Women’s History Month gives us the opportunity to mark the many achievements of women over the years. In celebration, we’ve rounded up 10 of our favourite films that recognise female talent and success, from NASA scientists who made history to artists who defied all odds to reach international acclaim. Get comfy on the sofa and revel in the accomplishment and brilliance of women from around the world.
1. Frida, 2002
Salma Hayek assumes the guise of Frida Kahlo in an affecting portrayal about the life of a truly iconic artist. The Mexican actress – who has spoken of the harrowing adversity she faced in order to have Kahlo’s story told – documents her hero’s anguish, art and passion, chronicling the driving forces behind her visceral, haunting work and her tempestuous relationship with husband Diego Rivera.
2. Erin Brockovich, 2000
This inspiring underdog story of Erin Brockovich earned Julia Roberts a Best Actress Oscar in 2001. The biopic focuses on a single mother who helped bring the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) to their knees for supplying her town’s residents with poisonous water in the early ’90s. Despite having no legal training, Brockovich’s work was instrumental in forcing the company to pay $333 million to the plaintiffs – the largest settlement ever paid in a direct-action lawsuit in US history.
3. Suffragette, 2015
Directed by Sarah Gavron and written by Abi Morgan, Suffragette is a forthright and impassioned retelling about how hard women worked and how much they risked to fight for the vote. We follow Carey Mulligan as Maud, a working class mother, whose background makes her decision to join the movement all the more courageous. Suffragette is unafraid to show the grisly realities of the sacrifices these women made and the dangers they faced in this battle for human rights.
4. Wild, 2014
If you’ve ever been tempted by the idea of solo travel, but haven’t quite mustered the guts, then Wild will have you booking a flight asap. Reese Witherspoon stars in the film version of Cheryl Strayed’s autobiographical book about how she trekked 1,100 miles of the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail in the US as she embarked on a journey of self-discovery and healing. This galvanising, heartfelt story is a testament to female grit, endurance and determination.
5. Jackie, 2016
Little screen time is offered to the First Wives of US Presidents, but Jackie proves why these women should be more of a cinematic focus. We’ve seen countless pictures of Jackie Kennedy and are familiar with video footage of her, but Natalie Portman’s portrayal helps us to see her anew. She is physically the closest person to JFK when he was shot, his blood covering her clothes and his death leaving her emotionally shattered. We see her wrestle with grief, while being forced to move herself and her children out of the White House – all the while maintaining a polished facade to the public.
6.Lady Sings The Blues, 1972
Diana Ross’ performance as Billie Holiday in Lady Sings The Blues was considered one of the greatest cinematic moments of 1972, earning her an Oscar nomination. The opening scene is crushing – we meet Holiday locked into prison, destitute and nearly friendless, and desperately needing a fix of heroin. The film, which is loosely based on the singer’s own memoir, tells the story of the poverty, racism and addiction issues that Holiday faced. There’s no doubt that this is a simplistic account of the singer’s life, but it’s still worth watching.
7. The Passion of Joan of Arc, 1928
Widely regarded as a landmark of cinema, The Passion of Joan of Arc is a silent film based on the actual record of the trial of Joan of Arc. Renée Jeanne Falconetti played the titular role – her second and last appearance on screen – masterfully taking on the 19-year-old feminist icon, a woman who overcame class and gender barriers to achieve greatness. Here, we see her on trial for heresy and cross-dressing, showing unwavering determination and grace in the face of torture. This film may have been released in 1928, but its narrative – a young woman berated and ripped apart by dominant men – is all too relevant.
8. Hidden Figures, 2017
Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures celebrates three Black women who were instrumental in sending astronaut John Glenn (the first American to orbit the Earth) into space in 1962. The trio of Nasa scientists – Katherine Goble (later Johnson), Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan – face racial, class and gender discrimination by the white men they work for. Despite their adversities, they together advance history through their combined grit, perseverance and intelligence. This is a lively, uplifting film that will have you cheering at the screen.
9. A Private War, 2018
Rosamund Pike stars as the celebrated war journalist Marie Colvin in this searing and powerful biopic. A Private War honours the life and death of a woman who fearlessly reported from conflict zones that others were too afraid to go to. Regardless of the dangers, Colvin was driven by a desire to tell the truth about the horrors of the world in an attempt to make others care as much about the victims of conflict as she did. Her commitment didn’t come without sacrifice – she lost sight in one eye in a grenade attack, suffered PTSD as a result of what she had seen, and in 2012 was killed in Homs, Syria. A passionate portrait of a remarkable woman, A Private War is a compelling reason to defend and respect journalism.
10. Coco Before Chanel, 2009
Quite simply, Coco Chanel revolutionised the way women dressed, fighting to make women’s clothes as comfortable and freeing as menswear. She eschewed the fussy, restricted silhouettes of the day in favour of more fluid, androgynous shapes and styles. In Coco Before Chanel, we see Audrey Tautou as the iconic designer, who rises from poverty to the echelons of fashion. As the title suggests, the biopic focuses on Chanel’s life before she achieves international success, looking at the societal challenges she faced on the way. It’s a worthy and insightful look into a fashion legend, with plenty of chic costumes thrown in for good measure.
From Harper’s Bazaar UK