“Wonder Woman” is expected to top the weekend; claims that it will be the most successful film ever directed by a woman will soon follow. That’s possible, but far from guaranteed: While Hollywood’s pretzel logic would suggest that women rarely direct blockbusters, Patty Jenkins’ success story will have a lot of competition.
The dearth of women directors trusted by studios to helm top movies becomes even more suspect when adjusting grosses to current ticket prices. Despite limited opportunities, 14 have grossed over $200 million, and 40 total over $100 million when calculated at current numbers.
Below, we go into detail about the top directors and their movies; there’s a lot to see, with some compelling and surprising conclusions. However, more than any other statistic, here’s one that stands out: Among the most successful female directors, after adjusting to current ticket prices, the career average per film gross is over $100 million for several.
Leading the way is Nancy Meyers. Her six films have averaged just under $150 million each. That’s staggering. Rob Marshall with five (including a massive “Pirates of the Caribbean” smash and “Chicago”) is only slightly higher. Bill Condon with nine (“Beauty and the Beast,” two “Twilight” entries and “Dreamgirls” included) is at the same level. Justin Lin with eight (four “Fast and Furious” films and a “Star Trek”) is around $117 million.
Nora Ephron’s eight, three of which were low grossers, still averaged $113 million. Penny Marshall, with seven, comes to $117 million. Heckerling with seven (excluding a late-career DVD release), is also over $100 million.
Yet how many people would think of any of the directors at the height of their career as equal to directors from the movie-brat generation of the ’70s, despite their being about the same age and often equal and greater success?
Adjusted domestic grosses over $100 million, by director
Nora Ephron (4)
Top Movies: Sleepless in Seattle ($270.5), You’ve Got Mail ($210.7), Michael ($184.3), Julie & Julia ($111.4)
Ephron came to directing after screenplays like “Silkwood” and “When Harry Met Sally.” Her first feature was “This Is My Life,” and “Sleepless” followed. Her “Bewitched” was also strong ($87 million). “Mixed Nuts” and “Lucky Numbers” fared far less well.
Nancy Meyers (4)
Top Movies: What Women Want ($297.5), Something’s Gotta Give ($179.3), It’s Complicated ($127.9), The Parent Trap ($125.0)
Meyers had nine produced screenplays (including “Private Benjamin” and the remake of “Father of the Bride”) before turning to directing in 1998 with “The Parent Trap.” Across six films, she has grossed $1 billion in adjusted domestic; very few directors have achieved similar levels. The average adjusted gross of these films is $147 million. Her films have grossed about equally domestic and foreign.