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.
Captain January (1936)
A weathered sea captain rescues a shipwrecked young girl (played by the effervescent Shirley Temple) and raises her with the help of his seaside community. When the new truant officer comes to town, she threatens to take Star away and put her in an orphanage. Captain and Star must fight hard to hold onto each other in this bitter-sweet film about love, sacrifice, and family.
The Philadelphia Story (1940)
On the eve of her wedding, beautiful heiress Tracy Lord must watch her ex-husband, her fiancé, and a tabloid reporter fight for her affections. Although they all admire her appearance and intelligence, the clash leaves Tracy wondering who exactly she is—and who she wants to be. Watch for an all-star cast of Hollywood’s greatest actors including Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and James Stewart.
Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)
In this wonderful screwball comedy from director Frank Capra, Cary Grant plays Mortimer, a drama critic who makes a terrible discovery on his wedding night: his aunts have been euthanizing poor, elderly bachelors with a punch of arsenic, strychnine, cyanide, and elderberry wine and hiding their corpses in the basement. While he tries to cover their tracks and keep the secret from his new wife, he must also look after his younger brother who believes he is Teddy Roosevelt and his criminally insane older brother. Amidst all the lunacy, Mortimer must consider issues of life, death, and family.
Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
Wife and mother Elizabeth Lane writes America’s favorite housekeeping column from her idyllic Connecticut farm. Or so she claims. But when her boss invites himself and a war hero to join her family for Christmas dinner, the single, childless New Yorker must think fast to find a farm and a family or risk losing her job. Sparks fly when she meets the brave, earnest veteran and learns that her perfect life isn’t nearly what she imagined.
Adam’s Rib (1949)
Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn play Adam and Amanda Bonner, lawyers on opposing sides on the trial of a scorned woman who attempted to murder her husband. As the trial heats up and Amanda fights harder and harder to make it into a test case for the prosecution of women everywhere, tension builds at home between the once happy couple. By the time for closing arguments, Amanda is so set on proving a point about all men that she forgets to show the love and respect she has for the man she cares about most.
The Seven Year Itch (1955)
Loyal husband Richard Sherman stays behind in the big city while his wife and son flee the summer heat at the beach. Richard is hard at work, skeptically proofreading a book about men who tend to be unfaithful when he meets the voluptuous model (Marilyn Monroe) renting the apartment upstairs. Richard tries to fight off fantasies about a glamorous life with a beautiful woman in this insightful comedy about what men really want and need. Watch out for Marilyn Monroe’s iconic white dress.
My Fair Lady (G—1964)
Adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s inimitable comedy Pygmalion, My Fair Lady tells the story of Professor Henry Higgins. Professor Higgins takes poor flower girl Eliza Doolittle, whose Cockney accent is almost incomprehensible, under his wing and teaches her to pass for a lady. But along with elocution and poise, Eliza learns the value she has as a human being. Listen for classic musical numbers like “Wouldn’t It Be Lover-ly” and “The Rain in Spain.”
The Trouble with Angels (PG—1966)
Mary Clancy (played by Hailey Mills) and Rachel Devery are everything Catholic school girls should not be. They swear. They smoke cigars in the basement. And they replace the sugar in the nuns’ sugar bowls with soap bubbles. But as they plod through their sophomore, junior, and senior years of high school, they grow in their understanding of self and vocation. The emotion behind The Trouble with Angels is all the more real for being based on one woman’s memoir of life at a Catholic school in the 1930s.
Freaky Friday (PG—1976)
Just when it seems like Mrs. Andrews and her teenaged daughter Annabelle (Jodie Foster) will never understand each other, each awakens one Friday morning with her mind trapped in the other’s body. At first determined to do a better job than her mother, Annabelle quickly becomes overwhelmed by all that life as a homemaker requires of her. It isn’t until the films uproarious climax that Mrs. Andrews finds out being a teenager is much tougher than she remembers. Freaky Friday is a fun, family girls’ night movie about appreciating each other.
Anne of Green Gables (1985)
Based on L. M. Montgomery’s classic novel, Anne of Green Gables is the only made-for-TV movie to make our list. Closely following Montgomery’s story, the film tells the story of the red-headed, high-spirited orphan Anne and her misadventures trying to find a home where she belongs. A beautiful film to share with children.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (PG-13—1986)
Mischievous high schooler Ferris Bueller convinces his morose best friend Cameron to help him break his girlfriend out of school for a day of skipping school they will never forget. While the three have the time of their lives, each also comes to grips with the serious choices they will have to make over the coming months and years as they graduate from high school and become adults.
My Neighbor Totoro (G—1988)
From director Hayao Miyazaki, My Neighbor Totoro is a magical story about Japanese spirits that visit ten- and four-year-old sisters while their mother is in the hospital recovering from a long illness. An entertaining story for viewers of all ages, the film is also a beautiful allegory about the love and community that sometimes crops up where we least expect it.
Defending Your Life (PG—1991)
Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep star in this off-beat comedy about life and life after death. After a car accident, Daniel Miller finds himself a new resident of Judgment City, where he will face a trial to determine whether or not he showed enough courage during his life, or whether he will have to be incarnated to try again. A lovely comedy about facing our fears so we can live every moment to its fullest.
A League of Their Own (PG—1992)
A fictionalized account of the real life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. During the World War Two, baseball team owners scout for women to field competitive teams. Potential star Dottie Henson refuses to join without her little sister Kit. During the few, short months of the baseball season, Dottie, Kit, and the other girls on their team must face questions about friendship, gender, and sisterhood.
Eat Drink Man Woman (1994)
Ang Lee’s break-through film. In this subtitled Chinese movie, a famous chef who has lost his sense of taste tries to play mother and father to his three grown daughters. Eat Drink Man Woman is a beautiful film about loving ourselves and accepting our families for who they are.
Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Dr. Alex Hesse, a fertility expert ready to test a controversial new drug that will help anyone carry a baby to term. When the research funding dries up, Hesse’s partner, Dr. Larry Abrogast (Danny Devito), talks him into trying out the new drug on him. When they successfully conclude the experiment, Hesse cannot bring himself to abort the baby and continues his pregnancy in secret. To further complicate matters, Hesse begins to fall in love with the woman whose donated egg he “borrowed” to get pregnant. Junior is not a deeply thoughtful movie, but it is a fun romp that questions some of our assumptions about gender and what it takes to be a parent.
King of Masks (1996)
This touching Chinese film is based on the true story of a master of Sichuan Change Art, a performing art of impossibly-fast mask changes. Wang Bianliang enjoys his solitary life traveling up and down the Yangzi River to perform, but he regrets that he has no male heir to carry on his ancient art—it will die when he does. As he gets more desperate, Bianliang seeks out a black-market slave trader to buy a little boy to raise as his own. Things do not turn out as he expects in this beautiful drama.
Miss Congeniality (PG-13—2000)
When a well-known terrorist threatens the Miss United States pageant, rough-around-the-edges FBI agent Gracie Hart is coopted into entering the pageant undercover. Even though the pageant represents everything she finds repulsive about her sex, she slowly discovers that the other women in the pageant are kind, talented human beings, too. A fun film for a girls’ night in.
Raised by a father who shields her from the world because of an imagined heart condition, Amélie doesn’t know what it is to have real friends or meaningful relationships. Instead, she lives in her own—distinctively French—fantasy world After she successfully returns a little boy’s treasure box to its then-grown owner, Amélie decides to dedicate her life to doing good for others. What she doesn’t expect is that a sense of purpose in life might open up her world and allow her dreams to come true. Listen out for the poignant and playful soundtrack of this quirky French film.
Down with Love (PG-13—2003)
Conceived as a parody of early 1960’s romantic comedies, Down With Love is a great film in its own right. Renée Zellweger stars as Barbara Novak, the cool blonde author of a world-wide best-seller denouncing traditional gender roles. When Know Magazine’s star reporter Catcher Block (Ewan McGregor) blows off an interview in favor of a date, he sparks a war of the sexes with Barbara denouncing him as “the Worst Kind of Man.” Will the two be able to reconcile their differences and end the millennia-long battle between men and women?
13 Going on 30 (PG-13—2004)
Jenna Rink longs to be one of the popular “Six Chicks” and date the quarter-back of the high school football team. When her thirteen birthday party goes humiliatingly wrong, a batch of her dorky best friend’s wishing dust gives her everything she ever wished for—she wakes up in a stunning Manhattan apartment as the editor of the nation’s top fashion magazine. But as she tries to unpack what she missed in the past seventeen years, Jenna discovers how hard it is to know what we really want. Going on 30 has been compared unfavorably to Tom Hank’s Big, but it’s really its own movie with a powerful message for teenage girls about the consequences of the choices we make and the importance of every minute.
Akeelah and the Bee (PG—2006)
The predictable but none-the-less touching story of a little girl from South Los Angeles who spells her way to the National Spelling Bee. Along the way, she learns valuable lessons about friendship, sacrifice, and hard work.
A modern-day fairy tale about an heiress born to a family with a gypsy curse. To break the spell, she must find “one of her own kind” to love her despite her appearance—she has a pig snout in place of a nose. Rejected by one wealthy suitor after another, Penelope finally escapes her sheltered life on her parents’ estate to find out what love really means.
August Rush (PG—2007)
Another modern-day fairy tale about an orphaned musical prodigy. When he listens to music, eleven-year-old Evan just knows his parents are out looking for him. He runs away from the orphanage to New York City, where his musical genius earns him a place at the prestigious Julliard School for the Performing Arts. Will a mother and a father he has never met be able to recognize the call in his music?
While the human race continues a 700-year cruise through outer space, Wall-E stays behind, the last member of a robot crew assigned to clean up planet Earth. His quirky, lonely life changes when the sleek droid Eve arrives and finds a living plant, marking that Earth is habitable again. Together, Wall-E and Eve fight for a future for the human race they can no longer imagine for themselves. Wall-E was billed as an environmentalist film, but it’s actually a story about how much of ourselves we give up when we give in to materialism and about what it really means to be human.
*PG wasn’t in use until 1978 and PG-13 until 1984. Use your own judgment about when and where you show these films.
Only 25 films left to go. Let us know in the comments if we’ve missed one of your favorites. Or start at the beginning by reading part one of our list…