Women Directed Record 16% of Top-Grossing 2020 Films, Report Shows

“The good news is that we’ve now seen two consecutive years of growth for women who direct,” Dr. Martha Lauzen says

Last Updated: January 2, 2021 @ 6:52 AM

The percentage of women directing top-grossing films increased in 2020 and, in fact, reached recent historic highs, according to the 23rd Annual Celluloid Ceiling Report released Saturday.

While the overall percentages of women working in key behind-the-scenes roles remained relatively stable in 2020, the other numbers inched upward in a year marked by major disruption of theatrical film releases, particularly big-budget studio films that either bypassed theaters are were postponed until 2021.

Women comprised 16% of directors working on the top 100 grossing films in 2020 (up from 12% in 2019 and 4% in 2018) and 18% of directors on the top 250 films (up from 13% in 2019 and 8% in 2018). It’s worth noting that all but one of last year’s top 10 grossing films were released in the first quarter, before the widespread shutdown of theaters.

“The good news is that we’ve now seen two consecutive years of growth for women who direct. This breaks a recent historical pattern in which the numbers trend up one year and down the next. The bad news is that fully 80% of top films still do not have a woman at the helm,” said Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.

Overall, women accounted for 23% of those working in key behind-the-scenes roles (directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors, cinematographers) on the top 250 grossing films in 2020, up from 21% in 2019, an increase of just six percentage points over more than 20 years.

To break it down further, of the top 250 domestic grossing films, women accounted for 17% of writers (down from 19% in 2019), 21% of executive producers (even with 2019), 30% of producers (up from 27% in 2019), 22% of editors (down from 23% in 2019) and 6% of cinematographers (up from 5% in 2019).

The real stunner comes from the data comparing the employment of women behind-the-scenes to that of men. In 2020, 67% of films employed zero to four women in the roles considered, 24% of films employed five to nine women, and 9% employed 10 or more women. On the flip side, only 5% of films employed zero to four men in the roles considered, 24% employed five to nine men, and the remaining majority (71%) employed 10 or more men.

“This imbalance is stunning. The majority of films employ fewer than five women and 10 or more men,” Lauzen noted.

The Celluloid Ceiling has tracked women’s employment in film for the last 23 years. It is the longest-running and most comprehensive study of women’s behind-the-scenes employment on U.S. films available. Since 1998, the study has tracked a total of approximately 73,000 credits.