The ‘Wonder Woman’ Effect: Female Directors Are Owning the Box Office This SummerIf stereotypes are to be believed, women aren’t very good at math, but I’ll give this a shot. This weekend, Wonder Woman brought in another $80.3 million at the global box office. Not bad. You know what’s even better? Last weekend, the movie’s second in theaters, it brought in more cash than the latest Tom-Cruise-runs-from-things movie, The Mummy. Thanks to a lot of good will, the drop between its first weekend and second weekend box office totals was smaller than almost any other superhero movie before it. By the time you finish this sentence, it’ll probably snag another million from somewhere, bringing its global haul to nearly $572 million. Again, I don’t have a head for numbers, but those look pretty good to me.
Wonder Woman’s opening weekend was the highest ever for a female director (Monster’s Patty Jenkins). That’s incredible by itself, but what’s more unreal is that she’s not alone. This past weekend, Rough Night, helmed by Broad City director Lucia Aniello, also brought in $8.1 million—not Wonder Woman money, but impressive considering “female comedy” was pretty much a non-starter before 2011’s Bridesmaids. Add in Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Iraq war drama Megan Leavey and Eleanor Coppola’s Paris Can Wait, and that’s four movies from female directors in the box office Top 20. (It would have been five movies, but Stella Meghie’s Everything, Everything, which had been in the Top 10 for a month, got edged out.) Having more than one or two female directors in the top spots isn’t unheard of (there was a brief period in 2015 when Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Fifty Shades of Grey, Ava DuVernay’s Selma, and the Wachowskis’ Jupiter Ascending were all there), but it’s exceptionally rare—especially in summer, and double-especially given the long tail Wonder Woman is displaying. In short, women are ruling the box office this summer.
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This is, of course, not literally true. This week, as with every one before it, the vast majority of movies in theaters making money are made by—and made for, and starring—dudes. But it does seem as though the pendulum is swinging ever so slightly toward the center. Whether it will continue is impossible to say, but even this much change cannot be denied.
For years, giving a woman a major franchise was a non-starter for Hollywood. Too risky, conventional wisdom said. Patty Jenkins, Gal Gadot, and every audience member who bought a ticket to their movie just disproved that. As does the support for Rough Night, Megan Leavey, and Paris Can Wait, all of which also have female stars. And there are even more female-fronted movies on deck this summer, which could end up making female representation in the box office’s top spots higher than it’s ever been before. The Beguiled, which just nabbed Sofia Coppola (daughter of Eleanor) the top director prize at the Cannes Film Festival, hits theaters in two weeks. An Inconvenient Sequel, codirected by Bonni Cohen, comes out next month, as does Ana Lily Amirpour’s The Bad Batch. (And, although a woman did not direct it, the Charlize Theron spy flick Atomic Blonde drops in July, too.) Then Kathryn Bigelow’s next big flick, Detroit, arrives the first week of August. With Valerian and new Spider-Man and Planet of the Apes movies on the way, it’s hard to imagine all of these flicks will live at the top of the box office, but if even four or five make it to the Top 20 it would be downright historic. (Two weeks ago, I emailed analyst Jeff Bock about the phenomenon of women topping the box office; he said having three female directors in the Top 10 was “probably as frequent as Halley’s Comet.” It happened just six days later.)
My producer just sent me this… ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE! This makes every hard day worth it. Thank you to whomever wrote it!!❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️ pic.twitter.com/3DzIaMueIh
— Patty Jenkins (@PattyJenks) June 11, 2017
What’s just as impressive, though, is that these movies aren’t just making money—they’re driving conversation. Wonder Woman has been a hot topic ever since Diana Prince charged to the top spot, and everyone is noticing. DuVernay and Oprah (Oprah!) went on Entertainment Tonight to cheer “Go, Patty!” Anonymous school employees are making lists of Wonder Woman-related things happening in their kindergarten classes. Even after the movie falls from the top spot, its impact will continue to resonate.
It seems trivial to reduce the success of female filmmakers to box-office digits. But that’s how Hollywood operates—filmmakers who make a lot of money get to make more movies. This weekend, films helmed by women made more than $52 million (about 28 percent of the total for the Top 20 movies, a number that was less than 7 percent this time last year). It’s been true for a long time, actually forever, that women can make films people want to see, but not everyone wanted to hear it. This summer, their movies are poised to make more bank than ever before—and those numbers don’t lie.
More women have blockbusters in theaters now than any summer before. And the season is just getting started.
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