10 Films Featuring Fantastic Female-Led Casts

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Earlier this week it was announced that Stories We Tell director and Atom Egoyan muse Sarah Polley is writing an updating of Louisa May Alcott’s coming-of-age novel Little Woman. The project will be led by women, in front of the camera and behind the scenes. Naturally, we’ve been busy doing a little dream casting for the upcoming picture.

We’re still flummoxed by the backlash about the recently announced all-female Ghostbusters reboot. Female-led productions have been around since the dawn of cinema and the work of film pioneer Alice Guy-Blaché. Here are ten movies that feature only (or largely) female casts.

The Women

Director George Cukor teamed up with screenwriting legend and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes novelist Anita Loos and prolific screenwriter Jane Murfin for 1939’s The Women. There are more than 130 speaking roles in the film, all played by women. Men are discussed in this tale of interconnected lives and romantic dramas, but none are featured in the film. Cukor even went so far as to choose female animals as pets for the women and female figures in the props featured throughout the movie. Admirably, The Women doesn’t use its top-billing stars (Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, and Rosalind Russell included) to spend the running time acting catty or exploiting lesbianism.

Pitch Perfect

The Kay Cannon-written musical comedy Pitch Perfect focuses on an all-girls singing group, but it’s the film’s believable cast (Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Rebel Wilson, and company) that makes Pitch Perfect so lovable. The women are flawed, funny, and real. The focus isn’t on relationships with men, but instead on how to be compassionate and collaborative with a group of wildly different personalities.

All About My Mother

Few male directors write and direct women with the humanity that Pedro Almodóvar offers his female characters. He explores complex female-centric subjects and gender roles with wit, realism, and reverence. His 1999 film All About My Mother is even dedicated to women: “To all actresses who have played actresses. To all women who act. To men who act and become women. To all the people who want to be mothers. To my mother.” All About My Mother also features a transgender character who isn’t comic relief. Almodóvar shows how women band together during emotional traumas, painting a vivid portrait of their world.

Mean Girls

Last summer, it was reported that the Tina Fey-scripted teen comedy Mean Girls had the most women on any film crew in the last 20 years. That statistic is startling, but we hope it will push other filmmakers to offer women more roles behind the scenes. Mean Girls presents the nasty goings-on within social hierarchies, but also offers that there are better solutions than tearing each other apart.

Waiting to Exhale

Based on a novel by Terry McMillan, Waiting to Exhale is one of the rare films to feature African-American women as the leads (Whitney Houston, Angela Bassett, Loretta Devine, Lela Rochon), supporting each other through life’s best and worst.

As High as the Sky

Indie filmmaker Nikki Braendlin looks at relationships between sisters in her emotional drama As High as the Sky, featuring an all-female cast and key crew. “I was interested in examining the ramifications of someone who has never learned to identify, and thus process, her emotions at all,” Braendlin explained in an interview. “Additionally, and simultaneously, the film explores the complex and diverse relationships among mothers, daughters and sisters.”

White Oleander

Based on Janet Fitch’s 1999 coming-of-age novel White Oleander, the Mary Agnes Donoghue-written film adaptation starring Alison Lohman, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robin Wright Penn, and Renée Zellweger is a performance-driven tale about one teenage’s experience with foster homes and a mother in prison.

Steel Magnolias

Steel Magnolias has come to define one of the all-time “chick flicks,” but shouldn’t be dismissed as a mere tear-jerker pandering to women. Critic Roger Ebert praised the humor and performances from Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Daryl Hannah, Olympia Dukakis, and Julia Roberts — women banding together in small-town Louisiana. He writes: “I doubt if any six real women could be funny and sarcastic so consistently (every line is an epigram), but I love the way these women talk. . . The men do not amount to much in this movie..”

Bachelorette

The badly behaved cousin of Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids, Leslye Headland’s Bachelorette follows a group of friends as they prepare for the wedding of one of their own. Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher, Lizzy Caplan, and Rebel Wilson portray characters that aren’t always likable, but Bachelorette “goes deeper, peering deep at what kind of women they really are, and what their behavior actually tells us about them,” our own Jason Bailey explains.

Clueless

Amy Heckerling’s 1995 comedy Clueless, led by Alicia Silverstone, Stacey Dash, and Brittany Murphy, is a clever adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel Emma. Writer Laura Cohen explains why the film is an important milestone for women:

Clueless‘ central theme of female friendship is completely critical to the point of the entire movie. Cher goes out of her way to bring in Tai into her circle of friends, including her on all the fun that is beauty regimens, workouts, and mall excursions — plus, she protectively looks out for this girl she’s hardly known for a few months, even coming to her rescue when she gets hit with a flying shoe at that party in the Valley. And when Cher and Tai fight, their teary-eyed and love-filled make-up shows the strength of their bond (only true friends go down a “shame spiral” if they feel like they’ve been unsupportive of the other). These kind of real-life woman-to-woman friendships are still largely underrepresented in the media, but Clueless shows what other movies still don’t reflect today.