15% in 2020?!: Female Directors Show No Gains on This Year’s Studio Release Slates

Women are directing 15 of this year’s studio releases — the same as 2019 — though they are directing more big-budget tentpoles

Despite widespread attention on gender disparity in commercial filmmaking, the six biggest Hollywood studios are set to release just 15 films directed or co-directed by women in 2020 — the same number as last year, according to an analysis by TheWrap.

While the raw number is the same, one big change is what kind of films women are getting the chance to direct. While Disney was the only studio last year to have women direct major tentpoles like “Captain Marvel” and “Frozen II,” this year Disney and Warner Bros. have five big-budget franchise films directed by women: Niki Caro’s “Mulan,” Cate Shortland’s “Black Widow” and Chloe Zhao’s “Eternals” for Disney; and Cathy Yan’s “Birds of Prey” and Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman 1984” for Warner Bros.

“It looks probable that last year’s increases in the percentage of women working as directors may be sustained in 2020,” Martha Lauzen, executive director of Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, told TheWrap. In her most recent “Celluloid Ceiling” study, she found that women comprised a record 12% of directors working on the top 100 domestic grossing films in 2019, up from 4% in 2018 and 8% in 2017.

“That said, we have to recognize that whether we consider the top 100, 250, or 500 grossing films, women remain radically underrepresented as film directors. Even at the recent historic highs, the distance between 12% to 14% and parity is vast,” she said. “One reason increasing these numbers is so important is because directors serve as gatekeepers to women occupying other key behind-the-scenes roles.” Her research has found that films with a female director employed substantially more women in other key behind-the-scenes roles. For example, 43% of female-directed films hired a female editor, compared to 19% of films with only male directors.

Female Directors chart 2020

For this survey, TheWrap did not consider releases from art-house divisions like Searchlight and Sony Pictures Classics, which often rely on acquisitions as opposed to developing projects in-house and hiring the filmmakers involved. However, films from those divisions will be noted below, particularly since the majority of films set for release this year by Universal’s Focus Features are directed by women.

All studios included in our survey declined to comment or did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mulan 2020 Liu Yifei

DISNEY

The acquisition of 20th Century Fox — now 20th Century Studios — has made tallying Disney’s slate rather different this year. Of the nine non-Fox films being released by Hollywood’s top studio this year, four of them are directed by women and three of them are tentpoles. Niki Caro’s “Mulan,” Cate Shortland’s “Black Widow” and Chloe Zhao’s “Eternals” form the core of Disney’s box office hopes for 2020, and they are joined by Thea Sharrock’s ‘The One and Only Ivan,” due out in August.

On the 20th Century side, there is only one film currently slated that has a female director: Leigh Janiak’s adaptation of R.L. Stine’s “Fear Street,” currently slated for a June release.

Beyond wide release, Disney will also release another Chloe Zhao film, “Nomadland,” through Searchlight Pictures this year. The studio is also developing films from women for the Disney+ streaming service, such as Julia Hart’s adaptation of the YA novel “Stargirl.”

“Underwater” – 1/10 (William Eubank)
“The Call of the Wild” – 2/21 (Chris Sanders)
“Onward” – 3/6 (Dan Scanlon
“Mulan”  – 3/27 (Niki Caro)
“The New Mutants” – 4/3 (Josh Boone)
“Black Widow – 5/1 (Cate Shortland)
“The Woman In The Window” – 5/15 (Joe Wright)
“Artemis Fowl” – 5/29 (Kenneth Branagh)
“Soul” – 6/19 (Pete Docter)
“Fear Street” – 6/22 (Leigh Janiak)
“Free Guy” 7/3 (Shawn Levy)
“Bob’s Burgers: The Movie” – 7/17 (No director listed)
“Jungle Cruise” – 7/24 (Jaume Collet-Serra)
“The Empty Man” – 8/7 (David Prior)
“The One and Only Ivan” – 8/14 (Thea Sharrock)
“The King’s Man” – 9/18 (Matthew Vaughn)
“Death on the Nile” – 10/9 (Kenneth Branagh)
“Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” – 10/23 (Jonathan Butterell)
“Eternals” – 11/6 (Chloe Zhao)
“Deep Water” – 11/13 (Adrian Lyne)
“Raya and the Last Dragon – 11/25 (Paul Briggs and Dean Wellins)
“West Side Story” – 12/18 (Steven Spielberg)

Candyman 2020

UNIVERSAL

Universal Pictures has already released two of the four films from female directors on its 2020 slate: Floria Sigismondi’s “The Turning” and Stella Meghie’s “The Photograph.” Producers Jordan Peele and Will Packer are attached to the other two: Nia DaCosta’s revival of the horror series “Candyman” and the Tina Gordon musical comedy “Praise This.”

While Focus Features wasn’t included on our chart, the indie wing’s tally is even better. Six of the nine films Focus is set to release this year are directed by women, making Focus the only studio division surveyed to have a female majority on its director lists.

The first film on that list, Autumn de Wilde’s “Emma,” has already been released. The other films are Eliza Hittman’s “Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always,” Emerald Fennell’s “Promising Young Woman,” Nisha Ganatra’s ‘The High Note,” Miranda July’s “Kajillionaire,” and an untitled Dawn Porter documentary about White House photographer Pete Souza. Combined, Universal and Focus will release nine films by women this year, up from seven in 2019.

Focus will also release Robin Wright’s directorial debut “Land,” which does not currently have a release date. Universal said it has 15 more films in development with female directors attached, including DreamWorks Animation’s “Spirit Riding Free,” which is slated for release in 2021.

“Dolittle” – 1/17 (Stephen Gaghan)
“The Turning” – 1/24 (Floria Sigismondi)
“The Photograph” – 2/14 (Stella Meghie)
“The Invisible Man” – 2/28 (Leigh Whannell)
“The Hunt” – 3/13 (Craig Zobel)
“Trolls World Tour” – 4/17 (Walt Dohrn)
“F9” – 5/22 (Justin Lin)
“Candyman” – 6/12 (Nia DaCosta)
“King of Staten Island” – 6/19 (Judd Apatow)
“Minions: The Rise of Gru” – 7/3 (Kyle Balda)
“The Purge 5” – 7/10 (Everado Gout)
“Nobody” – 8/14 (Ilya Naishuller)
“Praise This” – 9/25 (Tina Gordon)
“Bios” – 10/2 (Miguel Sapochnik)
“Halloween Kills” – 10/16 (David Gordon Green)
“The Croods 2” – 12/23 (Joel Crawford)
“News of the World” – 12/25 (Paul Greengrass)

wonder woman 1984 first shot of diana prince in costume patty jenkins kristen wiig barbara minerva

WARNER BROS.

For Warner Bros., the studio entrusted women to helm two of its biggest tentpoles of the year, the DC superhero films “Birds of Prey” from Cathy Yan and “Wonder Woman 1984,” the follow-up to Patty Jenkins’ box office smash from 2017.

“Birds of Prey,” which hoped to capitalize on the blockbuster success of last fall’s R-rated “Joker,” has underperformed at the box office, grossing $189 million worldwide. However, excitement is still enormous for the “Wonder Woman” sequel, and absent an “Avengers” or “Star Wars” to dominate, Jenkins could not just repeat but surpass her first record-breaking film.

Warner also has an undated romance and sci-fi called “Reminiscence” on its slate from “Westworld” co-creator Lisa Joy that stars Rebecca Ferguson, Hugh Jackman and Thandie Newton. Looking ahead, Ava DuVernay’s DC film “New Gods” is still in development, while “Don’t Worry, Darling,” Olivia Wilde’s follow-up to “Booksmart,” will be produced by New Line Cinema along with Trish Sie’s “Rebecca & Quinn Get Scared” and Nzingha Stewart’s biopic on Misty Copeland, the first African-American woman ever named principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre.

And of course, there is the return of “The Matrix” in 2021, with Lana Wachowski returning to direct the fourth installment in the sci-fi series.

“Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn” – 2/7 (Cathy Yan)
“The Way Back” – 3/6 (Gavin O’Connor)
“Scoob!” – 5/15 (Tony Cervone)
“Wonder Woman 1984” – 6/5 (Patty Jenkins)
“In the Heights” – 6/26 (Jon M. Chu)
“Tenet” – 7/17 (Christopher Nolan)
“Malignant” – 8/14 (James Wan)
“Untitled Fred Hampton Project” – 8/21 (Shaka King)
“The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” – 9/11 (Michael Chaves)
“The Many Saints of Newark” – 9/25 (Alan Taylor)
“The Witches” – 10/9 (Robert Zemeckis)
“Godzilla vs. Kong” – 11/20 (Adam Wingard)
“King Richard” – 11/25 (Reinaldo Marcus Green)
“Dune” – 12/18 (Denis Villeneuve)
“Tom and Jerry” – 12/23 (Tim Story)
“Reminiscence” – Undated (Lisa Joy)
“Let Them All Talk” – Undated (Steven Soderbergh)
“Clouds” – Undated (Justin Baldoni)

SONY

After starting the year with Catherine Hardwicke’s “Miss Bala,” Sony backloaded its 2019 slate with three additional films from female directors, including two that went on to be Oscar contenders, Marielle Heller’s “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” and Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women.” This year, the studio will be doing the same, releasing two films with female directors from its TriStar Pictures division in the waning weeks of 2020.

First up is actor-director Clea DuVall’s Thanksgiving release “Happiest Season,” an LGBTQ comedy and romance about a young woman with a plan to propose to her girlfriend at a holiday dinner, only to discover her girlfriend hasn’t come out to her conservative parents. The second, “The Nightingale,” scored a Christmas release slot just this week. The film pairs Dakota and Elle Fanning as sisters for the first time on screen and is actor-director Mélanie Laurent’s first film as a director with a major studio.

Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions also has domestic distribution rights to three additional independent films not currently slated: Heidi Ewing’s “I Carry You With Me,” Diane Paragas’ “Yellow Rose” and Catalina Aguilar Mastretta’s “Este Dia.”

“The Grudge” – 1/3 (Adil and Bilall)
“Bad Boys For Life” – 1/17 (Nicolas Pesce)
“Fantasy Island” – 2/14 (Jeff Wadlow)
“Bloodshot” – 3/13 (Dave Wilson)
“Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway” – 4/3 (Will Gluck)
“Greyhound” – 5/8 (Aaron Schneider)
“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” – 7/10 (Jason Reitman)
“Morbius” – 7/31 (Daniel Espinosa)
“Escape Room 2” – 8/14 (Adam Robitel)
“Monster Hunter” – 9/4 (Paul W.S. Anderson)
“Connected” – 9/18 (Michael Rianda)
“Venom 2” – 10/2 (Andy Serkis)
“The Man From Toronto” – 11/20 (Patrick Hughes)
“Happiest Season” – 11/25 (Clea DuVall)
“The Nightingale” – 12/25 (Mélanie Laurent)

The Rhythm Section

PARAMOUNT

Paramount Pictures has 15 films slated for release this year, but only one is directed by a woman: Reed Morano’s “The Rhythm Section.” Initially, the film was supposed to hit theaters last year, which was Paramount‘s only female-directed film of 2019, but it was postponed to 2020 due to an injury lead actress Blake Lively sustained during production. (The chart has been updated to reflect that Paramount had no female directors in 2019.)

“The Rhythm Section” has been a buzzy title for years as it was dubbed a female-fronted version of the Bond films, especially because it was produced by the 007 producers. Unfortunately, the film wasn’t that much of a hit among critics, scoring a 31% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Worldwide, the film has grossed $5.9 million based on a $50 million budget.

Still, this year’s female-director count for the studio is better than last year’s, where 0% of all films were directed by women. In fact, 2017 and 2018 saw no female directors either, but in 2016, 1 out of 12 films (or 8.3%) were. That film was Clea DuVall’s “The Intervention.”

But the numbers for Jim Gianopulos’ studio should improve in the coming years, as Paramount has nine films from women currently in development. Three of those films will come from the main studio: Rachel Chavkin’s “Shrews Nest,” Larysa Kondracki’s “Haunted Girl,” and Lisa Cholodenko’s remake of the German film “Toni Erdmann.”

The six other films will be developed under Paramount Players: Liesl Tommy’s “Born A Crime,” Zoe Lister Jones’ “Daria,” Tracy Oliver’s “Made In America,” Hannah McPherson’s “Phantom,” Roxanne Benjamin’s “Betrayal at House on the Hill,” and an untitled wedding comedy by Olivia Milch.

“Like a Boss” – 1/10 (Miguel Arteta)
“The Rhythm Section – 1/31 (Reed Morano)
“Sonic the Hedgehog” – 2/14 (Jeff Fowler)
“A Quiet Place — Part II” – 3/20 (John Krasinski)
“The Lovebirds” – 4/3 (Michael Showalter)
“The Spongebob Movie: Sponge On The Run” – 5/22 (Tim Hill)
“Top Gun: Maverick” – 6/24 (Joseph Kosinski)
“Infinite” – 8/7 (Antoine Fuqua)
“Without Remorse” – 9/18 (Stefano Sollima)
“The Trial of the Chicago 7” – 9/25 (Aaron Sorkin)
“Snake Eyes” – 10/16 (Robert Schwentke)
“Clifford the Big Red Dog” – 11/13 (Walt Becker)
“Coming 2 America” – 12/18 (Craig Brewer)
“The Tomorrow War” – 12/25 (Chris McKay)

LIONSGATE

Lionsgate, the publicly traded mini-major, joins TheWrap’s survey for the first time this year. When it comes to hiring female directors, the company’s record is not good. Going back to 2016, the studio has only had one wide-release film directed by a woman: Susanna Fogel’s “The Spy Who Dumped Me” back in 2018. In 2019, the only film directed by a woman on Lionsgate’s slate was “Fast Color,” a sci-fi film from Julia Hart that was given limited release by the Lionsgate-owned Codeblack Films.

As Lionsgate Motion Picture Group Chairman Joe Drake and President Nathan Kahane continue to rebuild after a resurgent 2019 at the box office, the studio’s 2020 slate is smaller, with only eight wide release films currently listed. That rebuild includes plans for more projects led by women, with at least five projects in development with female directors. Those include Jill Soloway’s Sally Ride biopic “Ride,” Sophie Brooks’ “You, Me, Everything,” Kay Cannon’s “79ers,” and the Gracie Films-produced “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,” an adaptation of the best-selling Judy Blume coming-of-age novel by Kelly Fremon Craig.

But the biggest project Lionsgate has coming down the pipe may be a biopic of Angela Davis that will mark the long-awaited feature film return of Julie Dash, who in 1991 became the first African-American woman to direct a theatrically released film with the acclaimed “Daughters of the Dust.”

The studio also has U.K. distribution rights to the Beanie Feldstein comedy “How to Build a Girl,” directed by Coky Giedroyc.

“I Still Believe” – 3/13 (Jon and Andrew Erwin)
“Antebellum” – 4/24 (Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz)
“Run” – 5/8 (Aneesh Chaganty)
“Spiral” – 5/15 (Darren Lynn Bousman)
“Fatale” – 6/19 (Deon Taylor)
“Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar” – 7/31 (Josh Greenbaum)
“The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” – 8/28 (Patrick Hughes)
“American Underdog: The Kurt Warner Story” – 12/18 (Jon and Andrew Erwin)

Jeremy Fuster

Jeremy Fuster

Box Office Reporter • jeremy.fuster@thewrap.com

Brian Welk

Brian Welk

Film Reporter • brian.welk@thewrap.com • Twitter: @brianwelk

Beatrice Verhoeven

Beatrice Verhoeven

Senior Film Reporter



KEEP READING..

The news you
need now, more
than ever.

The news
you need now,
more than ever.

See Subscription Options

Try PRO today
FOR FREE

LIMITED
TIME
Sign up for
WrapPRO for

70% off
Back to theWrap