Very few female directors have helmed comedies that found major box office success
By virtue of the highly anticipated sequel making $70.3 million during the opening weekend alone, Banks joined a relatively exclusive club: female directors of successful, mainstream comedies. Congrats, Elizabeth. You’ve come a long way from "You taste like a burger."
But yes, unfortunately, there aren’t many female directors – and they usually don’t direct comedies. Let’s hope one day it’s not so unusual for a woman to helm a successful comedy that’s not a romcom, not an animated family feature, and not a bittersweet dramedy in which characters “come to terms with things.”
Until then, however, here are some of the female directors in the comedy club whom other aspiring lady filmmakers can look to for, well, direction.
Amy Heckerling for Fast Times at Ridgemont High
Today, Heckerling is probably best known as the director of Clueless, a movie about teenage girls that found across-the-board success. But in 1982, she cut her teeth directing this landmark teen movie, and in between she also directed National Lampoon’s European Vacation and the Look Who’s Talking movies.
Martha Coolidge for Real Genius
You might expect that 1983’s Valley Girl was directed by a woman, but Coolidge also directed the 1985 Val Kilmer comedy Real Genius as well as a host of other works.
Susan Seidelman for Desperately Seeking Susan
It’s a comedy with dramatic elements, sure, but this 1985 Madonna film was made for $4.5 million and ended up taking in more than $27 million. Seidelman also directed Meryl Streep and Roseanne in 1989’s She-Devil.
Penny Marshall for Big
Big is another film that seems so focused on men – the problems of not yet being a man, the problems with being a man – that it’s notable that the director wasn’t a man. When Big came out in 1988, Marshall had already scored a comedy hit with Jumpin’ Jack Flash and would score another in the female-centric A League of Their Own.
Penelope Spheeris for Wayne’s World
It was the eighth-highest-grossing film of 1992, and people might be surprised to know that the director of Wayne’s World was a woman, “schwing”-y bromance and all. Despite its success, however, Spheeris was not asked to direct the sequel.
Betty Thomas for The Brady Bunch Movie
In 1995, the Hill Street Blues actress teamed up with her Troop Beverly Hills costar Shelley Long to make major box office bucks. This ’90s take on the Brady clan’s ’70s sunniness earned $54 million. Thomas would go on to direct the sequel, as well as Private Parts, Dr. Doolittle and Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel.
Tamra Davis for Billy Madison
Yep, the movie that gave us Adam Sandler at his prime Adam Sandler-ness (circa 1995) was directed by a woman. Davis also directed Half-Baked and Crossroads, but this writer will be forever thankful for her having introduced him to Miss Lippy.
Gurinder Chadha for Bend It like Beckham
In 2002, Chadha scored an unlikely crossover hit with this sports comedy about a girl who plays soccer against her parents’ wishes. It cost $6 million to make; it raked in $76 million and helped make stars of Keira Knightley and Parminder Nagra.
Anne Fletcher for Hot Pursuit
It’s early to call Hot Pursuit a success, though it’s respectable that it came in No. 2 behind Avengers: Age of Ultron when it opened on May 8. It’s also worth noting that this movie is a rare example of a female director helming a comedy starring two women. Fletcher previously directed The Proposal and 27 Dresses.
If we’re drawing a line between comedies and romantic comedies, most of Nora Ephron’s directorial work falls on the far side of that line – When Harry Met Sally and Bewitched included. However, her contributions to funny movies and filmmaking in general can’t be underestimated. The same goes for Nancy Meyers – The Parent Trap, It’s Complicated – though her upcoming Anne Hathaway film The Intern may skew more “com” than romcom.
For what it’s worth, Frozen was co-directed by a woman, Jennifer Lee, and the original Shrek was co-directed by Vicky Jenson. In early 2015, Entertainment Weekly reported that Jennifer Yuh Nelson’s Kung Fu Panda 2, of all movies, had become the most successful movie ever directed by a woman. To date, it has made $665 million.