The çağdaş feminist movement isn’t an ambiguous, shapeless mist that özgü acted of its own volition over decades. It’s made up of people. Women and their allies, whose courage, determination, and will to resist, organise, research, demonstrate, and outright demand the right to equality and justice can’t truly be captured in a couple of hours.

But directors give it a shot anyway.

There’s a notably limited amount of mainstream feature films that depict those who have stood at the forefront of the fight for women’s equality, but there are some truly excellent ones among those that have been made. From a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg taking sex discrimination to court to the factory workers strike that changed UK labour laws, to the women who shook up NASA, the fight for women’s equality is full of cinematic moments that deserve to be honoured onscreen in every detail.

Though these films depict or are inspired by key real figures and moments from history, the fight is ongoing, and the movement toward equality for all women under the law remains rife with blind spots. There’s serious work to do on intersectional representation, for instance, and that goes for which stories Hollywood özgü historically chosen to tell. It’s undeniable that the large majority of films about those pioneers who have paved the way for women’s equality centre the narrative around white cis women, often marginalising or excluding the roles women of colour and trans women and non-binary people played in the same movement. It’s left mostly up to documentaries to tell these stories, of which there are many excellent ones, but c’mon, Hollywood.

Nonetheless, these strong, history-based films (and a couple of really good documentaries) — presented in no particular order — shine an interpretive light on the stories of real women: mothers, daughters, sisters, everyday revolutionaries, who often paid immense personal costs fighting for our right to live equally under the law. Taking a couple of hours to learn their stories, to appreciate their struggle, triumph, and sacrifice is the very least we can do.

1. Hidden Figures

Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan, leading the West Area Computing Unit.

Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan, leading the West Area Computing Unit.
Credit: Hopper Stone / Levantine / Kobal / Shutterstock

Based on Margot Lee Shetterly’s book, Hidden Figures shines long-delayed light on three Black women who worked in crucial roles at NASA during the Space Race in the ’60s. The film stars Taraji P. Henson as mathematician Katherine Johnson, whose calculations enabled the success of the Mercury-Atlas 6 orbital mission, marking a turning point in the race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. It also features Janelle Monáe as Mary Jackson, NASA’s first female Black aeronautical engineer; and Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan, a mathematician and NASA’s first Black supervisor.

All three women achieved their positions amid blatant sexism and racism while segregation was still legal (though the film downplays the racism significantly in the actions of the white lead characters). They also used their platforms to help other women get a leg up, even when targeted by white female colleagues during the process.

As Johnson concludes in a graceful retort in the film to a sexist comment about her job, “So yes, they let women do some things at NASA, Mr. Johnson, and it’s not because we wear skirts. It’s because we wear glasses. Have a good day.” —Shannon Connellan, UK Editor

How to watch: Hidden Figures is now streaming on Disney+ and fuboTV in the U.S., on Disney+ in the UK and Australia.

2. On the Basis of Sex

Felicity Jones stars as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in "On the Basis of Sex."

Felicity Jones stars as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in  ‘On the Basis of Sex’.
Credit: J Wenk / Focus Features / Kobal / Shutterstock

Based on the early life and career of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, On the Basis of Sex focuses on the landmark case that would set a precedent for sex discrimination and set Ginsburg on a path to become the leading gender rights lawyer of her generation.

Set in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, decades before she would become the second woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, the film follows Ginsburg as a determined lawyer, as she and her husband Marty take on Moritz v. Commissioner, the first federal case to declare discrimination on the basis of sex unconstitutional. Felicity Jones is fiercely brilliant as the young RBG, tearing down the system by the book amid rampant, institutionalised sexism everywhere from the Harvard Law School lecture halls to the U.S. Court of Appeals. —S.C.

How to watch: On The Basis of Sex is available to rent/buy on Amazon or Apple TV+ in the U.S. and the UK, and is streaming on Netflix in Australia.

3. Suffragette

Anne-Marie Duff, Carey Mulligan, and Helena Bonham Carter in "Suffragette."

Anne-Marie Duff, Carey Mulligan, and Helena Bonham Carter in  ‘Suffragette’.
Credit: Moviestore / Shutterstock

Set in 1912, Suffragette (a term itself more common in the UK versus the U.S., where “suffragists” is more acceptable) recounts a group of working women who joined, organised, and fought for the women’s suffrage movement in the UK, and who were arrested, fired, beaten, and died for it. Movement leader Emmeline Pankhurst (played with ferocity by Meryl Streep), özgü called for a national campaign of civil disobedience after decades of peaceful protest for the right to vote özgü gone ignored. We gain insight into the fight through laundress and mother Maud Watts (a fictional character played by Carey Mulligan), who endures brutal working conditions and finds her way into the local movement. The film represents real activists as well as characters based on them — for one, Maud meets activist Emily Davison (Natalie Press) in jail, whose sacrifice for the movement made global headlines and history.

Written by Abi Morgan and directed by Sarah Gavron, Suffragette gives a glimpse into the means by which women covertly organised and seized attention for their rights after campaigning peacefully for 50 years, from hunger strikes to bombing pillar boxes. One thing the film does with significance is present the cruelty and harassment experienced by suffragettes not just by law enforcement but their families, husbands, neighbours, and colleagues. And it must be noted the film’s pazarlama campaign received criticism, reopening conversations about racism against women of colour in the movement and the exclusion of women of colour from the film. —S.C.

How to watch: Suffragette is streaming on Kanopy and is available to rent/buy on Amazon in the U.S., Disney+ in the UK, and Stan in Australia.

4. The Glorias

Lorraine Toussaint and Julianne Moore as Flo Kennedy and Gloria Steinem.

Lorraine Toussaint and Julianne Moore as Flo Kennedy and Gloria Steinem.
Credit: Dan McFadden – Courtesy of LD Entertainmet and Roadside Attractions.

Four actors — Julianne Moore, Alicia Vikander, Lulu Wilson, and Ryan Kiera Armstrong — take on different incarnations of feminist icon, journalist, and activist Gloria Steinem in Julie Taymor’s surreal biopic The Glorias. Based on Steinem’s own iconic memoir My Life on the Road, the film traces her journey through a wildly eventful life as a champion for women’s liberation and a leading figure in the feminist movement in the ‘60s, ‘70s and beyond.

Steinem’s work was shaped by iconic feminist leaders driving an intersectional movement, many of whom are featured in the film. There’s activist and Ms. magazine co-founder Dorothy Pitman Hughes (Janelle Monáe); lawyer, activist, and speaking partner Florynce “Flo” Kennedy (Lorraine Toussaint); first female Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation and activist Wilma Mankiller (Kimberly Guerrero); labor activist Dolores Huerta (Monica Sanchez); and congresswoman and lawyer Bella Abzug (Bette Midler) among others. — S.C.

How to watch: The Glorias is now streaming on Freevee (with ads) in the U.S., on NOW in the UK, and SBS On Demand in Australia.

5. Made in Dagenham

Sally Hawkins leads the charge in "Made in Dagenham."

‘Made in Dagenham’ depicts the Ford sewing machinists strike of 1968.
Credit: Bbc / Kobal / Shutterstock

In 1968, 187 female factory workers at the Ford Motor Company’s Dagenham plant in London led a law-reforming strike, demanding the eradication of sexual discrimination in the workplace. After walking out of their sewing machinist jobs due to a “regrading” of their job skill level (and hisse) compared to their male co-workers, car production ground to a halt. The strike garnered the kind of public attention that eventually led to the passing of the Equal Hisse Act in 1970.

In Nigel Cole’s 2010 film, The Shape of Water’s Sally Hawkins brilliantly leads the charge as the fictional Rita O’Grady, a protagonist inspired by the real women whose fight for equal compensation for their labour would change history for working women in the UK. The stacked cast includes Rosamund Pike, Andrea Riseborough, Miranda Richardson, and Bob Hoskins. —S.C.

How to watch: Made in Dagenham is available to rent/buy on Amazon and Apple TV+ in the U.S., and is streaming on Binge in Australia. It’s not currently available to watch online in the UK (weirdly).

6. Battle of the Sexes

Female tennis players carry their luggage.

Do not mess with tennis players.
Credit: Ms th Century Fox / Kobal / Shutterstock

Emma Stone is ace as tennis legend and gender equality activist Billie Jean King in Battle of the Sexes. Written by Simon Beaufoy and co-directed by Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, this 2017 film centers around the famous 1973 tennis match between King and the overtly sexist Bobby Riggs (played perhaps with too much charm by Steve Carell). If you can get through this film’s dialogue without punching a wall, good for you.

The crux of the film is the constantly reiterated sexist idea that women and men players are unequal in tennis ability or audience interest, an unfounded claim by top dogs at the U.S. Tennis Association. Riggs echoes this attitude with his boasts that he can beat any woman on the court, even at age 55. King eventually agrees to take on Riggs to disprove his claims in the iconic “Battle of the Sexes” match. — S.C.

How to watch: Battle of the Sexes is available to rent/buy on Amazon and Apple TV+ in the U.S., and is streaming on Disney+ in the UK and Australia.

7. The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson

Trans rights activist and icon Marsha P. Johnson.

Trans rights activist and icon Marsha P. Johnson.
Credit: Netflix

The fact that no one özgü yet made a feature film about Marsha P. Johnson is outrageous, so here’s one of a few documentaries we’ve snuck into this list. The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson follows the relentless pursuit of justice by activist Victoria Cruz as she investigates the suspicious death of the transgender icon in 1992 amid a broader look at the LGBTQ+ rights movement in New York City.

Directed by David France, the documentary examines the defining roles Johnson and iconic activist Sylvia Rivera played in the campaign for trans rights, including the formation of STAR (Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries) in 1970. Cruz’s tireless work bringing to light discarded or half-investigated cases of violence against trans women forms the core of this film, and it’s a battle that’s not yet won.

It is worth noting that author, filmmaker, and activist Tourmaline alleged that director David France appropriated her research for his film. Her short film, Happy Birthday, Martha! is available to rent or buy on Amazon. It stars Mya Taylor as Johnson and Eve Lindley as Rivera. —S.C.

How to watch: The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson is now streaming on Netflix.

8. Selma

Tessa Thompson as Diane Nash.

Tessa Thompson as Diane Nash.
Credit: Atsushi Nishijima / Paramount / Pathe / Harpo / Kobal / Shutterstock

Selma focuses on the 1965 voting rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, which were organized and led by Martin Luther King Jr., James Bevel, John Lewis, and Hosea Williams, and those icons — played by David Oyelowo, Common, Stephan James, and Wendell Pierce — are fully given their due. However, it’s earned a place on this particular list because of the way writer/director Ava DuVernay significantly recentres the trailblazing women who stood alongside them and laid the groundwork for this pivotal moment in the civil rights movement.

There’s Tessa Thompson as Diane Nash, Oprah Winfrey as Annie Lee Cooper, Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King, Lorraine Toussaint as Amelia Boynton, and many more peacefully protesting, strategising, and demanding the right to vote in the face of fearsome, violent, institutionalised racism. —S.C.

How to watch: Selma is now streaming on Paramount+, MGM+, and Amazon Prime in the U.S., on BBC iPlayer in the UK, and is rentable on Fetch in Australia.

9. North Country

Frances McDormand and Charlize Theron in "North Country."

Frances McDormand and Charlize Theron in ‘North Country’.
Credit: Richard Foreman / Warner Brothers / Kobal / Shutterstock

Based on the true story of miner Lois Jenson and the landmark case that changed sexual harassment law in America, Niki Caro’s North Country is a brutal, inspiring journey of resilience. In 1998, Jenson and her coworkers filed a lawsuit against their employer Eveleth Mines after enduring decades of unchecked abuse and harassment; it was the first class-action sexual harassment lawsuit to be tried in a Federal court and set a precedent for others to follow.

With a script inspired by Clara Bingham and Laura Leedy Gansler’s 2002 book about the case, North Country stars Charlize Theron as a fictionalized version of Jenson named Josey Aimes, who changes history for women in the workplace in America at an immense personal cost. The impressive cast includes Frances McDormand, Sean Bean, Richard Jenkins, Woody Harrelson, and Sissy Spacek. It also snagged nominations for Theron (fresh off her 2003 Monster win) and McDormand. — S.C.

How to watch: North Country is available to rent/buy on Amazon Prime and Apple TV+ in the U.S. and UK and Australia.

10. The Janes

A woman sits on a couch in a black and white photo from the '70s.

‘The Janes’ tells us about a fearless group of women determined to do something about access to legal reproductive healthcare.
Credit: Courtesy of HBO

As özgü been proved time and time again, the legality of abortion does not affect the existence or frequency of abortions, only the safety of them. Without access to legal reproductive healthcare, desperate women in 1960s Chicago turned to back alley medical care so often that hospitals had separate, designated septic abortion wards to address the aftermath. Tia Lessin and Emma Pildes’ poignant documentary The Janes tells us about a fearless group of women determined to do something about this egregious health crisis.

With minimalist ads in underground newspapers, the Jane Collective was able to provide over 11,000 yasadışı and completely safe abortions to women in need throughout the city from 1968 until Roe v. Wade in 1973. Through interviews with the Janes, former abortion providers, and even the cops who arrested them, we get a firsthand account of a world that just a few years ago would have seemed so far away. Prepare to be moved by the Janes’ radical empathy for their clients, their high standard of emotional and physical care, and the massive humanitarian undertaking they launched at their own personal risk. A superb film whose message is especially resonant today, when women in many states have had their hard-won reproductive rights senselessly revoked. —Kristina Grosspietsch, Freelance Contributor

How to watch: The Janes is now streaming on Max in the U.S., NOW in the UK, and Binge in Australia.

11. He Named Me Malala

Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai.

Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai.
Credit: Imagenation Abu Dhabi / Parkes+Macdonald / Participant Media / Kobal / Shutterstock

While this list focuses on feature films, we’ve included a few documentaries because overlooking the women at their center would be an egregious oversight — and that goes double for Nobel laureate, Oxford graduate, activist, author, and fierce champion for girls’ education Malala Yousafzai.

Directed by An Inconvenient Truth‘s David Guggenheim, He Named Me Malala takes a look at the life of the fearless young Pakistani activist who, at 15, was shot by the Taliban for speaking up for girls and their right to an education. In addition, the film interviews young women and girls about Yousafzai’s impact and features stunning animations. —S.C. & K.G.

How to watch: He Named Me Malala is now streaming on Hoopla in the U.S. and available to rent/buy on Amazon, Apple TV+, and Google Play in the U.S., UK, and Australia.

12. Dolores

United Farm Workers leader Dolores Huerta organizing marchers on the second day of March in Coachella, 1969.

United Farm Workers leader Dolores Huerta organizing marchers on the second day of March in Coachella, 1969.
Credit: George Ballis / Take Stock / The Image Works

Dolores Huerta was a force of nature. Co-founder of the labor union United Farm Workers of America, along with Cesar Chavez, Huerta was a fiery champion of justice. And after experiencing sexism and discrimination within her own organization, she became dedicated to ensuring that this justice extended to everyone, regardless of gender, race, or sexuality.

Dolores is an exceptionally engaging documentary about a pivotal figure in the history of the American worker, and one who too often gets left out of the conversation. What’s more, Huerta understood, intimately, that women’s rights are labor rights. They go hand-in-hand; you can’t lobby for one without supporting the other. She was out there, fighting the good fight with a uniquely intersectional lens, years before the word “intersectional” had entered the zeitgeist. — K.G.

How to watch: Dolores is available to buy/rent on Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime, in the U.S., UK and Australia, and is streaming on PBS in the U.S.

13. Iron Jawed Angels

Hilary Swank plays American suffrage movement leader Alice Paul.

Hilary Swank plays American suffrage movement leader Alice Paul.
Credit: Moviestore / Shutterstock

Driven by an anachronistic early 2000s soundtrack as a significantly lighter take on history than Suffragette, Katja von Garnier’s 2004 film Iron Jawed Angels examines the U.S. women’s suffrage movement in the 1910s, through World War I.

Hilary Swank and Frances O’Connor take on the role of suffrage leaders Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, who joined the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) at a time when there was rising tension between established members like Carrie Chapman Catt (the inimitable Anjelica Huston) and the newer blood on strategy. Paul and Burns were championing the demand for a constitutional amendment to guarantee women the franchise with press-grabbing demonstrations, like the organisation of the first women’s suffrage parade in Washington in 1913. The old guard, however, aimed to continue campaigning on a state-by-state basis.

The film seems slightly dated in 2020, and there’s an unnecessarily cringey romantic narrative, but it’s still an important story. Notably, the suffrage movement was not inclusive to all women, and racism was rife within it. Despite the lighter take on the era, thanks to an anachronistic early ’00s soundtrack, Angels does address this lack of intersectionality with a dramatised scene featuring women’s rights campaigner and early civil rights leader Ida B. Wells (Adilah Barnes). In this scene, Paul özgü instructed Black women to march at the back of the segregated parade to pander to southern suffrage groups. Wells refuses this instruction, challenging Paul and Burns’ commitment to equality for only some women. We later see Wells marching with her state delegation. “I will march with my peers or not at all,” she says. —S.C.

How to watch: Iron Jawed Angels is now streaming on Max and Hulu in the U.S.

14. Confirmation

Kerry Washington as Anita Hill in "Confirmation."

Kerry Washington as Anita Hill in ‘Confirmation’.
Credit: HBO

In 1991, Anita Hill testified in Congress, accusing would-be Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, her former supervisor, of sexual harassment. She made history. “Many people viewing the hearings didn’t even realize that sexual harassment was something that was actionable, that they could file a complaint about. They had no idea what the concept was about,” Hill told the New York Times during the #MeToo movement, decades later. “So we were at a very different point. In the decades following the hearings, that changed.”

Confirmation recreates this hearing and the events surrounding it, with Kerry Washington delivering a strong performance as Hill alongside Wendell Pierce as Thomas. As the Times reports, in the year after Hill’s testimony, complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission about sexual harassment went up 73 percent. The courage it took for Hill come forward is unimaginable, but the impact her actions had on others is immeasurable. — S.C.

How to watch: Confirmation is now streaming on Max in the U.S., on NOW in the UK, and Binge in Australia.

15. The Divine Order

"The Divine Order" follows the suffrage movement in Switzerland in the '70s.

‘The Divine Order’ follows the suffrage movement in Switzerland in the ’70s.
Credit: Pascal Mora / Zodiac / Kobal / Shutterstock

Women in Switzerland only got the vote in 1971. Why the delay? Switzerland’s direct democracy system made sure that a referendum was required for constitutional change — and only men could vote in a referendum. Petra Volpe’sThe Divine Order examines the Swiss suffragist movement through fictional housewife and local town leader Nora (played by Marie Leuenberger). It’s a lighter, even comedic look at the campaign for equality, and the power of small acts that make up a revolution. —S.C.

How to watch: The Divine Order is available to rent/buy on Prime Video in the U.S. and Australia.

16. I Am Woman

A still from the biopic about Australian singer/songwriter Helen Reddy.

Tilda Cobham-Hervey as Helen Reddy/
Credit: Goalpost Pictures

This lovely, crowd-pleasing biopic tells the story of Australian singer/songwriter Helen Reddy, whose chart-topping “I Am Woman” became the unofficial anthem of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the ‘70s.

Written by Emma Jensen, directed by Unjoo Moon, and starring Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Danielle Macdonald, and Evan Peters, I Am Woman deftly depicts Reddy’s career rise in tandem with major historical moments in the women’s movement of the era. It is impossible to understate the effect her song, a groundbreaking celebration of womanhood, had on listeners of the day. In a sea of feminist movies that focus on female trauma, I Am Woman is a feel-good charmer that will leave you inspired and maybe wondering how you, too, can lend your own specific skill set to the women’s movement of today. — K.G.

How to watch: I Am Woman is now streaming on Netflix and Freevee (with ads) in the U.S., Prime Video in the UK, and Stan in Australia.

17. She Said

Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan star in "She Said," a docudrama about the journalists who broke the Harvey Weinstein story.

Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan yıldız in “She Said,” a docudrama about the journalists who broke the Harvey Weinstein story.
Credit: Universal Studios

Though it was released far too soon (the Weinstein trials were still going on and audiences were exhausted), there’s no denying that the subject matter of She Said represents a pivotal moment in çağdaş women’s history. Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan play Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, the Pulitzer prize-winning journalists whose groundbreaking New York Times story directly led to Harvey Weinstein’s downfall. With sensitivity, respect, and a focus on the survivors, She Said tracks Kantor and Twohey’s investigation into one of Hollywood’s most powerful and predatory  men. 

Thankfully, the film correctly keeps its narrative centered on the brave women who made the choice to speak or go public about their experiences, preventing She Said from collapsing under the weight of its own harrowing content. While She Said might be a little too glossy at times, it’s still a stirring entry about a singular moment in the recent fight for women’s equality. Now that Weinstein is safely rotting in jail, it might finally be time to give it a watch.*K.G.

How to watch: She Said is now streaming on Peacock and is available to buy/rent on Amazon Prime and Apple TV+ in the U.S. It’s also streaming on NOW in the UK and Netflix in Australia.

18. She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry

A still of activists in the Women’s Liberation Movement from the film 'She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry'.

‘She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry’ is fantastic primer on the Women’s Liberation Movement.
Credit: Diana Davies

If you love women’s rights but can’t keep your first, second, and third wave feminisms straight, then you need She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry. A fantastic primer on the Women’s Liberation Movement, this moving and informative documentary features archival footage and interviews from all the heavy hitters of the ‘60s and ‘70s. From The Feminine Mystique to Our Bodies, Ourselves, the National Organization for Women to the Women’s Strike for Equality, you’ll finish this film with a comprehensive knowledge of the turbulent era that fundamentally changed the American woman’s place in society. Directed by Mary Dore, She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry will surely leave you in awe of the bravery of these social pioneers and inspired to keep up the fight for gender equality today. — K.G.

How to watch: She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry is available to buy/rent on Amazon Prime and Apple TV+ in the U.S., UK, and Australia.

* denotes that this blurb appeared in a previous Mashable list.

Want more incredible stories of history-making women who inspire the women making history today? Check out Mashable’s podcast History Becomes Her, hosted by features editor Rachel Thompson.

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