The best female-directed movies from 2019 streaming on Netflix
Though Netflix is the MVP of streaming platforms, providing a rich and diverse selection of movies and TV shows from around the world that we can enjoy at any one time, the streaming platform is also woefully disorganised.
If you’ve ever found yourself scrolling endlessly through the various available category menus, you’ll know what we mean. Sometimes it can be difficult to find exactly what you’re in the mood for – and that’s especially true if you’re looking for a film from a particular perspective.
There’s a wealth of terrific female-directed films on Netflix that you might fail to notice on there. For one thing, Netflix doesn’t list the name of directors at the forefront of listings and it also doesn’t feature a standalone category for films directed by women.
Some might suggest that to separate films in this way is to further add unnecessary gender divides to filmmakers. But there’s also an argument to be made that sometimes you just want to see a movie with a female gaze and perspective to it – something that you’re likely going to find in the hands of a capable female filmmaker.
But since Netflix hasn’t put such an idea into practice yet or added better details to its listings to indicate the filmmaker behind each movie, we decided to put together an essential list of the 31 best female-directed movies currently available to stream on Netflix. Add them to your watchlist immediately and never face the frustration of that endless Netflix menu scroll ever again.
6 Balloons (2018)
The Netflix Originals drama from Marja-Lewis Ryan offers one of the most bracing and realistic depictions of addiction, codependency, and cycles of enablement ever seen on screen.
The fractured relationship between a sister trying (and failing) to do what’s best for her brother is brought into sharp, emotional, and even endearing focus by Abbi Jacobson and Dave Franco, who deliver two of the best performances of their respective careers.
The film is also beautifully written and shot with visuals that perfectly and potently underscore the devastating dimensions of the script.
Ava DuVernay’s powerful documentary exploring the intersection of race, justice, and mass incarceration in the United States might be one of the most ferocious and intelligent movies on the streaming platform.
Providing a lucid study of the links between slavery and the US penal system, the movie is stacked full of analysis from a broad set of scholars, activists, and politicians that provide a chilling reflection on American history and a jagged interrogation of current sociopolitical issues.
American Fable (2017)
Set against the backdrop of the 80s farm crisis, American Fable follows a young girl who slips into a world of fantasy when she discovers a prestigious looking gentleman being held captive in her family’s silo.
Anne Hamilton’s eloquent, dark fairytale features more than a few loving nods to Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, but American Fable also stands up as an enchanting and occasionally euphoric coming-of-age tale.
As a result, American Fable provides a stunning rumination on the liberating power of imagination, the terrifying limitations of financial struggles, and the fallout of the American Dream.
Audrie & Daisy (2016)
Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk’s unflinching portrait of high school sexual assault provides an all-encompassing examination of trauma, power, and coming-of-age in an era where everything is broadcast on social media.
The stories shared in the documentary by young women who were raped by supposed friends and later humiliated and harassed online for the attack illustrate how normalized rape culture has become in the past decade.
The film is heartbreaking and raw but potent in its urgency – what Audrie & Daisy suggests is that one single act of rape can cause a colossal ripple effect upon an entire community, as well as suggesting a clearcut need for change.
The Babadook (2014)
Widely regarded as being one of the best and most innovative horror films of the past decade, Jennifer Kent’s directorial debut is a masterpiece that touches upon the monstrous pain of grief and mourning.
Following a single mom still mourning the violent death of her husband and their maladjusted son as he struggles to restore normalcy while getting spooked by a mysterious monster, The Babadook is scary, emotional, and thought-provoking.
The movie boasts some exceptional physical effects that give the film an eerie, organic ambience, as well as a perceptive and penetrative script that creeps under your skin and into your heart.
The Bad Batch (2017)
Featuring a crazy good cast including Keanu Reeves, Jim Carrey, and Jason Momoa, Ana Lily Amirpour’s follow up to A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night isn’t as great as it could be, but as a visually bombastic exploitation movie it’s an interesting way to blow a few hours.
Set in a post-apocalyptic Texas Wasteland, the story follows a young woman (Suki Waterhouse) searching for a better life after escaping a gang of cannibals who have devoured her limbs. There’s plenty to savor in the film’s hallucinatory visuals and soundscape, even if the narrative has its shortcomings.
Leslye Headland’s trashy romantic comedy takes a lot of heat for being a cash-in on Bridesmaids (released just a year earlier). However, we’d argue there’s space for both films – particularly as they both tell very different stories despite the obvious narrative connection.
Not only does it feature a fabulous comedic cast with a gregarious sense of chemistry (Kristen Stewart, Isla Fisher, Lizzy Caplan, and Adam Scott for crying out loud!), but the film is also just solid bawdy good fun. We’d even go so far as to suggest it’s as good as Bridesmaids – and far less sentimental.
Buster’s Mal Heart (2017)
With an eccentric story that revolves around a man seemingly split into two identities and a suitably frenetic performance by Rami Malek as both of these personalities, Buster’s Mal Heart is a strange movie worth exploring.
Sarah Adina Smith’s sophomore effort evokes ideas pertaining to metaphors made literal, where heartbreak is a physical malady and where symbolic notions of identity fulfil half of a man’s identity.
It’s a tricky narrative that’s patiently paced, which could infuriate viewers looking for instant gratification. However, those who love dynamic visuals and experimental storytelling should find plenty to enjoy in the movie.
Casting JonBenet (2017)
Provocative and controversial, Kitty Green’s true crime documentary has been accused of being meaningless exploitation of the death of JonBenet Ramsey. However, there’s clearly far more value and significance to the film than naysayers have suggested.
Exploring the 1996 murder via multiple perspectives while also casting local actors from Ramsey’s hometown to dramatize the case, the film offers an avant garde deconstruction of tragedy and storytelling – and the blurred lines between truth and fiction, particularly during a crime investigation.
In many ways, Casting JonBenet offers a caustic reflection of how exploitative our culture can be in appropriating real-life stories to fulfil a larger narrative. Before long, the film stops being about Ramsey’s murder and starts being about the towering gulf of gossip and speculation that has since engulfed the case.
City of God (2002)
Easily one of the greatest, most harrowing, and masterful crime dramas ever made, Kátia Lund and Fernando Meirelles provide a bracing depiction of cycles of crime and tragedy within Rio de Janeiro slums.
Shot on location in Rio’s poorest neighborhoods, City of God never comes across as exploitative. Instead, the captivating and occasionally excruciating movie maintains a ferocious sense of respect while sustaining a sense of pure realism in framing a brutal turf war between two ambitious drug dealers.
Cloud Atlas (2012)
Based on the sprawling, epic novel of the same name by David Mitchell, Lana and Lilly Wachowski achieve an ambitious adaptation of a sci-fi story that spans multiple centuries, genres, and characters with the help of co-director Tom Tykwer.
The story offers various rich explorations of a continual fight for freedom against an eternal presence of oppression, with actors like Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, and Jim Broadbent taking on multiple roles. The film is shot earnestly and intelligently, with sci-fi elements elevated by more everyday human stories connected by one powerful idea – that all lives and loves are equal, beautiful, and valuable.
Daughters of the Dust (1991)
Julie Dash’s seminal indie classic is a tone poem about family, identity, and finding your place in the world that fixates on the lives and conflicting principles of three different women from one family.
The movie was the first feature film directed by an African American woman to receive US distribution in 1991 and it remains so influential that Beyoncé‘s Lemonade drew heavily from the film for its lavish, rhapsodic visuals.
Exuberant and entrancing, Uda Benyamina’s Camera D’Or-winning female buddy thriller received a standing ovation when it debuted at the Cannes Film Festival. And rightly so.
Set in a poverty-stricken housing estate on the outskirts of Paris where drugs and religion reign supreme, the film follows a teenage girl who enlists her best friend to help her become a respected drug dealer before a young dancer shows up with the prospect of a different life.
It’s brimming with raw, feminine energy and a naturalistic sense of humor that highlights the chemistry between the leads. Ultimately, Divines is a heavenly tale of identity, crime, and friendship that punches away with great intrigue to a heart-wrenching finale.
It’s a story we’ve all seen on screen countless times: Four best friends negotiate some major life changes during the final two weeks of high school. However, Olivia Milch’s raunchy stoner comedy has such fresh characters and perspective that it feels unlike any other film that shares a similar narrative.
Dude is an uproarious delight that doesn’t talk down to teenagers or provide a overly glossy, pristine depiction of being a teenage girl. These four ladies love to party and hook up with whoever they damn well want to – and they’re given space to do so without judgement.
Echo Park (2016)
Amanda Marsalis’s charming love story sees a young woman (Mamie Gummer) leaving her partner and Beverly Hills post code for a new life in a new neighborhood where she starts a new relationship with someone from a completely different background (Tony Okungbowa).
Understated and graceful, the movie offers a luminous flush of romance against a radiant neighborhood and an uncertain future. Though the film doesn’t register as realistic, it certainly delivers an engaging and swoon-worthy escapist fantasy that still provides moments of poignancy.
Combining a smart script with indomitable performances, Céline Sciammas’s dark and gripping coming-of-age story is an utterly mesmerizing portrait of a young woman struggling to figure out her identity and place in the world.
Though the film can be as bleak as they come, there’s also a lightness to Sciammas’s approach that makes Girlhood luminous with the camaraderie of adolescence. This is a rare and unbelievably special film that feels vivid, electric, and mercifully free of mawkish sentimentality.
The Invitation (2016)
Karyn Kusama’s slow-burning thriller is one of most suspenseful and smartest movies of the past ten years. Set around the tension-packed plotline of a man who grudgingly accepts a dinner invite from his ex-wife and new husband, only to suspect an insidious hidden agenda, The Invitation is full of superbly executed surprises that play on the nature of past trauma, paranoia, and herd mentality.
The result is an utterly chilling film bolstered by extraordinary performances from Logan Marshall-Green and Tammy Blanchard, with Kusama proving herself an expert in evoking atmosphere and dread out of otherwise ordinary and mundane situations.
Mamma Mia! (2008)
That’s right! We think Phyllida Lloyd’s gleefully overblown Abba musical romcom in which Pierce Brosnan fails to hit a single musical note in key is one of the best currently available to stream on Netflix. Please don’t judge us.
The film is unapologetically feminine and raucous good fun, with Meryl Streep, Christine Baranski, and Julie Walters all looking as though they’re having the time of their lives (as Abba themselves would put it). Their non-stop revelry isn’t just endearing – it’s damn well infectious.
Marie Antoinette (2006)
Sofia Coppola’s pastel-drenched biopic of the much reviled French historical figure isn’t an accurate portrayal of historical events – nor is it meant to be taken as one. Instead, Coppola transforms Marie Antoinette (Kristen Dunst) into something better, resembling a modern-day it-girl – more of an Instagram model indulging in every possible excess offered to her than the Queen of France screwing over the needs of her country while partying it up in her castle.
But the movie also deals with the allure of, and weighty consequences of giving into, the unbridled delights of hedonism and excess. At some point the party has to end and it’s always f***ing bleak.
Miss Stevens (2016)
A young Lili Reinhart and Timothée Chalamet star as students in Julia Hart’s dramedy in which Lily Rabe plays a fragile teacher tasked with chaperoning three of her students on a weekend trip to a drama competition.
The resulting movie is a simple but stunning character study that perfectly captures the divide between teenagers and adults and teachers and students. But it also highlights the common ground we all share at whatever age or level of experience.
Dee Rees’s Oscar-nominated epic is an intimate yet expansive deep dive into the past that somehow manages to illuminate many of the issues of the present.
Mary J. Blige (whose performance was nominated for an Oscar), Carey Mulligan, and Garrett Hedlund bring unspoken interior lives to characters that Rees carefully strings together over time.
Offering a meticulous snapshot of American history, Mudbound confronts the often savage realities of racism, prejudice, and class divides with intelligence and grace.
Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s powerful portrait of self-efficacy and female empowerment isn’t necessarily unique, but it’s certainly an achievement in offering a bold, bracing critique of society.
Mustang follows five teenage sisters who find their basic freedoms stripped from them after a neighbor complains that their innocent games are actually illicit, inappropriate behavior.
Ergüven capably celebrates the sexuality of the young women (and their right to own it) while damning a society that chooses to sexualize everything women do and to punish them for it. The film is beautifully shot and performed, with a stark message at the heart of it.
Obvious Child (2014)
It’s a tough act to approach the topic of an unwanted pregnancy with any level of humor, but somehow Gillian Robespierre does so deftly and with staggering amounts of maturity, warmth, sensitivity, and wit.
Jenny Slate is charming as ever in the lead role of a young woman opting for an abortion after becoming pregnant following a one night stand. And the script is a dazzling gem, one that leaves room for profound and often hilarious explorations of womanhood while smartly sidestepping an all too obvious romcom plotline.
Rees’s emotional drama is as authentic and powerful a coming out story as you may ever see. Full of sentiments so intimate, the film is almost confessional, Pariah is tender yet witty and brimming with honesty.
Adepero Oduye is exceptional as the 17-year-old African American woman navigating the tricky terrain of her sexuality while attempting to consolidate her identity with the tensions and demands of her family.
Pariah will make your heart hurt, but it’ll be more than worthwhile (we promise).
Paris is Burning (1981)
The hugely influential documentary about the New York LGBTQI ball scene has been controversial since its release, with some people suggesting Jenni Livingston’s approach to the subject matter was exploitative and unhelpful for the LGBTQI people of color depicted.
It’s an important argument to take into account, particularly in consideration of how much of Ballroom culture was subsequently appropriated by the mainstream following the release of the film. (Nice one, Madonna!) However, the film remains an important part of pop culture whatever the truth and provides an indelible portrait of chosen families, LGBTQI identity, and of the survival of marginalized people.
Granted, it’s probably the nastiest film on this list and definitely not one to enjoy with dinner or if you have a sensitive stomach – but holy shit, is Julia Duocournau’s grisly coming-of-age horror an absolute marvel.
The story follows a young vegetarian who develops an insatiable taste for human flesh after a hazing ritual at her veterinary school. The film is impossibly smart and captures the terror of growing up and longing to fit in against a blood-drenched desire for experience. Despite the nauseating sequences of flesh eating, Ducournau provides a ravishing depiction of disturbed adolescence.
Set it Up (2018)
Providing a sweet-natured throwback to classic romcoms of the 80s and 90s, Set it Up sticks to a familiar formula but manages to achieve plenty within it. Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell are charming as ever as two overworked and underpaid assistants striving to set up their respective bosses (the equally charming Lucy Liu and Taye Diggs) so they can enjoy some peace and reasonable working hours.
Clare Scanlon paces the film with a breathless, exhilarating momentum that captures the non-stop workaholic nature of corporate offices as much as it depicts the heart-pounding rush of new romance. You’ll know exactly how it all ends (duh!) but you won’t care – it’s absolutely irresistible.
Starring Ellen Page and Allison Janney, Sian Heder’s absorbing family drama sees a young vagrant enlisting her ex-boyfriend’s mom to help her take care of her baby.
The script is taut and insightful, with complex and wonderfully compelling female characters at the heart of it. Though it can be terrifically moving and poignant, Tallulah is also incredibly witty, making the film an absolute pleasure on every level.
Turbo Kid (2015)
If you like your movies to be offbeat and a little goofy, you’ll love this low-budget post-apocalyptic and thoroughly post-modern pulp gem from Anouk Whissell, François Simard, and Yoann-Karl Whissell.
Offering a nostalgic ode to kids’ movies of the 80s and 90s, Turbo Kid is surprisingly gory but also an absolute blast, with a gloriously fun synth soundtrack lending the movie a serious turbo charge of atmosphere.
It’s a pitch-perfect pastiche that doesn’t need to be overthought. Just crack open a few cold ones and give in to the film’s unbridled delirium – it’s a great time.
The Wolfpack (2015)
Crystal Moselle’s engrossing documentary about a pack of brothers locked away from society on the Lower East Side of Manhattan provides a powerful portrait of brotherhood, family, child abuse, and of the enduring power of cinema.
The brothers spend their time recreating their favorite movies shot-for-shot using an elaborate assemblage of homemade props and costumes. It’s clear movies are their only means for survival, which provides a transfixing look at how we engage with stories and why.
But on a deeper level, Moselle manages to confront the terrible loneliness of the brothers and their challenges as they seek to integrate into society for the first time without disbanding the brotherhood. It’s one of the most original and intriguing documentaries currently available on Netflix.
Featuring horror shorts from directors like Roxanne Benjamin, Annie Clark, Karyn Kusama, and Jovanka Vuckovic, this female horror filmmaker anthology is a must-see for fans of the genre.
Overall, the anthology provides some fiendish dark humor, jagged satire, and truly unsettling takes on terror in fresh and inventive ways. There isn’t anything so scary that it’ll keep you from sleeping soundly (sadly), but in delving into horror from multiple female perspectives the films all manage to kick up a disturbing enough ruckus.