Great stories change lives, whether in print or on screen. The stories of other women affect the ways we dress, speak, behave and the expectations we have for our own lives. Experimental Wifery’s Guide to the 100 Films Every Woman Should See is a list of those stories that will help us become better women and wives. Some of these films speak to the heart of what it is to be a woman. Others show us women doing great things. Many depict women learning to value and appreciate what they are. And a few are just plain fun. But each film, from Academy-Award-winner to summer box-office smash, is great movie that we hope you will enjoy as much as we have.
This viewing guide suggests films that will help women as we grow from girls to teens and then to young women. As we marry, begin families of our own, as our children growand become teens themselves. Then, finally, as our children leave home and we have time to reflect on our lives. (You can also read the complete list in chronological order.)
Films for Young Girls
Too many girls grow up thinking that being a woman is about giving up who we are and what we want. The heroine in each of these films finds a way to rise to the challenges she faces without giving up her sense of self.
Films for Teenage Girls
No matter how thoughtless they sometimes seem, teenagers struggle with some of humanity’s most fundamental question: Who am I? What is my purpose? Whether it’s standing up to a dirty political machine, breaking through the glass ceiling in women’s athletics, or discovering the consequences of childhood dreams, the trials these protagonists face help them decide who and what they want to be.
Films for Young Women
These are the classic films that now form part of our cultural heritage. Whether in college or starting a career each will prepare young women to take a position of responsibility and understanding in the adult world.
Films for New Wives
Many brides expect the happy honeymoon to last forever. (At least I did.) So they aren’t prepared for the challenges of living together with their husbands as man and wife. These films show the realistic challenges of marriage—at least psychologically—and how to solve them while protecting the woman’s self-worth and the man’s dignity.
Films for New Moms
Whether it’s a mother who can find her child again after many years apart or a man finding out just how difficult pregnancy is, each of these films captures some important truth about motherhood to help new moms find a sense of self-worth and dignity in their new vocations. And most of these movies are light-hearted enough for even the most sleep-deprived brain to follow and enjoy.
Films for Moms of Young Children
These are the the kinds of films moms love to share with their children: fun and meaningful classics about what it means to be a family. Although most of these movies don’t center on moms, watch for strong, admirable heroines becoming better women, wives, and mothers.
Films for Moms of Teens
There comes a moment in each woman’s life when she has to decide what gives her life meaning. Like Camille, who learns selfless love, or Scout Finch, who discovers the dignity of all human life, teens to can learn to make the right choices—even when it is difficult. Share the viewing with your teen to inspire great conversations about some of life’s toughest questions. Just keep in mind that some of the films may be a bit racy for young teens so you may want to preview your choices first.
Films for Empty Nesters
Even though your children no longer live with you, you will always be their mother. Each of these films shows us the important role women still have to play in the lives of their children
Films for the End of Life
Each of these films tells the story of someone coping with the past or learning to accept the future. They celebrate the passing of the torch to another generation and the satisfaction of a life well lived.
Experimental Wifery’s Top 100 Films Every Woman Should See
Read on for the complete list of 100 films in chronological order. Or skip ahead to the comments.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Maybe the fact that you don’t love me.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
“What do I need manners for? I already got me a wife.”
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.
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.
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.
“Of course he can never be, if those who are closest to him are unwilling to help him!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Yeah, but to do what?”
“What are you interested in?”
“What do you think Ferris is gonna do?”
“He’s gonna be a fry cook on Venus!”
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.
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.
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.
“This is true love. You think it happens every day?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“But I don’t want a whole new me, mother!”
“Sweetheart please, please.”
“I like myself the way I am!”
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?
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.”
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.
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.
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.
“I feel old. But not very wise.”
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.
*Most of the films on our list are too old to be rated by the MPAA. For those that are, please keep in mind that PG wasn’t in use until 1972 and PG-13 until 1984. Use your own judgment about when, where, and to whom you show any of the films on this list.
So what do you think? Any surprises? Any films you think we missed? Let us know in the comments.