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Hollywood Sexist? Female Directors Still Missing in Action

In 2013, Hollywood saw big box office hits with Jennifer Lawrence in “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” Sandra Bullock in “Gravity” and Melissa McCarthy (and Bullock again) in “The Heat.” But none of these girl-power sagas were directed by a woman.

It’s the same old story. Four years after Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win the directing Oscar for “The Hurt Locker,” the industry still has a terrible track record on gender equality behind the camera. As we head into awards season, the Oscar buzz is all about the guys (see Alfonso Cuaron, Steven McQueen, David O. Russell, Paul Greengrass, Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Spike Jonze, etc.).

Women did not direct any tentpole features in 2013 with the exception of Disney’s animated “Frozen,” made by the duo Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee. The most successful movie directed solely by a woman was Kimberly Peirce’s remake of “Carrie,” which ranked No. 77 for the year at the domestic box office with $35.3 million.

Such statistics are always discouraging. In 2011, 5 percent of the top-grossing 250 films were directed by women; in 2012, it was 9 percent, according to a study by San Diego State U.’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film. But those numbers, as bad as they are, get worse when you consider big-budget releases. Variety found that in 2013, only two of the top-grossing 100 movies of the year were directed by women.

Here are the 10 most successful titles.

1. “Frozen
Directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
$263.1 million
Actual rank: 6

It only took 76 years after “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” for Disney to hire a woman director for one of its animated princess stories, which naturally skew toward female audiences. “What we’re always told in the industry is the audience you want is men, 18 to 25,” Lee told Variety in the fall. But “Frozen,” one of the biggest hits of the holiday season, is proof that’s not always the case.

2. “Carrie”
Directed by Kimberly Peirce
$35.3 million
Actual rank: 77

Peirce made her directorial debut with 1999’s “Boys Don’t Cry,” but her follow-up (2008’s “Stop-Loss”) was a commercial disappointment. At the time of “Carrie’s” fall release, she talked to the New York Times Magazine’s Mary Kaye Schilling about the heartbreaking years she tried–and failed–to get her own ideas turned into movies. She agreed to helm the Stephen King remake starring Chloe Moretz after Sony offered her the project.

3. “Enough Said”
Directed by Nicole Holofcener
$17.5 million
Actual rank: 112

For the last 15 years, Holofcener has been one of the more distinct voices in the indie film world. Her five films—including 2006’s “Friends with Money” and 2002’s “Lovely and Amazing”—have all garnered critical acclaim, but her latest (starring Julia Louis-Drefyus and James Gandolfini) is her most successful picture to date.

4. “Tyler Perry Presents Peeples”
Directed by Tina Gordon Chism
$9.2 million
Actual rank: 128

“Peeples,” which co-starred Kerry Washington, marked the bigscreen directorial debut for Chism, who is now developing a series for HBO. In a year that saw box office successes from Lee Daniels (“The Butler”), Antoine Fuqua (“White House Down”), Tyler Perry (“A Madea Christmas”), Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”) and Ryan Coogler (“Fruitvale Station”), Hollywood still sorely lacks women directors of color.

5. “Black Nativity”
Kasi Lemmons
$7 million
Actual rank: 134

Lemmons (“Eve’s Bayou”) directed this musical adaptation of a Langston Hughes play that starred Jennifer Hudson, Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett. It turned out to be a holiday dud.

6. “The Bling Ring”
Directed by Sofia Coppola
$5.8 million
Actual rank: 139

Coppola’s most successful movie, “Lost in Translation,” earned her an Oscar nomination. But since then, she’s struggled to be a box office draw. Her other recent feature, 2010’s “Somewhere,” grossed only $1.8 million. “The Bling Ring,” with its cameo from Paris Hilton and Emma Watson in her meatiest post-Hermione Granger role, was entertaining enough that it should have done better.

7. “The To-Do List”
Directed by Maggie Carey
$3.5 million
Actual rank: 153

Carey directed and wrote this comedy starring Aubrey Plaza that was marketed as a female version of “American Pie.”

8. “In a World…”
Directed by Lake Bell
$3 million
Actual rank: 159

Bell — along with Natalie Portman and Angelina Jolie — is part of a generation of actresses making the transition to directing. Her Sundance debut, which she also stars in, is about a voiceover artist who wants to work on movie trailers, only Hollywood won’t let her. Says her character’s father: “Let’s face it, the industry does not crave a female sound.”

9. “Austenland”
Directed by Jerusha Hess
$2.2 million
Actual rank: 174

Hess, who co-wrote “Napoleon Dynamite” with husband Jared, couldn’t make the chick-lit novel adaptation of Jane Austen groupies (headlined by Keri Russell) work on the bigscreen. It received poor reviews and quickly vanished from the summer box office, despite a producing credit from “Twilight” author Stephenie Meyer.

10. “Blackfish”
Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite
$2.1 million
Actual rank: 176

This riveting documentary about killer whales in captivity does to SeaWorld what “Super Size Me” did to McDonald’s.

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