The Oscars (and most Hollywood awards, for that matter) might be notorious for ignoring women directors but fortunately, genre cinema doesn’t feel the same way. In fact, some of our most anticipated superhero, fantasy, sci-fi, and horror films are directed by women. Imagine that!
Not all of these are being released this year, but here are 14 films to put on your radar if they’re not already.
1) Elizabeth Banks
We’ve been fans of Banks ever since seeing her in 2001's Wet Hot American Summer and 2005's The 40 Year Old Virgin (also, shout out to Sliver, Moonbeam City, and all those fashion sins committed by Effie Trinket in the Hunger Games movies). But our favourite thing about her is fast becoming the fact that while she’s obviously hilarious in front of the camera, she’s also branched out into directing. Though we (and a lot of people, apparently) skipped her recent take on Charlie’s Angels, we’re more than intrigued to see her entry into the world of Universal Monsters, which will reportedly take the form of an Invisible Woman movie that she’ll also star in, from a script by Erin Cressida Wilson (Secretary). (Release date TBD)
2) Kay Cannon
Does the world really need another Cinderella movie? How about one where Idina Menzel plays the stepmother and Billy Porter plays the fairy godmother? Though this somehow isn’t a Disney production (probably because the Mouse just did its own live-action Cinderella in 2015), and its twist on the fairy tale comes courtesy of James Corden (hopefully there are no cats involved), we’re still intrigued to see this musical interpretation of the well-worn story.
Pop star Camila Cabello has the lead, and Menzel and Porter are inspired casting, but Cannon (whose writing credits include Pitch Perfect and 30 Rock; her previous feature was the raunchy comedy Blockers) behind the camera could be the key element that makes this latest Cinderella be more than just another overload of sweet stuff. (2021)
3) Niki Caro
Caro’s breakout film, 2002's Whale Rider, is set in her native New Zealand and tells the story of a Māori girl (Keisha Castle-Hughes, who was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar) who proves she has what it takes to be the leader of her tribe. Though Caro’s made some other films since then, none have been as high-profile as Disney’s upcoming Mulan. It’s a live-action remake that – unlike certain other recent Disney live-action redos – actually feels like it’ll have something new to bring to the table beyond cashing in on nostalgia (including, but not limited to, a cast that includes Donnie Yen and Jet Li). When Disney hired her in 2017, Caro became one of very few woman in Hollywood to helm a film budgeted over $100 million; you’ll find other trailblazers in that arena also making this list. (March 27)
4) Brenda Chapman
Chapman has already smashed through several glass ceilings in animation; in 1998, she co-directed The Prince of Egypt (becoming the first woman to direct an animated feature for a major studio), and in 2012 she co-directed Brave, which went on to win an Academy Award for Best Animated Film (making her the first woman to win that award, a year before Jennifer Lee took home the same for Frozen). Chapman’s live-action directorial debut, Come Away, shares some of the fanciful DNA of her previous works, with a twist; it imagines that the title characters of Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan are siblings helping each other through a family tragedy. It’ll premiere at Sundance this week, with hopefully a wider release to follow. (January 24)
5) Nia DaCosta
In case there’s any confusion, Jordan Peele isn’t directing the new Candyman film described as the “spiritual sequel” to the 1992 horror cult classic, set in contemporary gentrified Chicago, though he did co-write it and is co-producing. The director of this summer’s Candyman is Brooklyn-born DaCosta – whose debut film, thriller Little Woods, came out last year and stars Tessa Thompson as a woman trying, without much success, to leave her life as a small-time criminal behind.
The cast of Candyman will be led by Watchmen’s Yahya Abdul-Mateen II – said to be playing the adult version of the baby named Anthony who plays a big part in the events of the 1992 movie – and, hopefully, O.G. bee man Tony Todd. Candyman is still terrifying nearly 30 years later, and given the still-sharp social commentary lurking beneath its urban-legends-are-real plot, it feels like a story ripe for updating on many levels. (June 12)
6) Ava DuVernay
There’s no denying that DuVernay is a towering talent, especially when you take into account her non-genre works (Selma, 13th, When They See Us). We may not have fallen in love with her interpretation of A Wrinkle in Time, but it nailed the necessary balance of character development and dazzling visuals, which makes us more than excited to see what she’ll bring to the much-anticipated New Gods film she’s making with co-writer Tom King. So far plot details have only been teased and there has been no casting announcement (though here’s an idea) – this thing doesn’t even have a release date yet. But 2020 should bring us a lot more information about this undeniably thrilling project. (Release date TBD)
7) Patty Jenkins
Um, duh. We loved Wonder Woman. Jenkins squashed any doubts that a woman could successfully helm a giant comic-book extravaganza – one with a long-overdue female lead, no less – with a film full of action, heart, and goosebump-raising moments. We’ve been counting down the minutes until the arrival of the colourfully retro Wonder Woman 1984, which shows every sign of becoming another instant classic with Jenkins once again calling the shots. (June 5)
8) Lisa Joy
Truth be told, the main Joy project we’re looking forward to this year is the return of HBO’s Westworld. Our obsession with Westworld is, in turn, the reason we’re so intrigued by Reminiscence, the sci-fi feature film she’s currently working on as writer-director, with a cast that’s said to include Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, and Westworld’s Thandie Newton, among others. Set in a near-future Miami after the effects of global warming have submerged much of the city, the film’s plot involves the use of technology that helps people relive their pasts, for better and for worse. (Release date TBD)
9) Zoe Lister-Jones
It was all but inevitable that The Craft would get a remake – it contains so many things that people love, like 1990s fashion, high school angst, and witchcraft! – but we’re glad to see Blumhouse’s do-over will explore this tale of female empowerment (that spirals into a cautionary tale about the abuse of said power) from an actual woman’s point of view. Lister-Jones is an actor whose segue into directing started with 2017's Band Aid, a dramedy she made using an all-female crew. While we don’t know much about how Lister-Jones will update the script for her version of the cult classic, the casting thus far suggests this Craft will be, refreshingly, far more diverse than the original film. (Release date TBD)
10) Gina Prince-Bythewood
One of the most anticipated Netflix movies of 2020 has gotta be The Old Guard, about which the streamer recently tweeted: “Charlize Theron and Kiki Layne lead a covert group of immortal mercenaries who must fight to keep their team together when they discover the existence of a new immortal and their extraordinary abilities are exposed.”
Director Prince-Bythewood’s name was, at one point, attached to Sony’s yet-to-materialise Spider-Man spinoff Silver and Black, but The Old Guard – an adaptation of Greg Rucka and Leandro Fernandez’s Image Comics title – is her first full-on action movie (her previous films include Love and Basketball, The Secret Life of Bees, and the Gugu Mbatha-Raw-starring Beyond the Lights). Frankly, The Old Guard had us at “Charlize Theron” and “immortal mercenaries,” but the rest of that plot description (and If Beale Street Could Talk’s Kiki Layne) will make it difficult not to tune in when it hits Netflix. (2020)
11) Cate Shortland
Director Shortland has made several films in her native Australia, but Marvel’s Black Widow is definitely her first potential blockbuster, as well as the first Marvel film to be directed solo by a woman (Captain Marvel, of course, was co-directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck). Black Widow is only the second Marvel film to focus on a female hero (after, again, Captain Marvel), but it won’t be introducing a new character – obviously, we’ve gotten to know the Scarlett Johansson version over several Avengers films and even saw her die in Endgame. Um, but however unsatisfying Natasha Romanoff’s story has been up to this point, her prequel film looks like it’ll deliver not just an origin story (far beyond what we already know) for the assassin, but also killer action, a mysterious villain, and maybe even some much-deserved fun. (May 1)
12) Cathy Yan
Chinese-American filmmaker Yan made her feature debut with Shanghai-set dark comedy Dead Pigs, which premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, but Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is set to share her talents with a much larger audience. Written by Christina Hodson (2018's Bumblebee), Birds of Prey follows the continuing adventures of DC Comics antihero Harley Quinn, with Margot Robbie reprising her role from Suicide Squad in what looks to be a much more female-centric story.
Along for the ride: Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), and baddie Black Mask (Ewan McGregor), plus plenty of roller skates, baseball bats, and a colourful wardrobe that appears equally suited to kicking ass and strutting the catwalk. (February 7)
13) Lana Wachowski
We’re just gonna keep calling it The Matrix 4 until someone divulges what will probably be a much flashier title, but we couldn’t be more stoked about the re-teaming of Lana Wachowski, Keanu Reeves, and Carrie-Anne Moss, set to be released 22 years after the original film changed action movies forever. We don’t know any plot details, but we do know Neo and Trinity will return, with new faces reportedly to include the busy Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Neil Patrick Harris, among others. (May 21, 2021)
14) Chloé Zhao
The director of the critically acclaimed contemporary Western The Rider was tapped to helm Marvel’s The Eternals in September 2018, and the project has since become one of fall’s most anticipated releases (not just because of the promised inclusion of Marvel’s first major gay character, but that’s definitely something worth looking forward to). Zhao has an all-star cast helping to bring the cosmic Jack Kirby comics to life, including Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, and others. (November 6)
The list doesn’t end there, thank goodness. We’ve also got our eye on Deborah Chow (the Mandalorian alum who’ll be overseeing the Obi-Wan Kenobi series for Disney+, and – crazy idea – maybe a Star Wars feature one day?), Domee Shi (creator of Pixar’s first female-directed short, the Oscar-winning Bao), Issa López (who directed last year’s Guillermo del Toro-beloved horror film Tigers Are Not Afraid), and Blumhouse Into the Dark horror alums Sophia Takal (Black Christmas) and Gigi Saul Guerrero. And hopefully many more! Which women directors are you excited to see with films in the coming year and beyond?
Featured image: Clay Enos (Warner Bros.)