Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman” made history: With an opening weekend gross of $103.3 million, the Warner Bros./DC Films release had the biggest opening for a female-directed movie ever. But a female-led action blockbuster is unlikely to spark a revolution in studio decision-making anytime soon, Hollywood insiders tell TheWrap.
“It’s an enormous step forward over all,” Cathy Schulman, president of Women in Film and CEO of Welle Entertainment, told TheWrap. “When I became president of WIF seven years ago, I literally couldn’t even get a story about the gender problems in Hollywood printed… and now, this movie has been an incredible example of a movement — a movement that’s working.”
Melissa Silverstein, founder of the site Women and Hollywood, added, “People are finally realizing what women can do. What this is saying is that women have competence and they are ready to work — we just need the opportunities and we need to be hired and Patty Jenkins is just a clear example of this — she hit it harder than we could’ve ever expected.”
Jenkins’ achievement is manifold — few women have had the opportunity to direct studio tentpoles with $100 million-plus budgets, let alone comic book movies that traditionally skew toward male audiences. But Warner Bros. reported that 52 percent of “Wonder Women” moviegoers were women — suggesting an untapped female audience for the superhero genre as well as a willingness of men to see female-oriented action movies.
“This film’s impact is already measurable by the fact that it is the first in the DC or Marvel universes to draw a majority female audience during its opening,” chief analyst at BoxOffice.com Shawn Robbins told TheWrap.
“By rights, this should represent the next step toward a more inclusive era for all film genres,” Robbins said. “Fandom transcends all other labels, but as a comic book blockbuster with timely themes, directed by and starring strong women, I think this will inspire a new generation of mothers and daughters — especially those aspiring to break into the film business. Ultimately, though, the onus is on our entire industry to facilitate that and afford equal opportunities to everyone with a creative vision.”
In the next three years, Ava DuVernay is directing Disney’s big-budget adaptation “A Wrinkle in Time,” Niki Caro is doing Disney’s live-action “Mulan” and Trish Sie is helming Universal’s “Pitch Perfect 3” — all with female protagonists.
Still, Hollywood studios have show in little progress in telling women’s stories on the big screen — or hiring them behind the camera.
In March, TheWrap reported that only 6 percent of the movies slated for wide release this year from the six major Hollywood studios are directed by women, a drop from the last two years. Disney and 20th Century Fox, for example, have no movies on their 2017 release slates directed by women. However, Sony did just tap a female director for another comic-book movie (“Silver Sable and Black Cat”) and hired Elizabeth Banks to take over the “Charlie’s Angels” series.
At the time of the report, of the 149 movies slated for a wide release from the six legacy studios over the next three years, only 12 have female directors. And according to the 19th annual Celluloid Ceiling report by Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, only 7 percent of directors of the top 250 domestic grossing films last year were women, down from 9 percent in 2015.
For Schulman, the lesson of female-directed hits like 2008’s “Twilight,” 2015’s “Fifty Shades of Grey” and now “Wonder Woman” is this: “Marketplace success does not rest in the hands of men.”
It’s worth noting, though, that male directors took over on all the sequels to “Twilight” and “Fifty Shades.”
“We are definitely at a place where we are cresting this hill, but my fear is that we will get to the top and not do enough to push over that hump,” Schulman said. “The numbers of female directors have not increased, but something like this movie can catalyze significant change.”
Martha Lauzen, the executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, suggested looking at prior “open moments” to see what the success of “Wonder Woman” might mean for women in the industry.
“The discussions surrounding both Kathryn Bigelow‘s win at the Oscars for ‘The Hurt Locker’ and the box office success of ‘Bridesmaids’ are instructive,” she told TheWrap. “When Bigelow became the first woman to win an Oscar for Best Director, many reports suggested her victory would ‘change everything’ for other women who direct high-profile features. Of course, we know that didn’t happen.” And no other female director has won the Oscar since then — or even scored a nomination.
Lauzen then referenced the Celluloid Ceiling report from last year: “While Bigelow’s well-deserved success boosted her profile and most likely her career prospects, it did not change the industry’s overall hiring practices.”
“After the great box office success of ‘Wonder Woman’ this past weekend, it does feel like we are in an open moment of possibility, but I think we need to remain cognizant of the statistics and how past successes have resulted in a gradual evolution as opposed to revolution.”
Jenkins at least seems poised to continue making history again — directing another $100 million-plus budget sequel. “There are a lot of firsts out there for women to do,” Silverstein said. “I just want to remind people that movies take a long time to get made, that there are a couple in the hopper, and the only thing we can do is hire more women and put more female stories in production, as well as have women direct films with male protagonists.”
“There is no question that she could direct a male superhero film,” added Schulman. “It was as much fun watching Chris Pine as Gal Gadot and the dialogue was equally filled out. Let’s hope her success isn’t blocked out in any way.