Culture / Film

‘RUSSH’ film club: 22 of the greatest feminist movies of all time

best feminist films

There are simply some films out there that are undisputedly necessary watching. While our heart still hurts for the classics, we've begun working through a new watchlist that is equally as important. Coming up to International Women's Day this week, we're taking a moment to celebrate the momentous success and lives of real women whose tales have made it to the big screen. And for good reason. Below, we've rounded up 20 of the best feminist films you definitely have to watch.


On the Basis of Sex (2018)

The formidable Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a major icon for team RUSSH. Naturally, the 2018 film On the Basis of Sex, which follows RBG in her early life and career is at the top of our list for best feminist films. The film follows the late Supreme Court Justice through the landmark case that would set a precedent for sex discrimination; confirming Ginsburg's place as one of the most prolific gender rights lawyers of her generation.

Set throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s, Felicity Jones takes on the role of RBG; portraying a fiercely determined lawyer who with her husband, Marty, take on Moritz v. Commissioner, the first federal case to declare discrimination on the basis of sex unconstitutional.


Frida (2002)

One of the most memorable feminist films of all time, Salma Hayek portrays revolutionary artist Frida Kahlo in this unforgettable biopic. Frida shares the bold and equally tragic life of the Mexican artist; touching on her tumultuous relationship with her mentor-turned-husband, Diego Rivera, her illicit affairs, ongoing health complications and the passion she had for her art. The harrowing performance earned Hayek an Academy Award nomination.


Erin Brockovich (2000)

It was the true-story that earned Julia Roberts the Oscar for Best Actress in 2001. The inspiring biopic of a single mother who helped bring the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) to justice; Erin Brockovich is proof that the little guy, or gal, can win. Upon realising that PG&E is knowingly poisoning a Californian town through its water supply, Brockovich – a legal assistant – becomes instrumental in forcing the company to pay $333 million to the plaintiffs. The case became the largest settlement ever paid in a direct-action lawsuit in US history. 


Suffragette (2015)

Set in 1912, Carey Mulligan, Meryl Streep and Helena Bonham Carter retell the struggles and challenges faced by women who risked it all for the right to vote. Suffragette, based off the historic movement of the same name, is a necessary reminder of the sacrifices women in early 20th century Britain made in exchange for basic human rights – all the while risking their homes, jobs, families and lives.


Hidden Figures (2017)

Required watching, Hidden Figures celebrates the story of three Black women who were instrumental in sending astronaut John Glenn into space in 1962. The success of this trio of NASA scientists; Katherine Goble (later Johnson), Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan, was not without struggle. Amid an ongoing taunt of racial, class and gender discrimination by the white men they worked for, these three women overcame boundaries through their combined grit, perseverance and intelligence.


A Private War (2018)

Marie Colvin, the journalist who inspired the gruelling story told in A Private War, did what many other reporters couldn't. A woman who fearlessly reported from the conflict and war zones many others refused to visit, Rosamund Pike portrays the honourable Colvin in her quest and desire to share the harrowing truth of war-torn countries. Like many of the tales that have made their way onto our best feminist films list, it wasn't without sacrifice. Colvin lost sight in one of her eyes due to a grenade attack and suffered subsequent PTSD from what she had experienced. In 2012, she was one of the many casualties of the siege of Homs. Her honourable, passionate and tireless work continues to live on today.


Lady Sings the Blues (1972)

Heralded as one of the greatest cinematic performances of the early 70s, Diana Ross' portrayal of Billie Holiday in Lady Sings the Blues is one for the ages. The deeply moving film is based loosely on the singer's own memoir, and traces an extremely honest account of the poverty, racism and addiction issues that Holiday faced. If Ross' performance has you yearning for more insight into the revolutionary artists' world, a new biopic starring Andra Day was released late last month.


The Glorias (2020)

A relatively new addition to our list of best feminist films, but one that deserves ample attention, The Glorias tells the tale of feminist icon, journalist, and activist Gloria Steinem. A story that transcends decades, four actors — Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander, Lulu Wilson, and Ryan Keira Armstrong – were enlisted to play Steinem at different stages of her life throughout the film. Based on Steinem’s own memoir My Life on the Road, the film covers her journey from undervalued journalist to the launch of Ms., the first national feminist magazine in America.


North Country (2005)

It might not be a story you're familiar with, but the life experiences of miner Lois Jenson and the landmark case that changed sexual harassment law in America, is a historic one. The film North Country tells the tale of Jenson and many other women through the eyes of character Josey Aimes (played by Charlize Theron), who retells this brutal, inspiring journey of resilience. Jenson was the first woman to win a sex discrimination case in the U.S; after bringing a class action against a northern Minnesota iron mine where women workers including herself were sexually assaulted and harassed. Theron portrays their story and the immense personal sacrifice it took to incite this magnitude of change.


Confirmation (2016)

In 1991, Anita Hill made history when she testified in Congress accusing Clarence Thomas, a would-be Supreme Court nominee and her former supervisor, of sexual harassment. The film, which features Kerry Washington as Hill, traces the events of the hearing and the circumstances and consequences that surrounded it. For women's rights in America, Hill's testimony was monumental. As The New York Times reports, in the year after her testimony, complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission about sexual harassment went up 73 percent.


Rocks (2019)

When 15-year-old Rocks and her little brother Emmanuel are left to fend for themselves after their mother leaves without warning, the teenager is determined to avoid going into foster care. A challenge alleviated in part by her close-knit friendship group and the small stash of cash her mother left. Set in East London with a cast of deeply charismatic newcomers like Bukky Bakray and Kosar Ali who were selected from a series of workshops conducted by director Sarah Gavron, this is a truly original and authentic film about contemporary girlhood, with heart.

Thelma & Louise (1991)

What says female solidarity better than a literal ride or die friendship? It's a story as timeless as Susan Sarandon. When mild mannered Thelma joins her wild waitress friend Louise on a short trip, things very quickly go south when they kill a man after he attempts to assault Thelma, and they end up on the run from the law. You'll want to strap into the backseat and join them for the ride.

The Colour Purple (1985)

Not to be confused with the latest adaptation starring Danielle Brooks and Halle Bailey, the original film which famously features Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey takes shape around the plot of Alice Walker’s 1982 novel. It follows a Black woman named Celie living in the rural South in the early part of the 20th century. It's a story of resilience, survival, sisterhood and the original film received 11 Oscar nods upon its release.


Bar Bahar (2016)

Translating to "in between" in Arabic, Bar Bahar is a courageous story from Maysaloun Hamoud about Palestinian life under Israeli occupation, and the pull between tradition and modernity. It follows Nour, a naive and religious graduate student who moves into a share house with Laila, a flirty, extroverted lawyer and Salma, a lesbian DJ who has yet to come out to her Christian parents. The three women strike up a special bond and become a pillar of support as they all confront their own individual challenges.


The First Wives Club (1996)

Always at the top of our list. When three college best friends learn about the tragic death of the fourth member of their friendship circle who ends her life after her husband left her for a younger woman, Annie, Elise and Brenda reunite, and realise that they are all being left for younger models too. In a plot to seek revenge, they become closer than ever. Come for Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler, Diane Keaton, Maggie Smith and SJP. Stay for the trio's rendition of "You Don't Own Me".


Bend It Like Beckham (2002)

Director Gurinder Chadha is an icon. More than twenty years since the director gave us Bend It Like Beckham, the film still holds true, in fact it really was before its time. We're suckers for the early noughties fashion – who could forget that iconic glomesh club moment? – and it was thoughtful about queerness, what it means to be a migrant, and was unafraid to weave a strong message around feminism though it. Where Keira Knightley's acting falls short, Parminder Nagra comes through. And it also features our favourite film father, the one, the only, Anupam Kher.

Little Women (2019)

The classic of classics. In Greta Gerwig's 2019 reimagining of Little Women – starring Florence Pugh, Saoirse Ronan, Laura Dern, Emma Watson, Timothée Chalamet, and Meryl Streep – the March sisters return in what is arguably their best version to date. As sisters do, they clash thunderously, although always coming back together in the name of family and in the sweetest of ways. Finally, we get some justice for Amy too, a female character who has been woefully misunderstood. And who could forget Saoirse Ronan's moving monologue: "Women, they have minds, and they have souls, as well as just hearts. And they've got ambition, and they've got talent, as well as just beauty. I'm so sick of people saying that love is just all a woman is fit for. I'm so sick of it."


Shayda (2023)

Shayda won the World Cinema Audience Award at Sundance in January 2023 and is the directorial debut of Australian-Iranian Noora Niasari, counting Cate Blanchett among one of its executive producers. It's loosely based off of Niasari's experience as a child in a women's shelter, and follows mother and daughter as they seek refuge in order to flee domestic abuse. Set in the 90s in the lead up to Nowruz (Iranian New Year), Shayda is a tense yet tender rendering of its title character during a time of crisis and her determination to create a safe home.

Whale Rider (2002)

Adapted from Witi Ihimaera's international bestseller of the same name and centred around the myth of Paikea. Girls are barred from being Whangara chiefs, but when Pai's mother and twin brother die at birth, her Māori tribe is left without a clear successor. Played by Keisha Castle-Hughes, who was nominated for an Oscar off the back of the film, Pai begins to secretly prepare herself for her birthright in defiance of her grandfather, which includes saving a pod of stranded whales.


The Watermelon Woman (1996)

In film school, Cheryl Dunye noted a lack of people on the screen who looked like her. So she decided to do something to fix it. The Watermelon Woman is the first feature film written and directed by a Black lesbian, and in it, Dunye plays a version of herself at 25 years old in this meta mockumentary format. Set in a video rental store, Cheryl is a budding director obsessed with forgotten Black Hollywood actresses. We see her investigate an obscure 1930s performer referred to as "the watermelon woman" while navigating a new relationship with a white woman.


Skate Kitchen (2018)

We love skate films. What's more, we love skate films that include wom*n – a sport in which they're egregiously underrepresented in and locked out of – especially the groovers over at New York collective Skate Kitchen. Styled in Sandy Liang, Collina Strada, Simon Miller and a hell of a lot of Vans, the characters ride around the streets of NYC getting in trouble, getting out of trouble, to bring us the perfect clash of culture, fashion, drama and most importantly, friendship.


20th Century Women (2016)

Set in late-70s Santa Barbara, California, this film follows a determined mid-50s single mother Dorothea as she raises her teenage son Jamie. In need of help, Dorothea enlists the aid of free-spirited artist Abbie – a boarder in their home – and their precocious young neighbour Julie to help with Jamie's upbringing among the love, freedom and cultural change of Southern California in 1979.

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