If there’s one thing that 2020 taught us, it’s that nothing is ever set in stone, especially release dates. With the global box office in upheaval — really, with the entire globe in upheaval — a year that seemed otherwise poised to give us yet another steady stream of blockbusters was instead hit hard by lockdowns, closed theaters, and plenty of delayed release dates. The pandemic and its considerable ripple effect also derailed what was going to be a particularly thrilling year for female filmmakers, just as they were starting to truly break through on the studio side, though a new look at the year in review finds that 2020 still held plenty of reason for Hollywood’s women to celebrate.
It’s still unclear how (or even if) 2021 will provide a bounceback for the box office and its rising women talents. But there are some positive indicators. As we head into a new era, the latest study from the Celluloid Ceiling, the longest-running and most comprehensive study of women’s employment in film, women directors were up overall in 2020. Women directors achieved historic highs this past year, with women comprising 18 percent of the filmmakers calling the shots behind the top 250 domestic features, an uptick from 13 percent in 2019 and eight percent in 2018.
Getting the chance to helm a studio feature is, of course, not the golden ticket for any director, but it’s hard to deny the power and prestige of directing a big-time movie released by a major studio. For now, studios are still the home of the big blockbusters, the major moneymakers, and the kind of opportunities that continue to elude the vast majority of female filmmakers working in the contemporary era. And while conversations about the need for inclusion and diversity both in front of and behind the camera have been significantly ramped up in recent years, there are still many more changes and evolutions that need to take root in Tinseltown.
While it’s understandable that the next two years at the box office still seem a little hazy, this early look at what’s to come from female directors is promising in many ways. For one thing, all of the major studios have at least one female-directed feature coming (this may sound small, but there are have many previous iterations of this list in which that is not the case); for another, there’s a thrilling range to these projects, from the usual tentpole fare (which is still new territory for female filmmakers) to animated features, deeply personal dramas, original comedies, sci-fi, and horror.
A still from the animated teaser for Nia DaCosta’s “Candyman”
Two of the directors that appear on this lineup actually show up twice, with two new films slated to come out over the next two years (still rare for most directors, let alone women): While her Oscar hopeful “Nomadland” gears up for a wide release, Chloé Zhao is prepping her upcoming Marvel entry “Eternals,” and rising star Nia DaCosta will soon see the release of both her delayed “Candyman” remake and her own Marvel debut, “The Marvels.”
Other studios are continuing to foster their own homegrown talent, like Disney and Pixar, which are readying to release filmmaker Domee Shi’s feature debut “Turning Red” in 2022, keeping her very much in the family after she won an Oscar for her beloved Pixar short “Bao” back in 2019. Warner Bros. is also welcoming Lana Wachowski back into the fold for her much-hyped “The Matrix 4,” while the studio has also kept hold of rising star Lisa Joy, who will soon debut her feature film “Reminiscence” after helping turn HBO’s “Westworld” (produced by WB’s TV arm) into such a hit.
As ever, there is plenty of room for growth on this list, especially as the 2021 festival season keep rolling along and potentially hungry studios go looking to purchase new films that have already been made (last year, SPC picked up Heidi Ewing’s “I Carry You with Me” at Sundance, and will finally release it more than a year later; Robin Wright’s “Land” locked both a Sundance premiere and a release from Focus Features in the first quarter of the year).
“Bao” director Domee Shi with her mother Ningsha Zhong
Elsewhere, there may even be a few surprises lurking in plain sight, as both Disney (plus Fox) and Universal have a robust slate of currently unknown upcoming features stretching into the coming years, including “event” films, animated offerings, and, of course, more superhero movies.
Check out the list of upcoming female-directed features below, divided up by studio. The films listed all have a set release date (or have at least been announced as officially coming out in 2021 or 2022). As with our previous lists from 2020, 2019, 2018, and 2017, we will update as new films are added to (and sometimes removed from) various slates. As of this writing, there are 21 films directed or co-directed by women in the studio offing. Unless otherwise specified, release dates pertain to traditional theatrical distribution. Last updated: May 28, 2021.
“Luck,” directed by Peggy Holmes, February 18, 2022 (Apple TV+ only)
“Spellbound,” directed by Vicky Jenson, November 11, 2022 (Apple TV+ only)
Sony Pictures Entertainment and Sony Pictures Classics
“I Carry You with Me,” directed by Heidi Ewing, June 25, 2021
“Hotel Transylvania 4,” co-directed by Jennifer Kluska, July 23, 2021
“Cinderella,” directed by Kay Cannon, TBD September 2021 (will premiere on Amazon Prime Video)
“Where the Crawdads Sing,” directed by Olivia Newman, June 24, 2022
“The Nightingale,” directed by Melanie Laurent, December 23, 2022
Twentieth Century Studios and Searchlight Pictures
“Nomadland,” directed by Chloé Zhao, February 19, 2021 (theaters and Hulu)
Universal Pictures and Focus Features
“Land,” directed by Robin Wright, February 12, 2021
“Spirit Untamed,” co-directed by Elaine Bogan, June 4, 2021
“Candyman,” directed by Nia DaCosta, August 27, 2021
“Wolf,” directed by Nathalie Biancheri, December 3, 2021
“Marry Me,” directed by Kat Coiro, February 11, 2022
Walt Disney Pictures/Buena Vista
“Flora & Ulysses,” directed by Lena Khan, February 19, 2021 (Disney+ only)
“Black Widow,” directed by Cate Shortland, July 9, 2021 (in theaters and on Disney+)
“Eternals,” directed by Chloé Zhao, November 5, 2021
“Encanto,” co-directed by Charise Castro Smith, November 24, 2021
“Turning Red,” directed by Domee She, March 11, 2022
“The Marvels,” directed by Nia DaCosta, November 11, 2022
“Reminiscence,” directed by Lisa Joy, August 20, 2021 (in theaters and on HBO Max)
“The Matrix 4,” directed by Lana Wachowski, December 22, 2021 (in theaters and on HBO Max)
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