EXCLUSIVE: It was a female director who gave the industry and Warner Bros the highest overall summer film last year with $412.5 million at the domestic box office and provided the studio the wind to sail past Disney as the first to win the $2 billion domestic box office race. Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman made the industry sit up and take notice when the Superhero origin film opened to $103.2M domestically and $228M internationally. It was one of only three films last year the studio released from female directors. The others were Denise Di Novi’s Unforgettable and Stella Meghie’s Everything, Everything (an MGM co-production). New Line had zero, but these numbers are changing, and for the better.
We’ve come a long way since Jeffrey Katzenberg entrusted a female director who had only previously worked in TV — Mimi Leder — to helm DreamWorks’ first live-action title, The Peacemaker. That sent tongues wagging back in the mid-1990s as plenty of executives questioned the reasoning behind it. It was a purposeful statement.
It wasn’t long ago that Warner Bros was shamed for its lack of films with female leads. But after Wonder Woman, the studio has been very vocal about wanting to employ another female director for yet, another strong female superhero — Supergirl. The studio is also developing female superhero characters including Batgirl and another film based on Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, the scene-stealing character from Suicide Squad (see below).
It seems the studio is looking for the women of the DC universe to help boost their superhero stable as the industry itself is finally realizing that audiences are screaming for diversity of all kinds. And we have seen that from the box office results of Wonder Women, Fox’s Hidden Figures and Marvel/Disney’s Black Panther. We will likely see it again this week in what is sure to be a success of the studio’s own Crazy Rich Asians which opens Wednesday.
So let’s look at what’s up for female directors at Warner Bros:
In the Can:
The Sun Is Also a Star is a co-production with MGM, so also counted on MGM’s Female Director Scorecard. Ry Russo-Young directed Yara Shahidi from a Tracy Oliver (Girls Trip) screenplay based on Nicola Yoon’s bestselling YA novel of the same name. Alloy Entertainment’s Leslie Morgenstein and Elysa Koplovitz Dutton produced this story about two teenagers who fall in love on the same day as the girl fights against her family’s deportation. The film, co-produced by Warren Fischer, has a release date of May 17, 2019.
This one is expected to go before the cameras this year and has a release date of May 17, 2019.
NEW LINE CINEMA
Andrea Berloff scripted and has directed The Kitchen, based on the Vertigo comic book series created by Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle for DC. The story, set in 1970s Hell’s Kitchen, follows three wives whose mobster husbands end up in prison. With no way to earn a living, they decide to continue their husband’s illegal businesses.
The film, which stars Elizabeth Moss, Melissa McCarthy and Tiffany Haddish, will be released on September 20, 2019. Berloff also produced with Michael De Luca.
Wonder Woman 1984, the second in the series, is being directed once again by Jenkins. The project is being produced by Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, Zack Snyder, Jenkins, Stephen Jones and Gal Gadot who is, once again, starring.
This time around Wonder Woman faces off against the villianess Cheetah (Kristen Wiig) in a screenplay written by Dave Callaham with current revisions by Jenkins, Geoff Johns and Callaham from a story by Jenkins and Johns.
The studio plans to release the film on November 1, 2019.
In Active Development:
New Gods from Ava DuVernay, the first woman of color to helm a $100M-plus budgeted, live-action film with A Wrinkle In Time, is a big-budget screen adaptation of Jack Kirby’s comic book, with screenwriter Kario Salem (Chasing Mavericks) penning. There are no producers attached to this project yet.
The story? Well, it’s a host of characters but it debuted in a trilogy of related Kirby comics in the 1970s: New Gods, Forever People and Mister Miracle. The New Gods came into existence after the world of the gods of classic mythology were destroyed during Ragnarok. The deities inhabit two planets: one is New Genesis, a lush paradise, and the other Apokolips, a version of hell, and they are at war.
Director Cathy Yan will become the first female, Asian director ever tapped to direct a superhero film with Birds of Prey, the aforementioned Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie, Suicide Squad) character spinoff which she is developing with producers Robbie, Sue Kroll (former Warner Bros marketing exec) and Bryan Unkeless (I, Tonya).
This has been another Mimi Leder moment for some as Yan also got the job over many, well established male directors and she only has one directed one small indie movie, Dead Pigs. The project is also written by a woman, Christina Hodson (Bumblebee), who just got hired to write DC Comics’ Batgirl movie.
The project is based on Birds of Prey, which in the DC universe teams Quinn (Robbie) with crime fighters Black Canary, Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) and Huntress.
Jennifer Yuh Nelson (Kung Fu Panda 2 and 3) has been tapped by the studio to helm the sci-fi crime thriller The Juliet for producers Roven (the studio can thank their lucky stars for him), Alex Gartner and Frank Beddor. The current draft, scripted by Ian Shorr, is based on the 1954 short story by Alfred Bester. The project was previously at Sony and at one time had Rupert Sanders on to direct.
Survive the Night is a music-themed, horror thriller based on a YA novel that Girls Trip writer Tracy Oliver is writing and will be directing as she develops the project with producers Pharrell Williams, Leslie Morgenstein, Elysa Koplovitz Dutton and Mimi Valdes. It’s a Halloween run-for-your-life-all-night story about a bevy of female college students who become imprisoned in a rave.
Yes, you’ve read Oliver’s name twice as she wrote the aforementioned Warner Bros./MGM co-production The Sun Is Also a Star (above). The story of Survive the Night, which is based on the book of the same name by Danielle Vega, has been described as “Stephen King meets Pretty Little Liars.”