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.
The Kid (1921)
An unwed mother hides her baby in the back of an expensive automobile hoping he’ll find a better life there. Instead, thieves steal the car and throw her baby in the gutter. In his first full-length film, Charlie Chapman plays a tramp who finds and raises the baby in the only way he can. With a perfect blend of slap-stick comedy and pathos, this silent movie is sure to draw a few tears as it forces us to consider what makes a parent a parent.
It Happened One Night (1934)
Spoiled heiress Ellie Andrews escapes from her father’s yacht to steal away to New York and consummate her marriage to fortune hunter King Westley. On her way by bus from Miami to New York, she meets jaded newspaper man Peter Warne (Clark Gable). After a rocky start, the two begin to fall in love. But which proud partner will admit vulnerability and let the Walls of Jericho tumble first? It Happened One Night is one of only three films to ever win “the big five” Academy Awards.
Marguerite Gauthier is one of the most celebrated courtesans in Paris. Amidst all her popularity and money, she doubts sincere friendship or love really exist. The middle-class but idealistic Armand introduces her a world where family cares and lovers never grow weary of their beloveds. But returning that love to Armand comes at a terrible cost. Fans of Baz Lurhman’s Moulin Rouge will recognize the narrative of Alexandre Dumas’ romantic tragedy.
Now, Voyager (1942)
“Now, voyager, sail thou forth to seek and find.” Repressed heiress Charlotte Vale sets out to change her life by taking a transatlantic journey under an assumed name. She falls in love with Jerry Durrance, an honorable man trapped in a loveless marriage, and eventually becomes a mentor to his emotionally stunted daughter. As she learns how to love herself, Charlotte learns to help others do the same.
Aspiring opera singer Paula Alquist abandons her studies to marry the dapper Gregory Anton. The couple moves into a home left to Paula by her late aunt, who was mysteriously murdered ten years before. When Gregory begins to tell Paula that she is misplacing her things, impulsively stealing, and imagining what isn’t there, Paula wonders if she’s losing her mind. The psychological term “gaslighting” comes from this classic suspense thriller.
When an accused World War II spy commits suicide, American secret agent T. J. Devlin (played by the timelessly handsome Cary Grant) enlists the help of the spy’s daughter Alicia to trap Alexander Sebastian, the head of a Neo-Nazi group in Brazil. It is only after he has talked her into seducing and marrying Sebastian that Devlin realizes he has fallen in love with her—and put her in terrible danger. Love, sacrifice, and danger turn the nihilistic, spoiled Alicia into a courageous woman of principle.
In this movie musical, rugged frontiersman Adam Pontipee woos strong-willed Milly in a single day with the promise of a farm of her own. What she doesn’t know is that Adam has six rowdy brothers at home he expects her to cook and clean for as well. Life has just begun to settle down when the brothers decide they, too, want wives. Adam decides to take a page from Plutarch and make off with six girls from the town, just as the Romans kidnapped the Sabine women millennia before. Amidst all the chaos and labor of the Oregon frontier, Milly must teach Adam and his brothers how to show women the respect and love they deserve. Listen for the classic, “Bless Your Beautiful Hide,” which includes the unforgettable line, “I haven’t found her yet, but I’m willing to bet she’s the gal for me.”
The King and I (1956)
Based on the Rogers and Hammerstein Broadway hit. English widow Anna Leonowens travels to Siam with her young son to serve as schoolmaster in the royal household. She unexpectedly finds herself in a fight between tradition and progress that threatens to tear the country, and its idealistic king, apart. The King and I is a beautiful story about helping a man live up to his own ideals, no matter how lofty.
Old Yeller (1957)
When fifteen-year-old Travis Coates’ father leaves him in charge of the family’s Texas ranch, he doesn’t have time for any funny business. That’s why he’s so upset when his brother brings home a mischievous stray dog. Over time, the whole family learns that Old Yeller is exactly what they need while they wait for their father to come home. Old Yeller is a classic coming-of-age story, but Travis’ mother, who quietly helps him learn to be a man, is one of the story’s most powerful characters.
Come September (1961)
When Lisa decides to stop waiting for him and marry another man, millionaire playboy Robert Talbot takes his annual trip to Italy a month early to win her back. Little does he know that his major domo has turned his villa into a hotel for the other eleven months of the year. Unwilling to evict the group of happy teenage girls (including the effervescent Sandra Dee), Robert finds himself protecting them from a group of hormonal teenaged boys staying nearby. As he talks to the girls about self-respect and the boys about self-control, Robert begins to realize that the same rules apply to him, too.
A Raisin in the Sun (1961)
Lena Younger has struggled to instill a sense of happiness and dignity in her family in the midst of poverty and racial prejudice. When the insurance check for her late husband finally comes, she and her grown children dream of what new happiness that money can bring. But is it too late to rescue the family from the ugliness around them? Based on the Tony-award-winning play.
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
Young Scout Finch doesn’t know what to make of her intelligent, dispassionate father in Depression-era Alabama. When a judge assigns him as public defender for a Black man accused of a vicious crime, she learns to see what does—and doesn’t—make a man a man. A beautiful coming-of-age story for both Scout and her older brother Jem.
Mary Poppins (1964)
Mr. Banks is busy working. Mrs. Banks spends all day with her sister suffragettes. Their two children merely long for a moment of their time and attention. With the magical Mary Poppins as nursemaid, anything can happen. A wonderful film for children and parents about the value of every passing moment.
The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964)
A musical based on the true story of the heroine of the Titanic. Poor orphan Molly vows to learn to read and write and to be someone of consequence in the world. She marries the lucky miner John Brown, who hits the mother-load during their honeymoon, and it seems her dreams might just come true. But when Denver society is unwilling to accept a boisterous, nouveau riche upstart, her efforts to win their approval begin to drive a wedge in her marriage. Look for great songs like, “Belly Up to the Bar,” and the memorable pie fight between the Denver elite and Molly’s backwoods friends.
The Last Unicorn (G—1982)
A sophisticated allegory about the transition from girlhood to womanhood. Only one Unicorn has escaped the clutches of evil King Haggard and his Red Bull. With the help of Schmendrick the Magician and Molly Grue, the Unicorn sets out to find them. The whole movie is set to a liltingly beautiful soundtrack by the band America.
Peggy Sue Got Married (PG-13—1986)
Sour, middle-aged Peggy Sue goes to her 25th high school reunion trying to forget her problems with her estranged husband Charlie. When she faints and finds herself a teenager back in 1960, she must decide whether she really regrets the choices she made as a teenager enough to change them.
The Princess Bride (PG—1987)
Buttercup, the most beautiful woman in the world, falls in love with the poor and perfect farmboy, Westley. When he goes out to make his fortune, his ship is attached by the Dread Pirate Roberts who leaves no man alive. The broken-hearted Buttercup agrees to marry Prince Humperdinck–until Westley returns to prove that not even death can destroy true love. The interaction of the grandfather (Peter Salk) who reads the story to his grandson (Fred Savage) makes a charming addition to William Goldman’s cult-classic novel.
When Harry Met Sally (R—1989)
The film that set a new standard for romantic comedies. When strangers Harry and Sally carpool from the University of Chicago to New York, Harry tells Sally that men and women can never be friends because sex always gets in the way. But as they gradually become friends over the next ten years, they both realize that friendship is the foundation of any happy relationship.
Jack Sommersby returns from the Civil War a changed man—so changed, in fact, that his wife Laurel isn’t sure he is her husband. Together, they sell of his father’s land to rescue the town from bankruptcy, win over the hearts of all their neighbors, and even bring a new daughter into the world. But when two U.S. Marshalls arrive to arrest Jack Sommersby for murder, both Jack and Laurel must decide what price they’re willing to pay for honor and integrity.
Whisper of the Heart (G—1995)
A poignant coming-of-age story from the master of anime, Hayao Miyazki. Suzuku is a bookish middle schooler who daydreams about becoming a writer. During the summer break before high school, she meets and begins to fall for Seiji, a young apprentice violin maker. When Seiji pursues his aspiration to Italy, Suzuku realizes that she, too, must practice her craft if she wants her own dream of writing to come true. Whisper of the Heart is the best film ever made for a young audience about finding what we’re called to do.
Life Is Beautiful (PG-13—1997)
In this Italian film, Roberto Bengini works hard to win the affections of Dora away from her fiancé. Five years later, the anti-semitism of Mussolini’s fascist regime makes it hard to remember the golden days of their courtship. When Jewish Roberto and their son are sent to a concentration camp, Christian Dora demands to go too. In spite of all the misery around them, Roberto finds ways to keep his young son safe and lift the spirits of his suffering wife. Actor and actress playing Roberto and Dora are a real-life married couple, making their own-screen chemistry that much more believable.
Brokedown Palace (PG-13—1999)
Unbeknownst to their parents, friends Alice and Darlene plan an unforgettable trip to Thailand to celebrate their high school graduation. Everything is going according to plan until a young man convinces Darlene to join him on a day trip to Hong Kong, secretly smuggling a large amount of heroin into her luggage. Alice and Darlene must learn about responsibility and friendship in the hardest of schools—the hideous Thai prison known to inmates as Broke-Down Palace.
Mexican domestic servant Flor Moreno and her daughter Christina illegally enter the U.S. for a chance at a better life. Members of the dysfunctional Clasky family, her new employers, generously share their resources, but Flor struggles to help her daughter maintain a sense of identity and integrity—especially after she begins to fall in love with the tender hearted head of the household. A movie about love, race, and hard-work, but most of all about family.
When sardonic sixteen-year-old Juno finds out her first sexual encounter has left her pregnant, she looks in the newspaper for a family to take care of her unborn child. As the story progresses, Juno must trade her immature, teenage cynicism for the realization that life is a whole lot more complicated than she thought. Without romanticizing teen pregnancy, Juno is a funny, life-affirming movie about hope, even in the face of hardship.
An Education (PG-13—2009)
Sixteen-year-old Jenny has worked hard all her life to earn a place at Oxford University. When an older, sophisticated man sweeps her off her feet, she decides to throw everything away for a chance at a more exciting life. Jenny learns the hard way that there are no easy paths to happiness in this powerful coming-of-age drama.
*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. You can also read part one of our list…