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From Agnès Varda to Sofia Coppola: The 100 greatest films directed by women


At a time when cinemas and theatres plot their route back to normality amid forced closure during the coronavirus pandemic, we’re revisiting a wide-ranging study compiled by the BBC with the intention of discovering the 100 greatest films directed by women as part of our focus on Female Representation in the Arts.

According to a report by the Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film, 12% of the top 100 grossing films of 2019 were directed by women. That is, of course, an increase in representation from the dire conditions of 2013-14 where women directed only 6% of Hollywood films.

Women played a major part in the huge success of the movie-making industry during the formative years of Hollywood. Between 1912 and 1919, Universal had 11 female directors who made more than 170 films between them. In 1915, the Motion Picture Supplement published an article titled ‘Women’s conquest in filmdom’, which said: “One may not name a single vocation in either the artistic or business side of its progress in which women are not conspicuously engaged. In the theatres, in the studios and even in the exchanges where film productions are marketed and released to exhibitors, the fair sex is represented as in no other calling.” However, in the years that followed, the industry became heavily bloated by the overbearing impact of male domination. As the pioneering Lois Weber once said: “I like to direct because I believe a woman, more or less intuitively, brings out many of the emotions that are rarely expressed on the screen. I may miss what some of the men get, but I will get other effects that they never thought of” — and it is that sentiment that makes artistic expression so fantastic.

Referring back to the international poll of greatest female film creations, which collected the opinion of 368 different expert critics in 84 countries, voted on a total of 761 different films. While the analysis shows that most of the top 100 films are from the 1990s and 2000s, the most popular years in the data are 1999, 2008 and 2017 with five films each.

“We are delighted to present BBC Culture’s biggest and most international poll of film critics yet of the 100 greatest films directed by women,” BBC Culture editor Rebecca Laurence said in a statement. “We were overwhelmed by the huge response, with 368 critics voting from 84 different countries. And we are pleased to report that this poll is gender-balanced, with slightly more female critics taking part than male.”

Adding: “We hope, as ever, that this list will provoke debate and inspire discovery of the wonderful and diverse collection of films created by women throughout cinema’s history.”

While Agnès Varda proved to be the most popular director with six films in the top 100, the winning film was Jane Campion’s 1993 effort The Piano which earned votes from a full 43.5% of participating critics.

Elsewhere the likes of Kathryn Bigelow, Claire Denis, Lynne Ramsay and Sofia Coppola all earned plaudits.

See the full list, below.

The 100 greatest films directed by women:

100. The Kids are All Right (Lisa Cholodenko, 2010)
99.    The Souvenir (Joanna Hogg, 2019)
98.    Somewhere (Sofia Coppola, 2010)
97.    Adoption (Márta Mészáros, 1975)
96.    The Meetings of Anna (Chantal Akerman, 1977)
95.    Ritual in Transfigured Time (Maya Deren, 1946)
94.    News From Home (Chantal Akerman, 1977)
93.    Red Road (Andrea Arnold, 2006)
92.    Raw (Julia Ducournau, 2016)
91.    White Material (Claire Denis, 2009)
90.    Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Amy Heckerling, 1982)
89.    The Beaches of Agnes (Agnès Varda, 1977)
88.    The Silences of the Palace (Moufida Tlatli, 1994)
87.    35 Shots of Rum (Claire Denis, 2008)
86.    Wadjda (Haifaa Al-Mansour, 2012)
85.    One Sings, The Other Doesn’t (Agnès Varda, 1977)
84.    Portrait of Jason (Shirley Clarke, 1967)
83.    Sleepless in Seattle (Nora Ephron, 1993)
82.    At Land (Maya Deren, 1944)
81.    A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Ana Lily Amirpour, 2014)
80.    Big (Penny Marshall, 1988)
79.    Shoes (Lois Weber, 1916)
78.    The Apple (Samira Makhmalbaf, 1988)
77.    Tomboy (Céline Sciamma, 2011)
76.    Girlhood (Céline Sciamma, 2014)
75.    Meek’s Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2010)
74.    Chocolat (Claire Denis, 1988)
73.    On Body and Soul (Ildikó Enyedi, 2017)
72.    Europa Europa (Agnieszka Holland, 1980)
71.    The Seashell and the Clergyman (Germaine Dulac, 1928)
70.    Whale Rider (Niki Caro, 2002)
69.    The Connection (Shirley Clarke, 1961)
68.    Eve’s Bayou (Kasi Lemmons, 1997)
67.    The German Sisters (Margarethe von Trotta, 1981)
66.    Ratcatcher (Lynne Ramsay, 1999)
65.    Leave no Trace (Debra Granik, 2018)
64.    The Rider (Chloe Zhao, 2017)
63.    Marie Antoinette (Sofia Coppola, 2006)
62.    Strange Days (Kathryn Bigelow, 1995)
61.    India Song (Marguerite Duras, 1975)
60.    A League of their Own (Penny Marshall, 1992)
59.    The Long Farewell (Kira Muratova, 1971)
58.    Desperately Seeking Susan (Susan Seidelman, 1985)
57.    The Babadook (Jennifer Kent, 2014)
56.    13th (Ava DuVernay, 2016)
55.    Monster (Patty Jenkins, 2003)
54.    Bright Star (Jane Campion, 2009)
53.    The Headless Woman (Lucrecia Martel, 2008)
52.    Happy as Lazzaro (Alice Rohrwacher, 2018)
51.    Harlan County, USA (Barbara Kopple, 1976)
50.    Outrage (Ida Lupino, 1950)
49.    Salaam Bombay! (Mira Nair, 1988)
48.    The Asthenic Syndrome (Kira Muratova, 1989)
47.    An Angel at my Table (Jane Campion, 1990)
46.    Near Dark (Kathryn Bigelow, 1987)
45.    Triumph of the Will (Leni Riefenstahl, 1935)
44.    American Honey (Andrea Arnold, 2016)
43.    The Virgin Suicides (Sofia Coppola, 1999)
42.    The Adventures of Prince Achmed (Lotte Reiniger, 1926)
41.    Capernaum (Nadine Labaki, 2018)
40.    Boys Don’t Cry (Kimberly Peirce, 1999)
39.    Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Céline Sciamma, 2019)
38.    Paris is Burning (Jennie Livingston, 1990)
37.    Olympia (Leni Riefenstahl, 1938)
36.    Wendy and Lucy (Kelly Reichardt, 2008)
35.    The Matrix (Lana and Lilly Wachowski, 1999)
34.    Morvern Callar (Lynne Ramsay, 2002)
33.    You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay, 2017)
32.    The Night Porter (Liliana Cavani, 1974)
31.    The Gleaners and I (Agnès Varda, 2000)
30.    Zama (Lucrecia Martel, 2017)
29.    Monsoon Wedding (Mira Nair, 2001)
28.    Le Bonheur (Agnès Varda, 1965)
27.    Selma (Ava DuVernay, 2014)
26.    Stories we Tell (Sarah Polley, 2012)
25.    The House is Black (Forugh Farrokhzad, 1963)
24.    Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig, 2017)
23.    The Hitch-Hiker (Ida Lupino, 1953)
23.    We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, 2011)
21.    Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik, 2010)
20.    Clueless (Amy Heckerling, 1995)
19.    Orlando (Sally Potter, 1992)
18.    American Psycho (Mary Harron, 2000)
17.    Seven Beauties (Lina Wertmüller, 1975)
16.    Wanda (Barbara Loden, 1970)
15.    The Swamp (Lucrecia Martel, 2001)
14.    Point Break (Kathryn Bigelow, 1991)
13.    Vagabond (Agnès Varda, 1985)
12.    Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow, 2012)
11.    The Ascent (Larisa Shepitko, 1977)
10.    Daughters of the Dust (Julie Dash, 1991)
  9.    Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold, 2009)
  8.    Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, 2016)
  7.    The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, 2008)
  6.    Daisies (Věra Chytilová, 1966)
  5.    Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003)
  4.    Beau Travail (Claire Denis, 1999)
  3.    Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Chantal Akerman, 1975)
  2.    Cléo from 5 to 7 (Agnès Varda, 1962)
  1.    The Piano (Jane Campion, 1993)

See the full BBC study, here.

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