Looking at the list of the top 100 highest grossing films ever released, it would be easy to conclude what many studio heads like to tell themselves: women at the helm just don't make money. But, in reality, there is a long list of women who made the biggest movies of all time possible, even if they weren't sitting in the director's chair. Women, despite being historically kept out of the boys club that is Hollywood, have contributed to some of the most important films in history. From box office smashes to history making narratives, women have done it all. They've just rarely been rewarded for it.
Women have always been seen in front of the camera. Thanks to the star system of early Hollywood and the celebrity tradition that carries on today, popular actors ranging from Katherine Hepburn to Scarlett Johansson are sometimes credited with getting movies made, but what about all the women we don't see, ie. the women working behind the scenes as producers, editors, cinematographers, and more? These ladies deserve to be recognized just as much, because, as you'll see below, they've had a serious impact in the movies you've come to know and love over the course of Hollywood history.
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Amy Pascal — Producer
Amy Pascal suffered a major setback in 2015 when she was forced to resign from her position as Sony Pictures Entertainment Co-Chairman after leaked e-mails embarrassed the company. However, she is still a major force in Hollywood. In 2017, she helped produce two major motion pictures starring women — The Post and Molly's Game — and she also produced one of the year's box office hits, Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Patty Jenkins — Director
Patty Jenkins changed the world of superhero movies with Wonder Woman, the first major superhero movie directed by a woman and about a female superhero. The movie topped the box office in 2017, and offered a major course-correction for the DC Extended Universe. Jenkins is currently set to direct the Wonder Woman sequel, and fans have no reason to believe it won't be another major hit.
Bonnie Arnold and Mireille Soria — DreamWorks Animation Co-Presidents
Bonnie Arnold and Mireille Soria have been instrumental in establishing DreamWorks Animation as a major competitor in the animation world. Prior to being named DreamWorks Animation Co-Presidents in 2015, Soria and Arnold worked together to produce hits Madagascar and How To Train Your Dragon. Together, they have made billions for the company.
Jennifer Lee — Writer, Director
Jennifer Lee is still relatively new to Hollywood, but in five short years, she has already established herself as a hit maker for Disney. Lee wrote Wreck-It Ralph in 2012, a hit she followed up with this little film called Frozen, which she also co-directed. Up next: she's got Frozen 2 in the works and wrote the screenplay for Ava DuVernay's highly anticipated adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time.
Thelma Schoonmaker — Editor
Thelma Schoonmaker is a three time Oscar winner for a reason. A longtime editor for Martin Scorsese, Schoonmaker has helped craft many modern Hollywood classics, including Raging Bull, Goodfellas, The Wolf of Wall Street, and even Michael Jackson's "Bad" video.
Oprah Winfrey - Producer
Oprah Winfrey's credits might seem more elaborate on television than on film, but don't let that fool you. For decades before YouTube unleashed an entire generation of "Influencers," Winfrey was single-handedly shaping pop culture with her recommendations for everything form books, candles, to movies. Recently, her work as a producer with Ava DuVernay has helped shape the conversation about diversity in film and made Selma a hit.
Kay Cannon — Writer
Kay Cannon is the mind behind the rare original female-driven franchise, Pitch Perfect. After writing on 30 Rock, Cannon wrote her first feature, Pitch Perfect, and solidified a place in Hollywood history. The aca-awesome comedy launched a massively successful franchise that put women on top of the box office and helped producer Elizabeth Banks make the jump to feature director with Pitch Perfect 2.
Ngila Dickson — Costume Designer
If there's one thing that tied the Lord of the Rings trilogy together, it's the costumes. Ngila Dickson designed all the elaborate costumes of Middle Earth, and even won an Oscar for her work in The Return of the King.
Tina Fey — Writer, Actor
Tina Fey helped re-define teen movies for a generation when she wrote Mean Girls. 13 years after its release, teens are still quoting lines from the film as if it just hit theaters, and the movie is so popular it even has a recognized Mean Girls Day ("It's October 3.")
Dede Gardner — Plan B Entertainment Co-President
Producer Dede Gardner has become an awards show regular these past few years, producing hits such as Selma, The Big Short, and last year's Best Picture winner Moonlight.
Sue Kroll — President Of Marketing At Warner Brothers
Sue Kroll's work promoting Suicide Squad and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice saved the blockbuster films from being destroyed by harsh critics. Whether you like those movies or not, you have to admit that Kroll's ability to sell them to an audience despite a heap of negative press is pretty impressive.
J.K. Rowling — Author, Screenwriter
As the woman who wrote Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling has touched countless industries, including Hollywood. Now making her move as a screenwriter, Rowling is leading the way for another massive Hollywood franchise, Fantastic Beasts.
Lana & Lilly Wachowski
Lana and Lilly Wachowski (Lilly is pictured above) ushered in a new generation of science fiction lovers and franchises with The Matrix. The Matrix trilogy changed how movies used special effects and CGI, and set the tone for the action movies of the 21st Century.
Amy Heckerling — Writer, Director
Amy Heckerling might not be responsible for the most lucrative Hollywood movies, but the writer-director behind Clueless deserves all the credit in the world for giving us a definitive film on female friendship and high school romances.
Jane Jenkins — Casting Director
Casting director Jane Jenkins has helped bring together some of the most iconic casts ever assembled in cinema, including The Princess Bride, A Few Good Men, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Without her, we might not have Daniel Radcliffe or Emma Watson.
Janet Hirshenson — Casting Director
Janet Hirshenson has actually spent her career working with Jane Jenkins in casting. Over the years, Hirshenson and Jenkins have worked on clasics like Mrs. Doubtfire, When Harry Met Sally, and Stand By Me. If there was a budding star in their midsts, they'd find it.
Nora Ephron — Writer, Director
Nora Ephron, the patron saint of romantic comedies, wrote all your favorite movies from When Harry Met Sally to Heartburn. She also wrote and directed You've Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, and Julie & Julia, making her responsible for giving fans one of the greatest rom-com couples of all time in Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.
Diablo Cody — Writer
Diablo Cody absolutely changed the game with her screenwriting debut Juno. Aside from being a box office hit, the movie earned four Oscar nominations — a rarity for movies about teenagers — and won her an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
Verna Fields — Editor
Steven Spielberg's Jaws is commonly referred to as the world's first summer blockbuster, and editor Verna Fields played a key role in keeping the suspense alive in this shark attack thriller. Her credits include a collaboration with another major Hollywood director, George Lucas, American Graffiti, and Paper Moon.
Deborah Lynn Scott — Costume Designer
Over the years, Deborah Lynn Scott has contributed her talent in costume design to two of the world's highest grossing films — Titanic and Avatar. She also worked on Back to the Future, so we have her to thank for crafting Marty McFly's signature puffy-vest look.
Kathryn Bigelow — Director, Producer
Kathryn Bigelow has yet to direct a huge box office smash, but box office numbers pale in comparison to her historic Best Director Oscar win, which made her the first woman ever to receive the award.
Megan Ellison — Producer
Megan Ellison wasted no time in establishing herself as a major Hollywood producer. Her fourth credit on IMDB is as executive producer on True Grit. Since then she's been an Oscar regular, producing movies like Zero Dark Thirty, Her, American Hustle, and this year's Oscar hopeful Phantom Thread.
Barbra Streisand — Actor, Singer, Director, Producer, Writer
Barbra Streisand made musicals hot properties again in the late '60s and '70s with Hello, Dolly! and A Star Is Born, but her star power also helped make The Way We Were a romantic classic. Eventually, she wrote, directed, and starred in her very own musical, Yentl, which was nominated for five Oscars. Her snub for Best Director was a huge scandal — somewhat rectified when she was able to give the Best Director Oscar to Bigelow.
Ava DuVernay — Director, Producer, Writer
Ava DuVernay became a superstar director when her film Selma hit theaters in 2014. Since then, she's become a fixture of Hollywood as a producer, writer, director, and an inspirational figure encouraging young women and minorities to get behind a camera. Her next film, A Wrinkle in Time, earned a $100 million budget from Disney, making her the first woman of color to direct a live-action film on that scale. No doubt this big budget will set the stage for more women and minority directors to break into bigger budget films.
Nina Jacobson — Producer
Nina Jacobson produced one of the most iconic franchises of our times: The Hunger Games. Jacobson championed a female-led action series, helped launch Jennifer Lawrence into superstardom, and is working to diversify big budget movies with future projects like the upcoming adaptation of Crazy Rich Asians.
Carrie Fisher — Actor, Writer, Script Doctor
It's hard to imagine Star Wars without Carrie Fisher. As a cast member, she helped make the original trilogy into a massive hit. As a script doctor, she did even more. Perhaps best known for her work in front of the camera and as a writer of books, memoirs, and one-woman shows, it was Fisher's career as a script doctor that shaped countless huge Hollywood movies. Though rarely credited, Fisher is rumored to have worked on many Hollywood hits, including many of the Star Wars films (like the prequel trilogy and the most recent The Last Jedi). Fisher reportedly contributed to movies of all genres, including Hook, The Wedding Singer, Sister Act, and even Coyote Ugly.
There are many other women that have contributed to Hollywood's biggest hits and most beloved movies over the years. Sadly, as evidenced by this list, Hollywood hasn't always done a great job of acknowledging the women that make films possible. Even worse, looking at the work listed here, the huge lack of opportunity for women of color is undeniable. As we celebrate women who made their mark in cinema, let's not forget all the women that have yet to come.