Amid a turbulent year for the film industry with dwindling theatrical releases and shuffling release slates, only nine wide release films from major studios had a female director in 2022 — and six of them came from just one studio.
In TheWrap’s annual survey of theatrical releases with at least one female director, Sony Pictures led its Hollywood peers with six of its 13 theatrical wide releases featuring female directors. On the flip side, Disney, Paramount and Lionsgate had entirely male-only wide release slates.
Paramount gave one film directed by a woman (Sanaa Lathan’s “On the Come Up”) a limited day-and-date release, while Disney moved one female-directed title (Domee Shi’s Pixar animated feature “Turning Red”) from theaters to streaming and shifted another to 2023. And Lionsgate, which has hired only one female filmmaker since 2016, released only four films on at least 1,500 screens — none directed by women.
Since TheWrap began doing its annual survey of theatrical films from Hollywood’s top studios in 2016, there has been some progress. Through the mid-2010s, several studios each year had theatrical slates with an all-male directors list. But in the wake of #MeToo, more women from Ava DuVernay to Chloé Zhao have been hired for studio films ranging from personal dramas to tentpole blockbusters, and in 2019, all six top studios released at least one film directed by a woman for the first time in industry history.
But in 2022, theatrical film releasing was crippled by the pandemic, with only 57 films surveyed this year from the top six studios — compared to around 100 in pre-pandemic years. (The Warner Bros. slate, for instance, featured fewer theatrical releases as part of a studio directive issued prior to its merger with Discovery.) While that number should significantly increase in 2023, Hollywood has spent the last year dealing with backlogs in the production pipeline due to vendors not being able to handle the renewed demand from film/TV projects trying to make up for time lost to the pandemic.
At the same time, some films have been pulled from theatrical release entirely, either being sold to streamers like Amazon and Netflix or placed exclusively on streaming services. And many studios have also expanded the production of streaming-first features that cast a different light on efforts to diversify their talent pipelines.
Darnell Hunt, dean of Social Sciences at UCLA and co-author of UCLA’s biannual Hollywood Diversity Report, said that his team found that people of color drove viewing both for streaming and theatrical films last year and that studios are responding by making films with more diverse casts and stories specifically for their streaming services. This has meant more productions and acquisitions of films with women as directors.
“While there’s some overlap with some films coming out in theaters and on streaming at the same time, we did find in 2021 that there was a higher number and percentage of films directed by women and people of color made for streaming than for theaters,” he said. “It suggests that streaming is creating more opportunities for filmmakers from underrepresented groups.”
While recent blockbusters like Cate Shortland’s “Black Widow” and Chloé Zhao’s “Eternals” show that women are starting to get hired to direct the top studio tentpoles — with Marvel Studios in particular making big strides towards director diversity — TheWrap’s survey shows that Hollywood still has a long way to go to making it routine to hire women for such projects.
The good news is that with studios now devoting blockbuster-level budgets to a good number of streaming films and series, the pool of women with experience directing on high budgets may soon expand. It was just four years ago that Ava DuVernay became the first woman of color to direct a film with a budget of over $100 million with Disney’s “A Wrinkle In Time.” But next year Nia DaCosta, director of “Little Woods” and “Candyman,” will direct the Marvel Studios film “The Marvels” starring Brie Larson and Teyonnah Parris.
Here is our studio-by-studio breakdown of TheWrap’s 2022 female director survey below.
Nearly half of the Culver City-based studio’s 13 films this year had a female director — and came from a wide range of genres, including Iris K. Shim’s horror film “Umma,” Kasi Lemmons’ biopic “Whitney Houston: I Wanna Dance With Somebody” and Gina Prince-Bythewood’s historical epic “The Woman King” starring Viola Davis as the leader of the all-female African military regiment known as the Dahomey Amazons.
This year Sony also released Jessica Thompson’s horror film “The Invitation,” Rosalind Ross’ true-story inspirational film “Father Stu” and Olivia Newman’s adaptation of the drama novel “Where the Crawdads Sing.” Of those movies, “Crawdads” was the most successful at the box office with $90 million domestic and $140 million worldwide, with “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” coming out at Christmas.
Reps for Sony also noted that the studio has eight more announced films from female filmmakers in active development, including S.J. Clarkson’s upcoming Marvel movie “Madame Web,” Eva Longoria’s “Spa Day” and Sony Animation’s “K-POP: Demon Hunters,” which is co-directed by Maggie Kang and Chris Applehans.
It’s also worth noting that while our tally had Sony releasing two films directed by women last year out of 14 wide releases, it could have been four. The studio also had the Kay Cannon musical “Cinderella” and Jennifer Kluska’s “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania” on the theatrical slate, but both films were sold to Amazon, which released them on streaming via Amazon Prime.
Disney can blame its theatrical release strategy for why it has zero representation from female directors on its slate. Shi’s acclaimed Pixar film “Turning Red” jumped from theaters to Disney+, where it received critical acclaim and strong viewership. And earlier this year, Marvel Studios shifted Nia DaCosta’s “The Marvels” from a late 2022 release spot to summer 2023.
“The Marvels” is one of two films with female directors set for theatrical release by Disney next year, the other being the animated film “Wish,” directed by Fawn Veerasunthorn alongside “Frozen” co-director Chris Buck.
On the streaming side, Disney+ released a trio of exclusive films from female directors this year in addition to “Turning Red”: a “Cheaper by the Dozen” remake from Gail Lerner, Julia Hart’s sequel “Hollywood Stargirl” and Anne Fletcher’s “Hocus Pocus 2.” That is four out of 14 Disney+ exclusive feature films released this year, or 28.5%.
Women were also helmed some major Disney+ series, including “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” which was directed by Deborah Chow, and the critically acclaimed “Ms. Marvel,” which had four episodes directed by Meera Meron and Oscar winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy.
That streaming focus also extends to Disney’s indie wing, Searchlight Pictures, which released three films from women exclusively on Hulu: the Sundance acquisitions “Fresh” from Mimi Cave and “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” from Sophia Hyde, along with Quinn Shephard’s satire “Not Okay” starring Zoey Deutch. By contrast, Searchlight’s four theatrical releases this year — “See How They Run,” “The Banshees of Inisherin,” “The Menu” and “Empire of Light” — were all directed by men.
A spokesperson for Searchlight said that the studio has six in-house productions set for future release with principal shooting wrapped, including Eva Longoria’s “Flamin’ Hot,” Tina Mabry’s “Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat,” and Marielle Heller magical realism film “Nightbitch.” It has not been decided whether these films will be released theatrically or become Hulu exclusives.
Despite having a renaissance year at the box office, Paramount has only released three films from women since TheWrap began this survey six years ago: Clea DuVall’s “The Renaissance” in 2016, Reed Morano’s “The Rhythm Section” in 2020, and Sanaa Lathan’s “On the Come Up,” which got a day-and-date limited release this past September alongside its streaming release on Paramount+.
But there are signs of change. Reps for Paramount say that the studio, where Brian Robbins replaced Jim Gianopulos as CEO in September 2021, has 22 theatrical projects with female filmmakers attached both announced and unannounced. Robbins named Daria Cercek as co-president of Paramount’s film division last year alongside Mike Ireland, and the studio has continued its support of AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women under the new CEO’s leadership.
Among the seven announced projects are a newly announced Bee Gees biopic directed by Lorene Scafaria historical epic, an adaptation of “Mean Girls: The Musical” co-directed by Samantha Jayne, Lindsey Beer’s prequel of the Stephen King horror classic “Pet Sematary,” and the sci-fi thriller “Brilliance,” which Will Smith is set to star and produce in with Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy directing in her narrative feature debut.
In addition, Nickelodeon Animation is developing a “SpongeBob SquarePants” spinoff movie around Spongebob’s squirrel friend Sandy Cheeks with Liza Johnson attached to direct, as well as an “Avatar: The Last Airbender” film with Lauren Montgomery directing. Both films were greenlit by Nickelodeon Animation president Ramsey Naito.
Prior to its merger with Discovery, Warner Bros. had pivoted to a strategy that would see it release fewer films than before the pandemic, with a focus on franchise titles and low-budget horror.
New CEO David Zaslav has promised a reversal of this strategy, but this year the studio only launched eight films in theaters — and the only one with a female director was Olivia Wilde’s New Line horror film “Don’t Worry Darling” starring Florence Pugh and Harry Styles, which grossed a middling $45 million domestic and $86 million globally. While the studio is continuing to produce women-directed films exclusively for HBO Max, such as Megan Park’s “The Fallout,” it is unclear how many will be produced — and how many will hire women to direct — given Warner Bros. Discovery’s planned spending cuts.
For now, Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema have 14 announced films with female directors in active development, including Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie,” which is expected in theaters in 2023. Other films in development include a new animated adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ “The Cat in the Hat” co-directed by Erica Rivinoja, Jennifer Coyle’s “Hello Kitty” and Ninja Thyberg’s remake of “The Witches of Eastwick.”
Universal had two films from women on its 2022 slate. The first, Kat Coiro’s romantic comedy “Marry Me,” was released in February simultaneously in theaters and on Peacock and only grossed $50 million worldwide. The other was Maria Schrader’s box office bomb “She Said,” which recounted the New York Times investigation that brought down Harvey Weinstein and started the #MeToo movement.
A spokesperson for Universal said the studio has just over two dozen films in various stages of development with women at the helm, including “Nomadland” director Chloé Zhao’s take on “Dracula” and a pair of films from Elizabeth Banks, including the black comedy thriller “Cocaine Bear” that’s currently due in theaters in February. Other projects include “Praise This” from Tina Gordon, who directed the comedy “Little” for Universal in 2019, and a biopic about Madonna that the pop star will direct herself.
Lionsgate’s efforts to diversify its talent pipeline are starting to bear fruit, though the studio’s wide release slate doesn’t show it.
In 2022, Lionsgate pivoted to a film strategy dominated by movies that were either released exclusively for digital on-demand and its Starz streaming service or received a limited release in theaters while hitting home release simultaneously. Some of the films that received the latter treatment include Anna Gutto’s thriller “Paradise Highway,” Sonja O’Hara’s horror film “Mid-Century” and the Tribeca Film Festival acquisition “The Good House” co-directed by Maya Forbes, while the four Lionsgate films that got a wide theatrical release this year were all directed by men.
Mary Nighy’s thriller “Alice, Darling” is scheduled for a limited release on Dec. 30 with plans for a wider release early in 2023. Kelly Fremon Craig’s adaptation of Judy Blume’s “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” is also currently set for a spring 2023 release, while other projects like Sherren Lee’s “Float” and “Crazy Rich Asians” writer Adele Lim’s yet-to-be-titled directorial debut are also currently aiming for releases next year.