Navigating Netflix via genres and categories is a fascinating way to explore what films are on offer. Beyond the usual Action, Rom Coms, Documentaries you can get specific with Superhero & Comicbook, Deep Sea Horror, or Korean TV Shows.
An intriguing one that popped up recently was a section for Films Featuring a Strong Female Lead, and it encompassed an eclectic bunch of movies with strong female characters.
I enjoyed browsing them. I found some movies I love, others that are renowned, and a few I had never heard of that sound awesome!
So, here are twenty one movies that stood out – the first 10 I have seen and the next 11 I want to.
21 Netflix Movies With a Strong Female Lead
1. Vera Drake (2004)
A powerful 1950’s set drama from Mike Leigh, about a woman who unbeknownst to her family helps local women abort unwanted pregnancies. Imelda Staunton gives a fantastic performance in this moving (and depressing) story.
2. Happy Go Lucky (2008)
Also from Mike Leigh, this film couldn’t be any more different than Vera Drake. Set in modern London, it stars Sally Hawkins as an irresistibly cheerful schoolteacher who remains bright and optimistic in the face of many obstacles – not least Eddie Marsan’s creepy driving instructor. Many fans of Leigh’s other work find this film slight in comparison – but I think it is irresistible.
3. Fargo (1996)
The cult Coen brother’s movie that inspired the current TV series, this sees Frances McDormand as the female police chief who tirelessly investigates a botched kidnap scam – despite being heavily pregnant and an amiable citizen. The black deadpan humour is both chilling and hilarious.
4. Winter’s Bone (2010)
Before she hit the big time in X-Men and Hunger Games, Jennifer Lawrence starred in this powerful low budget drama about a resourceful teen who looks after her two siblings in the face of poverty and questionable parenting.
5. Precious (2009)
Somehow, this tale of an abused, obese, illiterate Harlem teenager, played by newcomer Gabourey Sidibe, is a dynamic and ultimately uplifting movie. Strong performances all round, but especially Gabourey, Mo’Nique as her mother, and surprisingly Mariah Carey as her social worker.
6. Agora (2009)
Set in 4th-century Roman Egypt (Alexandria), this historical fiction stars Rachel Weisz as a female astronomer and philosopher, working against a backdrop of religious intolerance towards science from the growing religion of Christianity. A fascinating part of history brought to life in a dramatic and eye catching manner, also look for an early role from Oscar Isaac (Star Wars: The Force Awakens).
7. Anywhere But Here (1999)
This film stars Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman, as an impulsive mother and a more down to earth daughter trying to make a new life for themselves in LA. This is a slight but engaging film, with two great actresses carrying the movie.
8. Election (1999)
Reese Witherspoon in an early and much admired performance as a politically ambitious teenager, who comes up against her teacher (Mathew Broderick) who is keen to see her lose the school election. This is a smart and witty comedy from Writer/Director Alexander Payne.
9. Clueless (1995)
This nineties classic sees Jane Austen’s Emma perfectly reimagined as a Beverly Hills High School comedy, starring Alicia Silverstone as ‘Cher’. Her co-stars include Stacy Dash (now an outspoken Fox News pundit), Brittany Murphy (who passed away in 2009), and Paul Rudd (currently Marvel’s Ant-Man). The literary source material gives this story a depth of character, heart, and wit that lifts if above its genre peers.
10. Scream (1996)
A knowing homage to eighties horror flicks, directed by one of the genre’s best filmmakers (the late Wes Craven) this stars Neve Campbell as a high schooler terrorised by an unknown killer, who is picking off people she knows one by one. Tense, clever, and witty, the film co-stars Drew Barrymore and Courtney Cox. There is also a Netflix Original sequel.
Next up, here are movies with strong female characters that I haven’t seen. These are either ones I’ve wanted to for a while, or came across while browsing this section on Netflix.
Jullianne Moore is a brilliant actress, and in this film – based on a novel – she plays a college professor who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at age 50. Moore won a slew of awards for the role, including an Oscar.
12. Harold & Maude (1971)
As a film buff since I was a teen, it is pretty shameful I’ve still never seen this one. From renowned director Hal Ashby, this dark rom com stars Ruth Gordon as a 79-year-old widow who ends up in a relationship with a young man (who’s obsessed with death). The premise may sound unappealing, but this has been an acclaimed movie for as long as I can remember, so I really need to check it out.
13. The Babadook (2014)
An acclaimed movie of a different sort, this modern psychological horror has been lauded for it’s story, characters, and creepiness. The plot revolves around a mother, her son, and a mysterious children’s book. This is normally the kind of movie I unsuccessfully suggest we watch, but this time my wife was the one who wanted to see it – though we haven’t had the courage to as yet.
14. Two Days, One Night (2014)
This Belgian drama stars Marion Cotillard as a worker about to lose her job, who tries to get her colleagues to agree to a pay cut so she doesn’t get the chop. Marion has shown she is an engaging actress in her many English language roles, and I have no doubt she would be as good if not better in her native french. I also interviewed her once and she was lovely 🙂
15. White God (2014)
I had never heard of this Hungarian drama, but the premise sounds amazing – an abandoned dog musters up a pack of 250 fellow stray mongrels to rise up against their human oppressors – but also so he can be reunited with his beloved 13-year old human guardian Lili. Sounds like a must watch.
16. Dear White People (2014)
This satirical drama, set on a US college campus, that takes a swipe at US race relations, with particular reference to the notions of cultural appropriation and white privilege. The leading character is the clearly ironic Sam White, a female student who causes a stir by publicising all the racial transgressions she comes across. I’m always keen to check out a good drama about race.
17. Come Drink With Me (1966)
Another film I had never heard of, and it sounds awesome. A sixties Hong Kong martial arts movie, it stars the then 20-year-old Cheng Pei-pei (who at 69 is still working today) as Golden Swallow, the daughter of a general who is sent to rescue her brother from bandits. It is widely revered, and I love a good martial arts movie. Can’t wait to check it out.
18. Tracks (2013)
Based on a true story, this Australian film stars Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) as a young woman who travels 1,700 miles across Australian deserts, with her dog and four camels. Adam Driver (Kylo Ren) also stars, as a photographer documenting her journey.
19. God Help The Girl (2014)
This is a British musical drama film written and directed by Stuart Murdoch of the band Belle and Sebastian, and that’s basically why I want to see it because they’re a great band.
20. Josie and the Pussycats (2001)
I’m sorry. This film looks terrible, and yet… This is based on a sixties comic book, that became a seventies cartoon, and then a noughties movie. It stars Rachael Leigh Cook as Josie, Tara Reid as the drummer, and bassist/backup vocalist is Rosario Dawson (currently in a pair of Marvel Netflix Originals Daredevil and Jessica Jones). It might well be crap, but it looks like fun.
21. Chocolat (2000)
Set in France, Juliette Binoche plays an expert chocolatier and single mother who moves to a conservative village with her six-year-old daughter. She ruffles some feathers, especially when she opens a chocolate shop at the start of lent. It’s based on the novel by Joanna Harris, who is also outspoken against gendered marketing, and follows me on Twitter – so for that reason alone I should watch this! The movie also stars Johnny Depp.
So that’s my pick of 21. This list is based on movies available on Netflix in the UK & Ireland, but if you’re elsewhere, you can browse what Films Featuring a Strong Female Lead are available in your region.
Disclosure: I am a member of the Netflix #StreamTeam program. Our household receives free Netflix for a year and I post about how our family uses the service.
Please head over to Netflix to check out anything mentioned here.
What do you think of this list of Netflix movies with a strong female lead? Any to add?