A few lists of the Best Movies Directed By Women have come out lately, written by journalists hoping to shed some light on the saddening state of invisible women directors. Indiewire actually hosted two separate lists (one here and the other here), so I decided to make my own. With input from a private group of over 390 women directors of horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and action films, as well as private suggestions from women genre directors, I came up with a list of films that represent the best theatrical and mainstream genre movies directed by women. Ever.
Now, this list is mostly about mainstream, theatrical releases directed by women (hence another list in the works about smaller releases). It also, when it can, only includes movies that people seem to generally agree are GOOD. For instance, Karyn Kusama's "Aeon Flux" is not on the list, nor is "Lorene Scafaria's "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" (sorry, Karyn, Lorene!). I also cannot, in good conscience, include "Twilight" by Catherine Hardwicke, despite being wildly popular, because it is a terrible story (not Hardwicke's fault). You might disagree with this list. You probably will. I invite you to write, in the comments, how you would amend the list and to suggest anything you think was unfairly left off or unfairly included…
1. Mary Harron – "American Psycho" (2000)
Based on the book by Brett Easton Ellis, this darkly funny and ultra-violent study of Patrick Bates, a serial killer travelling successful 1980s Manhattan circles was phenomenally bloody. Guinevere Turner's script captured the satirical essence of Ellis' novel while Harron's direction shifted from austere and draconic to candy-colored and sickening.
2. Kathryn Bigelow – "Near Dark" (1987)
Probably the best-known genre film directed by a woman. Even mainstream audiences can name it when asked! Bigelow's western vampire movie had action, gore, violence, and a romantic love story.
3. Mimi Leder – "Deep Impact" (1998)
Morgan Freeman was The President of the United States, and he had to prevent a giant comet from hitting the Earth and annihilating mankind. No small business!
4. Mary Lambert – "Pet Sematary" (1989)
Lambert's Stephen King adaptation goes down in history as one of the few truly good ones (right up there with Kubrick's "The Shining," "Carrie" and "Christine"). Lambert brought vibrancy and action to King's story about renaimation in a small, Maine town.
5. Kathryn Bigelow – The Hurt Locker (2009)
The term "genre" includes action, as far as I am concerned, when it comes to films. Yes, Bigelow gets two films on this list. She won an Oscar for this one, it was so good (not that winning Oscars always means something is good; Gwenyth Paltrow has one). "The Hurt Locker" is a marvel of action and war and grit set in this current war, in 2003.
6. Ida Lupino – "The Hitch Hiker" (1953)
Lupino was an actress who got behind the camera on a fortuitous whim one day out of necessity. She ended up being the first woman to direct a mainstream film since the 1920s, when women were all but pushed out of the director's chair in Hollywood. Only one other woman in the world, Wendy Toye, was directing mainstream film in the 1950s, and she mostly for TV. "The Hitch Hiker" is a thriller about an escaped sociopath who takes two men hostage, at gun-point, and then mercilessly toys with them as he uses their car to evade police. Lupino also directed an episode of the original TV show "Twilight Zone" (which by rights could be on this list all by itself) and episodes of "Boris Karloff's Thriller."
7. Katt Shea – "Poison Ivy" (1992)
Drew Barrymore needed a comeback movie at age 15 more than possibly anyone who was aged 50 in 1992. Katt Shea's dark, sensual, violent thriller "Poison Ivy" was lavishly and artistic sexy in a "V.C. Andrews" kind of way. Gorgeous runaway Ivy befriends mousy Sylvie and slowly takes over her life, her mom, her dad, and her soul until Sylvie has to fight back. It was a smash at Sundance.
8. Patty Jenkins – "Monster" (2003)
This serial-killer expose masqueraded as a drama and blew audiences out of the water with Charlize Theron's incredible performance as Aileen Wuornos, a woman who killed six men in the 1980s and 1990s. It won an academy award (but not for Best Director). (This film got plenty of play on Indiewire's lists, but it's just that fucking good I can't not include it).
9. Antonia Bird – "Ravenous" (1999)
Touted as a 'black comedy' by studios to play down the horror aspects, "Ravenous" stars Guy Pierce and Robert Carlyle as two miltary men stationed in 1840s California, in the mountains, and has some roots in the notorious Donner Party tale. There is snow, cannibalism, hunting of humans, people eating human flesh, and gruesome deaths. It's pretty brilliant.
10. Amy Holden Jones – "Slumber Party Massacre" (1981)
Slightly less well-known, but just as important to women directors and the evolution of the slasher film mythos, is the seminal slasher film directed by a woman for Roger Corman, "Slumber Party Massacre," which has an extensive cult following and there is OODLES of info on it out there on the Internetses. In a nutshell, it was written by feminist Rita Mae Brown (who has since gone insane and now co-authors books with her cat, Sneaky Pie) as a snarky take on the slasher film movement, and then turned into an exploitative slasher film by Corman. It did feature one of the first female horror film directors of the 1980s, as Corman is famous for being an equal opportunity exploiter of eager young filmmakers. It features Brinke Stevens in her first shower scene and a giant drill that is supposed to represent PENIS.
For reference, some of the mainstream, theatrical films suggested but that were not included are Catherine Harwidcke's "Twilight" and "Red Riding Hood," Lexi Alexander's "Punisher II," Rachel Talalay's "Tank Girl," Jane Campion's "In The Cut," and Karyn Kusama's "Aeon Flux" and "Jennifer's Body." Brenda Chapman's "Brave" was not included because it had a second director. "Red Road" (Andrea Arnold), "Winter's Bone" (Debra Granik), "We Need to Talk About Kevin" (Lynne Ramsey), and "Frozen River" (Courtney Hunt) were left off the list because they are dramas and have gotten plenty of attention on other lists (see Lists above). Western "Meek's Cutoff" was not included because it was given such a small release, it belongs on a second list I'm making entitled The Best Genre Films Directed By Women You've Never Seen.
Some of the films suggested for this second list include "Innocence" by Lucile Hadžihalilović, Maria Beatty's "The Black Glove," Liliana Cavani's "The Night Porter," Mari Asato's "Ju-on: Black Ghost," Karen Lam's "Stained," "Amer," Nancy Meckler's "Sister, My Sister," Cindy Sherman's "Office Killer," "Spellbinder" by Janet Greek, and the films of Roberta Findlay and Doris Wishman. I can tell you "In My Skin" and "Trouble Every Day" will definitely be appearing on this second list. Please feel free to make suggestions for that as well in comments below.