Women directors are an underrepresented bunch in general, but that’s especially true when it comes to action movies. While the genre is often associated with macho manliness and cinematic conventions that supposedly only appeal to dudes, the reality is that action cinema is diverse and caters to every gender. That’s why it’s important to ensure that there’s plenty of diversity behind the camera as well as in front of it.
Women have a storied history in the action genre, too. For example, Helen Gibson was a pioneer in stunt work during its early stages. Her exploits included jumping a speeding motorcycle on to a fast-moving locomotive, which is commonplace in genre fare today. Elsewhere, from Pam Grier to Charlize Theron to Julie Estelle among several others, some of the best action stars to ever grace the screen are women. So what’s with the lack of female action directors?
Fortunately, the future looks brighter. There are a few action movies coming up that feature women in the director’s chair. As you’ll see, the majority of these movies are tentpole superhero joints. While there’s still a huge amount of space for women-directed action of different flavors and varieties, the fact that we’re seeing women overseeing films that will move the needle is still a step in the right direction.
With this in mind, here are some movies to look for in the near future. Please note that this list only contains titles with directors attached. Hence why in-development flicks like Supergirl and Batgirl have been left off the list, even though the studios have stated they’ll be handled by women.
Charlie’s Angels (directed by Elizabeth Banks)
The upcoming reboot/continuation of the action-comedy franchise begun with the 1970s TV series of the same name. In the movie, Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, and Ella Balinska play a crime-fighting trio tasked with saving the world from a brand new threat. According to Stewart, Charlie’s Angels will also feature multiple teams of women out to put a stop to the bad guys. Director Elizabeth Banks also co-stars.
Charlie’s Angels will lean more into the comedy side of the action spectrum, so Banks is a fitting director to introduce the next iteration of the franchise. Not only has she lent her talents to many great comedies throughout the years, but her feature directorial debut, Pitch Perfect 2, proved that she can inspire hilarious turns from her stars when she’s behind the camera as well.
Release Date: November 15, 2019
Detainment (directed by Trina McGee)
Most people know Trina McGee for her performance as Angela in Boy Meets World, but she’s also a budding action movie writer and director. Plot details about this one are being kept close to the vest for now, but the cast includes Rich Sands, Alexandria De Rossi, and Diana Matlak. Keep your eyes peeled for more information in the coming months.
Release Date: December 1, 2019
Mulan (directed by Niki Caro)
Starring Liu Yifei in the titular role, Mulan tells the story of a princess who masquerades as a man in order to enlist in her kingdom’s army and help thwart off an invasion.
Niki Caro is a veteran filmmaker whose credits include numerous feature-lengths and music videos. One of her previous movies, Whale Rider, is also thematically similar to Mulan. The drama centers on a girl who becomes the leader of a traditionally male-led tribe, even though the role has always been reserved for men.
Release Date: March 27, 2020
The Wheel (directed by Dee McLachlan)
Dee McLachlan’s been churning out movies for over 30 years now. She’s not the biggest name on this list, but she is one of the most experienced. Her biggest claim to fame is probably The Second Jungle Book: Mowgli & Baloo, but she’s no stranger to action-thrillers either, having helmed Deadly Chase.
The Wheel, a sci-fi actioner from Australia, stars David Arquette and follows a paraplegic man with newly-restored legs as he tries to break free from a futuristic prison and find his daughter.
Release Date: TBD, 2019
Birds of Prey (directed by Cathy Yan)
Cathy Yan might not be a household name to mainstream Western audiences, but she will be soon. While she’s only made one feature before, the wonderful oddball comedy Dead Pigs, it’s pretty evident that she’s great at telling entertaining stories about a group of interesting characters. Birds of Prey will contain similar elements at its core.
DC’s first all-female superteam movie follows a group of badasses — Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) — as they go up against the villainous Black Mask (Ewan McGregor).
Release Date: February 7, 2020
Wonder Woman 1984 (directed by Patty Jenkins)
Without the success of Patty Jenkins’s first Wonder Woman film paving the way for more women-centric superhero movies, this list would be substantially shorter. She wasn’t a big Hollywood director when she landed the gig either — which just goes to show that it’s worth taking a chance on people regardless of their industry stature. Jenkins’s movie got the DCEU back on track following its shaky start, and its future looks pretty hopeful.
Wonder Woman is one of the best DC movies to date, and it’s only right that Jenkins was given the reins to the sequel. The new movie sets its story the 1980s and will see the titular heroine (Gal Gadot) battle the powerful Cheetah (Kristen Wiig). The period element of Wonder Woman movies is part of their charm, and long may this series continue.
Release Date: June 5, 2020
The Eternals (directed by Chloe Zhao)
The future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a post-Phase Three world is full of possibilities. Old heroes and villains will return, but the primary focus will be on introducing fresh characters into the mix. The Eternals, Marvel lore’s enhanced alien beings, are among the newcomers getting their own film adaptation. Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Kumail Nanjiani, and Salma Hayek make up the star-studded cast.
After impressing us with her critically acclaimed indie drama The Rider, many movie buffs want to see Chloe Zhao continue to focus on original projects. But with Nomadland, a drama starring Frances McDormand, also on the horizon, it’s clear she hasn’t forgotten her roots now that she’s part of the Marvel family. Zhao’s filmography is shaping up to be diverse and unpredictable — that is exciting, if you ask me.
Release Date: TBD, 2020
Jolt (directed by Tanya Wexler)
Kate Beckinsale is always fun to watch in action flicks, so knowing that she’s returning to the genre for Jolt is good news. In the movie, she plays a homicidal avenger who’s out to find her lover’s killer. Unfortunately, due to her violent past, she’s the chief suspect in the murder case and must evade the cops.
Tanya Wexler’s directorial credits thus far are mostly comedies. In many ways, Jolt will be new ground for her. Of course, chances are she’ll inject some humor into the film to complement the action, which will allow Beckinsale to showcase her funny side as well as her ass-kicking abilities.
Release Date: TBD, 2020
Red Sonja (directed by Jill Soloway)
When Millennium hired Bryan Singer to direct this remake of the 1985 film about a fearless scantily clad warrior out to avenge her family’s death, the world rightfully balked. The last thing we need is a female-fronted fantasy movie directed by an alleged sex offender. However, with a woman director now on board, this has the potential to become another movie that opens doors in Hollywood for women looking to make action fare.
Jill Soloway’s credits include the shows Six Feet Under and Transparent, but she’s directed a couple of features in her time, including Afternoon Delight. As a writer and producer, she’s a veteran. As a director, though, she’s only getting started, and Red Sonja has the potential to cement her as a household name in the blockbuster realm.
Release Date: TBD
The Old Guard (directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood)
As you’ve probably gathered, the majority of the films on this list are comic book adaptations. This one is no different. That said, The Old Guard distinguishes itself from the others by swapping out superheroes for a team of immortal mercenaries. The Image Comics series is well worth your time, and with a cast that includes the excellent Charlize Theron, the film deserves a spot on your radar.
As a writer and director, Gina Prince-Bythewood has dabbled in everything from crime sagas, music dramas, and sitcoms. The Secret Life of Bees, starring Dakota Fanning and Jennifer Hudson, is well worth your time. That said, Shots Fired, a TV series she co-created with Reggie Rock Bythewood, showcased her knack for telling grittier stories more in line with a movie like Old Guard. Maybe this is a different kind of movie for the director, but her varied past projects suggest she’s more than up to the challenge.
Release Date: TBD
Cowboy Ninja Viking (directed by Michelle MacLaren)
Michelle MacLaren has spent the past few years helming episodes of some of the best TV shows out there — Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Better Call Saul, Westworld, and more — and has established herself as a reliable director. She’s no stranger to overseeing action set pieces, and her affinity for American Westerns makes her an ideal candidate for a movie inspired by cowboys.
This project has been gestating for over a year, but with marquee names like Chris Pratt on board to star, it’s surely only a matter of time before the project sees the light of day. Based on the Image Comics series of the same name, the story follows a super-soldier who boasts all the attributes of a cowboy, a ninja, and a Viking. The clue is in the title. It sure does sound like a lot of fun.
Release Date: TBD
The New Gods (directed by Ava DuVernay)
After turning down an opportunity to helm Marvel’s Black Panther, Ava DuVernay will get the opportunity to direct a superhero film — for DC. The New Gods will follow immortal extraterrestrial beings and revolve around the battle between good and evil on the alien worlds of New Genesis and Apokolips. If this movie goes ahead, it will bring more cosmic flavor to the DC Universe.
DuVernay’s garnered much acclaim for Selma and the Netflix limited series When They See Us, both of which are important stories mined from real life that focus on race themes. But having directed Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time, she’s no stranger to blockbusters either and is perfectly equipped to tackle a crusader epic.
Release Date: TBD