Girl Talk is a weekly look at women in film — past, present, and future.
Thank Patty Jenkins — and then thank all the other wonder women who lit up this summer at the box office. This summer, studios released only seven films directed by women (that’s including speciality arms, and even a co-directed production), but the massive success of Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman” is poised to push the total take of female-directed studio films over $1 billion.
Nothing sings quite like “a billion dollars” in Hollywood, but what’s even more heartening is the variety of films in this small group.
“Wonder Woman” is the story of the summer, an $800 million superhero that established Jenkins’ supremacy as director of the highest-grossing live-action movie directed by a woman and reestablished the solvency of the creatively stifled DCEU. It also made plain just how desperate audiences are for female-focused blockbusters. The film stayed in the top 10 until its tenth week in release — and even then, it still made $2.28 million domestically. Jenkins’ film might not break the billion-dollar mark on its own before the end of its run, but it’s bolstered the total take of female-directed studio films to a staggering new high.
The last female-directed film to cross the billion-dollar mark on its own was the animated hit “Frozen,” which topped out at $1.2 billion back in 2013, and was co-directed by Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck (with a sequel to come in 2019). Jenkins’ boundary-breaking success is a still an outlier, but it may pave the way for other massive blockbusters to hire female directors.
Still, there are other female success stories to find in this crowded summer, ones that offer more proof that the tide is turning for female directors. In addition to “Wonder Woman,” Warner Bros. should also revel in the success of Stella Meghie’s YA adaptation “Everything, Everything.”
This low-budget ($10 million) dramedy starring Amandla Stenberg has made over $51.5 million worldwide. That’s a sweet return on a modest film, but even more exciting is that Meghie (“Jean of the Joneses”) is the only black woman with a wide release this calendar year. It was a big jump from festival debut to studio feature, but Meghie and her film’s quiet triumph is perhaps the year’s most underappreciated success story.
Sony opened Lucia Aniello’s comedy “Rough Night” to just $43 million earlier this summer (a far cry from the near-$100 million take of the similarly themed “Girls Trip”), but that’s against a reported $20 million budget. Aniello, a first-time filmmaker who made her bonafides working on series like “Broad City,” is still a comedic filmmaker on the rise; she and partner Paul W. Downs also have a long-simmering “21 Jump Street” spinoff, and they are eager to reteam with some of their “Rough Night” stars, including Scarlett Johansson.
Elsewhere, Paramount Pictures has just one film directed by a woman on its slate for not just 2017, but also 2018: “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power,” co-directed by Bonni Cohen. That film has made just a fraction of the original (nearly $50 million, compared to a slim $1.4 million), but Paramount may be banking on word of mouth, the continued involvement of subject Al Gore, and an uptick in political awareness to keep it chugging along. (Still, it sure wouldn’t hurt for the studio to snag a female-helmed film; they’re falling behind in a major way.)
On the specialty side, Fox Searchlight opened “Step” last weekend, an inspiring documentary by first-time filmmaker Amanda Lipitz. It earned $200,000 in 29 theaters, but the distributor is planning a platform release that will end with the film in nearly 300 theaters. That’s a big risk on a small documentary, but Searchlight was excited enough by the film’s splashy Sundance premiere that it spent a reported $4 million to pick it up (a deal that also included feature-remake rights). Searchlight is also running a social justice-savvy campaign, pushing a free ticket initiative to get it in front of the sort of audiences that would most benefit from its message.
Finally, it’s been a solid summer for the Coppola women, as Focus Features opened daughter Sofia Coppola’s “The Beguiled” to $15.4 million worldwide, while Sony Pictures Classics bowed mother Eleanor Coppola’s feature debut, “Paris Can Wait,” to $5.5 million so far. “The Beguiled” is the younger Coppola’s third-best outing yet, and while it will never ascend to the box office heights of “Lost in Translation,” it’s been a bounceback for the filmmaker, whose “Somewhere” and “The Bling Ring” made much less domestically. Both films rank among our top 20 indie earners for the year, which is at least a very charming piece of trivia.
Total take for this summer’s studio-released, female-directed features: $912,372,742. And the season isn’t over yet.