Since the Oscars started in 1929, only 16 of the best picture nominees have been directed by women. In 2000, none of the best picture nominees were directed by women. The sexism of Hollywood has lasted decades and has not gone away.
A lack of awards does not mean women have not directed successful movies, although the biggest box office movies in film history have been almost exclusively directed by men, another sign that women are shunned when studios invest hundreds of millions of dollars in movie production.
Even though change has been glacial in the movie industry, in recent years, more women have been getting the chance to prove themselves behind the camera — and being recognized for their talent. The fruits of their work are manifesting themselves increasingly in profitable motion pictures.
To determine the highest-grossing films directed by women, 24/7 Tempo reviewed films with female directors made between 1990 and 2019. Films are ranked by world box office gross with data from The Numbers, an online movie database owned by Nash Information Services. Information on casts came from IMDb, an online movie database owned by Amazon. Tomatometer scores are from Rotten Tomatoes, an online movie and TV review aggregator, and are current as of November 2021. We excluded films directed by women in collaboration with a male director.
Rom-coms such as “What Women Want” and “Sleepless in Seattle” (directed by Nancy Meyers and Nora Ephron, respectively) are among the films we considered. Nail-biters such as “Zero Dark Thirty” and the horror remake “Carrie,” both directed by women, found favor among audiences, ass. So did historically based movies such as “Unbroken” and “The Iron Lady.”
Sofia Coppola, Jodie Foster and Angelina Jolie are actors whose directorial efforts produced profitable and critically acclaimed movies. Coppola was the first American woman to be nominated for a Best Director Oscar. The first woman to win the award was Kathryn Bigelow, who took home the golden statue for “The Hurt Locker” in 2010. Chloe Zhao won in 2020 for “Nomadland,” to become the first woman of color to win the Best Director Oscar.
The highest-grossing film directed by a woman is “Wonder Woman.” It was released in 2017 and directed by Patty Jenkins. Here are the details:
- Worldwide ticket sales: $821,763,408
- Actors: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright, Lucy Davis
- Tomatometer score: 93%
Jenkins made film history by becoming the first woman to direct a superhero movie, and it was a blockbuster. Starring Israeli actor Gal Gadot, “Wonder Woman” had the third-highest domestic gross of any film in 2017. Critic Dan Brightmore of NME said, “It’s taken a while, but the first ever superhero film with both a female protagonist and director is an absolute delight.”
Click here to see which are the 50 highest-grossing films directed by women.
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