Record number of 2020 films were directed by women, study finds

Tyler Aquilina
·2 min read

Clay Enos/Warner Bros.

2020 was a good year in at least one respect: it set a new high-water mark for women behind the camera in Hollywood.

A new study from San Diego State University's Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film found that women comprised 16 percent of directors working on 2020's 100 highest-grossing films. That figure marks a record high, up from 12 percent in 2019 and an abysmal 4 percent in 2018. Women also accounted for 21 percent of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers on the top 100 films, another historic high overall.

Some of the most successful and high-profile films of the year, including Birds of Prey and Wonder Woman 1984, were helmed by women (Cathy Yan and Patty Jenkins, respectively), and 2020's months-long halt to theatrical exhibition also allowed many smaller films to crack the top 100, such as Autumn de Wilde's Emma and Céline Sciamma's French import Portrait of a Lady on Fire.

Of course, the pandemic scuttled or delayed major theatrical releases for many films that would undoubtedly have done huge business at the box office, including Niki Caro's Mulan, Cate Shortland's Black Widow, and Chloé Zhao's The Eternals. (Zhao did, however, direct current Oscar frontrunner Nomadland.) Even Wonder Woman had to settle for a $16.7 million domestic opening weekend, a record high for the COVID era but nowhere close to a typical superhero movie opening.

Furthermore, while the growth in female directors is undeniable, the numbers still fall far short of gender equity in the industry. Additional data reveals that the majority of 2020 films (67 percent) employed zero to four women in major behind-the-scenes roles, while 71 percent employed 10 or more men. Dr. Martha Lauzen, executive director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, said in a statement, "This imbalance is stunning."

“The good news is that we’ve now seen two consecutive years of growth for women who direct,” Lauzen added. “This breaks a recent historical pattern in which the numbers trend up one year and down the next. The bad news is that fully 80% of top films still do not have a woman at the helm.”

Related content: