With French filmmaker Alice Guy-Blaché becoming the pioneer for every female director since her debut in the mid-1890s, hundreds of female directors have made their marks worldwide over the centuries. Since the 1900s, women have become stakeholders in different aspects of filmmaking. While many often disregard Box Office numbers as proof of a film’s quality, it remains a top metric of success.
Over the years, female directors have not only directed critically acclaimed films but have Box Office juggernauts to their credit. Besides being solo directors, female directors have co-directed commercially successful films like the Frozen animated films (collectively grossed $2.7 billion), Captain Marvel ($1.131 billion), Shrek ($491.8 million), and Brave ($540.4 million). However, these are the 10 highest-grossing films directed by a solo female director.
Elizabeth Banks – Pitch Perfect 2 (2015)
Pitch Perfect 2 (2015) grossed $287.5 million to become the highest-grossing music comedy film. Elizabeth Banks is an actress and filmmaker. She was hired as the director and co-produced, making it her second directed feature film. While sitting in the director’s chair, Banks played a minor supporting role in the film. She was cast as Gail Abernathy-McKadden-Feinberger, an a cappella competition commentator. However, she wasn’t re-hired for the sequel, with her next directorial project being Charlie’s Angels (2019).
Nancy Meyers – What Women Want (2000)
Nancy Meyers directed the Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt-led cast to Box Office success. The romantic fantasy comedy was Meyers’ sophomore feature film, having made her directorial debut in 1998 with The Parent Trap. What Women Want was produced on a $70 million budget and grossed $374.1 million at the Box Office.
Cate Shortland – Black Widow (2021)
Marvel was intentional about working with a female director for their 24th Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film, Black Widow (2021). To this end, over 65 female directors were considered, with Cate Shortland, Maggie Betts, and Amma Asante being the top choices. With a nod from Scarlett Johansson, Shortland was hired as director. Black Widow is Shortland’s fourth feature film and her highest-grossing movie. Black Widow grossed $379.8 million at the Box Office.
Chloé Zhao – Eternals (2021)
Eternal (2021) is the 26th film in the MCU. Chinese-born filmmaker Chloé Zhao solely directed the movie. Besides her work in short films, Zhao had only directed three feature films before Eternals. However, she garnered international recognition after directing the critical and commercial American drama Nomadland (2020), which had Frances McDormand as its lead cast. Besides directing The MCU Eternals, Zhao was also a co-writer. Eternals grossed $402.1 million.
Catherine Hardwicke – Twilight (2008)
Catherine Hardwicke wasn’t entirely new to the world of directing when she was hired to direct Twilight (2008). However, it was her first romantic fantasy film. Hardwicke had been the only director considered for the job, even before rights to Twilight were secured. Adapted from Stephenie Meyer‘s novels, Twilight became the first installment of the successful The Twilight Saga film series. Twilight (2008) grossed $408.4 million at the Box Office.
Betty Thomas – Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel (2009)
With seven feature film credits as a director, Betty Thomas is one of the more experienced female directors on the list. She rode Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel (2009) to success at the Box Office, with earnings of $443.1 million. However, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel is her last directed feature film. However, she continued to work in television as a director and in guest-starring appearances.
Sam Taylor-Johnson – Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)
Sam Taylor-Johnson was hired to direct the first installment of the Fifty Shades film series Fifty Shades of Grey (2015). The British female director wasn’t exactly the studio’s first choice to direct the film. They had initially considered English director Joe Wright but could not work with him due to scheduling conflicts. With a few other directors on the list, Samantha Taylor-Johnson was eventually announced in June 2013 to be the film’s director. Fifty Shades of Grey is Taylor-Johnson’s sophomore film as a director. The film was a massive success, grossing $569.7 million on a $40 million production budget. Despite its success, Sam Taylor-Johnson was still nominated for Worst Director at the Golden Raspberry Award.
Jennifer Yuh Nelson – Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)
Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011) grossed $665.7 million and became the highest-grossing film directed by a female director upon release. Director Jennifer Yuh Nelson was initially the Head of Story for the first film, Kung Fu Panda (2008), but was hired as a replacement for the previous directors, John Stevenson and Mark Osborne. Interestingly, Kung Fu Panda 2 was Jennifer Yuh’s feature film directorial debut. Kung Fu Panda 2 slightly outperformed its predecessor by grossing $665.7 million. Jennifer Yuh Nelson was re-hired to direct the sequel, Kung Fu Panda 3, which grossed lower at the Box Office, earning $521.2 million.
Patty Jenkins – Wonder Woman (2017)
Patty Jenkins is one of Hollywood’s most popular and successful female directors. Making her directorial debut in 2003 with Monster, she was hired to direct her second feature film, Wonder Woman (2017), in 2015. With her direction and Gal Gadot leading the cast, Wonder Woman became one of the DC Extended Universe’s (DCEU) most successful films. Wonder Woman (2017) grossed $822.963 million at the Box Office. She was re-hired to direct the sequel, Wonder Woman 1984 (2020).
Greta Gerwig – Barbie (2023)
Barbie (2023) may have made Greta Gerwig an internationally recognized director, but she has had a history of successful films. Although her career began as an actress, she made her directorial debut two years later with Nights and Weekends (2008). With Barbie receiving mostly positive reviews from critics and audiences, it became the highest-grossing film of 2023. Barbie (2023) grossed $1.442 billion at the Box Office. With its earnings, Barbie is the highest-grossing film directed by a solo female director.
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