The 25 Best Movies from The Past 5 Years That Feature Female Leads

8. Bridesmaids (2011)


Ah, this is the grandmother of them all, the hit that changed women’s comedy. It’s hilarious, it boasts a great ensemble chemistry, it revolves around a wedding but focuses completely on female friendship. It made stars of Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy. But we know “Bridesmaids” is credited with having a monumental effect on how women were and are depicted onscreen.

It not only made female-driven films mainstream, it proved they were profitable (again!), and it FINALLY made people believe that having women drive the action and doing raunchy rather than the usual pristine could appeal to everyone. What is there left to say besides what took so long?


7. Beyond the Hills (2012)

Beyond the Hills (2012)

Friendship can be a blessing, but what happens when it becomes a burden? There’s no denying that life can bring about pretty drastic changes, and even a bond that was once a source of strength can become a weakness. Such is the case with Voichita (Cosmina Stratan) and Alina (Cristina Flutur), two young women who grew up in the same orphanage in Romania.

When Alina returns from her new home in Germany for her friend (and it’s strongly implied, her former lover) Voichita, she finds that Voichita has found peace as a nun in an Orthodox convent, and has no interest in continuing their physical relationship or in leaving with her. Soon Alina’s health deteriorates and her behavior becomes increasingly erratic as she is forced to face her own loneliness, and her friend’s seeming lack of need for her.

The very air in the repressed, conservative countryside seems to suffocate its people and restrict their options to such a degree that when the priest and the nuns conclude that Alina is possessed, it almost seems like a logical conclusion borne from the dark austere landscape.

“Beyond the Hills” requires patience and a strong constitution for its slow burn that unfolds with all of the suspense and terror of a slow-motion trainwreck. No one is blamed, but all are nevertheless condemned in their own way.


6. The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015)

Bel Powley - The Diary of a Teenage Girl

It shouldn’t be daring to show a teenage girl discovering her sexuality in a frank and nonjudgmental way. But it is, and so it’s nice to see a movie do this, even if it has to take place in the permissive era of 1970s San Francisco in order to be believable. (I guess that’s why she’s allowed to look like a realistically awkward teenager rather than airbrushed fantasy?)

It also allows us to get an embedding experience rather than an exploitative one, as we view what unfolds strictly from her perspective, although it occasionally makes things harder to watch. Sure, it’s stupid of 15-year-old Minnie, an aspiring cartoonist, to start an affair with her mother’s boyfriend, even if he is played by Alexander Skarsgård. But a funny thing happens when we grow up.

We completely forget how idiotic we were at that age too while we were completely at the mercy of our hormones. Or even after, in some cases, since the so-called adults around her sure as hell don’t have their act together either. So we can only hope that Minnie can somehow figure out on her own that loving herself is what will ultimately bring her happiness, not loving someone else. But then, that’s something many of us don’t ever figure out.


5. Zootopia (2016)

Zootopia (2016)

Disney seems to know that laughter is a good defense against the world’s insanity. After all, it’s no accident that the best comedies, like “South Park,” “Blazing Saddles,” “Dr. Strangelove,” and “Monty Python’s Life of Brian” all contain some very dark stuff. So it’s a useful approach when you’re looking to put the issue of diversity at the center of a movie.

In a world of anthropomorphic animals, Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) is the first bunny police officer looking to prove herself. Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) is a fox con artist. When they are forced to work together to find some missing mammals, it’ turns into a journey inside our own biases, of how even the best of us are forced confront and overcome our own prejudices, and how very different groups sometimes have to struggle to live together in peace.

The fact that “Zootopia” is peppered with hilarious pop culture references and crackling wit while offering no easy answers or shortcuts makes its final destination all the more satisfying.


4. Tangerine (2015)


Hollywood loves to talk and talk and talk about much they love those quirky outsiders and how down they are for the underdog. But the outsiders in “Tangerine” are not quirky, nor are they interested in catering to mainstream sensibilities and values. The main characters are a couple of Hollywood prostitutes named Alexandra and Sin-Dee. Oh, and they’re also trans women.

When Sin-Dee gets out of jail just in time for Christmas and finds out that her lover, who also happens to be her pimp, is hooking up with someone else, she decides to tear up the town until she finds and confronts them both.

It’s a depressing ride that is also somehow a laugh riot as these two interact with customers, friends, and haters alike. But the movie’s center and source of hope is the true friendship between Alexandra and Sin-Dee, who provide the bright spot amid a cast of characters just hustling to make it to the next day.


3. Phoenix (2014)


They say you always hurt the one you love, but Nelly Lenz (Nina Hoss) is experiencing a new level of heartbreak. She’s a concentration camp survivor who was shot and left for dead, fresh from facial reconstructive surgery and looking for the husband who may have betrayed her to the Nazis.

But when she tracks down her husband Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld), she finds herself unable to reveal her identity. However, Johnny does notice her resemblance to the wife he thinks is dead, and proposes that Nelly impersonate her so he can claim her inheritance.

As she plays along in a desperate effort to reclaim the life she had before in a country also reeling from war and destruction, she finds herself more and more unsure of her husband’s loyalty. And the ending will leave you gasping.


2. Amy (2015)


What more was there to say about Amy Winehouse? Even if this particular documentary managed to get intimate footage of her life and the testimony of many of her closest family and friends, what could it tell us that we didn’t already know? Not only was her life obsessively chronicled by the tabloids, it was the kind of story we were sadly familiar with, that of a talented, tortured artist succumbing to her demons. But it turns out, there was much more to say.

With all that insider knowledge the doc provides, we’re not only able to get a good look at who she really was, but deconstruct all the myths of the tragic artist. To watch “Amy” is to truly mourn the fall of a beautiful, bright star.


1. 45 Years (2015)

45 Years

There is no melodrama in “45 Years.” Nor are there any politics, global issues, or really any stakes. We get invested because of the brilliant script, direction, and the perfectly understated performances from two great actors, who play Kate (Charlotte Rampling) and Geoff Mercer (Tom Courtenay), a childless couple planning their 45th wedding anniversary.

But mere days before the party, they are informed that the body of Geoff’s old lover Katya from has been found frozen, perfectly preserved in ice in Germany, where she disappeared while she and Geoff were on a hike in the 1960s.

As the days go on and Kate observes how Geoff reacts to the news and investigates a relationship she barely heard about, she harbors more and more doubts about their years together and even the foundation their marriage rests upon.

“45 Years” is brilliantly written, but Charlotte Rampling is the reason the revelations throughout are so devastating as she discovers just how present Geoff’s lover has been in their lives all along. Her face and her eyes convey as much as the wittiest dialogue, and the film’s last scene is one of the most sparely devastating moments of cinema. In a way, it’s “Crimson Peak” stretched inside out.

Honorable Mentions: Melancholia, Short Term 12, Safety Not Guaranteed, Pitch Perfect, Radical Grace, Ida, Cinderella, Mama, Wild, Zero Dark Thirty, Still Alice, For A Good Time Call…, A Royal Affair, Another Earth, Blue Is the Warmest Color, What Maisie Knew, It Follows, The Witch, Trainwreck, Hanna, What Happened, Miss Simone?, Fill the Void.

Author Bio: Andrea is a writer from Milwaukee. She has written for practically every form of media there is, she loves all things celluloid and hold nothing sacred save editorial approval.