ByTom Tennant, writer at
Editor/publisher of (@midwestmovies) and MarvelCinematicUniversity (@marvelcineuniv)
Tom Tennant

Wonder Woman shattered ceilings — glass and otherwise — after its June 2, 2017, debut. Raking in $105 million its first weekend and $57 million its second (for a 10-day total of $205 million), it is the strongest debut by a female-led superhero movie ever. Wonder Woman’s director, Patty Jenkins, now owns the title “best American debut for a movie directed by a woman.” The title was previously held by Sam Taylor-Johnson, who directed 50 Shades Of Grey.

That’s a big deal, considering female directors accounted for 9 percent of the 250 top-grossing movies in North America in 2015 and only 7 percent in 2016, according to a Time magazine report. The powerful and positively reviewed opening is a reminder that female can design and execute wickedly great action entertainment.

But we really shouldn’t need a reminder. Even though women make up an embarrassingly tiny percentage of blockbuster directors, they’ve cranked out some of your favorite action films. Need proof? Here are five great movies you didn’t know were directed by women.

5. Point Break — Director Kathryn Bigelow

Did you forget Johnny Utah and Bodhi jumped out of planes because critically acclaimed action director Kathryn Bigelow told them to? is possibly Bigelow’s best known action film, though she also directed The Hurt Locker, fetching her Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture. She also tackled Seal Team Six and Osama bin Laden in Zero Dark Thirty.

Bigelow was making waves in action movies well before any of these. If you want pulse-pounding action or wild vampire horror, take a trip back to the 1990s and watch Bigelow’s Blue Steel and Near Dark. Both give you a glimpse of Bigelow’s genius well before she honed her craft.

4. Twilight — Director Catherine Hardwicke

Sure, at its heart, Twilight is a YA romance, but you can categorize any movie that includes vampires, vampires hunting humans, vampires hunting other vampires and general vampire mayhem as a bona fide action flick.

Texas-born director Catherine Hardwicke helmed the movie. She’s also responsible for the werewolf thrill Red Riding Hood and the classic skateboarding flick Lords of Dogtown. Rumor says Hardwicke and another female action director, Lexi Alexander, were both up for The Fighter, but were turned down because the studio didn’t believe a woman could direct a boxing picture. Ridiculous.

3. Deep Impact — Director Mimi Leder

Deep Impact was the other asteroid-threatening-Earth movie the year Michael Bay’s Armageddon debuted. It was also the more intellectual of the two; not that hard a task when you’re going up against Bay, I suppose. Still, plenty of disaster in this disaster film, executive produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Mimi Leder.

The year prior, Leder directed the George Clooney thriller The Peacemaker. Her latest, in 2009, was the direct-to-DVD Thick as Thieves, a shoot-em-up heist movie starring Morgan Freeman and Antonio Banderas. Since then, Leder has worked mostly in television, directing several episodes of HBO’s The Leftovers.

2. Punisher: War Zone — Director Lexi Alexander

Jenkins wasn’t the first woman to direct a superhero movie (though Punisher fans are quick to point out that Frank Castle is no superhero). The film is a reboot of the 2004 Punisher and a cult favorite among some comics fans.

Not with director Lexi Alexander, however. The producing studio, Lionsgate, made a number of decisions with regard to the film’s direction that Alexander disliked. Producing partner Marvel provided notes that Alexander agreed with, but Lionsgate had final say. Alexander says she regrets making a Marvel movie in the way War Zone was made. Alexander returned to comics and superheroes, directing episodes of The CW’s Arrow and Supergirl in 2015 and 2016.

1. Brave — Director Brenda Chapman

Disney/Pixar’s Brave put a female hero at the heart of its story before Wonder Woman came along. Brenda Chapman directed the animated feature, following the adventures of eagle-eye Princess Merida. Chapman is well known in the world of animation. She became the first woman to direct an animated feature from a major studio, The Prince of Egypt from DreamWorks. Chapman was also the first woman to win an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature for her work on Brave.

Which of these female-directed action movies do you like best?


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