Female Directors – Above and beyond a call to duty

femaledirectorsatATLA question posed on Facebook led me on my way to this article about the top female directors in recent memory.  While there is no particular order and no interest in writing yet another list of top this or that, my intention is to collect thoughts on the unsung heroes of the underrepresented minority of female directors in Hollywood.  Every time someone sits down to compose a list like this there seems to be some news worthy moment of moments to illuminate the subject but it too fades as the conversation goes, one highlight in an otherwise unfortunate dark room matter of facts – there simply aren’t enough women working behind the camera, especially in the director’s chair.  Yet as much as this is about this phenomenon as a real problem, I think you’ll discover that there are an amazing number of top directors working today who are successful filmmakers irrespective of their gender.

Personally, I have little trouble composing a long list of female directors who are hands down some of the most endearing and widely successful filmmakers of all time.  Now before we get too far along, let me preface this by saying that I do agree with the facts regarding the imbalance between male and female directors – as of the writing of this article, a recent study found out that only nine percent of all Hollywood directors are women.  Furthermore, over a period of ten years, this percentage has hardly changed.  So before we go blowing any horns or touting the successful integration of women as directors into the Hollywood machine, let’s just think out loud for a bit and relish the accomplishments of these talented filmmakers who happen to be women.

femaleDIRatlThe first director that pops to mind is Penny Marshall with films like A League of Their Own and Big – both critical, award-winning films that were not only well received at the box office but some might say were true springboards for Tom Hanks career.  And yes, if you were wondering if Penny and Gary Marshall were related – they are brother and sister. Gary Marshall’s notable career credits include creating Happy Days  and directing Nothing In CommonPretty WomanRunaway BrideValentine’s Day, and The Princess Diaries.  And I would be remiss not to mention Penny Marhsall as the boisterous Milwaukee brewery assembly line worker Laverne De Fazio in the long running hit television series Laverne & Shirley.

Sofia Coppola’s masterful debut in 2000 with The Virgin Suicides remains one of my favorites, followed closely by the Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson pairing in Lost in Translation – though admittedly I struggled with Marie Antoinette for many of the same reasons as others who criticized her flippant, surface treatment of the life and times of the French queen.  I’ve followed Catherine Hardwicke for some time (ThirteenLords of Dogtown and yes, even the first Twilight movie), and Jane Campion is truly a superb director with a keen sense of the power of emotional imbalance and human connectedness – she’s hard to beat with evocative films like The Piano where she brilliantly directed Harvey Keitel and Holly Hunter.  If you haven’t seen Hunter in Nine Lives (2005), directed by Rodrigo García, this is a wonderful ensemble film with captivating performances by a mostly all female cast including Robin WrightGlenn Close, and Lisa Gay Hamilton, among others.  And I can not mention young Anna Paquinin The Piano as stubborn Flora McGrath, a performance equal anyone else in the film. Campion also directed In The Cut with under rated Mark Ruffalo and Portrait of a Lady with box office stalwart Nicole Kidman.  I want to like Rebecca Miller more, yet The Ballad of Jack and Roseand Personal Velocity seem a bit off, skewed I suppose with characters that never really seem to connect on-screen.  A lot of people forget about Jodie Foster the director, perhaps because she is most known for a very very lengthy career as an actor, but her films Little Man Tate and Home For The Holidays are seminal films that most likely would have suffered as sentimental character studies at the reigns of a male director. Again I must pause and reflect on a recent effort to get through the film Nell, starring Jodie Foster as a reclusive wild child who has lived almost entirely isolated from the world only to become the center of a debate on whether or not to study her or help her adjust to a world she has never known. I’m curious about this film, which received mixed reviews from critics, and personally found Foster insufferable as an impaired child with a jumbled language that is all at once akin to cats screaming.  I wonder how many people actually liked this film.

Kathryn Bigelow is responsible for a really long list of my favorite movies of the past two decades with Near Dark (a film I think was Bill Paxton‘s finest screen performance sinceAliens, long before Apolo 13 and Twister – though you might enjoy him in The Last Supper, a 1995 film by Stacy Title).  Bigelow is also responsible for Blue Steel (not theDerek Zoolander ‘look‘ but the 80’s movie of the same name) starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Ron Silver; the screen chemistry between Silverman and Curtis was palpable to say the least.  Mr. Roger Ebert has a well written review of Blue Steel.  Bigelow followed her success in the 80’s by what I would assert as Patrick Swayze’s finest performance in Point Break in 1991.  More recently, Bigelow has rightfully received accolades for her low-budget award-winning film The Hurt Locker – which ironically enough paired her against former husband and Avatar director James Cameron at the Oscars – which she won to become the first woman ever in the history of Hollywood to receive the Oscar for Best Director / Best Movie.


I have to mention Amy Heckerling for Fast Times at Ridgemont High and especially for Clueless with Alicia Silverstone because Clueless makes me laugh every time I watch it and while Fast Times seems dated now, what she did with Sean Penn was amazing – not discounting Mr. Penn in any way as his career speaks for itself.  I always find it interesting that while Sean Penn was able to shed the personae of Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times, Keanu Reeves seems forever in the shadow of Ted Logan, the surfer dude from theBill and Ted franchise.  Of note here is an in between Keanu film missed by many, by indie darling and auteur filmmaker Gus Van Sant called My Own Private Idaho(1991).  I’ve mentioned this film to friends for years now and find it appropriate to mention here as I do believe Reeves is a talented actor and a generous human being in general.  His performance as Scott Favor along side River Phoenix (brother of Joaquin Phoenix) is perhaps his finest, devoid of the typically monotone and internal performances that have resulted in much criticism from audiences and critics alike.  I think he was also equally remarkable in the Matrix franchise, again stripped of what some have called his trademark stiff, resolute self.  I’m not the biggest fan of Van Sant but I think he has something cinematic to say in each of his movies, successful or otherwise.

Julie Taymor , perhaps best known for her 2007 Beatles tribute film Across the Universe, which fared poorly with critics and equally at the box office.  I, however, am more inclined toward and highly recommend her 1999 Shakespeare adaptation Titus (a deep, tortured and exquisite performance by Anthony Hopkins) and if you haven’t seen her 2002 Frida Kahlo biopic “Frida” you’re in for quite an enjoyable movie whether you’re a fan of the artist or not – besides, Salma Hayek as Frida might just be her best role to date.

I have no reason for listing Nicole Holofcener this far into an article about top female movie directors, especially given her repertoire of films and their place in my collection of inspiring, moving character stories with clear direction and a wonderful casting.  As you’ll probably recall, Holofcener’s triptych of honest and sometimes difficult relationship films Walking and Talking in 1996, Lovely and Amazing in 2001, and Friends with Money in 2006 where all fine films with stand out performances by Jennifer Aniston(Friends) and Catherine Keener who was actually in all three films. Lets face it, Frances McDormand and Joan Cusack weren’t half bad in Friends either.  I can’t go on without mention of Beavis and Butt Head creator Mike Judge‘s laugh out loud film Office Spacewhere Aniston shined in what might have been an otherwise minor role.

Screenwriter turned director Nora Ephron needs little introduction.  Her career might surprise some to realize she has been at the helm of many of the best and most successful films of the past twenty plus years.  In the 90’s she brought us mega-hit films like When Harry Met Sally and the screenplay for the Mike Nichols directed Silkwood, and if that wasn’t enough she followed them with two of what I would call quintessential study films for anyone interested in the romantic-comedy genre – namely Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail – both brilliantly starring Tom Hanks as the venerable everyman with a heart of gold.  More recently Ephron delivered the widely successful Julie & Julia for which Meryl Streep was Oscar-nominated.  Another writer turned director who has also enjoyed a long career is Nancy Meyers.  Meyer’s directorial debut, a remake of The Parent Trap starring a young Lindsay Lohan before her awful public disintegration, was generally well received.  Meyer’s would take a bit of a hiatus before writing and directingSomething’s Gotta Give in 2003, The Holiday in 2006, and most recently It’s Complicated.

Surely the imbalance of male to female directors in Hollywood isn’t going to change any time soon.  Perhaps best described as a teeter-totter in the co-ed playground of Hollywood, what we can expect is the contribution by female filmmakers to continue to top charts and appeal to audiences near and far.

Check out my follow up article Female Directors Redux

Further research and articles on the subject of female directors:






And after all that, here’s a list of female directors including many I forgot to mention:



About rorydean

Rory Dean is a multi-medium artist, writer and new media strategist with a background as a creative consultant and technology liaison in the San Francisco Bay Area. His broad experiences and specialties include print-to-web publicity, promotions and design marketing using traditional and social media networks. As a motion pictures and television professional, his short films, productions and commercials have screened to domestic and international audiences. His connections to a diverse client base include artists, entertainers, corporations, non-profits and everyday people.. Dean is co-owner and founder of Dissave Pictures, a boutique production company focusing on audio, video, photography and multi-media designs. Dean's personal and professional background includes dreaming and avid notebook journaling, creative and copy writing, promotions and marketing, audio/video production, photography, videography, editing, web design and new media. He’s also a fan of collaboration and knows when to turn the reigns over, offer feedback, lead the team and step aside. His portfolio includes print, online, film, video, photography, graphic design and promotions. He’ll show you. He has a book and everything. "When not juggling various online worlds, I do a pretty good mime – but that’s another story."
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34 Responses to Female Directors – Above and beyond a call to duty

  1. richardsblah says:

    Great post. There is a strange lack of female directors making it to the top, I think. I’m not sure why this should be, but I was delighted when Bigelow won her Oscar. She’s been working for so long and has made some fantastic movies. It was long overdue. We need to see more from the ladies calling the shots.

    • rorydean says:

      Thanks Richard…It is strange to think that of all the working directors out there that only about 9% of them are female. Now that isn’t counting a handful who are just off the radar or work outside Hollywood (like Lina Wurtmuller, Margarethe von Trotta, Lynn Ramsey) but it would be interesting to see more movies in the caliber of films by these women.

  2. Dan says:

    You’ve highlighted some filmmakers that I’m not overly familiar with and will have to check out (and I’m including many from the Female Directors Redux article as well). The stand out for me has always been Kathryn Bigelow since I saw Near Dark. I agree about Paxton in that movie. I loved the deconstruction of the vampire mythology in Near Dark and still think it’s her finest work. It’s a shame she takes such a long time between movies but I’m assuming that’s partly due to financing the projects she really wants to do.

    I think I’m more a fan of Ephron as a writer than director, but I love some of the work by Heckerling and Marshall. The little I say about Sofia Coppola the better – I’ve hated every film she has done – well Virgin Suicides and Lost In Translation, haven’t seen any others (The Virgin Suicides is the most depressing film I’ve ever seen, Lost In Translation was over-hyped).

    • rorydean says:

      Hey Dan,

      Thanks for the note…Yeah, the list is a bit broad with familiar, not so familiar, and the obscure. I wanted to focus on the fact that as others have pointed out, “I didn’t know she did {that} movie!”. The redux article probably contains the most obscure but it also contains some directors I just couldn’t leave out. I agree, Bigelow has been flying under the radar for years and many have argued that her win with The Hurt Locker was about as much for her body of work as it was HL – I liked it, others including my wife, not so much. I for one am NOT a fan of the shaky camera technique for any reason – like Hitchcock and others have said, we should never be aware of the camera but rather fit seamlessly in the fabric of the imagery (ok. maybe I embellished that a bit). And Near Dark was great, an introduction for me to both Paxton and Lance Henriksen – though when I finally got around to his role as Bishop in Alien, well, enough said. He’s a great character actor, a lot going on in that face of his.

      I know what you mean about Sofia Coppola. I think I’m a stand out among many of the film people I know, but I’ve always been attracted to dark stories and even darker characters on the brim of life and death – sometimes they take you over with them, sometimes you watch them fall. Of course with personal favorites, My Life Without Me, Liza, Requiem for a Dream, and Virgin Suicides right along side one another on my collection, well, I think they are in good company. I agree Lost In Translation was overhyped but I was fortunate enough to let the dust settle before watching it. I knew going in that it was the critics little darling, similar I think to Me and You and Everyone We know plus Napolean Dynamite and Superbad – though the latter I laughed my ass off.


    • rorydean says:

      Well Dan, you know any list worth a darn is going to either exclude some people that should have been included, and contain people otherwise obscure. I do agree that Bigelow is long over-due with her bevy, though select and memorable films. I guess for me, Ephron’s writing goes hand in hand with her directing, since often she did both. As a writer director myself, I see the inherent value in the ‘team’ but also, at times, it can put one too close to the subject matter and result in a muddy film. Case in point, Inception. Hate is too soft a word to describe the feeling I have about that one. I’m going to write a review soon for it, so stay tuned.


  3. Pingback: The Five-Year Engagement (2012) | Above the Line

  4. Pingback: Female Directors Redux | Above the Line

  5. rorydean says:

    Reblogged this on Above the Line and commented:

    In honor of the 85th Academy Awards show today, February 24th, 2013 I wanted to take a moment and highlight the accomplishments of women in the entertainment industry that are frequently under-represented at awards shows. I wrote this article for Above The Line:Practical Movie Reviews in celebrating the work of several very important female directors “Above and Beyond a Call to Duty”. In light of better representation of women in film and a lack of representation at this years awards show, I think it is important that we reflect on the incredible number of talented, driven women in an industry that routinely overlooks their many great contributions. If not now then when should the injustices of alienating these diverse and eclectic storytellers be acknowledged and rectified not with airy speeches and pompous promises to change but with a wide spread effort to do away with the practice of male dominated leaders in a field that has such an impact on our life and times. Here’s to change and a salute these important women in film.

  6. Pingback: 50 Female Directors.. Celebrating Female Directors on Eve of Oscar Night 2013 | Above the Line

  7. Beer Movie says:

    Great article. Cool to see Taymor’s Titus get a mention. I also love her adaptation of The Tempest, think it is massively underrated.

    • rorydean says:

      Hey, thanks man. Yeah, I agree Titus was pretty amazing, flawed but amazing. The Tempest, didn’t really get into that one as much. I have to reflect on just what it was…perhaps casting choices, or maybe the delivery of the material, the choice of setting/costumes, something. cheers

      • Beer Movie says:

        Ok that’s interesting. I think they are similar films in the sense that Taymor is just chucking all of these stylistic ideas at the screen and I can understand that not working for some people. I like them both, but I think I actually prefer The Tempest. Thought she had ironed out some of the things that were not entirely successful with Titus.

  8. Virg Vows says:

    Excellent post. I was wondering what makes you think so? I’m inspired! Extremely organized opinions except when you go off on a tangent (no offense) I guess that’s just par for action. The remaining section 🙂 handles such a unique perspective. I was looking for this certain info for a long time. Thank you and good luck.

    • rorydean says:

      Well, it’s less about what I think in terms of the films of these female directors (though in a lot of ways I do like their particular films) and more about the bias and discrimination evident in Hollywood. It’s a shame that the playing field isn’t more balanced and fair but I suppose in a male dominated industry that has beeen that way for decades, change is slow coming. Don’t forget to check out my part 2 article on female directors.

  9. Wiley says:

    I truly love your blog.. Great way to lay everything out. Did you develop your own or is this a template? I guess I’m not very good at this. I just want to write. Please reply I’m hoping to create my own blog and I would appreciate any advice. best!

    • rorydean says:

      Thanks Wiley – I appreciate your kind words 🙂

      I can’t take credit for the layout, it is a template but everything else is all original material (unless I’m reblogging something, but my response is still all my own). Good luck!

  10. Celsa S. says:

    Hello, thanks for visiting my website so here I am to say thanks, connect up and share ideas about filmmaking. I think we have a lot in common – what say you? I guess you wouldn’t mind if I reblogged you often?

    • rorydean says:

      Hello Celsa, I appreciate your visit and time. Did you write the article on top female directors in theater? I really liked your ideas about working off the grid. Please reply with more so we can share it here with my readers.

  11. kristy says:

    Good post. No better time than now to discuss the discrepancies in Hollywood across the gender line.

    I am reminded of the film Brace.

  12. Blogging With John says:

    I enjoy reading all of your posts. I like to write a little myself but I don’t consider myself in your league. I keep wondering, where do you come up with your material? How do you decide what to write about?

  13. Fam says:

    Great article, totally what I was looking for.

  14. tao says:

    Found your blog and I’ve been following you ever since. Would you mind if I quote a couple of your articles as long as I provide credit and sources back to you? I’m going to send you a direct message so you and I can discuss this further.

    “Female Directors” that’s a great title. Let me know here if you don’t receive my direct message. Many thanks

  15. tobias says:

    I am not sure where you’re getting your info for your reviews, but great stuff! I needs to spend more time going over your style, maybe pick up some tips to use on my blog. Feel free to drp by and say hello.

  16. salinas says:

    Wonderful goods from you, man. I’ve been reading your work for a long time and your previous stuff to and you have a extremely wonderful point of view. Where can we read more from your writing? I really like what you have acquired here, in terms of research and certainly like what you are saying and the way in which you say it. You make it enjoyable and you still take care to have an opinion that other people are not going to turn away from. Maybe I’m bias. I’ve been reading your for a long time.

    • rorydean says:

      Hey, thanks Salinas. Have you been here before? I thought you had replied to an earlier article and I really enjoyed what you wrote. It seems like you’ve got a lot to say about the movies and i had asked before, are you in Hollywood? Writing is my life. It gets me through some pretty turbulent times. Nice to know I’m appreciated. cheers)

  17. sheri says:


    I really like your writing a lot!

  18. Sophie says:

    I’m not sure what to think of this one. I like your movie reviews much more. Perhaps you’ve gotten off track of you’d consider inviting guest bloggers to tackle the subject? Please advise.

    • rorydean says:

      Well, maybe you’d be interested in reviewing the follow-up article I wrote about Female Directors before you hold fast to your opinion. And of course, I’m interested in guest bloggers. Where is your site? What have you written before?

  19. Aquapon says:

    Very nice post. I really enjoyed browsing your posts.

    I already subscribed to your rss feed and look forward to more!

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