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.
Poor Little Rich Girl (1917)
Gwendolyn has everything a young girl could desire—except the companionship of good friends and the love of her parents. When they aren’t showing her off, her parents and the servants do whatever it takes to keep Gwendolyn out of the way of their busy lives. When two servants go too far and put Gwendolyn’s life at risk, her parents fear it may be too late to show their daughter how much they care.
City Lights (1931)
Charlie Chaplin’s tramp is desperate to help a beautiful, blind flower girl. One evening, he saves an eccentric millionaire from suicide and keeps him safe during his drunken revels. After a series of misadventures, the tramp finds a way to help the young girl with the millionaire’s money, all the while pretending to be a wealthy gentleman. With a truly selfless act, the tramp may just be able to help the flower girl to see.
“Am I driving?”
Lady for a Day (1933)
Apple Annie is an aging, drunken fruit seller whose good nature has won the friendship of street vendors and low-life gangsters. Years ago, she sent her infant daughter Louise to live in a Spanish convent so she would never know about her disreputable family: in her letters to Louise, Annie claims to be the wealthy Mrs. E. Worthington Manville. When Louise surprises her mother with a trip to New York for her potential father-in-law to screen her family, her friends must help her live the life she has invented in her letters. Lady for a Day is laugh-out-loud funny, but carries a powerful message about how far a mother will go to help her daughter.
Ball of Fire (1941)
Also known as The Professor and the Burlesque Queen. A group of bachelor professors live and work together on an encyclopedia of all human knowledge. When grammarian Bertram Potts gets to the entry for slang, he finds his street language is woefully outdated. He enlists the help of nightclub singer “Sugarpuss” O’Shea, whose mobster fiancé cajoles her into hiding out with the professors. Inevitably, Potts falls in love with O’Shea and she sees what life would be like with a man who cares about and respects her.
This story about the love that makes a man into a hero is perhaps the world’s most famous romantic movie. Humphrey Boggart plays a jaded idealist who opens a nightclub in Casablanca, where desperate Europeans await their chance to flee to America. When the love of his life shows up with another man asking for his help fleeing from the Nazis, he must choose between a life with his love and the principles he thought he’d forgotten.
They still say, “I love you.”
On that you can rely
No matter what the future brings…”
Mrs. Miniver (1942)
Mrs. Miniver is just another middle-class English housewife until World WarII begins. Her husband serves in an informal coast guard and her son enlists in the Royal Air Force. Mrs. Miniver takes up the difficult task of minding the home-front, ensuring life goes on in spite of rationing, air raids, and the absence of the people she cares about. Sir Winston Churchill said the film’s powerful message about resilience and hope did more for the war effort than “six military divisions.”
Father of the Bride (1950)
Better than the Steve Martin remake, Father of the Bride captures the joys and the heartaches leading up to a wedding. Spencer Tracy plays Stanley Banks, a father emotionally and financially overwhelmed by his daughter’s engagement and wedding plans. But as the day grows nearer, his daughter helps him to recognize that he will always be a part of her life. Every woman planning a wedding should learn from the film’s message about the things at a wedding that are really important.
Father’s Little Dividend (1951)
In the sequel to Father of the Bride, the bride and her husband are expecting a baby. Stanley dreads becoming a grandfather, thinking the baby will further separate him from his beloved daughter. But when his daughter turns to him again and again for guidance and support, Stanley finally realizes what a great father he has been and how much she still needs him. Father’s Little Dividend is a beautiful film about the relationship between fathers and daughters and the importance of showing the men in our lives how important they are to us.
“We had an argument, yes. Look if anything happens to her, I’ll kill myself.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll do it for you.”
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Singin’ in the Rain isn’t necessarily a victory for feminism, but it is a fun movie about romance, Hollywood, and just rewards. Lockwood and Lamont are the dynamic duo of silent film, but off-screen Don Lockwood can barely tolerate Lina Lamont’s shallowness and snobbery. He falls in love with a budding actress with a voice made for the new “talking pictures.” The harder he tries to make his new love’s career, the harder the jealous Lina tries to wreck it.
We’re Not Married! (1952)
In this all-but-forgotten romantic comedy, six couples find out three years after they exchanged vows that the justice of the peace who married them wasn’t licensed. The film shows five of those couples trying to decide whether or not they really want to be with each other until death do them part. Even though most of the couples are initially grateful for the second chance, they soon realize that, even when it’s hard, marriage is a life-long commitment. Just telling my husband about the beautiful climax of the film brought tears to his eyes.
Calamity Jane (1953)
Rough-and-tumble tomboy Jane tries to impress the love of her life by bringing a famous singer to their humble, wild-west saloon. Things get messy when the famous singer turns out to be an imposter—and turns the head of Jane’s would-be-lover. Jane learns a valuable lesson for all young women that romance only works when our partners accept us for who we are. Listen out for toe-tapping songs like “Whip-Crack-Away” and “It’s Harry I’m Planning to Marry.”
Rear Window (1954)
While bored recovering from a broken leg, photographer “Jeff” Jeffries (Jimmy Stewart) spends his time looking out the rear window and into his neighbors’ apartments. He soon suspects that one of his neighbors has murdered his wife and buried her body in the garden. His wealthy socialite girlfriend (Grace Kelly) is on the case, just knowing Jeff is right. Director Alfred Hitchcock never moves the camera outside of Jeff’s claustrophobic apartment in this exciting thriller.
Guys and Dolls (1955)
In this musical comedy of errors, professional gambler Nathan Detroit (Frank Sinatra) juggles his love for the nightclub singer Adelaide and his life of petty crime. His fiancée of fourteen years starts to pressure him to marry her and “go straight” just as his creditors demand he organize an illegal craps game. Things get even more complicated when the police, the Save a Soul Mission, and big-time gambler Sky Masterson get involved. Amid timeless songs like “Adelaide’s Lament” and “Luck Be a Lady,” Adelaide finds the self-respect to demand what’s right from her fiancé and missionary Sarah Brown learns that life is more than she imagined.
Indiscreet is a romantic satire about what women will—and will not—put up with from men. Famous actress Anna Kalman is willing to carry on an illicit affair with economist Philip Adams because, so long as he is married, they have no real hope of being together. But when she discovers his marriage is a rouse to help him stay uncommitted, she comes up with a convoluted plan to exact her revenge.
The Three Lives of Thomasina (1964)
After her mother’s death, seven-year-old Mary is left in the care of her bitter, atheist father, the village veterinarian. Feeling rejected, Mary pours all her love and affection into her pet cat Thomasina. When Mary brings the injured cat to her father for treatment, he instead euthanizes her. Mary loses all faith in her father, refusing to speak or look at him. Meanwhile, Thomasina is granted her second life with a loving, God-fearing woman within whom Mary’s father develops an unlikely friendship and eventual romance. Love begins to warm his heart and Thomasina begins to recover her memories—but will they be able to love Mary in time to restore her faith in her father? The Three Lives of Thomasina is a lovely family film about just how important a parents love is in the life of a child.
In earlier science fiction films, the best female characters could hope for was rescue from a dashing space hero. Alien presents a strong, intelligent woman who manages to save herself from the vicious, parasitic alien who kills the rest of her crew. On screen, Alien is a terrifying, science-fiction/horror thriller. Psychologically, it is a film that uses sexual imagery to show men what it feels like to have the sexual power they normally enjoy turned against them. The film is, in many ways, a radical re-imagining of women in film. But Alien is not a film for the faint of heart!
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (PG—1982)
A film more touching each time you watch it. Elliot is a lonely boy who befriends an alien stranded on hearth. Together with his siblings and friends, Eliot finds a way to help E.T. find home. Director Steven Spielburg based the concept of E.T. on an imaginary friend he created when he was fourteen years old, the year his parents divorced. The movie brings across a child’s powerful longing for love and companionship—and shows that even the very young know friendship isn’t self-serving.
Babette’s Feast (G—1987)
Although they both had beau’s when they were young, the pious Christian sisters Martine and Philippa have remained unmarried and carried on the legacy of their Puritanical father’s religious sect. At the behest of Phillipa’s one-time suitor, the two take in a refugee from counter-revolutionary violence in Paris. Over the course of fourteen years, Babette works as their maid and cook, freeing up the sisters for their charitable work with the elderly and poor. When Babette discovers she has won the lottery, she decides to throw a lavish feast to show the dour, Jutland village that sensual pleasures are part of what makes life beautiful.
Kiki’s Delivery Service (G—1989)
Kiki is a thirteen-year-old witch in training who must set out on her own for a year as a part of her training. To support herself, Kiki begins using her broom to deliver packages. Slowly, setbacks undermine her confidence and she begins to lose her powers. It is only after she finds a new purpose that Kiki can reclaim what she has lost. Kiki’s Delivery Service is a lovely film for helping young girls begin to think about how they can use their skills and talents to help others.
Steel Magnolias (PG—1989)
Steel Magnolias tells the story of the intergenerational friendship between six women. In the central story-line, middle-aged M’Lynn still struggles to help her grown daughter, Shelby take her type-one diabetes seriously. When Shelby marries and then conceives a child against a doctor’s advise, their friends help M’Lynn come to terms with the potentially deadly pregnancy. Sally Field’s M’Lynn is a very real mother who tries to balance her daughter’s freedom against her own ideas of what’s best. When her love is put to the test, M’Lynn proves how strong she really is.
October Sky (PG—1999)
In Coalwood, West Virginia, only football stars make it to college and escape a life in the mines. Against his father’s wishes, studious Homer Hickam dreams of a different life for himself working for NASA. October Sky highlights the different ways a woman can inspire men to achieve something great. Homer’s teacher, Miss Riley, convinces him that he can accomplish what he has set out to do. And his mother provides undying confidence that Homer will succeed. The film is based on the real-life story of a NASA engineer.
Finding Neverland (PG—2004)
Finding Neverland is based on the real-life story of J. M. Barrie, creator of the now-ubiquitous Peter Pan. Estranged from his wife and losing professional momentum, Barrie befriends four young boys and their widower mother, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies. He brings life back into the family and slowly draws them into his world of make-believe, eventually writing a play based on a summer they spent together. But when tragedy strikes, Barrie and the Llewelyn Davies must consider the value of imagination.
Disney’s answer to the criticism that its films follow the same, tried-and-true, unrealistic plot line. Animated heroine Giselle has always known that she will someday marry a prince. And as soon as she meet Prince Edward, he proposes marriage. Predictably, the prince’s jealous step-mother puts a spell on Giselle that sends her to very-real-life New York City. As she brings fairy-tale optimism to everyone she meets, Giselle also learns that there are many different kinds of “happily ever afters.”
Elderly widower Carl Fredricksen has nothing left of his wife but the home they built together and his regrets that they never took their long-awaited trip to Paradise Falls, Venezuela. To escape from unscrupulous contractors and the threat of a nursing home, Carl ties thousands of balloons to his chimney and sails his house into the clouds, bound for Venezuela. Young Wilderness Explorer Russell makes an unlikely stow-away who forces Carl to chose between his grief for his wife and the legacy of love she left him.
Young Victoria (PG—2009)
Young Victoria tells the story of Queen Victoria’s childhood and the early years of her reign. Early in her reign, Victoria falls in love with and marries Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gothia. Prince Albert must contend with the powerful prime minister for a place in Victoria’s government—and her life. Even though their shared political power is foreign to most of us, all married women have something to learn from Victoria’s battle for control and Albert’s need for her respect.