Ladies First

These Smart, Charming Movies Like 'Little Women' Put Female Leads First

Up first: Another version of ‘Little Women.’

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Movies Like Little Women
Wilson Webb © 2019 CTMG, Inc./Sony Pictures Releasing

Despite most people knowing the story of Little Women by heart, writer and director Greta Gerwig managed to breathe new life into Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel with her award-winning 2019 adaptation. The talented Gerwig smartly balanced all of the familiar plot points — Jo (Saoirse Ronan) and Laurie’s (Timothée Chalamet) doomed romance, Amy (Florence Pugh) and Jo’s prickly relationship — with flourishes from Alcott’s own life, including the interference she faced from her editor to make her story more commercial. The end result is a version of Little Women that feels smart and analytical, as well as warm — but the heart of the story remains, as always, the unbreakable bonds of the March sisters and their mother, Marmee. Happily, there are quite a few movies like Little Women out there, although each one embodies a different aspect of what makes the film so charming.

The first place any fan of the 2019 Little Women should start in their search for more stories with fascinating female leads is with a viewing of the 1994 version of Little Women. While it’s not as modern as Gerwig’s version, it adheres more closely to the book and is one of the warmest and coziest films you’ll ever have the pleasure of watching. It also has an incredible cast of actors, including Winona Ryder, Kirsten Dunst, Claire Danes, Susan Sarandon, and Christian Bale.

Once you’ve checked out that adaptation, you’ll be ready to move on to other films — some historical and some not — that place women at the center of the action or upend the expected tropes of period dramas. These include the witty 2020 take on Jane Austen’s Emma, Gerwig’s Lady Bird, and the moody 2011 version of Jane Eyre, among others. Read on for a collection of movies that Jo March herself would no doubt love.

Historical Movies That Will Give You Little Women Vibes

1. Emma (2020)

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The 2020 Emma feels like a direct descendant of Gerwig’s Little Women. Starring Anya Taylor-Joy as Austen’s most meddlesome heroine, the movie is a bit more acidic than any previous adaptation of Emma has been. However, even with its modern flourishes, the irrepressible chemistry between Emma and Knightley (Johnny Flynn) shines through in this funny and beautifully shot comedy of manners.

2. Brooklyn (2015)

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Like Little Women, Brooklyn casts Ronan in the starring role of a fierce young woman who is balancing her eagerness to strike out on her own with her commitment to her family. This time around, she plays Eilis, an Irish woman who moves to Brooklyn, where she falls in love with both a man, Tony (Emory Cohen), and the city itself. But it’s not long before her old life comes calling, leaving her with a heartbreaking choice to make.

3. The Favourite (2018)

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Released just one year before Little Women, The Favourite may have kicked off a trend in terms of Hollywood serving up historical films that are anything but stuffy. The movie follows a sickly Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) as she pits her two most beloved servants — played by Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz, respectively — against one another for her own amusement. It’s a wickedly funny tale that’s so good Colman won Best Actress at the Oscars, and that alone makes it a can’t miss.

4. The Personal History of David Copperfield (2019)

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This criminally underseen adaptation of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield is a true hidden gem. The movie stars Dev Patel as David, who occupies a version of Victorian London that’s anything but stuffy. Add in a script and direction from Veep mastermind Armando Iannucci, and you have a vibrant, funny, and wholly original take on a classic tale in the same vein as Little Women.

5. Love & Friendship (2016)

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Based on one of Austen’s lesser-known works, Lady Susan, Love & Friendship gets away with being a bit of a free-for-all in terms of plot. The film, which stars Kate Beckinsale as a widow who is eager to find her daughter a wealthy match, includes stunning costumes, a wonderfully wicked sense of humor, and a cast featuring some of Britain’s brightest stars. And on top of all that, it just happens to be the very definition of a romp, too.

More Movies To Watch If You Love Little Women

  1. Collette (2018)
  2. Becoming Jane (2007)
  3. Pride and Prejudice (2005)
  4. Sense and Sensibility (1995)
  5. The Color Purple (1985)
  6. Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)
  7. Bright Star (2009)
  8. To Walk Invisible (2016)
  9. Belle (2013)
  10. Far From the Madding Crowd (2015)
  11. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society (2018)
  12. Lady Bird (2017)
  13. Miss Potter (2006)
  14. Testament of Youth (2014)
  15. Jane Eyre (2011)
  16. A League of Their Own (1992)
  17. Now and Then (1995)
  18. A Quiet Passion (2016)
  19. Marie Antoinette (2006)
  20. The Great Gatsby (2013)
  21. Steel Magnolias (1989)
  22. Shirley (2020)
  23. I Capture the Castle (2003)
  24. Atonement (2007)
  25. Persuasion (1995)
  26. A Room with a View (1985)
  27. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)

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