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Wonder No More: 'Wonder Woman' Shows Female-Focused Action Flicks Can Be Hits

"Wonder Woman" has kicked in the door of a male-dominated genre: The superhero movie.
This image released by Warner Bros. Entertainment shows Gal Gadot in a scene from "Wonder Woman," in theaters on June 2.Clay Enos / AP

American moviegoers are used to seeing superheroes leap tall buildings in a single bound and vanquish bad guys without breaking a sweat, but Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman performed an even more monumental feat on the movie’s opening weekend.

The big-budget Warner Bros. film topped box-office ticket sales and raked in $103 million domestically, breaking records for the highest-grossing debut for a female director.

Industry experts say "Wonder Woman" managed, for the first time, to kick in the door of a male-dominated genre. “The key here is it has broken the status quo of superhero films,” said Pablo Carrera, principal analyst for cinema at IHS Markit.

“There have been great female characters in ensembles, but this is the first time that a superhero movie with a lead female character in front of the camera and a female director behind the camera has shattered all expectations,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at comScore.

"It shows that superhero movies aren't just about men. They're about women as well," Warner Bros. distribution chief Jeff Goldstein told the Associated Press.

“The conventional wisdom stating that female superheroes don't sell tickets or that women can't successfully direct action or superhero films was never correct,” said Martha Lauzen, executive director of The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film and a professor of television, film and new media at San Diego State University. “In large part, box office grosses are the result of the size of a film's budget, not the sex of the protagonist or the director,” she said. "Wonder Woman" cost about $150 million to produce.

The movie upended the idea that women don’t want to watch movies about comic-book heroes. According to comScore data, a slight majority — 52 percent — of Americans who watched "Wonder Woman" during the opening weekend were female. The audience for this genre typically skews around 60 percent or 70 percent male, Dergarabedian said.

“One of the reasons we go to see films is to see ourselves reflected on screen,” Lauzen said. A report by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University found that women were protagonists in just 29 percent of the 100 top-grossing films in the U.S. last year, and among movies that featured female protagonists, only 3 percent were action films.

“'Wonder Woman' is one of the first, if not the first, film with a substantial budget to address the female audience,” Lauzen said.

Related: What 'Wonder Woman' Meant to this Actress

“I wouldn’t expect it to suddenly change the audience of superhero films… but I think it has become a landmark in and of itself, and it has broken some misconceptions,” Carrera said.

Those shattered misconceptions could be the foundation for a new generation of female action-adventure filmmakers. Lauzen suggested that if Hollywood opens up its purse strings to more female directors, it could be rewarded with more blockbuster hits.

“The success of 'Wonder Woman' provides very compelling evidence that when women who direct are given the same resources as men, their films earn similar box office grosses,” she said, pointing out that women comprised just 7 percent of directors of the 250 highest-grossing films last year.

“If the studios invest in female-driven films as they have for years with male-driven films, they will experience similar box office results,” she said.

“I think this could inspire more female filmmakers to go for this type of movie or pitch these type of movies,” Dergarabedian said. “I think it opens that door.”

Although industry analysts suggested that the bar for female-led and -directed superhero movies might remain higher, they say "Wonder Woman" establishes a solid precedent. “This is a film they can point at and say, ‘This has proven it’s possible,’” Carrera said.

“Women directors have been kicking ass and taking names for years, but this is such a high-profile movie and high-profile, male-dominated genre, hopefully it will open the door to more of this,” Dergarabedian said.