Monday, April 13, 2015
A Comparison of the Top Grossing Films Throughout History (Part III: Women in Film)
In part one of this series, I looked at the top grossing films from various years throughout history. My focus was on genre and the seeming resurgence of fantasy and science fiction flicks.
Part two was about sequels and remakes and whether or not they have truly taken over theaters.
In this portion, I have decided to look at the top grossing films by year and see how many of them had women as directors or writers.
I checked out all even years from 1930 to 2000 and all years from 2002 to 2014. In decades like the 30s and 40s, I used the biggest moneymakers in the US only as opposed to worldwide. This is due to the data being more complete and accessible for the American box office in these years.
It may not come as a shock that when I looked up all the top ten grossing movies from the even years in the 1930s, not a single one of them was directed by a woman. After all, this was the thirties; women had made some advances but they still had a long way to go in terms of gender equality. It's hard enough for women to break into the film industry in certain positions now, imagine how bad it must have been in the 1930s!
Directing is still a male dominated field, but what about writers? You might find it surprising that a decent amount of the top films in these years were written, at least partially, by women.
In 1930, the sixth highest grossing film was The Rogue Song, a romantic musical directed by Lionel Barrymore. The script was penned by John Colton and Frances Marion. Marion is easily one of the most significant female screenwriters, especially in her time period.
That same year, she also wrote The Big House, which garnered her an Academy Award win for best adapted screenplay. This made her the first woman writer to win an Oscar.
She won another Oscar in 1932 in the Best Story category for The Champ, thus making her the first writer of any gender to win two Academy Awards. The Champ was the fifth highest grossing film of 1932. She even got nominated again in 1934.
Moving on, in 1934 there were actually three films in the top ten that had a woman as one of the writers. Number five was The Thin Man, written by the husband and wife duo Albert Goodrich and Frances Goodrich. They will come up again later in this essay.
Number 7 was The Gay Divorcee, written by three people, one of whom was Dorothy Yost. Yost started in the silent era and worked in the industry until the 1950s
The ninth biggest grosser of 1934 was The Girl from Missouri, co-written by Anita Loos. She also wrote the 1925 novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
In 1936, a whopping seven films out of the top ten were written by women! This is the biggest number I found in any of the years I looked at this to this day. It wouldn't surprise me if this is the highest concentration of female writers in the top ten of any year in film history.
This includes the highest grossing movie of the year, San Francisco. About the 1906 earthquake, it was written by Robert E. Hopkins and the aforementioned Anita Loos.
Number 8 on the list for 1936 was Camille, which had three writers. Two of which were women, Zoe Atkins and Frances Marion.
In 1938, there was a film called Out West with the Hardys that made the tenth most money that year. Three of the four credited writers on it were women.
Then in 1940, none of the top ten films had any women screenwriters. This was the first year I looked at where this was the case.
Not to worry, in 1942 a woman was one of the four writers on the top grossing film of the year, Mrs. Miniver.
The number four film of 1944, Lady in the Dark, was written by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, the husband and wife team we discussed earlier.
1946's top ten films had no female writers, but in 1948 two of them were co-written by women. One of them was Irma von Cube who would later be nominated for an Academy Award.
In 1950, the second highest grossing film was co-written by a woman, Helen Deutsch. Two years later, Singin' in the Rain was number five at the box office; one of the writers was Betty Comden.
Then things seemed to slow down a bit for female writers. In 1954, 1956, and 1958 none of the top ten films were even partially written by women.
In 1960, Isobel Lennart was the sole writer on Please Don't Eat the Daisies, a comedy starring Doris Day. It ended up being the ninth biggest movie in the United States that year. Lennart will come up again later in this essay.
In 1962, another woman was the only writer on a top ten film. This time, it was number eight, a film named Hatari. The writer was Leigh Brackett, one of the most notable female film writers of all time. She will come back in a big way later on.
In 1964 and 1966 there were again no women writers on the top ten films of each year. In 1968 however, the second biggest flick of the year was Funny Girl, again written by Isobel Lennart.
Besides Lennart and Brackett things continued to be slow. In 1970 and 1972 no women wrote any of the biggest films.
In 1974, the third biggest movie, The Trial of Billy Jack, was written by Delores Taylor and her husband, who both also starred in the film.
1976 again had no women writers for the biggest films, but 1978 did, and it was a big one. Superman: The Movie had four writers, two of which were Leslie Newman and her husband. It's worth nothing that the only examples in the 1970s I found were of women working with their husband.
1980 seemed to mark the beginning of a period of change in this regard. Three of the top ten films had a credited female writer. Number nine on the year was Private Benjamin; one of the three writers was Nancy Meyers. 9 to 5 was the second highest grossing movie of 1980 and it was co-written by Patricia Resnick.
However, the biggest example of that year is clearly the hugely successful sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, written by Leigh Brackett. It was one of the biggest movies ever and has made over $538 million dollars globally.
Sadly, Brackett died in 1978 before the film was released. Her script was rewritten by Lawrence Kasdan and it's unclear exactly how much of her script ended up in the final product.
Moving on to 1982, we can see two women writers in the top ten. Annie, the tenth highest grossing film of the year, was written by Carol Sobieski.
The biggest film of the year was again written by a woman named Melissa Mathison, who penned the script for E.T.
Likewise, 1984 had two top ten films written by women, one of them being an adventure blockbuster. Romancing the Stone was written by Diane Thomas, and reached number nine at the box office for 1984.
The third highest grossing movie was Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, another Spielberg production. One of the two writers on it was Gloria Katz. George Lucas was a producer on the film and he had worked with Katz previously when she wrote the script for American Graffiti. She would also go on to write the screenplay for the Lucas production Howard the Duck.
1986 only had only one top ten movie written by a woman. The animated film An American Tail (#6) was co -written by Judy Freudberg.
None of the top films in the years I looked at had films directed by women. That changed in 1988. The fourth biggest film in the US that year was Big, directed by Penny Marshall and starring Tom Hanks. Marshall gained fame for a role in the TV show Laverne & Shirley, but later became a director. Big was her second film as director. She went on to direct movies such as Awakenings and A League of Their Own.
Surely things improved for women filmmakers after this? After all, it was the late 80s and early 90s. Well, sort of. In 1990, we went back to having no female writers or directors for the top ten films.
However, in 1992 there was another top ten movie directed by a woman. This year, it was the comedy Wayne's World, directed by Penelope Spheeris, the filmmaker behind The Decline of Western Civilization. Also, one of the three writers was Bonnie Turner.
In 1994, the ninth highest grossing movie was Interview with a Vampire. It was based on a novel by Anne Rice, who also wrote the screenplay.
But the biggie this year was The Lion King. The animated Disney film was the biggest movie of the year, making almost a billion dollars worldwide. Two of the three screenwriters were women, Linda Woolverton and Irene Mecchi. This will be the first of many animated films written by women I will come across.
The next one is The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which reached number five at the box office in 1996. The film had five credited writers and two of them were women, including the aforementioned Irene Mecchi.
Also, the second biggest movie of 1996, Twister, was co-written by a woman.
Moving on to 1998, for the first time we see two movies directed by a woman in the top ten. The eighth highest grossing movie of the year was Dr. Dolittle, directed by Betty Thomas (Private Parts, John Tucker Must Die).
The sixth biggest film of 1998 was Deep Impact, starring Elijah Wood and Morgan Freeman. The director was Mimi Leder, who went on to make Pay it Forward and Thick as Thieves.
Number seven on the year was the Disney cartoon Mulan. 2 of the credited writers were women, Eugenia Bostwick-Singer and Rita Hsiao, who later worked on the Toy Story 2 screenplay.
In 2000, only one of the top ten movies had a woman as director or writer and that, fittingly enough was the romantic comedy What Women Want, starring Helen Hunt and Mel Gibson. Two of the three screenwriters were women, Diane Drake and Cathy Yuspa. The director was Nancy Meyers, who also made The Parent Trap and Something's Gotta Give. At the time, What Women Want was the most successful film directed by a woman.
As you can see, there were a few woman directors and writers sprinkled here and there throughout the top tens, but they haven't made huge progress from earlier years.
Flash forward to 2002, and we have two films with women screenwriters in the top ten. The ninth highest grosser of the year was My Big Fat Greek Wedding, written by Nia Vardalos.
The biggest film of the year was the fantasy adaptation The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. There were four credited screenwriters, with two of them being female: Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh. They were both writers on the first Lord of the Rings movie and returned for Return of the King, which ended up being the biggest movie of 2003. However, they were the only women who were writers or directors on a top ten movie that year.
Next year we see a return to the trend of women being involved in successful animated films. The 2004 film Shark Tale had three directors, one of them being Vicky Jenson. Jenson was also the co-director on the smash hit Shrek.
In 2005, two top ten movies were written by women. The fifth biggest film of the year was Peter Jackson's King Kong. One of the screenwriters on it was Fran Walsh, Jackson's wife and collaborator who got a screenwriting credit on all of the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films. Another writer on King Kong was Carolynne Cunningham; she was a writer on the Tolkien adaptations as well.
The third most financially successful film of 2005 was The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, an adaptation of the beloved fantasy novel by C.S. Lewis. One of the four writers was a woman named Ann Peacock.
In 2006, only one top ten film had a female credited as a writer, and it barely got in at number ten. Once again, it was an animated work, called Happy Feet. It had four screenwriters, one of whom was the actress Judy Morris.
2007 again had only one top movie written by a woman and no female directors. The lone exception at number nine on the year was National Treasure: Book of Secrets, penned by the husband and wife time Marianne and Cormac Wibberley (Bad Boys II, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle).
Even moving on to 2008, we only see one film in the top ten (Mamma Mia!) that was written and directed by a woman. And in 2009 the seventh biggest film of the year, The Twilight Saga: New Moon, was written by Melissa Rosenberg and that's it.
2010 did a bit better with two movies in the top ten written by women. One of these was The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, also written by the previously mentioned Rosenberg. Also, the second biggest film of the year, Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, was written by Linda Woolverton.
2011 sees another appearance at number four by Rosenberg with the next installment in the Twilight franchise. Number six on the year was Kung Fu Panda, directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson.
2012 had three films in the top ten written by women. The ninth highest grossing movie of the year was The Hunger Games. One of the three credited screenwriters was Suzanne Collins, the author of the original novel. At number six that year, we see yet another appearance of a Twilight movie written by Melissa Rosenberg.
The fourth-biggest movie of 2012 was The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and Peter Jackson regulars Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens again do the honors.
Those two also wrote The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, which was also number four at the box office in 2013.
The biggest movie of 2013 was the Disney animated film Frozen. Jennifer Lee was the co-director. It made over $1.3 billion, making the biggest film ever directed by a woman.
2014 had a slight improvement as well in that four of the top ten movies were written by women, the biggest number in decades that I had seen. One of these was Disneys's Maleficent, written by Linda Woolverton and the fourth-biggest film of 2014. Another film under the Disney umbrella at number three was Marvel Studios' Guardians of the Galaxy, co-written by Nicole Perlman.
Number nine in 2014 was Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, partially written by Amanda Silver. And at number two we of course, have The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies.
As you can see, progress had been made for gender equality in some ways, but we also have a long way to go. A fair amount of women have written and directed the biggest films, but seems as if the 1930s had a lot more female writers on the biggest films than we do even today. In an ideal world, some of these years would have half or more of the top ten movies written and directed by women.