China’s ‘Hi, Mom’ Passes ‘Wonder Woman’ As Top-Grossing Movie From Solo Female Director

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A record that might have been set by Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman 1984, Cate Shortland’s Black Widow and/or Niki Caro’s Mulan has been broken by Jia Ling’s Hi, Mom and its $825 million running total.

Avatar’s Chinese rerelease has now earned $47 million as of Wednesday, pushing its Chinese lifetime total to $251 million. I’m presuming it’s going to get pancaked by Godzilla Vs. Kong starting tonight at midnight. If I’m wrong, then it has a shot at passing the Chinese lifetime cumes of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom ($261 million) and Venom ($269 million). Regardless, the biggest film in China this year, and worldwide by default, remains Hi, Mom.

The time-travel melodrama, co-written, starring and directed by Jia Ling, has now earned $825 million in China alone. That puts it over the $821 million global gross of Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman. That means Hi, Mom is now the biggest-grossing movie ever from a solo female filmmaker. It is not a little bittersweet that this record is being bested not by a Hollywood flick but a Chinese one, a non-franchise/non-sequel flick no less.

That’s partially because of the sheer number of planned-for-2020 releases might have topped that figure had Covid not interfered. With word that Black Widow will open on July 9 in theaters and (where applicable) on Disney+’s “premium access” tier (a one-time $30 fee to lease the picture), it’s another example of how the pandemic upended a year that was supposed to be dominated by female directors. The year of the female director instead turned into the year of streaming and VOD.

We’ll never know how well Kate Shortland’s Black Widow might have performed in a non-Coronavirus timeline had it opened as scheduled on May 6, 2020. While it may have topped $1 billion, it also might have ended up closer to Dr. Strange ($677 million). But even a cume on par with Thor: Ragnarok ($854 million) or Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 ($869 million) would have put it past the original Wonder Woman.

Niki Caro’s Mulan was tracking for an over/under $80 million domestic debut before its initial March 27, 2020 release was canceled. Again, a $822 million-plus global cume seemed like a very best-case-scenario result. That’s especially true absent as many nostalgia-bait elements compared to Beauty and the Beast ($1.263 billion), The Lion King ($1.641 billion) and Aladdin ($1.053 billion). And, as frankly suspected from the start, a live-action Mulan was a bigger deal for Asian-Americans (and other interested American moviegoing demographics) than Chinese moviegoers.  

Again, now having seen Wonder Woman 1984 (and seen the word-of-mouth buzz) and realizing that it wasn’t quite the slam-bang action spectacular as was its buzzy and leggy predecessor, it’s even less certain that the film would have topped the $1 billion mark. But it’s not like the Patty Jenkins-directed film, again starring Gal Gadot and Chris Pine, would have outright tanked, and at the very least it likely would have nabbed the biggest domestic opening weekend ever ($130-$160 million) for a female-directed film.

Hi, Mom opened with $195 million over the Fri-Sun portion of this year’s New Year’s frame right as Detective Chinatown 3 was shattering the single-territory record set by the $356 million domestic debut of Avengers: Endgame. Hi, Mom is mostly done, there’s still a small possibility that Chloé Zhao’s Eternals (set for November 5 and thus far sans a theaters/Disney+ hybrid strategy) will still pull best-case-scenario box office. But absent mitigating circumstances, Wonder Woman’s record might have been broken several times over.

Captain Marvel (Ana Boden and Ryan Fleck) and both Frozen movies (Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck) had male/female directorial duos, so their respective grosses ($1.28 billion in 2019, $1.276 billion in 2019 and $1.45 billion in 2019) don’t apply to this milestone. It’s a little sad that it took the MCU 12 years to get a solo female-directed flick and it got sandbagged by a global pandemic. Ditto Patty Jenkins’ earned victory lap from the original Wonder Woman.  

Yes, it’s embarrassing that it’s 2021 and we’re still having this conversation, with (for example) Lionsgate employing just one female filmmaker between 2016 and 2021. Of course, none of you saw Susanna Fogel’s The Spy Who Dumped Me ($76 million on a $40 million budget) which opened on the same day as Fox’s one 2018 female-directed flick, Jennifer Yuh Nelson’s The Darkest Minds ($41 million/$34 million). Ditto Disney’s one such 2018 offering, Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time ($130 million/$103 million). At least Universal and Kay Cannon’s (terrific) Blockers ($94 million/$22 million) was a hit.

Inclusivity and diversity are not generally turn-offs for audiences here and abroad, but it doesn’t mean much if audiences don’t want to see the film in the first place. That’s the difference between Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Terminator: Dark Fate. Audiences, and especially online audiences, would rather complain about Black Panther or Solo not being LGBTQIA-friendly instead of actually seeing Love, Simon or Blockers in theaters. As always, vote with your wallet. By coincidence or design, Chinese moviegoers certainly did.

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