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Womanhood is something to be celebrated every day — but 8 March is UNESCO-recognised International Women’s Day, and there’s no better way to mark the occasion than with some films with a female lead.

On International Women’s Day, we remember those who have championed the cause of women’s rights, spread the spirit of equality, thwarted all societal limitations and set an example for generations to come.

Female actors have held an instrumental position in the global film industry; their contribution and talent are irreplaceable. From legendary actors like Meryl Streep, Audrey Hepburn and more, women have portrayed roles that have become immortal on the big screen. Here are some of the best films with a female lead to watch now.

Films with a female lead to watch on International Women’s Day

The Iron Lady (2011)

The Iron Lady
Image credit: The Iron Lady / IMDb

Directed by Phyllida Lloyd, The Iron Lady sees Meryl Streep as the former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. Doing absolute justice to the role, she shines as an ageing politician who is unable to accept the recent loss of her husband; the vision of him and his dreams haunt her while she executes her political duties.

This film charts Thatcher’s journey from girlhood to womanhood, as she takes charge of the office — a strong female lead indeed. Also stars Richard E Grant and Jim Broadbent in key roles.

Watch The Iron Lady here.

The Devil Wears Prada (2006)

Movies to watch on International Women's Day: The Devil Wears Prada
Image credit: The Devil Wears Prada via IMDb

Based on the 2003 novel by Lauren Weisberger, The Devil Wears Prada is an American drama with a star-studded cast directed by David Frenkel. Meryl Streep dons the hat of strict boss Miranda Priestly, editor of luxury fashion publication Runway. Anne Hathaway plays the role of her second assistant Andrea Sachs (aka. Andy) and Emily Blunt appears as Miranda’s chief assistant (with the same name).

Andy doesn’t have any idea about haute couture and luxury fashion; she immediately finds herself as a fish-out-of-water in Miranda’s posh office. In an attempt to please her boss, she ends up working late into the night, while Emily, condescends her. The only form of support Andy gets is from art director Nigel (Stanley Tucci). Streep shines as the highly-accomplished and demanding boss who teaches a tough lesson to those who undermine her, while Hathaway puts up a brilliant performance as the new recruit.

Watch The Devil Wears Prada here.

Little Women (2019)

Films with female leads: Little Women
Image credit: Little Women via IMDb

Little Women, the highly acclaimed novel by Louisa May Alcott, was released in two volumes in 1868 and 1869 — it continues to be relevant and inspire filmmakers today.

Directed by Greta Gerwig, the 2019 adaptation sees the four March sisters — Meg (Emma Watson), Jo (Saoirse Ronan), Beth (Eliza Scanlen) and Amy (Florence Pugh) — living in genteel poverty in a town in Massachusetts. They stay with their mother (Laura Dern) as their father serves as a military chaplain during the American Civil War. The girls also befriend their next-door neighbour Theodore Lawrence, aka Laurie (Timothée Chalamet), the grandson of a wealthy old man.

Strong-headed tomboy Jo becomes the family’s emotional backbone, contrasting with her beautiful sister Meg. We get a peek into the lives of these sisters and the situations that change around them (including illness), and a glimpse of old Massachusetts come alive with Gerwig’s own modern touch. The strong persona of Jo makes for a vivid character, with brilliant dialogue. A beautiful watch.

Watch Little Women here.

Erin Brockovich (2000)

Movies to watch on International Women's Day: Erin Brockovich
Image credit: Erin Brockovich via IMDb

This Universal Studios movie is based on the true story of legal and consumer advocate Erin Brockovich, a single mother who took up the cause of safe and clean drinking water for the people of Hinkley, a southern Californian community. Julia Roberts bagged the Oscar for Best Actress for portraying the titular role.

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) set up a power plant in the area. To prevent the machinery from rusting they use a chemical substance that eventually trickles into Hinkley’s water supply. Erin takes it upon herself to file a lawsuit against PG&E and a long, hard battle follows.

The power-packed performance by Roberts and the adept direction of Steven Soderbergh bring out the gravity of the situation. Celebrating the bold spirit of a mother, Erin Brockovich is one movie you must watch on International Women’s Day.

Watch Erin Brockovich here.

Hidden Figures (2016)

Movies to watch on International Women's Day: Hidden Figures
Image credit: Hidden Figures via IMDb

A story of passion, determination and perseverance. 20th Century Studios summarises the plot as, “The incredible untold story of Katherine Jonson (Taraji P Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) — brilliant African-American women working at NASA who served as the brains behind the launch into orbit of astronaut John Glenn, a stunning achievement that turned around the space race. The visionary trio crossed all gender and racial lines and inspired generations.”

Directed by Theodore Melfi, the three female leads’ journey to achieving the near-impossible, shattering glass ceilings and breaking away from societal pressures makes the film a beautiful watch.

Watch Hidden Figures here

Legally Blonde (2001)

Movies to watch on International Women's Day: Legally Blonde
Image credit: Legally Blonde via IMDb

Reese Witherspoon plays the role of a “typical Californian blonde” — Elle Woods, with couture dresses, finely-manicured hands, a band of fabulous friends and the most-wanted boyfriend on campus (Warner Huntington III played by Matthew Davis). But her life flips when Warner leaves her and enrols at Harvard to pursue law. Elle decides to take matters into her own hands, following him to Harvard to win him back. From there, it looks like a smooth ride but fate has other things in store.

Legally Blonde got a sequel in 2003 and news of a third film is doing the rounds with media reports suggesting Mindy Kailing will co-write the project.

Watch Legally Blonde here.

Parched (2015)

Image credit: Parched via IMDb

Patriarchy, love, friendship and a yearning for freedom tie the four female leads in this Leena Yadav film.

Set against the backdrop of an arid Northwestern India, Parched depicts intertwined stories of four women — Rani (Tannishtha Chatterjee), Lajjo (Radhika Apte), Bijli (Surveen Chawla) and Janaki (Lehar Khan).

The women struggle through societal oppressions of marital and familial rape, sexual assault, domestic violence and poverty. Rani struggles to get her son Gulab (Riddhi Sen) married, and he has his own lecherous motives. Lajjo, is childless and wants to conceive. Bijli is an erotic dancer who is desired by all the men in their village but comes to the verge of being replaced by a young attractive new girl. And Janaki is Gulab’s bride. The four women share their hopes, wants and even have fun in their own way away from the prying eyes of society.

20 30 40 (2004)

Movies to watch on International Women's Day: 20 30 40
Image credit: 20 30 40/ Netflix

Taipei-born director and actor Sylvia Chang portrays the many struggles of womanhood and crises in the lighthearted comedy 20 30 40.

The film stars Chang as Lily Zhao, Rene Liu as Xiang Xiang and Angelica Lee as Xiao Jie — in various ages of their lives, with their own set of struggles and issues. The youngest, Xiao Jie, is a 20-year-old woman who has left her home in Malaysia for a pop career in Taipei. Xiang Xiang comes next, in her thirties, as a flight attendant torn between her affair with a married man and a young lover. The oldest, middle-aged Lily Zhao, returns to the dating scene, after divorcing her husband due to his infidelity.

Watch 20 30 40 here.

The Call (2020)

Image credit: The Call/ Netflix

The Call treads on the lines of time travel and horror, featuring two women from different periods; Seo-Yeon (Park Shin-Hye) lives in the present while Young-sook (Jeon Jong-seo) lives in the past, in 1999. Both are connected by a phone call. What follows next is eerie and haunting.

It is enigmatic to watch a horror film with two strong female leads. An ideal recipe for a heart-pumping experience, Chung-Hyun Lee doesn’t disappoint, making this a different kind of film to watch on International Women’s Day.

Watch The Call here.

Queen (2013)

Movies to watch on International Women's Day
Image credit: Queen via IMDb

Kangana Ranaut delivers her best performance as Rani in Queen. A young girl from Delhi, Rani studies Home Science and her head is full of fairytales. She fantasies about getting married to her prince charming Vijay (Rajkummar Rao) but reality hits her, hard, when he rejects her and cancels the wedding just a day before.

She decides to spend some time on herself and goes for her honeymoon in Paris alone. On the trip she meets Vijayalakshmi (Lisa Haydon) and embarks on a crazy journey of self love, self discovery and freedom in this high-grossing and critically-acclaimed Vikas Bahl directorial.

Watch Queen here.

(Main and feature image credit: The Devil Wears Prada/IMDb)

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