We strongly recommend you start with Experimental Wifery’s Guide to the 100 Films Every Woman Should See. You can find a complete list of all 100 films in chronological order, as well as recommendations by phase of life.
In this silent film, a floozy from the big city tempts a happily-married man away from his wife and convinces him to drown her in the bay. His conscience gets the better of him and he and his wife take a second honeymoon, bringing all the love and simplicity of rural life to a jaded town. Sunrise is one of the most beautiful movies about marriage ever made.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
After the death of a corrupt U.S. senator, the powers that be appoint a doe-eyed Boy Rangers leader to take his place. When he discovers the greedy plot of the senior senator and governor, he boldly takes on the richest and most powerful men in his state. James Stewart stars as a man with the principles and strength of character all women should expect from the men in their lives.
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
A powerful tornado sends day-dreamer Dorothy over the rainbow to the magical land of Oz in this adaptation of Frank L. Baum’s classic novel. The Wizard of Oz stands out in the field of escapist fantasy stories as one of the few tales where the heroine realizes, “There’s no place like home.” Listen for classic songs, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,” and “If I Only Had a Brain.”
Based on the chilling novel by Daphne du Maurier, a unnamed heroine struggles to overcome the psychological ghost of her new husband’s first wife. The new Mrs. de Winter must find the strength to be her own woman in Alfred Hitchcock’s first American film. Get ready for Mrs. Danverns, the lady’s maid of the late Mrs. de Winter and possibly the most alarming villainess in movie history.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
In this perennial Christmas favorite, James Stewart plays George Bailey—the man who has spent his whole life choosing other people over himself. When Christmas Eve 1946 promises to lead to his unjust arrest and professional ruin, Saint Joseph sends bumbling angel Clarence to show George just important his life really is. At the movie’s emotional conclusion, George discovers the selflessness and attentiveness of his wife Mary that save his family, career, and life.
Life with Father (1947)
Based on the longest-running play ever to show on Broadway, Life with Father tells the story of Clarence Day and his family living in 1880s New York. Day’s outwardly-ditzy wife manages to run the household and raise the children with more honey than vinegar in this classic comedy.
All about Eve (1950)
Famous stage actress Margo Channing takes pity on lonely fan Eve Harrington and makes her a personal assistant. Margo only slowly realizes that Eve is actually a conniving saboteur bent on using Margo and everyone she knows to become the leading lady of the New York theater scene. The film won six Academy Awards for its portrayal of a woman who claws her way to the top, whatever the cost—and the unforeseen consequences she finds there.
How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)
Three small-time models rent a big-time Manhattan apartment to try and snare three of the city’s richest and most eligible bachelors. Any man will do so long as he’s worth more than a million dollars. Near-sighted Pola (Marilyn Monroe), bumbling Loco, and unrelenting Schatze find they may have to choose between dreams of wealth and the realities of the heart.
Roman Holiday (1953)
On a diplomatic visit to Rome, Princess Anne (Audrey Hepburn in her American debut) escapes her entourage to have a little fun. Debonair American journalist Joe Bradley pretends not to recognize her so he can get his next big scoop. He’s all business until the two begin to fall in love. Heburn garnered an Academy Award for this portrayal of a young woman struggling to define who she is and where her duties truly lie.
An Affair to Remember (1957)
Nicky Ferrante and Terri McKay have forged good lives for themselves by getting involved in romantic relationships with the rich and famous. When they fall in love on a transatlantic trip, they realize they have no way to support themselves without their wealthy fiancés. The two make a pact to spend six months preparing for a new life together before reuniting atop the Empire State Building. The American Film Institute declared An Affair to Remember one of the most romantic films of all time—a remarkable feat for a movie about patience, hard-work, and self-sacrifice instead of an impulsive love affair.
Young orphan Pollyanna (Hailey Mills in her first American role) comes to live with her wealthy and powerful Aunt Polly. Her rosy outlook on life eventually wins over most of the somber town and gives them the courage to stand up to her politically dominant aunt. Pollyanna is a wonderful example of the virtue of cheerfulness.
The Sound of Music (1965)
Based on the true story of the Trapp Family Singers. The Reverend Mother sends free-spirited young postulant Maria (a radiant Julie Andrews) away from the abbey to serve as governess in the household of a widowed naval officer. As she grows to love first the seven rowdy children and then the icy Captain, Maria must decide whether life may have more in store for her than she planned. The Sound of Music is probably the best movie ever written about finding a woman finding her calling. Keep an ear out for some of the greatest songs in American musical theater including “My Favorite Things,” “Climb Every Mountain,” and “Edelweiss.”
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1968)
Twenty-three-year-old Joey Drayton comes home from a Hawaiian vacation with a big surprise: she’s engaged… to a man she has only known for ten days… who is thirteen years her senior… and who happens to be a black man… in 1968. She and fiancé Dr. John Prentice vow to marry only if Joey’s parents approve of the match, but give them only one evening to make up their minds. Parents Matt and Christina struggle to reconcile their principles with the difficult realities the young couple will face. The film is especially memorable for showing the way healthy couples interact, the way wives must sometimes ask their husbands to be better men, and the way young people must learn to stand on their own two feet.
Yours, Mine, and Ours (1968)
Widow Helen North (played by Lucille Ball) falls in love with the widowed Naval officer Frank Beardsley before they realize that, between the two of them, they have eighteen children. Based on a real couple married in the early 1960s, Yours, Mine, and Ours is a charming comedy about the true meaning of family. Avoid the Dennis Quaid remake.
Funny Girl (G*—1968)
A romanticized account of the early career of real-life Ziegfield star Fanny Brice. Brice’s commercial success as a starlet doesn’t help her rocky marriage with big-time gambler Nicky Arnstein. After a series of losses, “Mr. Brice” can longer stand the humiliation of being supported by his famous wife and takes a foolish risk that could ruin both their lives. Barbara Streisand pops as the awkward but self-confident comedienne singing classics like “People” and “Don’t Rain on My Parade.”
Fiddler on the Roof (G*—1971)
Tevye, the poor, Jewish milkman tries to keep his balance as his love for five daughters and the demands of his highly-traditional society pull in opposite directions. This film adaptation of the popular Broadway musical not only depicts stable married life in the midst of poverty and violence, but also celebrates the traditions that make us who we are. Enjoy classic songs like, “If I Were a Rich Man,” “Sunrise, Sunset,” and “Matchmaker.”
Gil Buckman does his best as a dad and a father, but his best isn’t enough to prevent his oldest son’s premature anxiety problems. One of Gil’s sisters struggles to hold together her son, teenage daughter, and teenage daughter’s new husband (Keanu Reeves in the role he was born to play) after her husband starts a new family. Meanwhile, Gil’s other sister tries to toe the line between supporting her husband and sparing her preschool-age daughter from his anal-retentive over-parenting. Parenthood is the funniest and most real film about parenting and family that I have ever seen.
Beauty and the Beast (G—1991)
In Disney’s take on the classic fairy tale, the bookish Belle struggles for a sense of identity and place in a community that values brawn over brain. But life as a willing prisoner of a hideous, bad-tempered beast isn’t exactly what she had in mind. Belle’s longing for an unexpected adventure turns into something much bigger than even she imagined. Disney’s portrayal earned the first-ever Best Picture Academy Award nomination for an animated film.
The Silence of the Lambs (R—1991)
Serial killer Buffalo Bill has been murdering and skinning women. The FBI is stumped until they consult the brilliant, but cannibalistic, Dr. Hannibal Lector. Clarice Starling grows from a timid and scared young girl. Under Dr. Lector’s guidance, she grows to be a self-confident, professional woman who holds her own in a male-dominated career and eventually defeats Buffalo Bill single-handed. Starling is the highest-rated heroine on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 Years…100 Heroes and Villains. (Dr. Lector is the #1 villain—even though he is only on screen for a total of 16 minutes.)
Romeo + Juliet (PG-13—1996)
Shakespeare’s play about star-crossed lovers reimagined by the idiosyncratic Baz Luhrman. Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet fall deeply in love, despite their families’ blood feud. Luhrman modernizes the setting but leaves the Shakespearean dialogue in tact. His adaptation makes the tragic consequences of Romeo, Juliet, and their families’ choices startlingly clear.
What Dreams May Come (PG-13—1998)
Chris Nielson and his wife Annie survived the threats of divorce and institutionalization after they lost their two children. But after Chris also dies in a terrible car accident, it seems like they will be separated for eternity. With the help of his son, Chris journeys to hell to rescue his soul-mate from her prison of grief and self-loathing. More than ten years after its theatrical release, What Dreams May Come remains one of the most visually-stunning films I have ever seen. The Academy-Award-winning visual effects set off this beautiful love story about the sacrifices people who truly love each other are willing to make.
My Big Fat Greek Wedding (PG—2002)
The sleeper hit romantic comedy. After being completely ignored by the man of her dreams, self-described “frump girl” Toula transforms herself into someone she actually likes. When she and Ethan reconnect, it’s love at first sight for both of them. The cultural conflict between her big, loud Greek family and his W.A.S.P. parents makes the movie laugh-out-loud funny. And Toula’s transformation from a woman so ugly that it is startling to see her on screen to a vivacious, thirty-something in love with life reminds us that we have to love ourselves before we can expect someone else to love us, too.
Read more about My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
Howl’s Moving Castle (PG—2004)
When the jealous Witch of the Waste turns young, introverted Sophie Hatter into an old woman, Sophie seeks the aid of the notorious Wizard Howl. The acrid old woman and vane, young man make an unlikely and unforgettable pair in this exciting fantasy anime. Sophie’s gradual acceptance of her elderly state is a moving tribute to a woman who learns to love herself at any age. Look for the film subtitled in the original Japanese.
The Incredibles (PG—2004)
After the world decides that it’s better off without superheroes, Mr. Incredible and wife Elastigirl lead a boring, suburban life. When Mr. Incredible’s desire for glory gets the better of him, his wife and children mount a rescue operation to save him—and the world! Director Brian Bryd attributes the success of the film to the way each character plays to the stereotypical traits of a super-strong father, a flexible mother, an “invisible” teenage girl, and a rambunctious little boy.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith (PG-13—2005)
A fun, summer action romp with a surprisingly real portrayal of marriage. John and Jane Smith are tired of each other and burnt out on their dull, suburban marriage—until each learns that the other is a high-powered assassin assigned to kill! As they struggle to carry out their orders against each other, they realize that marriage only works when partners are open with each other.
*PG wasn’t in use until 1978 and PG-13 until 1984. Use your own judgment about when and where you show these films.
So what did we miss? Let us know in the comments.