Filmmaking has made quite the strides from its humble beginnings in the late 1800s, when most films were short documentaries depicting everyday life, and the strides that women have made in the industry are even more commendable. In the early days of Hollywood, women were believed to make up most of the filmgoing audience, yet they lagged behind when it came to the creation of those movies. But women-led films created with a woman’s perspective are fundamental to our perception of all women, and the pioneers who broke barriers to tell those stories are immortalized by their accomplishments and the legacy they left for the women who came after.

This International Women’s History Month, we are looking back at some of the most influential women in film and all that they have accomplished. At the same time, we’re also looking forward to the history that women directors, actresses, producers, writers, and more will continue to make.

1890s – 1930s

1896: Alice Guy-Blaché directs and writes the first narrative film, La Fée aux Choux (The Fairy of the Cabbages) with a runtime of sixty seconds. It is the first film directed by a woman, though regrettably, the original version has been lost to time. Guy-Blaché later remade the silent film in 1900 and 1902, focusing on a couple in a cabbage patch, surrounded by dolls and one real baby, and in the 1900 version, a fairy. In 1910, she creates Solax Studios alongside her husband Henry Blaché, where she serves as the artistic director while creating up to three films per week. Alice’s career comprised of over a thousand directing credits.

1912: Often cited as America’s first auteur filmmaker, Lois Weber is dubbed to be the face of Rex Motion Picture Company, where she runs the studio and makes one film per week. The studio would soon merge with five other studios to create the Universal Film Manufacturing Company – later known as Universal Pictures. Weber was later elected to be the first mayor of Universal City, and on top of starting her own production studio, she would create between 200 and 400 films throughout her career.

1934: Josephine Baker breaks down barriers as the first Black woman to star in a major film. Baker plays the lead role and title character of Zouzou, a French film by Marc Allégret.

1935: Crystal-clear movies wouldn’t exist as we know them without the work of Katherine Blodgett. Her invention of non-reflective glass, known as Langmuir–Blodgett film, became a standard on cameras and projectors to deliver high-quality imaging. These lenses were used for filming Gone with the Wind in 1939 and are still used today.

1940s – 1950s

1940: Hattie McDaniel becomes the first Black actress to win an Oscar at the Twelfth Academy Awards for her supporting role in Gone with the Wind. At the ceremony, McDaniel was required to sit at a segregated table away from other attendees, and she was not permitted to attend the film’s Atlanta premiere.

1942: If you’re reading this while being connected to Wi-Fi, you can thank the genius of Austrian American actress Hedy Lamarr for that. Known for her many roles, including starring in Algiers (1938), Boom Town (1940), and Samson and Delilah (1949), Lamarr developed a frequency-hopping signal during World War II, which would later serve as the foundation for modern Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS technology.

1960s – 1970s

1964: Writer and filmmaker Susan Sontag publishes Notes on “Camp,” leading to a boom of camp films – those over-the-top movies that you love because they’re bad, like Young Frankenstein (1974), The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), Hairspray (1988), and Showgirls (1995).

1971: “Bond. James Bond.” Trina Parks stars as the first Black Bond girl alongside Sean Connery in Diamonds are Forever.

1974: One of the most common tropes in horror films makes its screen debut in the 1970s. While Jamie Lee Curtis’s character of Laurie Strode in the original Halloween (1978) is often as the original “final girl” character, a more accurate first final girl would be either Jess Bradford, played by Olivia Hussey in Black Christmas (1974) – who must dodge a killer during the holidays – or Sally Hardesty, played by Marilyn Burns in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) – who spends the film being tormented by Leatherface. Ironically, both films were released on the same day: October 11, 1974. So, we’ll call this one a tie.

1975: Theorist Laura Mulvey changes film theory forever when she introduces feminist ideologies to the field in her essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” She brings the term “male gaze” into the discussion of film practices.

1980s – 1990s

1989: “I’ll have what she’s having.” The Writers Guild of America places romantic-comedy screenwriter Nora Ephron’s When Harry Met Sally… on their 2006 list of the 101 Greatest Screenplays of all time. The film also awarded Ephron her second nomination for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, with Sleepless in Seattle (1993) later becoming her third.

1993: At the Cannes Film Festival, New Zealand director, writer, and producer Jane Campion is the first female director to receive the Palme d’Or – the most prestigious award at the festival – for her film The Piano. She is also the only woman to ever be nominated twice for Best Director at the Academy Awards – once for The Piano, and later for The Power of the Dog in 2022.

1998: The release of DreamWorks Animation’s The Prince of Egypt marks the first time a major animated feature film is directed by a woman. Brenda Chapman, who also has worked on other animated classics like Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and The Little Mermaid holds this high honor.


2002: At the 74th Academy Awards, and 62 years after Hattie McDaniel’s win, Halle Berry becomes the first Black actress to take home the award for Best Actress for her performance as Leticia Musgrove in Monster’s Ball. She remains the only woman of color that has received the honor. Berry has also gone on to star in several blockbuster movies, including titles for both Marvel and DC.

2008: “Hold on tight, spider monkey!” Catherine Hardwicke’s vampire romance film Twilight reels in the teen audience and grosses the highest-ever opening weekend for a woman director at the time – $69.6 million. While that title has been passed on to other female directors in recent years, Twilight pushed the YA franchise genre into the spotlight for years to come – and not to mention, catapulted the careers of Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson.


2010: Kathryn Bigelow makes history as the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director for her war film The Hurt Locker. It also took home the award for Best Picture, becoming the first Best Picture winner to have been directed by a woman.

2010: “She’s not alone.” The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first female Avenger makes her debut in Iron Man 2 (2010). Black Widow, aka Natasha Romanoff, would go on to capture fans’ hearts in seven more films, including finally getting her own solo blockbuster in 2021.

2013: At just nine years old, Quvenzhané Wallis is the youngest actress to be nominated in the category for Best Actress at the 85th Academy Awards for her role as Hushpuppy in Beasts of the Southern Wild.

2015: The Academy Award nomination for Best Picture for Selma (2014) marks Ava DuVernay as the first Black female director to have a film nominated in the category. For the same film, she is also the first Black woman to receive a Golden Globe nomination for Best Director. Her achievements put her on Time’s annual list of the most influential people in the world in 2017.

2015: Shot entirely on an iPhone and receiving critical success, Tangerine launches the careers of two transgender actresses: Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor. Mya becomes the first openly transgender actor to win an Independent Spirt Award for her performance. The film is lauded for its portrayal of transgender women of color characters played by transgender actresses.

2017: “I am the man who can.” Starring Gal Gadot, Wonder Woman marks the first film in the DC Extended Universe with a leading lady. With Patty Jenkins behind the camera, it has become one of the highest-grossing films of all time to be directed by a woman, raking in $821.9 million worldwide.

2019: Greta Gerwig’s Little Women (2019) earns her a second nomination for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and a first nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. Her previous nominations were for Lady Bird (2017), for which she was also nominated for Best Picture, as well as Best Original Screenplay. In 2018, her achievements placed her on Time’s annual list of the most influential people in the world.

2019: The Independent Spirit Awards presents Lulu Wang with the award for Best Film for The Farewell, making her the first Chinese and first Asian woman to receive the honor. Others that have received the award include Martha Coolidge for Rambling Rose (1991) and Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation (2003). Following Lulu Wang’s win, the honor has also been awarded to Chinese and Asian filmmaker Chloé Zhao for Nomadland (2020) and Maggie Gyllenhaal for The Lost Daughter (2021).

2019: “Higher, further, faster, baby!” Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel (2019) soars at the box office to make it the highest-grossing female-led superhero movie of all time, raking in a whopping $1.128 billion worldwide. We can expect to see Carol Danvers smash through the glass ceiling again in the upcoming 2023 sequel The Marvels, which is also set to star Iman Vellani as Kamala Khan, aka Ms. Marvel, and Teyonah Parris as Monica Rambeau.


2021: Eleven years after Kathryn Bigelow’s big win, Chloé Zhao becomes the second woman ever, first Asian woman, and first woman of color to receive the Academy Award for Best Director for her film Nomadland. Nomadland also took home Best Picture that year.

2021: Further success for the women of Nomadland came with Frances McDormand, whose Best Picture and Best Actress wins make her the first person – not just woman, but first person – to win an Academy Award as both producer and performer on the same movie.

2021: Fifty years after Trina Parks made history in Diamonds are Forever, Lashana Lynch becomes the first woman to carry the 007 title alongside Daniel Craig’s final portrayal of James Bond in No Time to Die.

2022: For her performance in Pose, MJ Rodriguez becomes the first transgender actor to win a Golden Globe in any category. Rodriguez can also be seen in the Academy Award and Golden Globe-nominated Tick, Tick…Boom!

2023: Michelle Yeoh becomes the first Asian woman to win the Best Actress Oscar for her performance in Everything Everywhere All at Once.

Coming Soon

We’re eagerly looking forward to the strides that women will continue to make this year on the big screen. Here are some of our upcoming favorites:

• Zendaya can currently be seen in Dune: Part Two, in theaters now, and later this year she’ll be in Luca Guadignino’s Challengers, in theaters April 26.
Industry star Marisa Abela stars in the Amy Winehouse biopic Back to Black, directed by Sam Taylor-Wood. Showtimes start May 10.
• Anya Taylor-Joy leads the next saga of the Mad Max franchise in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, hitting theaters May 24.
• Lupita Nyong’o stars in the prequel to the A Quiet Place series, A Quiet Place: Day One. It hits theaters on June 28.
• Cynthia Erivo and Ariana Grande bring the iconic characters of Elphaba and Glinda to life in the movie adaptation of the hit musical, Wicked. It will be in theaters November 27.

Get tickets to all these movies and more!

  • Editorial