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27 Films With Female Leads That Everyone Needs To Watch

Whether you like comedy or horror – women can do it all.

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1. Short Term 12 (2013), dir. Destin Daniel Cretton

Cinedigm

Grace is a young supervisor of a short-term group home for troubled teens. An intense and heartbreaking chronicle of the effects of childhood abuse, Short Term 12 is ultimately uplifting as it depicts the love, strength and understanding between survivors.

2. Lady Bird (2017), dir. Greta Gerwig

A24

Lady Bird is the age-old story of teen angst, told from the uniquely refreshing perspective of a young girl in small town Sacramento, struggling with her sense of self. It explores the complexities of female bonds and disregards the trope of a "saviour boyfriend". It has its funny moments, it has its gut wrenching moments, and it's one we're certain to be fondly quoting for years to come. Whether you love this movie or hate it (you won't hate it, I promise) you'll leave it desperately yearning to call your mother.

3. Mustang (2015), dir. Deniz Gamze Ergüven

Ad Vitam

Set in a remote Turkish village, this is a tale of sisterhood and the challenges that young girls face growing up in a conservative society. Mustang explores the intricacies of culture, gender politics, and the strength it takes to break free from a toxic lifestyle.

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4. Girlhood (2014), dir. Céline Sciamma

Pyramide Distribution

Girlhood is a compelling coming-of-age film following French adolescent, Marieme, as she seeks a life different to the one her oppressive family and dead-end school wants for her. She meets a group of free-spirited girls, learns to come out of her shell, and faces difficult decisions as she becomes enveloped in a gang lifestyle. Girlhood masterfully unpacks the intricacies of female friendship and explores the nature of race, gender, and class politics in a Parisian rough neighbourhood.

5. Mulholland Drive (2001), dir. David Lynch

Universal Pictures

Mullholland Drive is a surreal neo-noir mystery film following two women who find themselves caught up in a dark mystery. We follow the two along a dreamy, nightmarish journey as they meet shady characters, piece together clues and missing memories, and become twisted in erotic passion. If you have a soft spot for mind-bending movies with eerie direction, and enjoy leaving a film with more questions than you entered with, this one's for you.

6. We Are the Best! (2013), dir. Lukas Moodysson

Svensk Filmindustri

Three young Swedish misfits growing up feeling alienated in Stockholm in the '80s decide to form an all-girl punk band, despite having no discernible musical talent. They are angry and political and use the band as a creative outlet, and a rebellious escape from the frustrations of their adolescent lives. We Are the Best! is fun, uplifting, and an intimate tale of youth and friendship.

7. Persona (1966), dir. Ingmar Bergman

AB Svensk Filmindustri

Persona follows a young nurse who moves to a cottage to care for a famous stage-actress who has fallen ill and suddenly stopped speaking. As the nurse, Alma, begins to confide in her patient, their identities begin to merge and what follows is a rollercoaster of psychological horror. The film poses endless questions about identity, sexuality, womanhood, and interpersonal boundaries.

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8. Whip It (2009), dir. Drew Barrymore

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Whip It is a fun sports-comedy centred around Bliss, an ex-beauty pageant contestant, who finds the opportunity to reinvent herself by enrolling in roller derby, much to her mother's dismay. She's quickly taken in by a family of older roller derby girls, experiences her first shot at teen love, and ultimately becomes stronger and more self-reliant in the process. It's the type of movie you'll end up watching over and over again.

9. Tangerine (2015), dir. Sean Baker

Magnolia Pictures

Widely accredited for being filmed on an iPhone 5s, Tangerine follows the story of a transgender sex worker after she discovers her boyfriend and pimp has been cheating on her. The movie draws you in with its bold colour palette perfectly complemented by the funny, charming, forceful characters as they walk the rundown streets of Hollywood like its their own catwalk and contemplate the meaning of sisterhood outside a donut shop.

10. Hidden Figures (2016), dir. Theodore Melfi

20th Century Fox

Hidden Figures follows the true story of three black female mathematicians who were instrumental workers at NASA during the Space Race. This in depth insight into human history is as moving as it is educational. You're guaranteed to come out feeling inspired by these bright, resilient women who contributed immensely in the effort to send the first American astronauts into space.

11. Thelma & Louise (1991), dir. Ridley Scott

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Thelma & Louise is a classic American road film, following two friends who set off on an adventurous road trip that quickly turns into chaos. The two find themselves committing a series of crimes that will grant them universal infamy, as they must evade being caught by police.

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12. The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015), dir. Marielle Heller

Sony Pictures Classics

Set in stunning San Fransisco in the '70s as the hippie movement turns punk, The Diary of a Teenage Girl is an honest, realistic coming-of-age tale that follows 15-year-old Minnie as she contemplates and experiments with sexual liberation and teenage awakening. The back-to-basics storytelling of this movie is compelling and easily relatable for anyone who's been a teenage girl in any era.

13. 20th Century Women (2016), dir. Mike Mills

A24

20th Century Women is a complex comedy-drama following a free-spirited mother, and the two other women who help her raise her teenage son, in the post-sixties era defined by hippy persuasions in Southern California. It expertly depicts the complicated nature of generational gaps, as well as the self actualisations of women during this period.

14. Three Colours: Blue (1993), dir. Krzysztof Kieślowski

Miramax

Part of a trilogy, Three Colours: Blue, follows a woman after her husband and child are killed in a car accident. Suddenly finding herself with no familial obligations, she attempts to overcome her loss by moving to Paris and isolating herself from all her former ties. This is a sombre, moving film that gradually makes you empathise with the kindness and humanity of the main character as she journeys along a long healing process.

15. Amélie (2001), dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet

UGC

Amélie was raised and homeschooled in a sheltered household by eccentric parents. To cope with her loneliness, socially awkward Amélie develops an imaginative personality; creating a world of fantasy and mischief around herself. This whimsical movie follows Amélie as chain of extraordinary events leads her to discover that her purpose is to change the lives of those around her for the better, and along the way, she discovers love.

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16. Pariah (2011), dir. Dee Rees

Focus Features

17-year-old Alike battles the misfortunes of adolescence and strives to come to terms with being a lesbian despite a strict religious upbringing. Tensions between her family may be high but Alike isn't conflicted about her sexuality – her real struggle is learning how to attract a girlfriend and express herself. This emotive subject is tackled with great sensitivity and the stunningly shot film allows you to feel heartbreak, humour, and beauty in all aspects of Alike's life.

17. The Edge of Seventeen (2016), dir. Kelly Fremon Craig

STXfilms

Nadine is an awkward 17-year-old stuck in the suburbs of Portland – disillusioned by life, and barely navigating high school with the help of her best friend, Krista. Her life takes a 180-degree turn after she finds out her best friend is dating her brother. The Edge of Seventeen is an honest and hilarious insight into the various woes of teenagedom – you'll find yourself relating to Nadine as you cringe and laugh at the chain of bad decisions she makes in an attempt to regain her footing.

18. Breathe (2015), dir. Anne-Sophie Brasme

Gaumont

Breathe follows the friendship that forms after Charlie, a high-school student, is assigned to look after the new girl, Sarah. The two quickly become inseparable but things turn malicious after Charlie introduces Sarah to some people as a classmate rather than a friend. What ensues is a haunting psychological study of a dysfunctional female friendship and the brutality of teenage "mean girls".

19. Two Days, One Night (2014), dir. Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne

Diaphana Films

Young mother, Sandra, returns to work after a nervous breakdown, only to discover she has just one weekend to convince her colleagues to give up their bonuses so that she can keep her job. Two Days, One Night is an emotional rollercoaster, with subtle but powerful performances that offer an important insight into the hardships of working lives amidst bureaucracy.

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20. Therese and Isabelle (1968), dir. Radley Metzger

Audubon Films

Therese and Isabelle is a tender and poetic tale detailing the sexual awakening of Therese, a boarding school girl, who becomes intimately acquainted with her classmate Isabelle, until the latter is taken out of school. Two decades later, Therese tries to recapture her faded memories of the romance by returning and revisiting the sites of the deserted school, quickly bringing back all those wistful feelings from her school days.

21. Winter's Bone (2010), dir. Debra Granik

Roadside Attractions

Jennifer Lawrence stars as Ree Dolly in this drama following a teenage girl in rural Missouri who must relocate her missing father in an attempt to save her family from eviction. Winter's Bone explores the nuances of close and distant family relationships, and tackles issues related to poverty as Ree must navigate the underworld of illegal meth labs.

22. Obvious Child (2014), dir. Gillian Robespierre

A24

Jenny Slate stars in this romantic comedy-drama about a young stand-up comedian who has a drunken one-night-stand, finds out she's pregnant, and decides to have an abortion. Obvious Child is funny through and through, and uncomfortable when it needs to be – tackling a difficult issue in a charmingly unapologetic way.

23. Fish Tank (2009), dir. Andrea Arnold

Curzon Artificial Eye

15-year-old Mia Williams lives on a British estate. She's been excluded from school, isolated from her family, and ostracised by her friends. We see her at her toughest and her most vulnerable as she flip-flops between flirting with her mum's new boyfriend to practicing her hiphop routines in an empty flat. Fish Tank is raw and endearing and a breath of fresh air.

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24. Stoker (2013), dir. Park Chan-wook

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Stoker follows 18-year-old India whose uncle comes to live with her and her unstable mother after the demise of her father. During the length of his stay, she grows simultaneously suspicious and infatuated by this strange, charming man and suspects he may have ulterior motives for showing up. The film is a strangely haunting study of a peculiar family playing mind games with one another.

25. Bridesmaids (2011), dir. Paul Feig

Universal Pictures

Bridesmaids is a hilarious, endlessly quotable, comedy classic revolved around failed 30-something baker Annie whose life is turned upside down by a series of misfortunes after her best friend announces her engagement. Once you watch it, you'll end up rewatching it every time you crave a lighthearted relaxing movie.

26. The Handmaiden (2016), dir. Park Chan-wook

CJ Entertainment

The Handmaiden is a South Korean erotic psychological thriller, riddled with plot twists, deception, and epic love. Set in the 1930s, it follows Sook-Hee, a handmaiden with a secret, hired to help heiress Lady Hideko, who lives a secluded life on a large countryside estate. Just as you think you've got a handle on what's happening, this film will keep surprising you in the most satisfying way.

27. Carol (2015), dir. Todd Haynes

StudioCanal

Carol is a period drama that tells the story of a forbidden romance between an aspiring female photographer and an older woman going through the process of a difficult divorce. The film beautifully captures the glamour of 1950s New York as we witness the women navigate their attraction for one another during an intense romantic road trip; later facing the real life consequences and realities of their feelings.