You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Success of ‘Wonder Woman’ Could Pave Way for More Female Directors

The critical and commercial success of “Wonder Woman,” the first female superhero movie directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins, could be the catalyst that turns the tide for female directors angling to helm major studio films. Keeping the momentum going, however, will be a big challenge.

Although summer looks to be a strong season for women directors, nearly halfway into the year just a handful of female-led films have been announced by the majors. At this juncture, Sony Pictures has more movies helmed by women in its lineup than its competitors. Warner Bros. and Paramount, have not yet unveiled any new women-led films so far this year, and both declined to name projects in the works.

Overall, the studios say they’re working to hire more women as directors, but they have lots of ground to cover to even begin approaching parity. In 2016, men made up more than 90% of directors who worked on the 250 highest-grossing domestic releases, according to a recent study by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. The report found that rather than improving on previous years, the rate of female directors — 7% — dropped by two percentage points from 2015.

While Warners, the studio behind “Wonder Woman,” has not yet officially greenlit any new female-directed films this year, Variety has learned it is close to pushing the button on “The Kitchen,” a mob story set in 1970s New York, directed by Andrea Berloff. A spokesperson for Paramount, run by new CEO Jim Gianopulos, said the studio will “continue to seek out opportunities to work with a wide array of filmmakers across multiple mediums.” This summer, the studio is releasing “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power,” co-directed by Bonni Cohen.

Disney has four upcoming films led by female directors, including two announced this year: “Mulan,” by Niki Caro, and “Captain Marvel,” directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, expected in 2018 and 2019, respectively. “A Wrinkle in Time,” directed by Ava DuVernay, is due March 2018, and “Frozen 2,” with Jennifer Lee in the director’s chair, will be released in 2019. The studio’s production chief, Sean Bailey, said Disney has long embraced empowered female characters. Hiring women to helm those features is the next natural step: “It only makes sense that we really work hard to make sure we have more women behind the camera. We recognize it’s an imperative for the film industry.”

Meanwhile, Jennifer Yuh Nelson, director of the “Kung Fu Panda” sequels, is shooting “The Darkest Minds” for 20th Century Fox, the only female-helmed film the studio greenlit or acquired in the past 12 months. Its indie label, Fox Searchlight, has three upcoming movies directed by women: the documentary “Step,” by Amanda Lipitz; “Battle of the Sexes,” by Valerie Faris with Jonathan Dayton; and “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” by Marielle Heller. A Fox official said the studio added about 10 films with female directors to its pipeline over the last year.

Universal has two forthcoming releases with female directors on its schedule: The third installment of the “Pitch Perfect” franchise, from Trish Sie, is due in late December, and in April, the studio plans to release “The Pact,” directed by Kay Cannon. Focus Pictures, Universal’s specialty banner, will release two films this summer with female directors, including Sofia Coppola’s “The Beguiled,” which earned her the director award at the Cannes Film Festival. “Mary Queen of Scots,” by Josie Rourke, is slated for production this summer for Focus.

Sony has a spate of films helmed by women, including Gina Prince-Bythewood’s “Spider-Man” spinoff, “Silver Sable and Black Cat.” The release this week of “Rough Night,” the first R-rated comedy directed by a woman in nearly two decades, marks the feature directorial debut of “Broad City” director Lucia Aniello. Elizabeth Banks is directing a “Charlie’s Angels” reboot, expected in 2019, and Catherine Hardwicke will helm a remake of “Miss Bala,” the 2011 Mexican film about a beauty pageant contestant forced to work for a crime boss. Sony’s Tri-Star Pictures has tapped Michelle MacLaren for “The Nightingale,” a period piece based on the novel by Kristin Hannah, due in 2018.

Sony says it has moved deliberately to diversify its slate of directors, in part because it makes good business sense to meet consumer demand. “With ‘Silver Sable and Black Cat,’ not only is [Prince-Bythewood] the first African-American woman doing a Marvel movie, but her whole approach was just so cool,” said Columbia Pictures president Sanford Panitch. “She really had a great, original approach to it, and that’s clearly what the audience wants to see.”

Prince-Bythewood was happy to put the lie to stereotypes. “There is a narrative that women do not have the desire to make tentpole films, and worse, that we can’t,” she said. “Both are false. A good director is a good director. And the truth is, women can bring a fresh aesthetic.”

Jennifer Warren, co-founder of the Alliance of Women Directors, said she senses new momentum in the struggle for gender parity in Hollywood. “I do think the tide is turning,” she said, acknowledging the historically poor showing by studios in hiring women, even in recent years. “It is moving.”

With so few female-directed tentpoles, women face sky-high expectations that don’t necessarily apply to male directors, said CAA talent agent Maha Dakhil. While “Wonder Woman” “hit it out of the park, you can’t count on every single female filmmaker or any filmmaker to get it right every time,” she said. “We need to get to a place where the pressure is just the same for both genders.  … We should be allowed to make bad movies too. Then we can really talk about the fact that we’ve arrived.”

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • David Kehrl neuer Head of Acquisitions

    'Resident Evil's' Constantin Names Acquisitions, International Co-Production Chief

    David Kehrl is to join Constantin Film, Germany’s leading independent movie producer and distributor, as the head of acquisitions and international co-production. He will report to Martin Moszkowicz, chairman of the executive board at Constantin Film, which produces the “Resident Evil” movies. Starting in February, Kehrl will be responsible for the acquisition of international theatrical [...]

  • The Plague Season 2 Spanish TV

    Telefonica, Atresmedia to Create Content Factory Behemoth

    SAN SEBASTIAN  — In a game-changing move for Spanish-language production Telefonica, Europe’s third biggest telco, and Atresmedia, the original co-creators of “La Casa de Papel,” are uniting to create a new joint contents production giant. Aimed at gaining more scale and uniting talent relations – writers, directors and producers – the 50/50 joint venture will [...]

  • KKR-Backed German Media Conglomerate Finally Has

    KKR-Backed German Media Conglomerate Finally Has a Name: Leonine

    The KKR-backed German media company formed through the merger of Tele München Group, Universum Film, i&u TV, and Wiedemann & Berg Film finally has a name: Leonine. The company revealed its moniker Friday, saying that “Leonine” met its criteria of being associated with its home region of Bavaria and Munich, in southern Germany, and of [...]

  • Scattered Night

    San Sebastian New Directors Jihyoung Lee and Kim Sol Talk ‘Scattered Night’

    After taking the Korean Competition Grand Prize and the best acting award (Moon Seung-a) at the Jeonju Intl. Film Festival, “Scattered Night” now heads to San Sebastian’s New Directors selection. An intimate portrayal of a family whose members are deeply isolated from one another, the film follows two parents overwhelmed by their responsibilities, their own [...]

  • Johnnie To Quits Taiwan Golden Horse

    Johnnie To Quits Golden Horse Awards as China Builds Pressure

    Leading Hong Kong film maker Johnnie To has dropped out of the Golden Horse Awards, where he was set to be president of the jury deciding the prize winners. The awards, which take place in and are organized from Taiwan, have long been considered the most prestigious prizes in Chinese-language cinema. However they are currently [...]

  • Zeroville

    Film Review: 'Zeroville'

    I’m tired of hearing how some novels are “impossible to adapt.” Balderdash! Just because some books don’t lend themselves to being translated from page to screen doesn’t mean that the attempt ought not to be made. Just ask James Franco, who’s shown a speed freak’s determination to tackle some of the unlikeliest literary adaptations of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content