Iconic Movies With A Female Lead CastPublished on September 8, 2017. Updated March 16, 2020
A great cast can make a movie, and it’s a casting director’s job to find the best man, or woman, for the job. In an industry dominated by leading-men, we’re counting down the top all-female cast films in celebration of the women who have lit up our screens with their charm and amazing performances.
Clueless is modern day retelling of Jane Austen’s classic 1815 novel Emma. The story centers on the self-indulgent, wealthy and popular Cher (Alicia Silverstone), who has risen to the pinnacle of success on the high school social scene. Cher, and step-brother Josh (Paul Rudd), have an amiable but banter-filled relationship in which the socially-conscious Josh, often pokes holes in Cher’s priorities. Cher learns early on that she enjoys doing good deeds and cluelessly embarks on match-making enterprises and misguided but sincere attempts to live more purposefully. After much soul searching, Cher realizes that she is in love with Josh. Her new dedication to socially-purposeful initiatives impress him, and the two opposites become a couple.
14. Sex and the City: The Movie
Just like the series, the film chronicles the exploits of four friends Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Samantha (Kim Cattrall), Charlotte (Kristin Davis), and Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), as they deal with their lives as single ladies in the Big Apple. The film opens with Carrie recounting the lives of her friends and how they are now paired off and living separate lives. Carrie and her boyfriend, Big, agree to marry, but Big is unable to go through with it after a heartbroken Miranda informs him that marriage will ruin everything. Charlotte learns she is pregnant and worries tirelessly that something will happen to the baby. When she unexpectedly runs into Big, she gives him a piece of her mind, causing her water to break. Big reveals his remorse, but doesn’t see Carrie until she returns to their recently-purchased luxury penthouse, where he proposes in the walk-in closet with a diamond encrusted shoe.
13. The Women
This 1939 classic stars everyone from Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, Rosalind Russell, Cora Witherspoon, Butterfuly McQueen, to Hedda Hopper, in an all-out cat fight in the film adaptation of Claire Boothe Luce’s Broadway play. The film sardonically depicts the lives of 1930s socialites, whose lives center on gossip, each other’s men, luncheons, and beauty treatments. The film was the last significant role played by MGM legend, Norma Shearer, but the greatness of actresses Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell were what really emerged. The film poignantly produces an empathy with the self-reliant albeit flawed characters, and a pity for the self-indulgent wealthy characters who have nothing better to do than compete for a successful man. The comedy stylings, fantastic acting, and social commentary, are what land this film on our list.
12. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
When friends Carmen (America Ferrera), Tibby (Amber Tamblyn), Bridget (Blake Lively), and Lena (Alexis Bledel), are forced to separate for the first time, they decide to share a pair of seemingly ordinary jeans that magically fits them all perfectly. The girls part ways and the film focuses on each of their solo journeys (with the pants). Lena is off to Greece, Tibby stays home, Bridget is attending soccer camp in Mexico, and Carmen is visiting her father in South Carolina. The girls are reunited after Bridget sends Lena a letter revealing her depressed feelings after losing her virginity to a man named Eric. Bridget is worried she is like her mother who committed suicide. The girls ban together and convince Bridget that she is her own person, and she gets her much needed closure when Eric returns to talk to her. The film realistically and sincerely portrays the lives of teenaged girls, and is a heartwarming story of friendship and young adulthood.
11. The Little Princess
Loosely based on a novel A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (also the author of The Secret Garden), the 1939 film adaptation stars Shirley Temple as Sara Crewe, a little girl who becomes an orphan when her father is supposedly killed in the war. Without her father’s financial support, Sara becomes a servant at her all-girls school where Miss Minchin treats her horridly. Sara forms a friendship with a neighbor, Ram Dass (Cesar Romero), who leaves Sara some blankets. When they are discovered by Miss Minchin, she assumes they were stolen and calls the police. Sara flees to the veteran’s hospital to find her father. She is pursued by Miss Minchin but sneaks into the hospital where she encounters Queen Victoria who allows her to search for her father. She finds him while hiding from Miss Minchin and the police. The film ends happily with Sara reunited with her father.
10. The Heat
This buddy-cop comedy film lands on our list because of the comic chemistry between its stars Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. The high strung FBI agent, Sarah Ashburn (Bullock), is forced to team up with the unconventional, foul-mouthed Shannon Mullins (McCarthy), in order to take down a mobster. The unlikely pair encounter all kinds of trouble along the way, but are able to teach each other a few lessons and form an endearing friendship. The tension created between the foil characters produces a hilarity unique to these two actresses.
9. A League of Their Own
The 1992 comedy-drama tells a fictionalized account of the real-life All American Girls Professional Baseball League and stars Geena Davis, Madonna, Tom Hanks, and Lori Petty. This film lands on our list because of its social significance. The story is set against the political backdrop of WWII, when Major League Baseball was threatened. In order to keep America’s pastime alive, Cubs owner, Walter Harvey, persuades fellow owners to finance a women’s league. A League of Their Own chronicles the Peaches’ professional and private journeys to the World Series and the film raises awareness of the importance of women in sports.
8. Julie & Julia
Julie & Julia features two of Hollywood’s greats, Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, in this comedy-drama which contrasts the lives of professional chef, Julia Child (Streep), and New York resident Julie Powell (Adams), who has set out to cook all of Child’s recipes in a year. Julie tracks her struggle and somewhat emotional journey through Child’s recipes on her blog, which ultimately results in her becoming a published author. Streep’s portrayal of Child is legendary and earned her a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Actress and won her a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress. The film opened at #2 behind G.I. |Joe: The Rise of Cobra.
7. Steel Magnolias
Steel Magnolias is an adaptation of a play by the same name. It is a comedy-drama starring many of Hollywood’s legends, Julia Roberts, Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Daryl Hannah, and Olympia Dukakis. The story opens with the wedding of Shelby Eatenton (Roberts), who has a bit of a health scare, raising concern in her mother M’Lynn (Field), friend Truvy Jones (Parton), and aspiring beautician Annelle Dupuy Desoto (Hannah). As time passes, the women and their friends face tragedy and fortune, and grow closer and stronger together. Julia Roberts received a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, won the Golden Globe in the same category, and Sally Field was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture.
6. Mean Girls
This film became a cult-classic and entered the vernacular as a way to address those phoney girls from high school that cared about nothing outside of their appearance and being cool. It was the beginning of a promising career for Lindsay Lohan as she starred as Cady Heron alongside Rachel McAdams as Regina George and Tina Fey as Ms. Norbury. Cady is overwhelmed by her encounter with The Plastics, a snobby group of A-listers at her new high school. Cady quickly falls for Aaron Samuels (Jonathan Bennett), and gets wrapped up in the mean-girl world of Regina George and her cronies. The film makes the list for its unforgettable characters and real-life lesson that mean girls finish last.
5. The Secret Life of Bees
Haunted by the memory of her late mother, this film follows the pursuit of a young South Carolina teen in 1964, Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning), to reconnect with her roots. She runs away with her caretaker Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson) to escape her abusive father T-Ray and is taken in by the Boatwright sisters, August (Queen Latifah), June (Alicia Keys), and May (Sophie Okonedo), who teach the 14-year-old life lessons against the mesmerizing milieu of beekeeping. The movie received 16 award nominations, winning 12 of them, and makes our list for its strong female performances, and its heartwarming yet racially charged representation of life in the South at a time of great social change.
4. Pitch Perfect
Pitch Perfect is an obvious choice for the list. It’s hilarious, adorable, and the talent of its cast is undeniable. Beca (Anna Kendrick) is a saucy freshman at Barden University. She is reluctantly persuaded to join her school’s all-girl singing group, The Bellas, and guides them with her unique energy and much needed originality to successfully compete against their male rivals in a campus competition. The song and dance numbers in the film make it a feel-good movie and the vocal stylings of Kenrick, Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, Hana Mae Lee, and Rebel Wilson (to name only a few), are unforgettable. The song “Cups” (Pitch Perfect’s “When I’m Gone”), performed by Kendrick, debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 at 93, even before it was released as a single. Pitch Perfect 2 was released in 2015, and Pitch Perfect 3 is set to be released in 2017.
3. The Help
The Help makes our list for its honest representation of racism in 1960s Mississippi. The film, based on a book by Kathryn Stockett, stars Emma Stone as Skeeter, an aspiring writer who shocks her small town when she decides to interview black women who have spent their lives taking care of white children. At first, many women are reluctant to open up, and only Aibileen (Viola Davis), housekeeper of Skeeter’s best friend, speaks about her experiences. Over time, other women come forward and share their voices of hardship. The story received 99 award nominations, and won 78 of them, including an Oscar for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role for Viola Davis.
2. Thelma and Louise
This film is a two-woman show that earned both of these leading ladies Academy Award Nominations for Best Actress. Thelma (Geena Davis) and Louise (Susan Sarandon) head out for a road trip to leave their troubled relationships behind. Unfortunately, what these two find is an absolute nightmare. They stop for some drinks at a roadhouse where Thelma hits it off with Harlan Puckett (Timothy Carhart), after they do some dancing, Harlan tries to rape the drunk Thelma in the parking lot. Louise shows up and threatens to shoot Harlan and, after Harlan insults them, she does and the women become fugitives. This sets the plot into motion as the women encounter even more betrayals at the hands of men along the way and the duo ultimately decide to avoid police capture by driving off a cliff. It is a dramatic end for the pair, but all of the violence can be traced back to men, giving this film a feminist edge.
Bridesmaids takes the number one spot on our list because of its casting of female characters in COMIC roles. This was a first in the femme comedy trend that launched the careers of its superstars Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Rose Byrne, Rebel Wilson, and Ellie Kemper. Annie (Wiig) is a single woman whose life is in disarray. Her best friend, Lillian (Maya Rudolph) becomes engaged and Annie must take on the role of maid of honor, despite being broke and in shambles. Competition between maid of honor and bridesmaid Helen (Byrne) for “best-friend” status breaks out and the ensuing true-to-life comedy ensues. The story is both hilarious and heartwarming and earns its place by being a breakthrough film in female casted comedies.