In less than a month, Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins has gone from the first female director of a superhero movie, to the female director with the highest domestic opening weekend ever ($103.3 million), to, as of Friday, the female director with the highest-grossing movie ever worldwide ($621.3 million). The film is not just a commercial smash, either — it's become a cultural sensation, capturing the public's imagination in a way summer blockbusters rarely do anymore.
A female filmmaker has rarely — if ever — found herself in this particular kind of moment before, which is as much a commentary on the perpetual disadvantages of women in Hollywood as it is on Jenkins' singular achievement.
It's a point Jenkins herself was quick to make in a phone interview with BuzzFeed News on Friday. “It's surreal,” she said of reaching this box office milestone. “On the one hand, I'm trying to just enjoy it as a great honor. And on the other hand, it's sad when it makes you realize that there hasn't been as many films [directed by women] as there should be, of course. … This is making a lot of money. It's a huge deal for me and a huge honor. But it is interesting in the attention that it brings to the issue.”
Jenkins’ career in Hollywood really began with her debut feature, 2004’s Monster. The film earned Charlize Theron a Best Actress Oscar for her harrowing and humane portrayal of serial killer Aileen Wuornos, but Jenkins’ career largely stalled after its release — but only because no one wanted to make the movies she wanted to make, not because she wasn't getting offers at all. “The industry was also embracing me then,” she said. “It was difficult to get a movie that I was writing and directing made. But they were offering me studio movies that I didn't want to do. ... It was harder, I think, to get attention for the films that I wanted to do than I expected it to be.”
Wonder Woman, by contrast, was the perfect combination — a big studio movie Jenkins was enthusiastic about making — and now she is more in demand than ever.
During a break from developing the sequel — "We're working on making the contract official," Jenkins said of her current status on Wonder Woman 2 — she spoke openly about what Wonder Woman’s massive success means for her career and the careers of other female directors, that alleged Joss Whedon script leak, and how Twitter has brought her closer to the film's rabid fanbase than she ever expected.
Here are Jenkins' biggest takeaways since making Hollywood history — and, she hopes, helping to shape its future.
1. Her conviction about Wonder Woman’s massive success was absolutely right.
Wonder Woman (in)famously took decades to get her first feature film, encountering entrenched industry skepticism about whether or not audiences would buy tickets to see a female superhero — skepticism Jenkins never understood. “I kept feeling like Wonder Woman has this huge following — 75 years [after it was created], every Halloween, there's people dressed up as Wonder Woman,” she said. “I was like, Of course you should make Wonder Woman. That's, like, a bag of money sitting in the closet. Do you want the bag of money? It could have been done badly, or something could have gone wrong with it, but I always had thought that it was going to be far more successful than other people might have. The audience is there.”
2. Her career ambitions will never be totally fulfilled — and that’s as she wants it to be.
“I don't think I focused on the financial part of it,” Jenkins said of her career goals. “But definitely my ambition is to be great, and that always meant that the sky was the limit for what I was hoping to do. I was thinking I would love to make something that is a successful film that everybody sees, but I wasn't thinking about the actual dollar amount. I just wanted to make a great film that people responded to. That's always a good ambition, because you'll never totally hit it. Like, I'm so happy with this film, but of course it doesn't feel like the perfect film in my dreams to me. Nothing ever will. It's about always aiming higher.”
3. She doesn’t think it’s worth dwelling on any criticism of Wonder Woman, either.
“Listen, I am incredibly hard on myself, and I'm very open to being relentlessly hard on the movie, as long as we need to be. But once the movie is done, there is no point,” Jenkins said with a laugh. “There's nothing I can do! That chapter has passed for me, and that chapter was only really important and applicable when I could make a difference. ... Even the conversations now about what Wonder Woman 2 should be — it's important to know what the fanbase is, and it's important to hear [from them], but it's also important to be the storyteller and tell a story you feel confident in, and then make sure it's the best it can be.”
4. Or dwelling on earlier attempts at making a Wonder Woman movie.
Earlier this month, an alleged copy of a 2006 Wonder Woman script written by Joss Whedon — who is currently directing reshoots of Warner Bros.' Justice League, and is working on a Batgirl film for the studio — leaked online, leading to some pointed criticism. Jenkins, however, didn’t read it, and wouldn’t comment on the criticism of it. “He's in the DC universe now, and I don't think there's any reason to go there,” she said. “It was what it was. I'm lucky that I'm the person who got to do it. But I don't see what would be beneficial about comparing what he would've done versus what I would have done.” (A spokesperson for Whedon declined to comment on the script leak.)
5. She has learned the power of engaging with fans directly on Twitter.
Jenkins has been omnipresent on Twitter since Wonder Woman’s release — the account is “100%” run by her, and she doesn’t expect to ever hand it over to a social media manager either. It’s just too much fun. “What an incredible way to have a direct interface with the public!” she said. “I mean, definitely abused by some people in this world, but I think it's a very cool way to see what the fanbase and the public thinks, to hear from them, and then speak back to them directly. I think it's pretty amazing in that way.”
She particularly loves hearing from Wonder Woman's youngest fans. “The little kids' responses!” she exclaimed. “To see that kid at the theater right after they saw the movie, posing with the poster — that's incredible. I don't know where else I would get a daily flash of, like, Wow, thank you for sharing your reaction to the movie. That's so unique and wonderful.”
Jenkins was also touched that the themes of love, heroism, and making a difference in the world that she hoped to only slip in as “subtext” ended up being the same things fans also wanted to talk about. “I thought people would want to talk about, like, Issue 45 of Wonder Woman,” she said with a laugh.
6. She is already noticing the positive effect Wonder Woman is having on her career.
“Oh yeah, definitely, definitely, definitely there's attention and opportunity,” Jenkins said of industry interest in hiring her to direct more films. Her work on Wonder Woman 2 has made her ability to fully capitalize on that enthusiasm “slightly more complicated,” she said, but she’s actually been fielding offers for a while now. “I mean, they were trying to hire me for the last six months as I was finishing the movie.”
7. But she's been surprised by just how fully the industry has embraced her.
“That part's been really stunning,” she said when asked about the standing ovation she got at Diane Keaton's AFI Life Achievement tribute earlier this month. “It's funny. I expected to make a big movie. I expected it to be as big as these superhero movies are. All of that. But being embraced by the internet and the industry and the public and all of that has been so surprising. I can only describe it as an unexpected warm hug.”
8. She's certain Wonder Woman’s success will have a major impact on studios' interest in telling women's stories and hiring female directors.
“I would be very surprised if it didn't happen at this point,” Jenkins said. “They might just try to replicate the same kind of movie. But nevertheless, I think it would be hard not to notice this [success] and have that change the movies that studios are green-lighting — particularly in the fact that the old formulas are not so rock-solid. The kind of movies they have thought were the blockbusters, several of those have done badly this summer. So I think it would be hard not to notice the two things.”
9. And she can’t wait to have more fun with Wonder Woman in the sequel.
Jenkins said she wasn’t sure at first if audiences would respond to Wonder Woman’s blend of action, comedy, and romance. For the sequel, she said, “I feel much more inspired to continue on that balance.” But she can’t wait to bring another element to the franchise: sheer fun.
“There's always a struggle in an origin story to get to the point where that superhero exists, and now I'm dying to just let loose and have a great time with her,” Jenkins said. “Not for the whole movie, but in moments. I'm excited to see her power really soar, and us have a great time having a great Wonder Woman in our world. That's what I'm craving.”