Eight Underappreciated Films Directed by Women
The utterly fictitious and loudly absurd notion that women don’t want to, or can’t be, directors has existed in Hollywood pretty much since its inception in the beginning of the 20th century. The glass ceiling in Hollywood is far closer to cement, and it has taken a long time to crack. Over the last few decades, and especially over the last twenty years, we have seen a boom in women directing movies; filmmakers finally having the opportunities to tell their stories and make some absolutely brilliant cinema.
I wanted to take a look at some of the great films to have been directed by women that I personally feel were underappreciated. Of course, this is all based upon my own subjective opinion. That aside, these are the films that I feel either aren’t given enough credit or haven’t been seen by enough people.
1 | The Babadook (2014) | Directed by Jennifer Kent
Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall
Genre: Horror, Drama
Premise: A single mother and her child fall into a deep well of paranoia when an eerie children’s book titled “Mister Babadook” manifests in their home.
I hold The Babadook to be a modern horror masterpiece. It expertly executes the idea of metaphorical horror, which roots the horror in something far more personal for the characters. Horror films need to use their genre elements in service to their characters and their narrative, or else the horror is simply there just for the sake of having it in the movie. With The Babadook, everything that happens is there to push the story forward and to further the characters. It also helps that the film itself is downright scary.
The Babadook was Jennifer Kent’s first feature film. She subsequently directed The Nightingale (2018), which you can read my thoughts about here. She currently has two films in development, Whoever Brought Me Here and Alice + Freda Forever.
2 | Booksmart (2019) | Directed by Olivia Wilde
Starring: Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever, Billie Lourd
Premise: On the eve of their high school graduation, two academic superstars and best friends realize they should have worked less and played more. Determined not to fall short of their peers, the girls try to cram four years of fun into one night.
Booksmart is one of the best movies of 2019, and one of the most underappreciated. Being her directorial debut, Olivia Wilde swings hard and hits it out of the park. The film is not only filled with great comedy, but the characters feel genuine. They’re dynamic and multidimensional, and are performed brilliantly across the board. Booksmart also has a lot of representation, and actively works to portray people honestly and to not fall into stereotype. I recently watched the director’s commentary for Booksmart, and I have no doubt that Wilde will be one of the top directors in the coming years. She has such a profound understanding of storytelling and character.
Olivia Wilde released a short film this year called Wake Up. She is in pre-production on her second feature, a thriller called Don’t Worry, Darling, starring Shia LaBeouf, Florence Pugh, Chris Pine, and Dakota Johnson.
3 | The Edge of Seventeen (2016) | Directed by Kelly Fremon Craig
Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Haley Lu Richardson, Woody Harrelson
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Premise: High School life gets even more unbearable for Nadine when her best friend, Krista, starts dating her older brother.
I remember that, when I went to see it in theaters, I didn’t know that much about The Edge of Seventeen. There were only a few other people in my theater and, as I watched this movie, I was laughing uncontrollably with a giant smile on my face. It has since become one of those movies that I try to show as many people as I can, as it is simply not talked about enough. Between this and Begin Again, Hailee Steinfeld has become one of my favorite up-and-coming actors. I really thought she should have been in the discussion more for an Academy Award nomination for her performance in this film because what she pulls off with the role is remarkable.
The Edge of Seventeen was Kelly Fremon Craig’s first film. She currently has another film in development, called Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
4 | Harriet (2019) | Directed by Kasi Lemmons
Starring: Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., Joe Alwyn
Genre: Drama, Biopic
Premise: The extraordinary tale of Harriet Tubman’s escape from slavery and transformation into one of America’s greatest heroes, whose courage, ingenuity, and tenacity freed hundreds of slaves and changed the course of history.
I have read a lot of criticism online that there are too many movies centered on slavery, and that we don’t need any more of these films; that those stories have been told extensively, and movies starring Black people should instead be moving forward. I completely agree; however, I think there are some stories from that era that should be told, such as the story of Harriet Tubman — the rightful face of the twenty dollar bill. Cynthia Erivo is fantastic in the role, which garnered her an Oscar nomination. There’s so much to learn about Harriet Tubman’s life, and everything she did to fight against white supremacy.
Harriet is Kasi Lemmons’ fifth film, preceeded by Eve’s Bayou (1997), The Caveman’s Valentine (2001), Talk to Me (2007), and Black Nativity (2013). She currently has a drama in development, called On Her Own Ground.
5 | Leave No Trace (2018) | Directed by Debra Granik
Starring: Ben Foster, Thomasin McKenzie, Michael Draper
Streaming: Amazon Prime
Premise: A father and his thirteen year old daughter are living an ideal existence in a vast urban park in Portland, Oregon, when a small mistake derails their lives forever.
Leave No Trace is a great, personal drama about the close relationship between a father and daughter. They live out in the woods on their own, fending for themselves, depending on only each other. There are a lot of great movies about families that live isolated from society, such as Captain Fantastic (2016) and The Glass Castle (2017), but there is something utterly unique about the chemistry between Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie. It isn’t so much the events of the film that makes the movie so compelling, but the inseparability of the characters.
6 | Obvious Child (2014) | Directed by Gillian Robespierre
Starring: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Premise: A twenty-something comedian’s unplanned pregnancy forces her to confront the realities of independent womanhood for the first time.
Obvious Child is a fantastic comedy that made me really come to appreciate Jenny Slate. Not only is she the star of the film, but she is also an executive producer. You can tell that so much of her personality has gone into this movie. What’s really special about Obvious Child is its openness about the process of getting an abortion, and how a woman feels in that moment. Movies about pregnancies usually end in the woman having the child, or if there is an abortion, it ends up being a footnote in the story. Rarely do we actually see what it is like for someone to make that decision, and I love this movie’s honesty.
Obvious Child was Gillian Robespiere’s first film. She subsequently directed Landline (2017), as well as Jenny Slate’s 2019 comedy special, Stage Fright. She has a drama in development, called Vegas High, as well as an untitled divorce comedy.
7 | Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (2017) | Directed by Angela Robinson
Starring: Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall, Bella Heathcote
Genre: Drama, Biopic
Premise: The story of psychologist William Moulton Marston, and his polyamorous relationship with his wife and their mistress who would inspire his creation of the superhero, Wonder Woman.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is an utterly fascinating film. There are very few movies that portray polyamorous relationships so honestly, especially within a period piece. It’s a film that I think will open people up to the complexity of love — people who may have previously had a rigidly binary view of relationships and commitment. While this relationship is the core of the film, it’s also fascinating to see how this became the basis for the Wonder Woman character. Seeing where her character came from only makes her more of a badass in my eyes.
8 | A United Kingdom (2016) | Directed by Amma Asante
Starring: Rosamund Pike, David Oyelowo, Tom Felton
Genre: Drama, Biopic
Premise: The story of King Seretse Khama of Botswana and how his loving but controversial marriage to a British white woman, Ruth Williams, put his kingdom into political and diplomatic turmoil.
A United Kingdom is a story I knew nothing about before I saw the film, but it delivers on being incredibly emotional and powerful. It’s a beautiful tale about two nations overcoming their prejudices. Rosamund Pike and David Oyelowo give fantastic performances, as you would expect from two such fantastic actors. While some of the narrative points can be a bit conventional, this movie is certainly worth the watch for Pike and Oyelowo’s performances, as well as to learn something new about a previously largely unknown piece of history.
A United Kingdom is Amma Asante’s third film, preceeded by A Way of Life (2004) and Belle (2013). She also directed Where Hands Touch (2018). She is currently in pre-production on The Billion Dollar Spy, and is in development on Hunted by Their Families.