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Success of ‘Wonder Woman’ should boost all female directors. But will it?

“Wonder Woman,” starring Gal Gadot, grossed $103.1 million in North America its opening weekend, a figure that easily surpassed industry expectations, set a new record for a film directed by a woman and bested all previous stand-alone female superhero movies put together.
“Wonder Woman,” starring Gal Gadot, grossed $103.1 million in North America its opening weekend, a figure that easily surpassed industry expectations, set a new record for a film directed by a woman and bested all previous stand-alone female superhero movies put together. AP

Everybody and their momma has been going to see “Wonder Woman.” The latest installment in the on-screen, DC Extended Universe did something the previous installments failed to do: actually be good. Critics and audiences agree that the long-awaited, long-overdue story of the Amazonian superheroine was far better than the dreadful “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” and the just-plain nonsensical “Suicide Squad.” And, because it actually managed to entertain audiences, the movie grossed $101 million in the U.S. and $226 million worldwide in its opening weekend. Not bad for a movie insiders predicted would only get $80 million domestically.

The movie also broke the record for being the first film to have the highest-ever, domestic opening weekend – and be directed by a woman: Patty Jenkins. The same filmmaker who gave us the Aileen Wuornos biopic “Monster” (starring Charlize Theron in an Oscar-winning performance) eight years ago is now the first female filmmaker to helm a big-budget, superhero movie that ended up becoming a monster at the box office. That’s not to say a woman hasn’t tried to break into the comic-book movie world. German director Lexi Alexander was picked to helm the 2008 movie “Punisher: War Zone,” a heavily ultraviolent reboot of the failed “Punisher” franchise, but it made a lot less money – $10 million – than the last “Punisher” movie in 2004.

When it comes to blockbusters directed by women, the pressure is always on for the film to succeed. If that film fails, guess who gets most of the blame? Just ask Karyn Kusama, who wowed Sundance audiences in 2000 with her debut film “Girlfight” (starring a pre-“The Fast and the Furious” Michelle Rodriguez) She got hired to direct “Aeon Flux,” the 2005, big-screen, live-action version of the MTV cartoon, starring a post-Oscar Theron in the title role as a futuristic secret agent. The movie was critically panned and barely recouped its $65 million budget. In an interview with The Daily Beast last year, Kusama said the movie was taken away from her by the studio, Paramount, who “multilated” her cut of the film:

“I had been very naïve,” she said. “I assumed a business like a film studio would behave like a business and still want to protect its own interests, still do the best it could to get as many people paying for as many of their movies as possible. I realized this is not actually a business about business, it’s a business of egos and dominance.”

And yet, when women have made a killing at the box office in the past, their standing in the industry can still be a bit shaky. TV director Mimi Leder (“ER”) went on to make back-to-back blockbusters – “The Peacemaker” in 1997 and “Deep Impact” in 1998 – that both made over $100 million. But when her 1999 “Pay It Forward” was critically reviled and grossed a paltry $56 million, Leder was sent back to the boob tube.

Television has actually become a place where female filmmakers are always welcome. Before doing “Wonder,” Jenkins directed episodes of “Entourage,” Arrested Development” and “The Killing.” Kusama has done directing duties for “Halt and Catch Fire,” “The Man in the High Castle” and “Billions.” And Alexander has been practically prepping for a possible chance to direct a DC Extended Universe film by helming episodes of “Arrow” and “Supergirl.” Canadian Emmy-winner Michelle MacLaren has become the hardest-working director in the TV biz, turning out classic episodes for such shows as “Breaking Bad,” “The Walking Dead,” and “Game of Thrones.” MacLaren was also approached to direct “Wonder” in 2014, but left the project due to “creative differences.”

It should never come as a shock that there are women out there ready to get into the blockbuster game – and who are good at it. Before she started racking up awards and accolades for directing “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty,” Kathryn Bigelow was known as a pretty nifty genre director. After all, she is the woman behind the surfing/crime actioner “Point Break,” starring the late Patrick Swayze and a young Keanu Reeves. Now that “Wonder” has proven that female superheroes bring in money – and the women who direct those films know exactly what they’re doing – we’ll definitely see a lot more girl power in the future. Heck, “Wonder Woman 2” has already been greenlit, and Jenkins will be back behind the camera, making sure this superhero never loses her feminine mystique.

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