Making a top-grossing comic book movie is impressive–even more so when you are the first woman to do so.
Wonder Woman has so far grossed $438.5 million worldwide on a budget of $149 million, scoring the best box office debut for a female director ever. As the first woman to direct a feature with a budget over $100 million, Patty Jenkins has managed to produce a well-reviewed movie with one of the lowest drop-offs in weekend attendance for a superhero movie in recent memory.
“When you think about how many tentpoles there have been, it’s behind the curve,” said filmmaker and screenwriter Patty Jenkins, of the delay in a superhero female director, speaking at Forbes’ fifth annual Women’s Summit, a gathering of hundreds of women entrepreneurs and leaders in New York with the aim of changing the power imbalance in the business world.
Wonder Woman, who first appeared in comic books 76 years ago, only just made her way to the big screen solo. It’s a delayed spotlight Jenkins can appreciate: Prior to Wonder Woman, she was best known as the writer and director of 2003’s Monster, for which Charlize Theron won a Best Actress Academy Award. But Jenkins did not release a feature film for 14 years.
“I had a son and I realized I didn’t want to make a feature every day, so I switched to TV pilots,” said Jenkins, in conversation with Forbes Media’s Executive Vice President, Moira Forbes, at a packed house at Manhattan’s Spring Studios. After a Chuck Yeager biopic fell through, she focused on shaping the big-budget first episodes of AMC’s The Killing and ABC’s Betrayal. The experience gave her perspective on managing major productions, but left a feature film gap on her resume after huge success.
Such a gap is not uncommon for women directors: According to a recent study that tracked 10 years in movies, 80% of women made only one movie in the years studied, while 45% of the male directors in the sample made two or more films across the same time frame.
Jenkins said she was offered tentpoles which she passed on during her movie hiatus because they didn’t fit her vision. Then Warner Bros. came knocking with Wonder Woman.
“I felt super passionate about her not losing anything,” said Jenkins. “I wanted her to be everything she wanted to be… beautiful, kind, loving, but also badass, strong and amazing.”
Her characterization seems to have worked: In addition to a boffo box office, the movie has a remarkably positive 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Despite her success, Jenkins remains very much in the minority. Women comprise just 4% of all directors in Hollywood, unchanged from figures in 2007, according to a 2017 Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative report by USC Annenberg. According to their research, females rarely direct in lucrative genres such as action or thriller, but overwhelmingly work on drama or comedy films, which by and large fare worse at the box office. Males, in contrast, work across all genres.
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