Over the past decade, a clear pattern has emerged in Hollywood: direct a successful, small movie and get a large blockbuster in return. That small movie doesn’t even have to be that successful, either—it just has to be good, and your next film can have a budget up to 200 times the size. And also, you pretty much have to be a man.
But that changes this weekend with the release of Wonder Woman. The DC superhero film is only the second theatrical feature of director Patty Jenkins and, with a budget reported around $150 million, it’s not only one of the biggest budgets ever given to a female director, it’s a massive step up from her first feature, Monster, which cost only $8 million.
Jenkins’ move to the majors may seem like big news, but that’s only because of her gender; this kind of escalation has certainly happened before, but until now, only with male directors. This is just a small list of some of the many massively budgeted films directed by men—men whose previous works were tiny in comparison, but studios decided to take a chance on anyway.
Please note: All budget info comes from Box Office Mojo; if the budget isn’t available, that means it’s never been publicly been reported and is likely less than $10 million. Also, this isn’t in any way a criticism of the talent of anyone mentioned here—we’re just pointing out the disparity.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
Budget: $230 million
Directors: Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg
Previous feature: Kon-Tiki, budget unknown, grossed $22 million worldwide (mostly internationally) and was nominated for an Oscar.
The Amazing Spider-Man
Budget: $230 million
Director: Marc Webb
Previous feature: His debut, 500 Days of Summer, cost $7.5 million and grossed $60 million worldwide.
Budget: $220 million
Director: Joss Whedon
Previous feature: His debut, Serenity, cost $39 million and grossed $39 million worldwide. At least he’d previously done a ton of successful TV.
Kong: Skull Island
Budget: $185 million
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Previous feature: His debut, The Kings of Summer, budget unknown, grossed only $1.3 million worldwide but was a critical success.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Budget: $170 million
Director: James Gunn
Previous feature: Before Guardians, his most recent film, Super, cost $2.5 million and grossed $327,000 worldwide. Before that he did Slither, which cost $15 million and grossed $12 million.
Budget: $150 million
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Previous feature: His debut, Safety Not Guaranteed, budget unknown, grossed $4 million worldwide and was a critical smash.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Budget: $150 million
Director: David Yates
Previous feature: His only other feature, 1998's The Tichborne Claimant, doesn’t have a reported budget or gross. He’d mostly done a lot of TV.
Budget: $160 million
Director: Gareth Edwards
Previous feature: Monsters cost $500,000 and grossed $4 million worldwide.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows
Budget: $135 million
Director: Dave Green
Previous feature: His debut, Earth to Echo, cost $13 million and grossed $45 million worldwide.
Budget: $120 million
Director: Josh Trank
Previous feature: His debut, Chronicle, cost $12 million and grossed $125 million worldwide.
The list goes on and on and on, and it isn’t a trend that’s ending soon. Here are some upcoming movies in the same pattern. We don’t know the budgets of any of these movies, as they are still being determined, but it’s safe to assume they’re all in the $200 million-plus range.
Director: Jon Watts
Previous feature: Cop Car, budget unknown, grossed only $130,000 worldwide but got great reviews.
Director: Taika Waititi
Previous feature: Hunt for the Wilderpeople, budget unknown, grossed $5 million worldwide and was considered one of 2016's best films.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Director: Rian Johnson
Previous feature: Looper, which cost $30 million and grossed $175 million worldwide.
Godzilla vs. Kong
Director: Adam Wingard
Previous feature: Blair Witch, which cost $5 million and grossed $66 million worldwide.
Were you also wondering what the highest grossing films of all time directed by women are—as well how much they cost, and the director’s previous film? I’m glad you asked. Here are the top-grossing films of all time directed by one woman.
Kung Fu Panda 2
Budget: $150 million
Gross: $666 million worldwide
Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson in her feature debut, but she’d been working on films since the early ‘90s. It took almost 20 years for her to get a feature film.
Fifty Shades of Grey
Budget: $40 million
Gross: $571 million worldwide
Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson, who had done one feature, Nowhere Boy, budget unknown with a $6.5 million worldwide gross.
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel
Budget: $75 million
Gross: $443 million worldwide
Director: Betty Thomas, whose previous features included The Brady Bunch Movie, I Spy, Doctor Dolittle, and Private Parts, all of which had roughly similar budgets. She also hasn’t directed a feature since.
Budget: $37 million
Gross: $394 million worldwide
Director: Catherine Hardwicke, whose previous feature was the $35 million Nativity Story.
What Women Want
Budget: $70 million
Gross: $374 million worldwide
Director: Nancy Myers, who at the time had previously only directed Disney’s remake of The Parent Trap, budget unknown.
Pitch Perfect 2
Budget: $29 million
Gross: $288 million worldwide
Director: Elizabeth Banks, in her feature debut, who has been acting since 1998.
Most of these directors were either working with well below $100 million in terms of budget, or didn’t make a huge leap from their previous film. The exceptions all have caveats, like being a less risky animated sequel or adaptation of one of the most popular books in years. Plus, this is us considering films released all time and in all genres, not just the last few years of blockbusters, like the top group.
So yes, Wonder Woman is a significant milestone in Hollywood. And Ava DuVernay, going from the $20 million Selma to the Disney tentpole A Wrinkle in Time might even be the next director to buck the trend. A trend, hopefully, we see continue.