In 2010, British director Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Nowhere Boy, a tiny indie film about John Lennon as an adolescent, topped out at $1.5 million at the North American box office.
As a women, Taylor-Johnson is in good company. Female directors are usually relegated to the sidelines in terms of big box office potential, with studios preferring to hire men for their high-profile projects.
Now, Taylor-Johnson and Universal are making history with Fifty Shades of Grey, the film adaptation of EL James’ steamy romance novel starring Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan. The movie is tipped to gross $90.7 million over the long Valentine’s Day and Presidents Day Weekend, including a three-day gross of $81.7 million, the biggest North American debut ever for a movie directed by a woman, not accounting for inflation.
And that’s just domestically. Overseas, Fifty Shades launched to a record-breaking $158 million for a global total of $248.7 million.
The previous best domestic opening was Catherine Hardwicke’s Twilight, which debuted to $69.6 million in November 2008. Despite the film’s success, Summit subsequently put the franchise in the hands of male directors. Likewise, it isn’t clear whether Taylor-Johnson will return to direct further installments in the Fifty Shades franchise after tension arose between her and James, who was given unprecedented control in the making of the $40 million film.
Taylor-Johnson, 47, isn’t the only female director making strides of late. Angelina Jolie’s World War II drama Unbroken, also from Universal, has grossed nearly $160 million since its Christmas release, while Ava DuVernay’s Selma has earned nearly $50 million and is nominated for two Oscars, including best picture.
Still, DuVernay herself was shut out of the Oscar director’s race. Only four women have been nominated for best director, with just one, Kathryn Bigelow, winning for The Hurt Locker (2009).
In terms of box office performance, many of the top-grossing films directed by women have been animated offerings. Even then there’s been strife, however. Brave director Brenda Chapman was booted from by the project by Pixar over creative differences, although she retained a credit.