Women’s History Month Movie Guide – American Film Institute


Women’s History Month Movie Guide

Join us in celebrating Women’s History Month by shining a light on iconic women characters! This month, AFI is highlighting a select list of films featuring extraordinary and groundbreaking fictional and nonfictional women from movies that have been named to our AFI lists, honored with AFI AWARDS, programmed at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center and selected for AFI Movie Club.

ALIEN – Ellen Ripley

Still image of Sigourney Weaver as Ripley from the film ALIEN

ALIEN (1979) introduced the world to the iconic Ellen Ripley, played masterfully by Sigourney Weaver in her first leading role in a feature film. Deep in space, Ripley faces down a deadly lifeform methodically killing each crew member. This claustrophobic, sci-fi horror led by an indomitable Ripley spawned three sequels, two crossover films with the Predator franchise and two prequels – and landed on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Thrills list, with Ripley and the Alien ranked on AFI’s 100 Heroes…100 Villains list. Learn more about ALIEN in the AFI Catalog.

ALL ABOUT EVE – Margo Channing and Eve Harrington

Still image from film ALL ABOUT EVE

“Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.” Adapted from Mary Orr’s story “The Wisdom of Eve,” ALL ABOUT EVE follows veteran Broadway star Margo Channing (Bette Davis) as she contends with an up-and-coming scheming ingénue Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) insinuating herself into Margo’s personal and professional life. The only film ever to receive four female acting Academy Award® nominations –Davis and Baxter for Best Actress, while Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter were nominated for Best Supporting Actress – ALL ABOUT EVE (1950) landed on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies list and Eve Harrington graces AFI’s list of the most diabolical movie villains. Watch Sharon Stone introduce the film for AFI Movie Club. Learn more about ALL ABOUT EVE in the AFI Catalog.

BESSIE – Bessie Smith

Still image of Queen Latifah as Bessie in the film BESSIE

BESSIE (2015) is the remarkable true story of “Empress of the Blues” Bessie Smith, who rose to international fame in the 1920s and 1930s with her powerful voice and commanding performances. Starring Academy Award® nominee Queen Latifah as the influential musical artist and written and directed by Academy Award® nominee Dee Rees, this masterfully made biopic earned 12 Primetime Emmy® nominations, including one for Queen Latifah for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or a Movie. The film went on to win an Emmy® for Outstanding Television Movie, along with wins for Outstanding Cinematography, Music Composition and Sound Mixing. Learn more about the AFI Movie Club selection BESSIE.

CABARET – Sally Bowles 

Still image of Liza Minelli from the film CABARET

CABARET (1972) follows the life of a young eccentric and vivacious nightclub performer named Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli) who strikes up a relationship with a young American writer during the Nazi uprising in Berlin. This innovative adaptation of the Tony Award®-winning Broadway musical is ranked #5 on AFI’s 100 Years of Musicals list and #63 on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies list, and the film won eight Academy Awards®, including Best Actress for Minnelli’s star-making performance. Learn more about CABARET in the AFI Catalog.


Still image featuring Michelle Yeoh from the film CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON

AFI Honorary Degree recipient and Academy Award® nominee Michelle Yeoh soars as warrior Yu Shu Lien in CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (2000). Featuring gravity-defying martial arts battles and breathtakingly beautiful scenery, this romantic fantasy adventure follows Shu Lien as she and Li Mu Bai track down the rebellious Jen Yu who has stolen the Green Destiny sword. The film took home the Academy Award® for Best Foreign Language Film, Best Art Direction, Best Original Score and Best Cinematography. Learn more about CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON in the AFI Catalog.

FRIDA – Frida Kahlo

Still image from the film FRIDA starring Salma Hayek

Starring Salma Hayek who earned an Academy Award® nomination for her performance, FRIDA (2002) tells the story of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo whose powerful self-portraits and stunning paintings made her an internationally renowned star. The film was directed by Academy Award® nominee Julie Taymor and co-written by Academy Award® and AFI Conservatory Screenwriting Discipline Head Anna Thomas, and was honored by AFI with a 2002 AFI AWARD, recognizing it as one of the 10 outstanding films deemed culturally and artistically representative of the year’s most significant achievements in the art of the moving image. Learn more about FRIDA in the AFI Catalog.

FUNNY GIRL – Fanny Brice

Still image of Barbra Streisand in the film FUNNY GIRL

Adapted from the Tony Award®-nominated Broadway show, FUNNY GIRL (1968) is an epic musical about the life and career of celebrated comedienne, actress and singer Fanny Brice. Featuring the talents of AFI Life Achievement Award honoree Barbra Streisand in her acclaimed feature film debut (for which she received an Academy Award®  for Best Actress), the picture was included on the American Film Institute’s lists of the greatest movie musicals and cinema’s greatest romances. The film additionally counts “Hello, gorgeous” among the most memorable movie lines and two songs among AFI’s most memorable movie music – “People” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” Visit the AFI Catalog to learn more about FUNNY GIRL.

HIDDEN FIGURES – Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson

Still image from the film HIDDEN FIGURES. Image (L to R): Janelle Monáe as Mary Jackson, Taraji P. Henson as Katherine G. Johnson and Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan

Loosely adapted from the New York Times bestselling novel by Margot Lee Shetterly, HIDDEN FIGURES (2016) tells the true story of a trio of smart and savvy mathematicians, Katherine Goble Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), who made vital, unsung contributions to the NASA space program in the early 1960s. HIDDEN FIGURES went on to garner Academy Award® nominations for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress. In 2017, the critically acclaimed biopic was featured as part of the programming at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center.

THE JOY LUCK CLUB – Suyuan Woo, An-mei Hsu, Lindo Jong, Ying-ying St. Clair, Jing-mei “June” Woo, Rose Hsu Jordan, Waverly Jong and Lena St. Clair

Still image of the women from the film THE JOY LUCK CLUB

Adapted from Amy Tan’s bestselling novel, THE JOY LUCK CLUB (1993) was released in 1993 and marked the first film made by a Hollywood studio to star an all-Asian American main cast. The film is centered on four inseparable friends and mothers – Suyuan Woo (Kieu Chinh), An-mei Hsu (Lisa Lu), Lindo Jong (Tsai Chin) and Ying-ying St. Clair (France Nuyen), who bond over mahjong, telling stories and their hopes for their daughters: Jing-mei “June” Woo (Ming-Na Wen), Rose Hsu Jordan (Rosalind Chao), Waverly Jong (Tamlyn Tomita), and Lena St. Clair (Lauren Tom). Watch an exclusive video from the AFI Archives about the film. Learn more about THE JOY LUCK CLUB in the AFI Catalog.

LITTLE WOMEN – Meg, Josephine, Beth, Amy and Margaret “Marmee” March

Still image of the March sisters from the 2019 film LITTLE WOMEN

The most recent adaptation of the popular novel “Little Women” by acclaimed author Louisa May Alcott, LITTLE WOMEN (2019) brings to the screen the beloved March sisters, characters who have inspired generations of readers. The film, which was directed by Academy Award® nominee Greta Gerwig and features AFI Life Achievement Award honoree Meryl Streep as the family’s cantankerous Aunt March, was honored with a 2019 AFI AWARD, recognizing it as one of the year’s most culturally and artistically significant films. Watch stars Saoirse Ronan and Laura Dern talk about the film at AFI AWARDS. Learn more about LITTLE WOMEN at AFI Movie Club.

NINE TO FIVE – Judy Bernly, Violet Newstead and Doralee Rhodes

Still image from NINE TO FIVE featuring (L to R) Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton.

Starring AFI Life Achievement Award recipient Jane Fonda, AFI Honorary Degree Recipient Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton as three female secretaries who live out their fantasies of getting revenge on their sexist and egotistical boss, this popular workplace comedy clocks in as one of the 100 funniest films of all times. The film’s anthem and smash hit, “9 to 5,” written by star and Grammy® Award winner Dolly Parton, appears on AFI’s list of the greatest songs of all time. Learn more about NINE TO FIVE (1980) in the AFI Catalog.

NORMA RAE  – Norma Rae Wilson

Film still of Sally Field holding up a "Union" sign in the film NORMA RAE

Based on the true story of mill worker Crystal Lee Sutton fighting to start a union in a North Carolina textile factory, NORMA RAE (1979) appears on AFI’s list of the most inspiring films in American cinema, and the galvanizing hero is listed among AFI’s greatest screen heroes of all time. For her portrayal of the union organizer and activist, Academy Award® and Emmy® winner Sally Field won the Oscar® for Best Actress. Learn more about NORMA RAE in the AFI Catalog.

SELENA – Selena Quintanilla-Pérez

A still image from the film SELENA

Grammy® Award winner Selena Quintanilla-Pérez did what no one else had done before: take Tejano style music to mainstream America. SELENA (1997) stars Grammy® nominee Jennifer Lopez as the beloved Texan musician who rose to national fame and won the Grammy® Award for Best Mexican American Album at the 36th Grammy Awards. In 2021, the biopic celebrating her life and influence was added to the Library of Congress National Film Registry for its enduring importance to American culture. Learn more about SELENA in the AFI Catalog.


Still image of Jodie Foster from the film THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS

THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS won five Academy Awards®, including Best Actress for Jodie Foster for her portrayal of Clarice Starling, who is ranked #6 on the list of heroes on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Heroes & Villains. This psychological thriller, which follows Starling, a top FBI recruit, as she gains the trust of a notorious cannibal in order to stop a serial killer, was also selected for AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies list, AFI’s 100 Years…100 Quotes lists and the list of the most thrilling films of all time. Watch Jodie Foster talk about the film in this exclusive video from the AFI Archive. Learn more about THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS in the AFI Catalog.

THELMA & LOUISE – Louise Sawyer and Thelma Dickinson

Still image from THELMA & LOUISE of Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis

Thelma and Louise, the lead characters of the groundbreaking road adventure film THELMA & LOUISE (1991), were recognized as two of cinema’s greatest heroes on AFI’s 100 Heroes and Villains list. AFI also named the film one of the most heart-pounding cinematic thrills, as well as one of the art form’s most inspiring stories. Screenwriter Callie Khouri won an Academy Award® for Best Original Screenplay, and Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon both earned Academy Award® nominations for their iconic performances. Watch Jessica Alba introduce the film AFI Movie Club. Learn more about THELMA & LOUISE in the AFI Catalog.

WHALE RIDER – Paikea “Pai” Apirana

Still image of Paikea (Keisha Castle-Hughes) in the film WHALE RIDER

WHALE RIDER (2002), adapted from the novel “The Whale Rider” and directed by Niki Caro, tells the story of a spirited, young Māori girl, Paikea “Pai” Apirana, who challenges her grandfather and over a thousand years of tradition to become the next leader of her tribe. The moving film won the World Cinema Audience Award at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival, and star Keisha Castle-Hughes earned an Academy Award® nomination for her performance as the trailblazing hero, making her the youngest Best Actress nominee at the time. Watch this exclusive video from the AFI Archive in which director Niki Caro talks about making WHALE RIDER. Learn more about WHALE RIDER at AFI Movie Club.


Still image of Angela Bassett starring as Tina Turner in the film WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT

WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT (1993), a biopic that explores the brilliant and heartbreaking story of the legendary Tina Turner, was included on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Cheers list of the most inspiring films of all time. Based on the musician’s 1986 autobiography, “I, Tina” – which Turner co-wrote with Rolling Stone journalist and MTV veejay Kurt Loder, the film was nominated for two Oscars®: Best Actress in a Leading Role for Angela Bassett and Best Actor in a Leading Role for Laurence Fishburne. Watch Academy Award® nominee Angela Bassett talk about the film in this exclusive clip from the AFI Archive. Learn more about WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT in the AFI Catalog.

WONDER WOMAN – Diana Prince

Directed by AFI Alum Patty Jenkins (AFI Class of 2000), WONDER WOMAN (2017) was honored with an AFI AWARD, recognizing it as one of the year’s most outstanding achievements in the art of the moving image. According to the official AFI AWARDS rationale, “WONDER WOMAN smashes the stratosphere of status quo by giving the world what it needs most – a heroine whose heart beats with strength, hope and the power of love. Patty Jenkins’ masterful take on the iconic DC Comics character blasts beyond the walls of popcorn entertainment and lands firmly – and proudly – in the cultural zeitgeist. Gal Gadot’s embodiment of Diana Prince stands as an American icon for this moment in time – a superhero whose driving sentiment is, ‘Only love can save this world.’” Watch this exclusive AFI video of Patty Jenkins at AFI FEST talk about the film. Learn more about WONDER WOMAN in the AFI Catalog.

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Women’s History Month Movie Guide

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