Biggest-Budget Movies Directed by Women

Warner Bros/Village Roadshow Pictures/Kobal / Shutterstock.com

Warner Bros/Village Roadshow Pictures/Kobal / Shutterstock.com

Like many industries, filmmaking has long been dominated by men. However, that appears to be changing. According to the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, the number of women directing top-grossing films reached a 13-year high in 2019. While this is promising, that means that only 12 women directed the top 100 films of 2019.

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Women are continuing to take the helm into 2021. This list looks at 18 women directors with budgets of upwards of $100 million, including up-and-coming directors like Chloé Zhao, tackling the Marvel Cinematic Universe, to road-tested favorites, like the Wachowski sisters of “The Matrix” fame.

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Female directors continue to push boundaries and limits, demanding to be paid what they’re worth and heard in this industry despite the odds still being stacked in men’s favor. Professor Stacy L. Smith, the author of the report, stated that “Legacy studios must recognize that the world and the talent pipeline look vastly different from their hiring practices and act to reflect that reality,” and added, “Until we shatter the stereotype of who can be lauded as a director, we will not see change in this area.”

Read on to see who’s breaking barriers in film.

Last updated: July 20, 2021

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‘A Wrinkle in Time’

  • Year: 2018
  • Director: Ava DuVernay
  • Budget: $100,000,000

Director Ava DuVernay made history as the first woman of color to direct a $100 million movie for a big studio. She further made history by retelling Madeleine L’Engle’s famous children’s book with a largely Black cast, including a Black female lead.

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Kristina Bumphrey/StarPix/Shutterstock / Kristina Bumphrey/StarPix/Shutterstock

‘K-19: The Widowmaker’

  • Year: 2002
  • Director: Kathryn Bigelow
  • Budget: $100,000,000

Bigelow was already known for her ability to turn true stories into cinematic thrillers, such as “The Hurt Locker,” but “K-19: The Widowmaker” really put her on the map as a director of substance.

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Tytus Zmijewski/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock / Tytus Zmijewski/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

‘Cloud Atlas’

  • Year: 2012
  • Director: Lana and Lilly Wachowski
  • Co-director: Tom Tykwer
  • Budget: $102,000,000

The Wachowski sisters came out as transgender women in 2012 (Lana) and 2016 (Lilly). They may be best known for their “Matrix” movies, but they ambitiously tackled David Mitchell’s genre- and time-crossing novel as well. Unfortunately, it was not a box-office success, earning only $9.6 million on its opening weekend.

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‘Speed Racer’

  • Year: 2008
  • Director: Lana and Lilly Wachowski
  • Budget: $120,000,000

The Wachowski sisters adapted this beloved animé cartoon into a feature-length movie with a budget nearly as big as their “Matrix” movies. While die-hard fans were into it, sadly most moviegoers didn’t get it — the movie lost almost as much as it cost to make, $100 million.

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‘Kung Fu Panda 3’

  • Year: 2016
  • Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
  • Co-director: Alessandro Carloni
  • Budget: $145,000,000

Director of “Kung Fu Panda 2” and “Kung Fu Panda 3” to great success, Jennifer Yuh Nelson has racked up a number of firsts: She is the first woman to direct a big-budget animated film completely on her own; the first solo woman director to be nominated for the animated feature Oscar; and one of the highest-grossing female directors in Hollywood.

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‘Wonder Woman’

  • Year: 2017
  • Director: Patty Jenkins
  • Budget: $149,000,000

When “Wonder Woman” hit theaters in 2017 — starring newcomer Gal Gadot — it went on to become the highest-grossing superhero origin film of all time (at that time), earning $821.74 million, and was helmed by Patty Jenkins as director.

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‘The Matrix Revolutions’

  • Year: 2003
  • Director: Lana and Lilly Wachowski
  • Budget: $150,000,000

The much-anticipated sequels to “The Matrix” drew viewers to theaters with renewed enthusiasm for the franchise, but the third movie, 2003’s “The Matrix Revolutions,” brought in the least of all four movies, at $427 million globally (compared to $465 million for “The Matrix” in 1999).

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‘The Matrix Reloaded’

  • Year: 2003
  • Director: Lana and Lilly Wachowski
  • Co-director: Tom Tykwer
  • Budget: $150,000,000

Eager to revisit the reality-bending world of “The Matrix,” audiences turned out in full force for movie two, “The Matrix Reloaded,” in 2003, bringing in more than $738 million globally.

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‘Frozen II’

  • Year: 2019
  • Director: Jennifer Lee
  • Co-director: Chris Buck
  • Budget: $150,000,000

If anyone expected kids and their families to be over the “Frozen” movie, with its blockbuster soundtrack, “Frozen II” proved everyone wrong by making more money than the first, at over $1.45 billion globally.

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  • Year: 2013
  • Director: Jennifer Lee
  • Co-director: Chris Buck
  • Budget: $150,000,000

Jennifer Lee was the first woman director to direct a film that earned over $1 billion (along with co-director Chris Buck). She did so by promoting strong female characters who don’t rely upon men to save them. “Frozen” earned over $1.28 billion worldwide.

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‘Kung Fu Panda 2’

  • Year: 2011
  • Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
  • Budget: $150,000,000

Jennifer Yuh Nelson’s successful directing of “Kung Fu Panda 2” and “Kung Fu Panda 3” led to a collective box-office turnout of $1.18 billion worldwide for the two combined.

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‘Captain Marvel’

  • Year: 2019
  • Director: Anna Boden
  • Co-director: Ryan Fleck
  • Budget: $160,000,000

Captain Marvel was the first Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movie with a solely center female heroine, and the first MCU film with a woman director at the helm — Anna Boden (along with co-director Ryan Fleck). The movie earned over $1.128 billion globally.

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‘Jupiter Ascending’

  • Year: 2015
  • Director: Lana and Lilly Wachowski
  • Budget: $176,000,000

The Wachowski sisters continued to make genre-pushing movies that address big issues such as socioeconomic status and gender dysphoria. Despite a cult-like following, their movie “Jupiter Ascending,” starring Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum, barely broke even on its budget, earning only $186 million worldwide.

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  • Year: 2012
  • Director: Brenda Chapman
  • Co-directors: Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell
  • Budget: $185,000,000

Brenda Chapman won an Oscar for directing the animated film, “Brave”… even after she was fired from the project over creative differences. The movie earned nearly $540 million worldwide.

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‘Black Widow’

  • Year: 2021
  • Director: Cate Shortland
  • Budget: $200,000,000

Director Cate Shortland describes “Black Widow” as a different and more serious kind of Marvel movie, stating that it will be a vehicle to showcase character Natasha Romanoff’s “grit and determination.” Delayed due to COVID-19, the movie will release July 9, both in theaters and on Disney+ streaming.

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‘The Eternals’

  • Year: 2021
  • Director: Chloé Zhao
  • Budget: $200,000,000

Director Chloé Zhao is known for small, quiet films like “Nomadland,” so her new project, “The Eternals,” which introduces new characters for the MCU, is a chance to showcase the scope of her skills. The movie will release on Nov. 5, 2021.

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  • Year: 2020
  • Director: Niki Caro
  • Budget: $200,000,000

New Zealand director Niki Caro is one of a few female filmmakers to lead a movie with a budget bigger than $100 million. She joins others on this list like Ava DuVernay, Kathryn Bigelow and Patty Jenkins in that role with “Mulan,” a live-action version of the original Disney animated film.

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‘Wonder Woman 1984’

  • Year: 2020
  • Director: Patty Jenkins
  • Budget: $200,000,000

Helmed once again by Patty Jenkins, the “Wonder Woman 1984” release fell victim to the pandemic. It debuted on HBO Max when many movie theaters were shut down due to the virus. It only turned out a dismal $165.8 million.

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