Photo by Ahmet Yalçınkaya on Unsplash

Each year, the National Film Registry selects 25 films deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” to be preserved by the Library of Congress.

As of 2020, there are 800 films on that list. Of that 800, we found 73 titles directed by women.

While that number should arguably be much larger, at least it is small enough for us to make a list out of.

So, without further ado, here are all of the films, as well as their brief descriptions, directed by women on the National Film Registry.

Action & Crime 

The Hitch-Hiker (1953)
directed by Ida Lupino
A film noir about a murderous hitch-hiker.

Wanda (1971)
directed by Barbara Loden
A drifter surrenders custody of her kids and finds companionship in a petty criminal.

The Hurt Locker (2008)
directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Set amidst the violent conflict of the Iraq War, The Hurt Locker is a suspenseful portrayal of a bomb squad, whose members fall at odds with their new, maverick leader.

History & Documentary

With Car and Camera Around the World (1929)
directed by Aloha Wanderwell
Aloha Wanderwall, once known as “the world’s most travelled girl,” was the first woman to drive, and document that drive, around the world.

A Time for Burning (1966)
directed by Barbara Cornell
A Nebraska pastor attempts to integrate his all-white church.

Salesman (1969)
directed by Charlotte Zwerin
4 door-to-door Bible salesmen travel down the East Coast.

Antonia: A Portrait of the Woman (1974)
directed by Jill Godmilow
Meet the first woman to conduct major symphonies across the U.S. and Europe, Antonia Brico.

Eadweard Muybridge, Zoopraxographer (1975)
directed by Fay Anderson
Peer into the life of photographer Eadweard Muybridge in this documentary student film.

Harlan County, U.S.A. (1976)
directed by Barbara Kopple
Follow a grueling coal miners’ strike against Kentucky’s Brookside Mine.

The Decline of Western Civilization (1981)
directed by Penelope Spheeris
A documentary about LA’s punk rock scene.

Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser (1988)
directed by Charlotte Zwerin
The life of composer, pianist, and jazz great Thelonious Monk.

Paris Is Burning (1990)
directed by Jennie Livingston
But one view of New York’s 1980s drag scene.

The Devil Never Sleeps (1994)
directed by Lourdes Portillo
This “whodunit” documentary ponders the death of Portillo’s own uncle, Oscar.

The Forgotten Frontier (1931)
directed by Mary Breckinridge
Learn about the nurses and midwives living in Kentucky’s Appalachian Mountains.

Portrait of Jason (1967)
directed by Shirley Clarke
Starring Jason Holiday,  the film reveals nuanced truths about life as a gay hustler and aspiring cabaret performer.

Growing Up Female (1971)
directed by Julia Reichert
Follow the lives of 6 women and girls to explore how socialization has affected women in America.

Buffalo Creek Flood: An Act of Man (1975)
directed by Mimi Pickering
A powerful exposé about the Buffalo Creek Disaster of 1972.

Grey Gardens (1976)
directed by Ellen Hovde & Muffie Meyer
In this cult classic, meet a mother-daughter pair of high-society dropouts.

The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter (1980)
directed by Connie Field
Women tell their stories about working during WWII.

Before Stonewall (1984)
directed by Greta Schiller
Follow the history of America’s LGBT community before the 1969 Stonewall Riots.

Uksuum Cauyai: Drums of Winter (1988)
directed by Sarah Elder
A look into the lives of the Yup’ik Eskimo people of Alaska, and the role that dance plays in their culture.

Daughters of the Dust (1991)
directed by Julie Dash
A powerful story of 3 generations of women. This film is the first feature film directed by an African-American woman to be distributed theatrically in the United States.

Mauna Kea: Temple Under Siege (2006)
directed by Joan Lander
Explore the explosion of cultures happening around Hawaii’s symbolic mountain volcano, Mauna Kea.

Comedy & Satire

Matrimony’s Speed Limit (1913)
directed by Alice Guy-Blache
A man has 12 minutes to find and marry his bride, otherwise he loses his inheritance.

A Study in Reds (1932)
directed by Miriam Bennett
A short spoof on women’s clubs and the Soviet menace.

A New Leaf (1971)
directed by Elaine May
A newly broke playboy concocts a scheme to marry, then murder, an awkward heiress.

The Atomic Cafe (1982)
directed by Jayne Loader
This darkly comical Cold War documentary deconstructs how propaganda shaped America’s atomic program.

Losing Ground (1982)
directed by Kathleen Collins
In this comedic drama, an impressive couple’s marriage is strained when they both reach a crossroads in their lives.

A League of Their Own (1992)
directed by Penny Marshall
During WWII, 2 sisters join the world’s first all-female baseball league.

Real Women Have Curves (2002)
directed by Patricia Cardoso
A teen struggles to balance her college-bound ambitions with her mother’s plans for her life.

Mabel’s Blunder (1914)
directed by Mabel Normand
A woman finds herself in a pickle when her fiancé’s father, who also happens to be her boss, romantically pursues her.

Dance, Girl, Dance (1940)
directed by Dorothy Arzner
Starring Lucille Ball, this comedic, dramatic, musical film explores the rivalry between an aspiring burlesque dancer and a professional ballerina.

Girlfriends (1978)
directed by Claudia Weill
When Susan’s best friend and roommate announces she’s moving out and getting married, Susan must adjust to life on her own.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
directed by Amy Heckerling
A romantic, star-studded classic about a group of highschoolers in the 1980s.

Hair Piece: A Film for Nappyheaded People (1984)
directed by Ayoka Chenzira
This animated satire unpacks stereotypes associated with Black hair texture and styles.

Shrek (2001)
directed by Vicky Jenson
The classic, animated story of a grumpy Ogre and enthusiastic Donkey.

Drama & Romance

Shoes (1916)
directed by Lois Weber
A young, working woman falls to the strain of trying to support her family on $5 a week.

The Curse of Quon Gwon (1916-17)
directed by Marion Wong
Originally presumed lost, this film is the earliest known Asian American produced feature— though with much of the footage lost, rendering it incomplete at 35 minutes.

Outrage (1950)
directed by Ida Lupino
A newly engaged rape survivor struggles to cope with her newfound trauma.

The Cool World (1963)
directed by Shirley Clarke
Painting a vivid picture of inner city life, this film depicts life from the perspective of a youth gang member in Harlem.

Hester Street (1975)
directed by Joan Micklin Silver
An immigrant couple in the early 1900s struggles to adjust to their new homeland, putting their marriage, and family, at risk.

Eve’s Bayou (1997)
directed by Kasi Lemmons
Little Eve sees too much, but can she keep her father’s secret from the other women in her family? Find out in Kasi Lemmons’ directorial debut.

Where Are My Children? (1916)
directed by Lois Weber
A silent drama about a district attorney, his stance on abortion, and a surprising discovery.

Bread (1918)
directed by Ida May Park
This socially conscious drama follows an aspiring actress who struggles to pull herself out of poverty after being exploited, time and time again, by men.

Little Fugitive (1953)
directed by Ruth Orkin
Under the impression that he murdered his older brother, a young boy flees to Coney Island.

Lives of Performers (1972)
directed by Yvonne Rainer
Examine romantic alliances within a love triangle.

Illusions (1982)
directed by Julie Dash
A short drama about a Black woman living in the 1940s, who passes as a white woman and rises through the ranks at a fictional movie studio.

Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
directed by Kimberly Peirce
A transgender man navigates life while dodging threats in rural Nebraska.


Suspense (1913)
directed by Lois Weber
A short, silent, dramatic thriller featuring one of the earliest car chase scenes.

Cologne: From the Diary of Ray and Esther (1939)
directed by Esther Dowidat
A short, homemade documentary about a German-American community pre-WWII.

Tarantella (1940)
directed by Mary Ellen Bute
An early avant-garde animation, in color.

In The Street (1948)
directed by Helen Levitt
Observe street life in New York’s Spanish Harlem during the 1940s.

The Hole (1962)
directed by Faith Hubley
2 construction workers contemplate the possibility of nuclear war.

Navajo Film Themselves: Second Weaver (1966)
directed by Susie Bennally
Susie teachers her mother, Alta Kahn, how to make a movie.

The Inner World of Aphasia (1968)
directed by Naomi Feil
A powerful portrayal of what life is like when one cannot communicate verbally.

I Am Somebody (1970)
directed by Madeline Anderson
This short depicts a 1969 strike in which 400 poorly paid, female, Black hospital workers were met with the National Guard in Charleston.

Quasi at the Quackadero (1975)
directed by Sally Cruikshank
2 odd ducks and a robot spend the day at an amusement park.

Suzanne, Suzanne (1982)
directed by Cammile Billops
One woman’s story of abuse and addiction captures the nuanced nature of a troubled family.

Samsara: Death and Rebirth in Cambodia (1989)
directed by Ellen Bruno
An historical short film illustrating the difficulties of rebuilding a community in post-Pol Pot Cambodia.

The Red Book (1994)
directed by Janie Geiser
A woman searches for clarity inside of a red book.

Unmasked (1917)
directed by Grace Cunard
This dramatic, silent film depicts the entangling of 2 jewel thieves’ lives.

Commandment Keepers Church (1940)
directed by Zora Neale Hurston
A short look at the religious practices of the Gullah people in the Sea Island community of Beaufort, South Carolina.

Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)
directed by Maya Deren
Reality bends in this short depicting a woman’s vivid dreams.

Glimpse of the Garden (1957)
directed by Marie Menken
A simple, poetic observation of a flower garden.

Navajo Film Themselves: A Navajo Weaver (1966)
directed by Susie Bennally
Susie Bennally, a Navajo student in Arizona, films her mother as she weaves a rug.

Navajo Film Themselves: Spirit of Navajos (1966)
directed by Maxine & Mary J. Tsosie
2 sisters choose their grandfather, a Navajo medicine man, as this film’s subject.

My Name is Oona (1969)
directed by Gunvor Nelson
An entrancing, avant-garde study of Gunvor’s young daughter.

Frank Film (1973)
directed by Caroline Mouris
An Oscar-winning, animated short considered a hypnotic masterpiece.

Moon Breath Beat (1980)
directed by Lisze Bechtold
A surreal animation about a woman and her 2 cats.

Fake Fruit Factory (1986)
directed by Chick Strand
This experimental documentary explores the economic and sexual politics within a Central American fake fruit factory.

Sink or Swim (1990)
directed by Su Friedrich
Made up of 26 short stories, the full film illustrates the childhood events that shaped one girl’s feelings on fatherhood.

Scratch and Crow (1995)
directed by Helen Hill
Follow the life of chickens in this brief animation.

Girls Nite Live does not endorse the views expressed in these movies.

This article was curated from the National Film Registry 1989-2020: Women Directors. Each of these films is available to watch & purchase from a variety of streaming options — so go forth, enjoy, and comment your favorites below!

Click here to learn how to nominate a film for the National Film Registry.