Recently, it was announced that the producers behind the new EXPENDABLES movie are seeking a female director to helm the project. I decided to make a list of 20 women directors for the new EXPENDABLES movie because, frankly, I haven't seen that many suggested aside from Lexi Alexander (PUNISHER: WARZONE) and Kathryn Bigelow (Do I need to tell you?).
I am always surprised when people say “there aren’t that many women action film directors.” I mean, I guess I’m not surprised, really, because overall there are way more men directing, in general, than women, so it will always appear that there are fewer women directing films of all genres.
But there is a really long legacy of women directing action and thriller films on our planet. Even Alice Guy Blache, the first female filmmaker, (I know you're all sick of hearing about her, whatevs) directed several one-reel action sequences, like these:
A heist flick:
And this one, titled SURPISE ATTACK ON A HOUSE AT DAYBREAK:
And those are free to watch, public domain, on the Internet.
Guy Blache aside, I’m looking at a stack of movies on my desk, like the recent DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK from Jen and Sylvia Soska, AIR COLLISION by Liz Adams, the AGENT 15 series by Paget Brewster, Rachel Lee Goldenberg’s Asylumspoitation SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE’S SHERLOCK HOLMES, Katrina del Mar’s SURF GANG, Nikka Kalashkinova’s high-octane JUPITER LOVE…And those are just random, lesser-known indies from the last ten years.
I also have a stack of flicks that I’m surprised no one mentions when they talk about action directed by women, like Roberta Findlay’s 1985 THE TENEMANT:
Barbara Peeter’s 1971 biker flick BURY ME AN ANGEL:
Dorothy Ann Puzo’s COLD STEEL, and Czinzia Th Torrini’s HOTEL COLONIAL from 1988:
and Virginia Stone’s 1975 adventure TREASURE OF THE JAMAICA REEF (AKA EVIL IN THE DEEP) starring Cheryl Ladd:
And these are all before mentioning that really iconic 1970s exploitation/action flick TERMINAL ISLAND directed by the first woman Roger Corman ever hired to direct a film, Stephanie Rothman:
And, folks, I haven’t even started talking about the mainstream movies by Kathryn Bigelow and Mimi Leder yet! But let’s get to the point. This is supposed to be an article about women who have what it takes to direct the new EXPENDABLES sequel, insultingly titled EXPENDABELLES (which, director Lori Bowen points out, means they should retitle the first two films “EXPENDABALLS”). These directors have the career backgrounds and necessary experience to direct this movie. Of course they all have different styles and would bring completely different sets of skills, personalities, and style to the movies, so it is a matter of personal taste and preference as to whom would be the best woman for the job.
1) Lexi Alexander
Alexander is my first choice simply because I know she has a large fan base from her PUNISHER: WARZONE days and is actually able to choreograph her own fight sequences if need be. Her previous film GREEN STREET HOOLIGANS was what got her that job, actually, and it has numerous action sequences, tension, and won, like, 5,000,00000 awards. She also has a svelte sense of humor and doesn’t take herself too seriously, which I think is a prerequisite for directing something as stupid as THE EXPENDABELLES, right?
You can hear Lexi describe her experiences making PUNISHER: WARZONE on the great podcast HOW DID THIS GET MADE? which has endeared her to many a new fan.
2) Mimi Leder
Leder, you may or may not remember, directed the action/sci-fi blockbuster DEEP IMPACT and the action/thriller THE PEACEMAKER in the late 1990s. Leder also has a slew of crime/action TV series under her belt. Since then, she’s been considered for a few other action films like the remake of ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, but so far has stuck to TV like recent episodes of SHAMELESS.
3) Lana Wachowski
Wachowski, as one of “the” Wachowskis, was one of the creators of the original MATRIX series. With SPEED RACER and CLOUD ATLAS also under her belt, and the new sci-fi extravaganza JUpITER ASCENDING in post production, Wachowski may be the perfect choice to direct EXPENDABELLES. Though she’s never directed ANYTHING alone without brother Andy. Is this even something she’d consider/be capable of doing alone?
4) Betty Thomas
No one ever mentions Betty Thomas when talking about potential directors for genre films and I am not sure why. Thomas mostly directs comedies, but her 2002 action/comedy I SPY teamed Owen Wilson with Eddie Murphy in a dynamic, if generic and predictable, black cop/white cop classic Hollywood action fest that was actually quite financially successful.
5) Catherine Hardwicke
Before she was TWILIGHT-ING and RED RIDING-it around Hollywood, Hardwicke impressed everyone with LORDS OF DOGTOWN, a gritty surfing-and-skateboarding action/thriller movie set in Santa Monica, California. She’s still one of the most sought-after directors around right now.
6) Michelle MacLaren
Michelle Maxwell McLaren first came on my radar with her horror/thriller feature POPULATION 436 in around 2006 or so. Since then, she’s directed some of the best episodes of BREAKING BAD, THE WALKING DEAD, and GAME OF THRONES.
In a recent article from Sept 13th, 2013 on ThinkProgress.org, writer Alyssa Rosenberg points out how weird it is that McLaren hasn’t been asked to direct a big-budget action feature for a studio:
That success has some writers, me among them, hoping that more mediums might have their shot at getting MacLaren-ified. As Alan Sepinwall wrote in his Breaking Bad recap on Sunday, “If Alan Taylor can use his work on ‘Sopranos,’ ‘Mad Men’ and ‘Game of Thrones to land a blockbuster movie job like the ‘Thor’ sequel, why can’t MacLaren (who’s also done impressive “Thrones” work) pull off the same jump? Tell me she’s directing a big-budget action movie, and my ticket is purchased within seconds. Hey, Hollywood: please watch the last 20 minutes of this episode — at the way she composes her shots, at the way she squeezes every possible bit of tension and emotion and despair out of the circumstances and her actors—and tell me she doesn’t have the chops.”
BuzzFeed’s Kate Aurthur asked MacLaren yesterday if she’d be interested, and her answer says a great deal about the rise of television in relation to film.
"Would I like to? If the right thing came along, absolutely,” she said. “I love television. Television is a great medium; I’m fortunate enough to direct amazing television. Would I like to do a feature? Absolutely. I will never leave television. Am I looking? Yes. I’m looking. Have I found anything? Not yet. I haven’t yet. I’d like to do both.”
That no movie studio has approached MacLaren for a project she’d be interested in, or expressed interest in her after she’s identified a project she’d like to work on, while more and more of television’s best shows are bringing her on board, is revealing. It’s not as if the television industry is vastly superior to movies when it comes to the employment of women behind the camera, but you’d think that someone with MacLaren’s resume would have found a high-profile movie project right now if she wants one. This isn’t even a case where Kathryn Bigelow could plausibly be treated as an exception to a rule, the one woman who can direct a compelling action sequence, much in the same way that Will Smith is treated like one of only a few black men who can open an action picture. If MacLaren can provide the visual grammar for television shows that draw millions of viewers, it would take some exceptional logic to argue that she suddenly wouldn’t be effective on a bigger screen.
6) Gwyneth Horder-Payton
SONS OF ANARCHY, THE WALKING DEAD, JUSTIFIED, THE SHIELD, and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA are just a few of the action TV series on which Horder-Payton has worked as a director. Alyssa Rosenberg, again, interviewed Horder-Payton for Indiewire, and it’s clear she has a passion for action and fight-scene choreography:
"I studied fight after fight after fight, famous movie fights, famous television fights, across the board, I went to YouTube and I looked at street fights," she explained. "And what's so interesting is that in 95 percent of the fights on-screen, the men barely sweat, or feel pain, or even feel anger. It's so interesting. They're so macho that it's all about landing the blows, selling the hit to the camera. You don't see the progression. And they never show fatigue. It's rare…So I thought, you know, as a woman, you know what I'm going to do? I'm going to bring sweat and progression of blood, and pain, and vulnerability."
7) Lesli Linka Glatter
Another prominent TV director, Linka Glatter’s recent work on THE WALKING DEAD (noticing a theme?), TRUE BLOOD, and HOMELAND make her a perfect candidate for a big-budget theatrical action movie. Seriously, if Tommy Wirkola can get one simply by making a low budget movie about zombies, surely directing big-budget high-profile TV series is a way to get on that list as well, right?
8) Lynne Ramsay
Ramsays’ recent walking out on the action western JANE GOT A GUN caused a slew of uproar in the entertainment media. People called her everything from unprofessional to petty to catty to brave when she left the production based on differences. But Ramsay was hired because her feature WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN blew many people away (horror fans hated it because, you know, not horror) with its eerie and emotional violence. The script so impressed star Tilda Swinton that she signed on as a producer long before the film went into production, and Ramsay’s collaboration with a high-profile movie star went swimmingly, to say the least.
9) Vicky Jewson
Jewson is a very young, indie director of whom you might not have heard, but she’s already directed two films, one of which is an action/thriller called BORN OF WAR (which is way better than Dead Snow or Troll Hunter, FYI, studio executives).
10) Tammi Sutton
Having begun in directing low budget horror films (you know, like everyone who once worked for Roger Corman) for Full Moon Productions, Sutton’s most recent movie is a British gangster/action flick called ISLE OF DOGS. The movie has a lot of thrilling twists and turns and some brutal, stylized violence that Guy Ritchie would enjoy.
11) Kelly Reichardt
The director of the solid western MEEK’S CUTOFF just finished her brand new thriller NIGHT MOVES, about environmentalists that blow up a dam in the name of saving the world (if this makes no sense to you, then you never read THE MONKEY WRENCH GANG and you are an uneducated heathen). The movie just screened at the Toronto International Film Festival and should be out in theaters in Spring of 2014. But what’s Reichardt’s next project going to be? If they want to snag her for EXPENDABELLES, now might be a good time.
12) Debra Granik
Granik’s WINTER’S BONE literally made Jennifer Lawrence a ginormous movie star. The grim and gritty modern thriller is about rural crime and violence in the Appalachian mountains of the Eastern United States. It won like 5,000 independent spirit awards. Granik, however, has not made a film since she released WINTER’S BONE, so what gives?
13) Karyn Kusama
Kusama directed the boxing movie GIRLFIGHT, which is what kind of launched her career. Then, she was hired on the AEON FLUX live-action feature, followed shortly thereafter by the Diablo Cody horror movie JENNIFER’S BODY. Now, I’m not putting her on this list because of JENNIFER’S BODY or AEON FLUX because, God Knows, I may as well just replace her with Kimberly Pierce if that’s my reasoning. No, the rationale is that Kusama is good at the action stuff, not the horror stuff, not the sci-fi stuff. The action stuff. Check out what make GIRLFIGHT so freaking good (and also made Michelle Rodriguez a giant action heroine):
14) Kathryn Bigelow
Yes yes, I know. She won’t do it. They’ve probably already begged her to do it. She won’t. Though, if you watch POINT BREAK, you know Bigelow would make a brilliant flick out of EXPENDABELLES. I wish I was Kathryn Bigelow.
15) Patty Jenkins
Jenkins was going to direct the sequel to THOR, but she backed out. Like many women on this list, she started by making a grisly, high-style indie flick (MONSTER with Charlize Theron) that won 9,0000 awards in 2003 when it came out. After backing out of the (probably shitty) THOR film, she’s done some TV (THE KILLING) but her slate looks pretty free at the moment. Time to swoop in?
16) Rachel Talalay
Talalay is best known for directing the 1990s GRRRRL power sci-fi action flick TANK GIRL. She dabbled in horror films, but found her home directing TV up in Canada (like all of them!). Talalay is something of a cult figure when it comes to genre film fans and horror movie aficionados, who often wish she’d direct something super action-y again.
17) Gurinder Chadha
The director of the shockingly popular action/drama/comedy/teen/coming-of-age/British/Indian/whatever film BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM really gets character development and storytelling. She also enjoys a bit of camp as evidenced by her Indian serial kill comedy IT’S A WONDERFUL AFTERLIFE. But this woman who knows how to direct the camera when women’s legs are kicking things is not even being mentioned for the directing role on EXPENDABELLES. Why?
18) Angela Robinson
The director of the all-female action/comedy D.E.B.S.’s first movie was CHICKULA: TEENAGE VAMPIRE, so I’m pretty sure she’s willing to overlook some of the inevitable camp and cheesiness in the script for EXPENDABELLES. She also directed HERBIE: FULLY LOADED and recently worked on the TV series version of CHARLIE’S ANGELS (who knew that was a thing?).
19) Jennifer Lynch
Lynch is working steadily now after a long hiatus after her first movie, BOXING HELENA. However, Lynch’s new films are startling superior to her first flick in tone, sophistication, and subject matter. SURVEILLANCE and CHAINED are just the first two in what appears to be a long line of new thrillers Lynch will be making from now on. Lynch also has quite a sense of humor. And she also has dreadlocks, did you know?
20) Deanne Foley
Deanne Foley, like Vicky Jewson, may not be on anyone’s radar yet. Foley directed the action/comedy BEAT DOWN about female wrestlers last year. Her next film is a Canadian comedy, but I’d hate to see the genre success of BEAT DOWN as an action movie be ignored for its comedic aspects instead, as comedy is something we have plenty of women doing right now.
You’ll notice some omissions from this list, so feel free to complain/suggest in the comments. I mean, I figured 20 was pretty good. I could probably come up with 100, so just be thankful I kept it short. I want to know what YOU think? Agree with my picks? Disagree? Have some more people to add?