This Barbie is a billionaire. Or, at least, Greta Gerwig’s Barbie is. This past weekend, the movie surpassed the coveted billion dollar mark at the global box office, which also makes Gerwig the first solo female director to make a billion dollar movie. Only two other women have hit that benchmark, though they were part of directing teams, partnering with male directors. Gerwig is the first to have done it on her own, and that’s a significant milestone.
This achievement has sparked some curiosity and conversation about how well films directed by women have performed at the box office historically, and a few common patterns have emerged from the most successful films. Aside from Barbie, which is still experiencing massive success in theaters, the top 10 highest-grossing films directed by women are listed below, using data from IMDbPro’s Box Office Mojo.
Frozen II (2019)
Box Office: $1.450 billion ($1.726 billion in 2023 dollars)
As can be expected with any box office rundown these days, the top spots belong to Disney. What may be surprising is that of all the projects that the company pumps out, Frozen II is the studio’s highest grosser directed by a woman. Jennifer Lee directed both Frozen and Frozen II alongside Chris Buck, making her the highest-grossing female director ever.
Box Office: $1.281 billion ($1.678 billion in 2023 dollars)
Frozen holds the title of the first female-directed film to pass the billion dollar mark, having come out a full decade ago. The Frozen series is also representative of several other entries on this list: many are animated, and, frequently, those animated features require multiple directors.
Captain Marvel (2019)
Box Office: $1.128 billion ($1.343 billion in 2023 dollars)
Another Disney product, Captain Marvel is a movie by co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck. Notably, it’s the first (and, aside from Barbie, only) live-action film directed by a woman to make one billion dollars. Neither Boden nor Fleck is returning for the upcoming sequel, The Marvels, but that new director Nia DaCosta with the chance to make this list later this year.
Wonder Woman (2017)
Box Office: $822 million ($1.019 billion in 2023 dollars)
Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman was the first time in our modern superhero-obsessed era that a woman took charge, both on screen and behind the camera. It’s an empowering and inspiring movie, one that Greta Gerwig gave plenty of credit to.
The Matrix Reloaded (2003)
Box Office: $739 million ($1.220 billion in 2023 dollars)
Though the Matrix series makes up one of the highest-grossing female-directed franchises of all time, The Matrix Reloaded stands as the Wachowski sisters’ single highest grossing entry. Lilly and Lana Wachowski have long been trailblazers in the industry, from their affinity for groundbreaking special effects to their loud and proud proclamation of their gender identity. They’ve paved the way for female directors culturally—and monetarily.
Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)
Box Office: $666 million ($899 million in 2023 dollars)
An exception to the dual-director animation rule, Kung Fu Panda 2 was directed solely by Jennifer Yuh Nelson, a veteran of animated film and an accomplished storyboard artist who’s also won Emmys for her work on Love, Death & Robots. Not only that, but this sequel made the most money out of the three-film series.
Mamma Mia! (2008)
Box Office: $610 million ($860 million in 2023 dollars)
Director Phyllida Lloyd brought her West End show Mamma Mia! to the big screen with this delightful and campy musical, the first entry on this list to actively appeal to female audiences in the same way that Barbie does. Mamma Mia! proved that women are eager moviegoers a full 15 years before Gerwig’s film, albeit perhaps not as emphatically.
Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)
Box Office: $570 million ($729 million in 2023 dollars)
An emphasis on steamy romance may be new in mainstream culture at large, but a desire to see it on screen has long been simmering for female audiences everywhere. Flawed as it may be, Sam Taylor-Johnson’s Fifty Shades of Grey scratched that itch and made for a must-watch movie when it arrived in theaters.
Box Office: $539 million ($717 million in 2023 dollars)
Brenda Chapman is the woman behind Brave, though directing duties were split between her and Mark Andrews. Chapman’s work on the Disney-Pixar film is notable for its major box office return, but Brave wasn’t her first time handling a production. In fact, she helped direct 1998’s The Prince of Egypt, becoming the first woman to direct an animated feature from a major studio.
Box Office: $484 million ($833 million in 2023 dollars)
Some fun facts that you may not know about Shrek: it competed for the Palme d’Or at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival, it was the first film to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, and, of course, it was co-directed by a woman. The iconic film that resulted in endless sequels and countless quotes came, in part, from Vicky Jenson (who also co-helmed 2004’s Shark Tale, a film that almost made this list).
Like many of the other directors on this list, Jenson’s name may be largely unknown, but her impact certainly isn’t. Though their opportunities are far more limited, women have been directing all sorts of films—animated, blockbuster, musical, you name it—for quite some time, and hopefully Greta Gerwig’s recent, groundbreaking success will foster plenty for women down the road.