10 Great Movies About Important Women In History, Ranked By IMDb

Blonde, a psychological biopic about the life and times of Marilyn Monroe, was recently released on Netflix and has inspired heated debate over its treatment of its subject matter. It’s a very bold yet very inaccurate portrayal of Marilyn Monroe’s life that tells a story as much through abstraction and metaphor as facts, and social media is abuzz about its worth as a historical period drama or a fantastical thriller.

On the bright side, it got people talking about important women in history and their theatrical stories. Although accuracy is important, it’s still just as crucial to tell a good story. Whether world-famous or criminally under-appreciated, many women featured in films have made permanent marks on the course of history.


10 Colette (2018) - 6.7

Colette looking to the distance

Colette tells the story of Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, a French novelist who fought for creative ownership of her work with her husband, Willy West. In a time when women rarely had a voice, Colette spoke out for her right to be seen as a writer in her own right, not behind a man’s influence.

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Colette drags from time to time, and certain historical elements are dramatized, but it’s a fantastic story overall. Special mention to lead star Keira Knightley for perfectly portraying the snarky yet passionate Colette. Colette is a messy human being who is nevertheless incredibly talented, and that’s what makes her such a relatable figure in history.

9 Big Eyes (2014) - 7.0

Amy Adams as Margaret Keane in Big Eyes

Big Eyes is based on the real-life story of Margaret Keane, a housewife whose bizarre yet beautiful paintings of little girls with huge eyes gained a ton of popularity. Unfortunately, the credit went to her conman of a husband, Walter, and the story focuses on her attempts to take ownership of her work in court.

This movie is seen as a return to form for Tim Burton, and funny enough, it’s because he lacked many of his trademarks for this movie. No gothic influence, no regulars like Depp or Bonham-Carter, but still the same quirky characters and a heightened sense of reality. Margaret Keane’s story is an important one, showcasing not just the struggles of women in the 60s to be taken seriously but also how artists are exploited for their work by heartless conmen.

8 The Zookeeper’s Wife (2017) - 7.0

The Zookeeper's Wife poster (cropped) - Jessica Chastain

The Zookeeper’s Wife tells the real story of zookeepers Jan and Antonina Zabinski, who in an unbelievably brave act, chose to shelter 300 Jews and refugees in their zoo in an attempt to hide them from the Nazi regime. Jan himself was an active supporter of the Polish resistance until he was captured.

This was when Antonina had to step up, and the movie does a fantastic job of portraying her bravery and resilience. At the height of World War II, it didn't matter what gender or religion someone was. All that matters is they are human beings. Antonina chose to help the people ravaged by war, alongside her son. Of the 300 people they saved, only two died. An incredible feat that cemented the Zabinskis as historical heroes.

7 Norma Rae (1979) - 7.1

Norma Rae holds up an Union sign

Norma Rae is a fictionalized retelling of the life of Crystal Lee Sutton, which was nevertheless shockingly accurate past the changed names. Norma Rae is a worker at O.P. Henley Textile Mill who becomes involved in a spirited fight for workers’ rights when her coworkers unionize against their employer’s abusive policies.

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The movie seems to be generally accurate, boasting only minor inaccuracies by movie standards. Her story is an important moment not just for women, but for workers as a whole. It’s a united front of people from all walks of life dedicated to one thing: workers’ rights. Sally Field plays against type in this movie, fresh off her Emmy award for Sybil. She earned an Academy Award for Best Actress for her troubles.

6 Woman in Gold (2015) - 7.3

In 1938, Maria Altmann was a prominent member of a Jewish family that like many, became refugees when the Nazis made their move on Europe. The Nazis took a painting of her aunt by Gustav Klimt for themselves, a priceless heirloom of her heritage. 50 years later, Maria seeks to reclaim the painting from the Austrian government.

The movie, in essence, is about the importance of heritage and restitution. Despite all of Maria Altmann’s happiness later in life, the idea of her aunt’s painting not being with her family affected her deeply. It was a symbol of how despite the horror, the Woman in Gold, a Jewish woman, shone brightly. She continues to do so in the Neu Galerie in NYC to this day.

5 The Favourite (2018) - 7.5

More of a “historically inspired” story, but still rooted somewhat in fact, The Favourite tells the tale of a frail Queen Anne who leaves the business of ruling to her close friend Lady Sarah. When a new servant, Abigail, starts getting close to Sarah, a strange love triangle blooms forth. It should be noted that the filmmakers themselves have said this isn’t supposed to be accurate.

Instead, it’s a snapshot of what the lives of these women must have been like emotionally. It’s a very surreal movie that uses tons of anachronisms to tell its story, but it all works towards its bizarrely depressing themes of loneliness. It should be noted, however, that all three women were real, and that they did indeed share “passionate letters” with each other. It might not be totally accurate, but it’s authentic to their uniquely human experiences.

4 Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (2005) - 7.6

Sophie Scholl in trial for false crimes

Sophie Scholl: The Final Days depicts the last days of Sophie Scholl’s life as she fights against the tyrannical reign of the Nazi regime with her harsh words and brave protests. As part of the resistance group “White Rose,” they were a thorn in the side of the Nazi regime’s propaganda until they were executed in 1943.

The filmmakers took great care to be as historically accurate as possible, which is a must when dealing with the horrors that the Nazis wrought on humanity. The real-life Sophie Scholl was every bit the brave, outspoken, and intelligent young woman she was depicted as in the movie. Sophie Scholl is a martyr for activists everywhere and paints an honest picture of how terrifying daily life was in wartime.

3 Hidden Figures (2016) - 7.8

Dorothy, Katherine, and Mary are in the crowd at NASA in Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures tells the tale of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, African-American mathematicians who played a crucial role at NASA to make John Glenn the first astronaut to perform a complete orbit of Earth. Although the movie takes liberties with the timeline and certain facts, it doesn’t change the most important thing: what these women did for their fields.

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In pictures or history lessons about the space race, people usually picture white men with pulled-up sleeves, which is a disservice to the important women of color who were just as intelligent and important to the project as their peers. These women had to deal with rampant sexism and racism to reach the positions they did in life. The least modern audiences could do is remember them for it, and the film does a great job ensuring that.

2 Persepolis (2007) - 8.0

Persepolis is an animated autobiography by Marjane Satrapi. It follows her life in an increasingly tyrannical Iran, as the Islamic fundamentalists impose their rule on the people. Persepolis depicts an unflinchingly honest depiction of life in Iran during a time of great political strife. Marjane wasn’t a heroic rebel, violently leading the resistance from the front.

She’s just a normal young woman who sees what’s wrong with her country, and she suffers for this simple truth. It’s a grim tale of life under fundamentalist rule, something that many people outside of Iran, especially in 2007, didn’t have any understanding of. Persepolis changed all that, and it deserves all the accolades it got. On another historical note, Marjane Satrapi is the first woman ever to be nominated for Best Animated Feature.

1 The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) - 8.2

Joan of Arc from The Passion of Joan of Arc.

Considered by many movie buffs to be among the greatest movies ever made, The Passion of Joan of Arc is a straightforward adaptation of the direct records of Joan of Arc’s trial, as well as her eventual death. Joan of Arc’s story is utterly tragic, and the movie pulls no punches in how evil and unfair the world had to be to kill such a virtuous young woman.

The director Carl Theodor Dreyer’s dedication to being as accurate and authentic to the time period is truly felt in the film. At the time, the set was considered one of the most expensive sets ever made. Maria Falconetti was a stage actress, and surprisingly, this was her only major film role. Still, it is considered one of the best dramatic performances of all time. The Passion of Joan of Arc certainly lived up to its title. Only passion could have produced such a beautiful movie for one of history’s most important women.

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