What makes a film feminist? Feminist films don’t just focus on archetypal “strong female characters” which too often are portrayed as unfeeling badasses with no flaws or vulnerabilities, which makes them unrepeatable. A feminist films have female characters who are simply written as a human beings. Here are 10 excellent films that excel at portraying women.
1. Gone Girl
Based on the book by Gillian Flynn, this film has a controversial female character with bad morals. She attempts to frame her husband for murder. She’s not a good person. But she’s so raw and vulnerable, yet also so powerful, that you can’t help but be in awe of her.
This became my go-to feminist film as soon as I watched the “cool girl monologue” scene. Even if you don’t see this movie, I highly recommend watching the monologue on YouTube.
2. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Director Ana Lily Amirpour describes her debut film as an “Iranian Vampire Spaghetti Western”. The vampire protagonist wanders the streets at night, hence the films title, taking advantage of her perceived vulnerability to drink the blood of men, especially those who hurt women.
This film is an adaption of the autobiographical graphic novels by Marjane Satrapi, who also co-directed the film. It follows her from her youth in pre- and post-revolutionary Iran, then in Europe. Viewers who have read the graphic novels will enjoy stylistic black-and-white animation, and those who haven’t will fall in love with young Marjane’s punk-loving attitude.
4. Whale Rider
Whale Rider is one of the most exceptional Maori films out there. The films young lead, Pai, is the first girl in a long line of chiefs. To claim her birthright, she practices her culture’s traditional male arts in secret. The film is comedic yet captures the complexity of Pai’s character, and packs a punch with it’s emotional, but not sappy, finale.
5. Mad Max: Fury Road
Despite the usual low expectations for reboots, Fury Road was an outstanding addition to the Mad Max universe. This gem of a feminist action film provides dynamic world-building and lifelike characters. Hopefully the director will follow through with the Furiosa prequel. At least Charlize Theron is on board with it!
6. Silence of the Lambs
Not only is this one of the best thriller/horror films of all time, Joder Foster shines as Clarice Starling, a top student at the FBI academy who’s attempting to rescue a kidnapping victim from the notorious serial killer Buffalo Bill.
Rather than pandering to the male gaze, the film has several notable scenes in which we see the male gaze through Clarice’s eyes. We see the men staring at her when she is the only women in the room. We see another room of men look her up and down when she gives them an order, then hesitantly obey. This isn’t a girl-power fantasy. It demonstrates the subtle micro-aggressions that women experience every day, especially in male-majority careers.
7. Tank Girl
Like Fury Road, Tank Girl is an feminist action movie set in a dystopian desert future in which water is a scare resource. Unlike Fury Road, it’s lighthearted and comedic. There’s mutant kangaroos and a musical interlude.
Tank Girl is such a likable character because she’s badass, but isn’t a steel-faced machine-gun shooting heroine based off of male action heroes. She kicks ass and has fun doing it.
They’re aren’t a lot of stories about girl geniuses. Thankfully, we have Matilda. Directed by Danny DeVito, this childhood classic features a telekinetic prodigy who shines despite her abusive family. The genuinely scary Principal Trunchbull is expertly poised against her foil, Matilda’s loving teacher Miss Honey. Bonus: Epic scene of a child powering through an entire chocolate cake.
9. Saving Face
This is a interesting romantic comedy about the relatable Wil, who finds love with Vivian, another Chinese American woman. She’s shocked to find out that her traditional 48-year-old her mother also has a secret: she’s pregnant! (Don’t worry, it has a happy ending).
Out of patience with her abusive family and dwindling prospects at school, the shy Marieme to join a tough girl gang. She’s find freedom and confidence, but soon makes foolhardy choices.