52 Films Directed By Women To Watch In 2021

Every year is a good year to stan female directors, but 2021 has cooked us up a real feast. Acting veterans like Rebecca Hall, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Robin Wright, and Halle Berry are finally claiming their director’s chairs on feature films, while arthouse icon Jane Campion is returning to hers after 12 years. Foreign language directors like Lucile Hadžihalilović and Ildikó Enyedi are making their English-language debuts, and French juggernaut Mélanie Laurent is working on two releases back to back. Renowned theater directors Lila Neugebauer and Leisel Tommy are trying their hands at a different craft.

READ MORE: The 100 Most Anticipated Films Of 2021

Of course, the unknown filmmakers making their debuts this year are just as exciting. 46% of the films in the Sundance Film Festival’s 71-feature lineup were directed by one or more women, many of whom earned spots below. Parker Hill and Isabel Bethencourt step onto the scene with “Cusp,” a documentary following three teenage friends across a debaucherous Texas summer. Kate Tsang offers “Marvelous and the Black Hole,” a buddy film led by a thirteen-year-old and a magician, while artist Amalia Ulman writes, directs, and stars in the eviction comedy “El Planeta.”

READ MORE: The 25 Best Films Of 2020

These films span and defy genres, from teen comedies to horror romps to whatever the fuck Ana Lily Amirpour feels like this year. (Kate Hudson, but with superpowers!) You’ve probably already heard of some of them, like festival darling “Shiva Baby,” A24 pet project “Zola,” or the hotly anticipated “Bergman Island.” They are varyingly personal, poignant, and urgent, whether a thriller about misogynistic violence (“Violation,” “Run Sweetheart Run”) or a documentary about COVID-19 (Nanfu Wang’s “In the Same Breath”).

READ MORE: The 25 Best Films Of 2021 We’ve Already Seen

You might notice some films haven’t made it on here. Cate Shortland and Chloé Zhao will be entering the Marvel fray with “Black Widow” and “Eternals,” respectively – but we figured you already knew that, and again, they’re already on our 100 Most Anticipated Films Of 2021 feature and that feels like enough. Some titles, like Phyllida Lloyd’s “Herself,” are already out there for you to enjoy. Others, painful though it was to leave them off of this list, probably just won’t happen in time for a 2021 release. (But for the record, yes, we are very excited about Karyn Kusama’s Untitled Dracula Project.)

2021 will surely offer even more exciting films by women as the year goes on and South by Southwest and Cannes lineups are announced. For now, enjoy this spread, and let us know if you figure out what Claire Denis is up to.

READ MORE: The 20 Best Performances Of 2020

Read all our Best of 2020 coverage and Most Anticipated 2021 coverage here and here.

“Ava & Ali”
Director: Clio Barnard (“Dark River,” “The Selfish Giant”)
Cast: Adeel Akhtar, Claire Rushbrook, Ellora Torchia
Synopsis: An unlikely romance forms between two people from different worlds.
What You Need To Know: Inspired by Fassbinder’s “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul,” Ava & Ali is an unexpected love story from one of the U.K.’s most celebrated modern filmmakers. “The Arbor,” Barnard’s first feature in 2010, chronicled the life of playwright Andrea Dunbar. The film won Barnard the Douglas Hicox award at the BIFAs and a BAFTA nomination for Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer. Her fiction films have done just as well, with most recent feature “Dark River” up for the coveted Platform Prize at TIFF. Though we have more to learn about “Ali & Ava” – the latest news comes from when it wrapped last January – the film is almost certain to debut this year. Keep an eye out for it at major festivals.
Release Date: TBD

“At the Ready”
Director: Maisie Crow (“Jackson”)
Synopsis: This documentary follows a group of Mexican American students as they train for careers in border patrol, policing, and customs enforcement.
What You Need To Know: Crow’s first feature documentary, “Jackson,” about reproductive care in the deep south, swept small festival documentary awards and won a Documentary Emmy Award in 2016. Now, she’s back with another timely film, this time set in her home state of Texas. “At the Ready” follows three students in one of the largest policing education programs near the U.S.-Mexico border, confronting questions of family and identity along the way. As each student grows closer to their dream career, they must also come to terms with the ramifications their path could have on those they love most.
Release Date: Debuts at Sundance at the end of January.

Director: Dea Kulumbegashvili
Cast: Rati Oneli, Kakha Kintsurashvili, Ia Sukhitashvili
Synopsis: After a brutal attack by extremists, the wife of a Jehovah’s Witness community leader finds her life slowly crumbling around her.
What You Need To Know: This Georgian drama, which was supposed to premiere at last year’s canceled Cannes Film Festival, instead wowed critics and audiences at San Sebastián, Minsk, and Toronto. An assured first feature from Kulumbegashvili and reminiscent of geniuses like Michael Haneke and Carlos Reygadas, “Beginning” follows a sheltered woman as she struggles to break free from her lifelong patriarchal constrictions. Not only is this can’t-miss title one of the Best Films of 2021 We’ve Already Seen, but it’s also Georgia’s submission to this year’s Academy Awards. Don’t worry, MUBI just picked up distribution rights, so it’ll be in your hands soon.
Release Date: January 29 via MUBI.

“Bergman Island”
Director: Mia Hansen-Løve (“Eden,” “Things to Come”)
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Vicky Krieps, Tim Roth, Anders Danielsen Lie
Synopsis: After an American couple travels to an island for the summer in order to write their screenplays in the same place that inspired Ingmar Bergman, they start to lose their grips on reality.
What You Need To Know: Though it was also featured in our 2019 list, it looks like “Bergman Island” is finally, finally happening! A true tribute to the world of cinema, “Bergman Island” was inspired by real life, when Hansen-Løve and her partner, fellow filmmaker Olivier Assayas, made the same pilgrimage to Fårö (the titular island) in 2016. The main couple is played by Wasikowska and Danielsen Lie, with Krieps and Roth taking on roles originally occupied by Greta Gerwig and John Turturro, respectively. Hansen-Løve is known for her masterful, character-driven stories, so we can’t wait to see what this – our sixth most anticipated film of the year – has in store.
Release Date: TBD, but Cannes feels like the best bet.

“The Blazing World”
Director: Carlson Young
Cast: Carlson Young, Dermot Mulroney, Vinessa Shaw, John Karna, Soko
Synopsis: A young woman haunted by childhood trauma struggles to escape from the darkest corners of her inner psyche.
What You Need To Know: Carlson Young is best known for her scream queen chops, having played the soft-hearted socialite Brooke on MTV’s “Scream” TV series. Now, she’s taking control of the genre to star in, write, and direct her own horror feature. “The Blazing World,” based on Young’s short film of the same name, was inspired by her own dreams. The short, available on Amazon Prime, is an experimental sketch of decadent, disillusioned adolescence – think “Marie Antoinette” meets “Meshes of the Afternoon.” And with supporting actors like Mulroney, Shaw, French songstress Soko, and fellow “Scream” alum John Karna, this florid tale of psychological unravelment is sure to intrigue audiences. We’re excited to see how it does at Sundance, where it’s premiering in the NEXT category.
Release Date: Debuts at Sundance at the end of January.

“Bring Your Own Brigade”
Director: Lucy Walker (“Devil’s Playground,” “Waste Land”)
Synopsis: This documentary explores the devastating causes – and impacts – of wildfires in California.
What You Need To Know: Two-time Academy Award nominee Walker is a master documentarian. Her 2010 feature “Waste Land,” about high art and garbage collection in Rio de Janeiro, was up for Best Documentary. Walker is incredibly deft at capturing human moments – her undersung short “The Lion’s Mouth Opens,” about filmmaker Marianna Palka, still turns me into a puddle to this day. Now, her focus has turned to the wildfires ravaging California, namely the 2018 Camp Fire in the Northern California town of Paradise and the Woolsey Fire that tore through Malibu in the south. It already has a lot of buzz, since this is Walker’s first feature in three years. We were sure to include it on our list of our most anticipated Sundance premieres.
Release Date: Debuts at Sundance at the end of January.

Director: Halle Berry
Cast: Halle Berry, Shameir Anderson, Adan Canto, Sheila Atim
Synopsis: A disgraced MMA fighter takes on one of the sport’s reigning champions and tries to reconcile with the son she abandoned.
What You Need To Know: I mean, do we really need to say more than “Halle Berry’s directorial debut”? This screened as a work in progress at TIFF last year, with feedback ranging from “This is a bland sports movie” to “This is the best performance of Halle Berry’s career.” It will be fascinating to see what distributor Netflix tweaks before releasing the film, which hit Toronto at a whopping 138 minutes long. Still, it’s shocking that this one hasn’t made more “most anticipated” lists – it marks a big shift for Berry, who took the film over after the departure of Nick Cassavetes and is finally, at 54, making her directorial debut.
Release Date: TBD, via Netflix

Director: Nia DaCosta (“Little Woods”)
Cast: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Colman Domingo, Tony Todd
Synopsis: After moving into Chicago’s Cabrini Green neighborhood with his girlfriend, an artist begins to unravel the story of the mythical killer known as Candyman.
What You Need To Know: Horror films have been drooling for the premiere of “Candyman,” a holdover from our 2020 list, for going on two years. The hook-handed spirit will finally return to the big screen this summer, courtesy of Universal and Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions. It’s especially exciting to see DaCosta at the helm here, as the 31-year-old filmmaker just stepped onto the scene. She made her assured debut “Little Woods” at Tribeca 2018 and picked up “Candyman” shortly after. Last August, it was announced that DaCosta will direct the upcoming “Captain Marvel” sequel, making her the first black woman and youngest person to direct a Marvel film. “Candyman” will surely be a delightful rehashing of a horror classic, but more importantly, it could be the film that announces DaCosta as one of our most notable modern directors.
Release Date: August 27 via Universal Pictures.

Director: Prano Bailey-Bond
Cast: Niamh Algar, Nicholas Burns, Vincent Franklin
Synopsis: In 1985, a film censor reviews a movie that seems to be linked to her sister’s disappearance.
What You Need To Know: Set during the “video nasty” moral panic in the U.K., “Censor” explores the effects of gruesome images on the brain while also paying homage to the very nasties its protagonist seeks to squash. This is Bailey-Bond’s first feature, but it isn’t her first foray into this subject matter: Her 2015 short “Nasty” tells a similar story about a young boy searching for his missing father. This lurid shocker already caught our attention as one of our most anticipated films of the festival, in part because Variety named Bailey-Bond as one of their 10 directors to watch in 2021.
Release Date: Debuts at Sundance at the end of January.

Director: Lucrecia Martel (“Zama,” “The Headless Woman”)
Synopsis: This documentary chronicles the murder of indigenous activist Javier Chocobar and the removal of his community from their ancestral land in Argentina.
What You Need To Know: Martel’s political satire “Zama” topped countless “Best of” lists a few years back. Now, the Argentinian filmmaker will return to the big screen for her first nonfiction feature, about an indigenous activist murdered by a landowner who wanted him to give up his property. We already know Martel has a lot to say about colonialism in Latin America, so her first documentary about the subject is sure to be every bit as uncompromising and innovative as her fictional work. The film’s IMDb page alleges a September release, so hopefully, we can get our hands on it before the year is out.
Release Date: TBD