CG-inflated movies pride themselves on creating digital characters, thank God for Cholodenko, who makes movies about actual humans. The characters that populate her films — including The Kids Are All Right, High Art, Laurel Canyon, and the simply terrific HBO mini-series Olive Kitteridge — live fascinating, foible-filled lives that seem to stretch beyond the barriers of the screen.
The Spanish Coixet has directed several English-language films, including My Life Without Me and The Secret Life of Words (both of which starred future director Sarah Polley), as well as 2008’s Elegy, which gave Penélope Cruz an underrated performance to tuck neatly between her powerhouse turns in Volver and Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Coixet’s latest is the just-released Learning to Drive, reuniting Elegy co-stars Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley.
Coolidge is the only female president the Directors Guild of America has ever had, which is a pretty landmark thing in and of itself. But in addition to that, she’s also directed a whole lot of interesting, different films, from the ’80s comedies Real Genius and Valley Girl to dramatic features like Rambling Rose and Introducing Dorothy Dandridge.
Granddaughter of Francis Ford Coppola and niece to Sofia, Gia is the latest Coppola to make her name behind the camera, and if the dreamy Palo Alto (starring Emma Roberts and adapted from a book of short stories by James Franco) is any indication, she’s a talent to watch.
The first American woman ever to receive a Best Director nomination, Coppola won an Oscar in 2004 for her spare but perfectly calibrated screenplay for Lost in Translation. Her characters don’t say much — and sometimes, in the case of Lost in Translation’s final whisper, you can’t make out what they’re saying at all — but the inchoate longing and loneliness in her movies speak volumes.
If you’re in that sweet spot between 20 and 40, you’ve seen a Tamra Davis movie. Doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman: The dudes have surely caught her comedy cult classics Billy Madison and Half-Baked, while the Britney Spears vehicle Crossroads satisfied the distaff demographic. I find it hard to believe that a man who had made those first two movies would ever go wanting for studio comedies to direct, but Davis is now working in television, so you tell me.
It’s great that 2015 brought two high-profile lesbian films, Carol and Freehold, but I wouldn’t mind one that was actually directed by a lesbian. Donna Deitch, who made Desert Hearts — one of the first landmark lesbian movies back in 1985 — would be a terrific choice to helm just about any sort of romance.
A two-time Oscar nominee for co-writing Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, Delpy has another unlikely franchise of her own making: She wrote, directed, and starred in 2 Days in Paris and 2 Days in New York, and her bawdy, moody sense of humor put a unique new spin on those culture-clash comedies. She’s continued crafting her own starring vehicles, too, with Lolo up next, in which she plays a single mother whose son doesn’t take kindly to her new beau.
A year ago, I might have left Denis off this list: Though her films, like Trouble Every Day, Beau Travail, and White Material, mark this French director as a titan of world cinema, I didn’t think she had any interest in going mainstream. And then, over the past year, Denis set Zadie Smith to write a sci-fi film and Robert Pattinson to star in it. If this is what it looks like when Denis is ready to play ball, I can’t wait to see what kind of curve she puts on her pitch.
With Selma, DuVernay proved she has an unerring skill for blending the important with the intimate, a talent she’d honed on two previous features, I Will Follow and Middle of Nowhere. The first black woman to direct a film nominated for Best Picture, DuVernay also founded ARRAY, a distribution company geared toward female filmmakers and people of color.
Here’s an un-fun fact: Women have directed 12 Best Picture nominees, but only three of them have come with a concurrent nod for Best Director. One of those unjustly snubbed female filmmakers was Faris, who co-directed the winning Little Miss Sunshine with Jonathan Dayton and most recently reteamed with him for Ruby Sparks.
An Education gets a lot of credit for starting the Carey Mulligan hype train, but Shana Feste was actually the first director to introduce Mulligan to American audiences when her film The Greatest, which debuted in competition at Sundance six years ago. Since then, she’s also directed the Gwyneth Paltrow vehicle Country Strong, which was perhaps the last film to really feature a full-throttle performance from the Oscar-winning actress.
In A Teacher and her latest drama, 6 Years, Fidell demonstrated her uncanny ability to drill right into the heart of a romantic relationship. Everything feels intimate and real in her films, especially the fights. She’s a voyeur with verve.
Sandra Bullock spent most of the 2000s languishing in subpar movies until Fletcher’s 2009 rom-com The Proposal revitalized the actress’s career, giving Bullock her biggest success ever at the time. Fletcher also directed the first Step Up, which helped put Channing Tatum on the map. We owe this woman a lot for those two things alone.
Fontaine mainly works in France, though she directs an English-language drama every now and then. Her big breakthroughs were Dry Cleaning and especially Coco Before Chanel, starring Audrey Tautou as the iconic designer. And, yes, Fontaine’s Adore — the mother-lover erotic drama with Naomi Watts and Robin Wright — is a little much, but it’s also utterly watchable and kinda hot, too.
Foster began directing in 1991 — the same year as her Oscar-winning triumph in Silence of the Lambs — and since her debut effort Little Man Tate, she’s periodically stepped behind the camera for movies like Home for the Holidays. In recent years, Foster has prioritized her directing career even more, and after helming Netflix shows like House of Cardsand Orange Is the New Black (the latter of which won her an Emmy nomination), she’s making the financial drama Money Monster, starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts.
It’s rare to have a director helm virtually every episode of a long-running series, but that’s exactly what Fryman managed with How I Met Your Mother, where she directed all but 12 of the show’s 208 episodes. She also went behind the camera for 34 episodes of Frasier and 89 episodes of Just Shoot Me, so I’m thinking a comparatively luxurious feature-film gig would actually let the woman take a breather.
Gavron made her directorial debut with 2007’s Brick Lane, but it took her six years to get financing for her latest film, Suffragette, which tracks the British suffragette movement through the eyes of a lower-class working woman (Carey Mulligan). “This story had never been told,” said Gavron, and “the reason it’s never been told before is because women keep being marginalized.”
Getzinger directed ten episodes of Mad Men, including what may be the show’s finest hour, “The Suitcase.” The Emmys overlooked her that year, but the movie studios shouldn’t: If you’ve got a smart adult drama that needs a director, give Getzinger her big shot.
Lesli Linka Glatter
Her girls-growing-up drama Now and Then was a slumber-party staple (and has sparked talk of a remake), but it hasn’t typecast Glatter: She also directed the episode of Mad Men featuring the show’s iconic lawnmower accident and has served as an executive producer and director on Homeland since 2012. She’s been Emmy-nominated for both series.
The last time Granik directed a narrative feature, Winter’s Bone picked up four Oscar nominations (including Best Picture) and introduced Hollywood to Jennifer Lawrence; before that, she made an addiction drama, Down to the Bone, that gave Vera Farmiga her first showcase role. With her terrific talent for finding and cultivating top-tier actresses, let’s hope Granik can mount another impressive feature film soon.
Just before Scandal made a megastar out of Kerry Washington and Marvel gave Anthony Mackie his biggest exposure, Hamilton paired the two of them for her atmospheric period drama Night Catches Us, about a former Black Panther’s return to his old neighborhood. In 2010, Hamilton said she was pursuing two ideas for a second movie, so who’s down to make that happen for her?
In Something New, Hamri paired Sanaa Lathan and Simon Baker in a sexy affair. In Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, Hamri got Jesse Williams to take his clothes off. In Just Wright, Hamri cast Common as a romantic lead. In case you couldn’t tell, this is a filmmaker who knows what women want.**
Electronic dance music got the origin story it was due this year in Hansen-Løve’s film Eden, which she based on her DJ brother Paul. (Félix de Givry and Greta Gerwig starred.) The 34-year-old French filmmaker made it into Cannes for her very first film, 2007’s All Is Forgiven, and she’s also directed Goodbye First Love and The Father of My Children.
It happens all too often in Hollywood that a woman will direct the first installment of a blockbuster franchise before she’s deposed and replaced by men, but that still can’t take anything away from what Hardwicke did by kicking off Twilight: Not only did she launch a series that provided distaff competition for all the boy-targeted supernatural stories at Comic-Con, she earned a then-record debut opening by a female filmmaker.
Bret Easton Ellis has never been an easy author to adapt for the screen, but Harron not only managed it with American Psycho, she turned a horror book into a hoot. Somehow, her blood-soaked comedy helped make a star out of Christian Bale, and their carefully calibrated take on the deranged yuppie killer Patrick Bateman was immediately iconic.
If a man had directed two comedies as spiky and specific as Headland’s Bachelorette and Sleeping With Other People, something tells me Hollywood would have offered him the keys to the kingdom. TV has sparked to Headland’s sensibility — she’s developing a magazine-set sitcom right now — but it’s outrageous that the movie studios seem to be sleeping on her.
When the blog Cinema Fanatic recently polled a wide swath of filmmakers and film fans to crown the best movie made by a female director, Heckerling’s Clueless unexpectedly came out on top. Then again, the film’s a stone-cold classic, one of the best teen comedies ever made, and so bursting with affection for its characters — and a deliciously witty vocabulary — that every rewatch is almost better than your first.
Give Marielle Heller every film. What, you need more coaxing than that? Fine: Heller’s Diary of a Teenage Girl, starring Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgard, and Kristen Wiig, is very simply the best debut film we’ve seen in a long, long time. It’s compassionate, funny, sexy, and bold, and it gives you the sense that there’s nothing Heller (who is next helming a Ruth Bader Ginsburg movie for Natalie Portman) could not handle.
1990’s Europa Europa was a breakthrough for the Polish filmmaker, who has directed two Best Foreign-Language Film nominees (Angry Harvestand In Darkness). But Holland is just as adept at English-language work, having helmed The Secret Garden, Total Eclipse, and several episodes of American television, including two installments of the most recent House of Cards season.
First of all, Holofcener is seemingly the only person in Hollywood who said, “Hmm, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is one of the comedic geniuses of our time, why hasn’t she starred in a movie yet?” so you have to give her credit for that. Also, she keeps Catherine Keener steadily employed, so that is a blessing, too. But Holofcener’s movies, like Enough Said, Please Give, andLovely and Amazing, are perceptive gems in and of themselves, and her sensibility is one that’s always worth looking forward to.
Hunt’s debut drama Frozen River cost no more than $1 million, but it sure got the Academy’s attention: Her lead Melissa Leo was nominated for Best Actress, while Hunt herself snagged a nod for Best Original Screenplay. Next up, this former law student is tackling a legal drama, The Whole Truth, starring Keanu Reeves.
Jenkins directed Charlize Theron in her ferocious, Oscar-winning performance as the troubled murderer Aileen Wuornos in Monster, then effectively infused the pilot for The Killing with mystery and atmosphere that the show had trouble sustaining without her. Next up, she’ll become one of the rare female filmmakers to direct a superhero movie when she takes the helm of Wonder Woman.
Jenkins has only directed two movies over the last 20 years, on what’s she’s jokingly referred to as a “Terrence Malick schedule without the masterpieces.” But she’s being self-effacing: Each of her two films, the Natasha Lyonne comedy Slums of Beverly Hills and the Laura Linney/Philip Seymour Hoffman vehicle Savages, is a modest and heartfelt little miracle.
Jenson co-directed Shrek, which changed the animation industry and won the Academy’s first Oscar for Best Animated Feature. She also co-directed the successful Shark Tale, but while her male colleagues on those films have gone on to make big live-action films like Chronicles of Narnia and Goosebumps, all Hollywood had to give Jenson was the Alexis Bledel comedy Post-Grad.
She’s already one of the biggest movie stars in the world, but Jolie is now poised to become one of our most prolific female directors, directing a film per year. In 2014, that was the $115 million grosser Unbroken, while this year she’ll release By the Sea, which she wrote, directed, and stars in opposite husband Brad Pitt. Slated for 2016, Jolie will next tackle a Cambodian drama for Netflix.
July’s first feature, Me and You and Everyone We Know, was a quirky Cannes prize-winner; her second film, The Future, chronicles the dissolution of a sweet relationship with such specificity that I’ll never forget it. July is sometimes hammered for the same precious style that Wes Anderson is celebrated for, but she’s got an interest in tricky matters of the heart that will always ground her fantastic flights of fancy. Plus, that Rihanna interview! So good!
In an era where horror films aspire for found-footage ordinariness, Kent brought massive style to last year’s The Babadook, a bracingly inventive, fiercely felt film about a diffident mother and her young son who are haunted not just by a creepy children’s book but by the family troubles that now find supernatural manifestation. Debuts rarely come more promising than Kent’s.
Four years ago, you couldn’t walk around at the Sundance Film Festival without someone raving about Circumstance, Keshavarz’s film about two teenage lesbians in Tehran. You don’t need me to tell you that subject matter went over poorly in Iran, from which Keshavarz is now banned; fortunately, she’s an American and highly employable.
“People have a right to have their lives witnessed,” Kidron said in a TED Talk about the transformative power of cinema. “If we coexist with the systems that abuse people, then we have a duty to understand.” It’s that drive that has led her to make two documentaries about prostitution, though she’s also got a knack for taking undersung people and subcultures and putting them onscreen, as she did in To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar.
So Yong Kim
Kim has made three films and picked up a Special Jury Prize at Sundance for her first one, In Between Days, about a Korean girl navigating immigrant life in Canada. A writer-director, Kim has since made the dramas Treeless Mountain and For Ellen, the latter of which starred Paul Dano as a lonely rocker coming to terms with his crumbling family.
Kusama’s first film, Girlfight, introduced the world to Michelle Rodriguez, but her second effort, Aeon Flux, was caught between two executive regimes at Paramount, and the second group of executives disemboweled it. Fortunately, Kusama bounced back with the underrated Jennifer’s Body, and she stormed South by Southwest this year with the dinner-party thriller The Invitation, coming soon.
Leder directed the first DreamWorks movie, The Peacemaker, and the superior asteroid drama of 1998, Deep Impact. After her film Pay It Forward underperformed, she’s built a new career directing The Leftoversfor HBO, and she noted to the Times this year, “Why are women clawing to be directors when there are male directors who have made two or three $200 million failures and get to make another one? That doesn’t happen with women. Never.”
The Cannes Film Festival often comes under fire for including too few films by women in its competition, but Leigh’s debut Sleeping Beautymade a Cannes splash in a particularly fruitful year for female filmmakers that also included Maïwenn, Lynne Ramsay, and Naomi Kawase. Leigh’s provocative take on the Sleeping Beauty story starred Emily Browning as a call girl of sorts who spends most of her sessions fast asleep.
Roger Ebert named Lemmons’s debut Eve’s Bayou as his favorite film of 1997, writing that it established her as “one of today’s most gifted young American writer-directors.” Lemmons has only gotten to make three films since that heralding, which is a disconcerting testimonial to the fact that Hollywood doesn’t always know what to do with talented women of color. Still, I’m choosing to look on the bright side, because Lemmons has been attached for a while to an adaptation of Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, and she’d be perfect for it.
Lloyd directed the highest-grossing movie-musical of all time (Mamma Mia!, which earned a staggering $609 million worldwide) and found, in The Iron Lady, a vehicle that finally netted Meryl Streep her elusive third Oscar. Neither success is anything to sniff at, especially because those Mamma Mia! grosses mean Lloyd has made the biggest-ever live-action movie directed by a woman.
Even the trailer for Loktev’s terrifying 2006’s terrorist film Day Night Day Night is more suspenseful than any movie I’ve seen this year. This Russian-born filmmaker treats her characters like a provocative Rorschach blot, and what you see in, say, Gael García Bernal and Hani Furstenberg (who star in Loktev’s 2011 film The Loneliest Planet) may be exactly what unsettles you about yourself.
MacLaren has made a major name for herself directing high-octane television shows like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, and she’s currently helming the pilot to HBO’s James Franco show The Deuce. A big-screen transfer is expected soon, and while MacLaren departed Wonder Woman over creative differences, any cinematic thrill-ride would be well served by her eye.
It makes sense that Maguire was the right woman to helm Bridget Jones’s Diary: Not only is she a good friend of author Helen Fielding, one of Bridget’s pals is based on her. That film was Maguire’s debut and a major hit; she’s since been enticed to return for Bridget Jones’s Baby, currently shooting with Renee Zellweger.
Somehow, Mancuso was only the second woman ever to win the Emmy for directing a comedy. (The first, Betty Thomas, is also on this list.) The fact that she snagged it for an episode of the mainstream juggernaut Modern Family should have studio executives wooing her to direct all their big-screen comedies, so what’s the hold-up, Hollywood?
Big. Awakenings. A League of Their Own. For a time, Penny Marshall was one of the hottest directors in Hollywood, and the success of Big made her the first woman to helm a movie that grossed over $100 million. Alas, Marshall hasn’t made a movie since 2001’s Riding in Cars With Boys, though she insists she hasn’t retired. “There are still movies I’d like to make,” she recently told the Daily News, emphasizing that if she can get financing, she wants to tell the tale of baseball pioneer Effa Manley. With three mainstream classics on her résumé, someone ought to step up.
Eight-time Emmy nominee McCarthy-Miller directed Saturday Night Livefor nearly a dozen years, helmed 23 episodes of 30 Rock (including the series finale), and has worked on Modern Family, Parks and Recreation, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Hollywood, there is not a studio comedy in your arsenal that falls outside this woman’s skill set. Hire her.
Mehta, a baller, started off a triptych of semi-connected films — called the Elements Trilogy — with Fire one of the rare Indian films to actually portray a same-sex affair. That movie became a major scandal in Mumbai, but Mehta hardly backed down with her follow-ups Earth and Water, which tackled other taboos head-on. Mehta has also directed the Salman Rushdie adaptation Midnight’s Children, as well as Beeba Boys, an unlikely Sikh-Canadian spin on Goodfellas.
One of the most successful female filmmakers in Hollywood, Meyers makes trenchant battle-of-the-sexes comedies that go down easy thanks to their glossy studio surfaces. Many of her movies have been riotous, crowd-pleasing hits, but it’s still not easy for Meyers to get a film financed in a climate that mostly courts young men; she faced so many turn-downs when pitching her latest effort, The Intern, that she was ready to bury the script in her backyard before Warner Bros. finally wised up.
A novelist and director, Miller has some major provenance to live up to — she’s the daughter of Arthur Miller and Inge Morath — but fortunately, Miller’s got the talent to back it up. She’s made five films, including Personal Velocity, The Ballad of Jack and Rose, and The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, and her latest is the forthcoming comedy Maggie’s Plan, which stars Greta Gerwig and Ethan Hawke and really lets their co-star Julianne Moore cut loose.
The Australian Moorhouse used her acclaimed 1991 film Proof to introduce Russell Crowe and Hugo Weaving to America, and Hollywood came calling, tapping her to direct How to Make an American Quilt and A Thousand Acres. And then, no movies for almost 20 years! (Hollywood, try a little harder to keep your talent around.) Moorhouse has finally returned to the screen with her new Kate Winslet film The Dressmaker, which gives Liam Hemsworth his first genuinely charismatic leading role.
One of the best cinematographers in a male-dominated field, Morano lent her distinctive eye to films like The Skeleton Twins and Kill Your Darlings, and shot the entire first season of Looking like an Instagram-infused dream. Now she’s not just manning the camera but commanding it: Morano has moved into directing, and her first effort is Meadowland, starring Olivia Wilde.
I don’t know why it is that, since her Oscar-winning turn in 12 Years a Slave came out in 2013, Lupita Nyong’o has only been given a single additional live-action role, but God bless Mira Nair for doing it. (Nyong’o stars in the upcoming Queen of Katwe.) Other important Mira Nair facts: Her Salaam Bombay! was nominated for Best Foreign-Language Film, she made Mississippi Masala, Monsoon Wedding, and Vanity Fair, and her film The Namesake proved she maybe the only director who understands that Kal Penn is hot and should be given sexy, full-fledged characters to play.
Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Nelson is a record-setter in the traditionally male-dominated world of animation: Her directorial debut Kung Fu Panda 2 was the first major studio-animated film helmed only by a woman (other women have co-directed as part of a directing duo), and with a $665 million worldwide take, it’s the highest-grossing female-directed film ever.
Passon’s Concussion opens with a shock as Robin Wiegert’s comfortably suburban mom speeds to the hospital, her head bleeding from an accident instigated by her kids. But that wound splits open her coasting lesbian marriage, too, and the revitalized Wiegert starts seeking sex and spontaneity as a high-class call girl. Concussion’s funny, perceptive, and hot, so let’s get Passon behind the camera again soon.
Over 15 years before this winter’s buzzed-about The Danish Girl, Peirce was already tackling trans themes with her devastating Boys Don’t Cry, which won Hilary Swank an Oscar. Since then, Peirce has only made Stop-Loss and Carrie, and while I really liked the former, the latter proves that we’re not giving enough opportunities to one of the most talented filmmakers to emerge from a packed class of ’99 that also included directors like Sam Mendes and Spike Jonze.
The perceptive Poitras scored unprecedented access to secret-leaker Edward Snowden, and her nonfiction film about the whistle-blower, Citizenfour, won the last Oscar for Best Documentary. The film was as sharp and sleek as any Hollywood thriller, so why not offer Poitras one of those and see what she can do with it?
The Dawn of the Dead and Go actress rarely steps in front of the camera these days, preferring instead to concentrate on her thriving directorial career. She’s made two narrative films — Away From Her, which earned Polley an Oscar nod for screenwriting, and Take This Waltz, starring Michelle Williams. Her intriguing documentary about her secretive family history, Stories We Tell, was aces, too.
The Tilda Swinton moment that we’re all enjoying right now is something in large part hastened by Potter’s sumptuous 1993 film Orlando, where Swinton played an immortal gender-switching aristocrat. Potter’s oeuvre has sometimes been just as bold, but her last film, Ginger & Rosa, an adroit coming-of-age tale starring Ellen Fanning, was her most mainstream work yet.
It infuriates me that Prince-Bythewood can’t make movies every year, especially when her last film, Beyond the Lights, was one of 2014’s most underrated gems. As she proved in her 2000 classic Love & Basketball, Prince-Bythewood can wrest a movie romance back from formula and invest it with something real. Her characters aren’t the only ones falling in love — you’re falling in love with them, too, because the director’s affection is so abundant and evident.
I’m not sure what happened with the whole Jane Got a Gun imbroglio, where Ramsay (as well as some of her cast members) bailed on the Natalie Portman Western just as filming was about to start, but the rest of Ramsay’s projects — numbering Ratcatcher, Morvern Callar, and We Need to Talk About Kevin — are impeccably made and ferociously singular. She’s a force to be reckoned with.
I thought coming-out narratives had gotten tired until I saw Rees’s Pariah, a gorgeous-looking, genre-refreshing story of a young black lesbian (Adepero Oduye) who’s beginning to understand herself … even though her family is slow to catch up. Reese continued to prove herself to be the real deal with the recent HBO mini-series Bessie (starring Queen Latifah), which she directed.
Recihardt’s films (among them Old Joy, Meek’s Cutoff, and Wendy and Lucy) put their protagonists in a world that cares little for them, though Reichardt clearly cares a lot. That’s why she’s on a terrific run of working with top-tier actresses drawn to her sensitive portrayals, and her next film lured Michelle Williams, Laura Dern, and Kristen Stewart to take part. Oh, just those three?
Last year’s best comedy was the Robespierre-helmed Obvious Child, and while I’m glad that Robespierre is reteaming with her star Jenny Slate for an FX pilot, a directorial discovery this promising — who can juggle poignant honesty and fart jokes with equal aplomb — should have movie executives warring to woo her. Isn’t it obvious?
Rozema’s I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing was a gangbusters Canadian debut, though you may know her better for her Jane Austen adaptation Mansfield Park. Next up for the filmmaker is the apocalyptic thriller Into the Forest, starring Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood.
Just when you think you know what Satrapi is capable of, she throws you another curveball. The graphic novelist caught Hollywood’s attention with the animated Persepolis, about her Iranian and European coming-of-age, then she and co-director Vincent Paronnaud made the live-action Chicken With Plums. But Satrapi really surprised audiences with this year’s The Voices, a solo effort where she directed Ryan Reynolds as a cheerfully psychotic murderer.
The same year Kathryn Bigelow won her landmark Best Director Oscar for The Hurt Locker, Scherfig helmed another Best Picture nominee, the knowing, sensitive An Education (which launched star Carey Mulligan). Scherfig’s specialty is young Brits, as she’s proven with subsequent vehicles like The Riot Club and One Day.
As a music-video director, Sigismondi is one of the industry’s most coveted, filming clips for artists like Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, and David Bowie. It’s no wonder, then, that she was moved to make the raucous girl-band flick The Runaways (which, in addition to starring Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart, also has an incredible Michael Shannon performance). Am I alone in watching this clip from The Runaways, like, once a week?
There are few better comedies about contemporary masculinity than Shelton’s Humpday, where two straight dudes casually let their one-upsmanship get out of hand until they’re practically dared into sleeping with each other in a game of macho chicken. You can also count on Shelton to draw spontaneity out of heavily trained actresses like Emily Blunt (in Your Sister’s Sister) and Keira Knightley (in Laggies); crucially, they seem to be having the time of their lives, and that giddiness is contagious.
A veteran television writer for shows like Six Feet Under, Soloway’s directorial debut Afternoon Delight took self-absorbed Silver Lakers and looked beneath the veneer for some sexual knots that were tough to untie. On her miraculous Amazon series Transparent, Soloway delves even deeper and takes daring formal chances. Wherever she goes, we’ll follow.
Head-banging comes naturally to Spheeris: Not only did she direct the cult punk series The Decline of Western Civilization, she memorably directed Mike Myers and Dana Carvey to shake their heads along to Queen in their hit comedy Wayne’s World. The controlling Myers fell out with both Carvey and his director, and vetoed Spheeris from making the sequel, but it was his loss: The Spheeris-less Wayne’s World 2 earned barely a third of the first film.
Have you seen Clockwatchers? See Clockwatchers. The 1997 comedy about temps starred Parker Posey (at the height of her Posey-dom), Lisa Kudrow, and Toni Collette, and it’s an underrated little gem. Sprecher also made Thirteen Conversations About One Thing and Thin Ice, but she almost never works because financing is so hard to come by. Just give her a good little movie she can do something with!
Shari Springer Berman
Berman and her husband Robert Pulcini got their start making documentaries about Hollywood hot spots (like Chasen’s and the Hollywood Forever cemetery) until they stormed Hollywood themselves with the acclaimed American Splendor, which earned them both Oscar nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay. They then paired future Captain America stars Scarlett Johansson and Chris Evans for The Nanny Diaries, and their most recent film, Ten Thousand Saints, just came out and stars Ethan Hawke.
One of the first big actresses to pursue a directing career, Streisand famously made her helming debut with 1983’s Yentl, which scored five Oscar nominations. Her next film, the Best Picture–nominated The Prince of Tides, did even better, though Streisand herself didn’t score a Best Director nomination. (Go reread the Valerie Faris entry to see just how often the Academy does that to female filmmakers.) Streisand hasn’t directed a movie since The Mirror Has Two Faces, but she’s still spry and able; I was surprised to read recently that she wanted to make Gypsy with Robert Luketic directing, because it feels to me like Babs could handle that one herself.
Taylor-Johnson isn’t one to shrink from a challenge. Known primarily as a fine artist and photographer, she tackled John Lennon in her first film, Nowhere Boy, then managed to wrest the ridiculous source material of Fifty Shades of Grey into shape, delivering a movie that not only worked (credit Taylor-Johnson’s stealth sense of self-aware humor) but set box-office records.
The highest-grossing movie ever, Avatar, made $2.7 billion worldwide. That’s not even half of what the Taymor-directed stage production of The Lion King made, though: Her creative reinvisioning of Disney’s movie-musical passed the $6 billion mark in grosses last year. On the big screen, Taymor has tackled some of the biggest artists ever to create: She’s shot three Shakespeare adaptations, directed a Beatles musical, and made an Oscar-nominated biopic of Frida Kahlo.
Thomas is the rare talent to win Emmys both for acting and directing: She picked up her first trophy as part of the cast of Hill Street Blues, and just a few years later became the first woman to win the comedy-directing Emmy for an episode of Dream On. On the big screen, Thomas directed Private Parts, the first Brady Bunch movie, and Sandra Bullock’s 28 Days, while her 2009 sequel to Alvin and the Chipmunks made her one of the few women to helm a movie grossing over $200 million domestically.
Wachowski and her brother Andy made the enormously influential Matrix trilogy, and while they haven’t hit those box-office highs since, Lana is still regarded as a visionary thinker whose high-profile status as a trans filmmaker in Hollywood is unprecedented. Currently, she and Andy are working on a new season of their Netflix series Sense8.
Winocour’s Cannes thriller Disorder had audiences sitting up in their seats, and not just because this taut tale of a PTSD-suffering war vet (Matthias Schoenarts) asked to guard a criminal’s wife (Diane Kruger) is positively electric with tension — it’s also a great calling card for Hollywood executives looking for a female director adept at action and suspense.
*A version of this article appears in the November 2, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.
**An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Sanaa Hamri directed Love Jones.