'Kung Fu Panda 2' becomes highest-grossing film directed by a woman


Image Credit: David Gabber/PR Photos

One small step for giant panda, one giant leap for female filmmakers. With a worldwide tally of $637.6 million and counting, Kung Fu Panda 2 has become the highest-grossing film ever directed by a woman. In this case, the honor goes to Jennifer Yuh Nelson, who made her directorial debut with the well-reviewed Panda 2 after working on the first Kung Fu Panda as head of story and the director of that film’s opening dream sequence. Panda 2 broke the record by passing Phyllida Lloyd’s Mamma Mia!, which earned $609.8 million globally in 2008.

Although Panda 2 has been a slight box-office disappointment domestically, grossing $164.3 million here compared to the original’s $215.4 million, it has been a firecracker overseas. That’s especially true in China, where Panda 2 has collected a staggering $91.5 million. Just three years ago, the original Panda made only $26 million in the country. Clearly there was an increased interest in the sequel, but it also goes to show you just how much of a booming market China has become.

As for the domestic record for female filmmakers, that’s slightly more complicated. Domestically, the biggest movie helmed by a woman was 2001’s Shrek ($267.7 million), which was co-directed by Vicky Jenson. But if you’re looking for the highest-grossing film that was directed by one woman, that’d be 2009’s Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel ($219.6 million), made by Betty Thomas. And if you want to exclude pictures with animated protagonists, then it becomes Catherine Hardwicke’s Twilight, which drained $192.8 million in 2008.

But for now, the spotlight deserves to shine on Nelson, who was born in South Korea, immigrated to the United States at the age of 4, and grew up in Southern California watching martial-arts movies and drawing perpetually. With Kung Fu Panda 2, Nelson has combined those two interests and guided the result to nearly two-thirds of a billion dollars. That’d be an impressive outcome for any filmmaker, but considering that only seven percent of Hollywood directors are female, her achievement becomes — in the words of Po — pure awesomeness.

Comments (34 total) Add your comment
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  • Regina George


    • David

      Pixar films are cinematic gold and modern day classics. Dreamworks pics are pure pop trash!!

      • Tom

        Pixar films are cinematic gold except when the film has CARS in the title.

      • Cameron J

        Oh, Dreamworks has been catching up. What with How To Train Your Dragon and this movie, you’d be hard pressed not to find their movies increasing in quality.

      • Kathy

        Dreamworks movies are 10x funnier than Pixar.

      • Kailyn

        DreamWorks movies are not trash. Just because Pixar is more strict doesn’t mean DreamWorks isn’t “As good”. I bet you couldn’t make anything better then them.

  • serisiouly

    Awesome, Im a person that thinks that a women need to be given the chance to prove themselves as powerhouses. As a father of three girls Im proud of the women that are paving the way for the future generations.

  • Jose


  • Slugworth

    Too bad the movie stinks.

    • David

      Pixar films are cinematic gold and modern day classics. Dreamworks pics, Ice Age sequels, Owls of Gahool, and Fox animation films are pure pop trash!!

      • Tom

        Cars and Cars 2 are cinematic feces. Pixar usually hits the bullseye, but with the CARS franchise they misfired in a gigantic way.

    • Kailyn

      The movie does NOT stink. Say that until you’ve made a film.

  • :)

    Kung Fu panda 2 was hilarious!

  • Box of the Forgotten

    Jennifer Yuh Nelson proved people love crap overseas. I wouldn’t credit her direction of a sequel to a big hit animated movie as the reason it made so much money. If a guy directed it working from the same script, same team of animators, it’d still be this big of a hit.

    • Joanne

      Have you looked a the US Box Office? On any given weekend the top movie is likely to be crap.

      • Elitism Fighter

        Must be nice to be an elitist snob Communist hairy-armpitted lesbian who hates ordinary people who work for a living.

    • NotImportant

      I agree with the “love crap” with Po and Tigess hugging…ugh,.stupid people

    • mito

      “working from the same script?” Where do you think that script came from??? It came from the Director. So did the characters. Everything you see on KFP2 started as a seed in Ms. Nelson’s busy brain. There are hundreds of awesome artists who made the film possible, but if Nelson didn’t exist the entire KFP world would look VERY different.

  • Santa Claus

    At least its not that overbearing maniac Kathryn Bigelow.

  • Mike

    Mmm… not always. I’d rather watch Kung Fu Panda again than Cars 2 anyday. Though I haven’t seen Panda 2.

    • Paul

      I haven’t read the book yet, but I really want to see the movie! I might go with “The Plus Side!” if she wants! Thanks for tlneitg us know your thoughts about the movie Amy!

  • Aidan


  • KC

    I thought it flopped?

  • deedeedragons

    Any movie that has Gary Oldman as a cray – cray peacock is alright by me.

  • Cameron J

    Personally I loved this movie. *dodges knives, gunshots and crucifixes* I think that Nelson deserves this honor cause this movie’s up there among my favorites. *dodges cat of nine tails, hammers and nine inch nails* I think I shall take my leave now bye!

    • Kailyn

      Hah wow, thats epic!

  • Wha’ever

    The thing is, it’s a little disappointing that the fact that these movies were directed by women don’t really matter as most of these films would have been succesful whoever directed them – I mean, people don’t go to see Kung Fu Panda 2 because of the director. It would be interesting if a movie met that kind of financial success while being promoted as “directed by – insert female director name here -” just like let’s say a Steven Spielberg or a Christopher Nolan’s movie.

  • Box of the Forgotten

    When Katharine Bigelow has a trailer for her next film it’ll say “Directed by Academy Award winner Katherine Bigelow” but it won’t make 1/3 of what Kung Fu Panda 2 has earned.

  • Andrew

    $164 million is nothing to talk bad about. It did better than some of the other Dreamworks Animated films of the 21st century like “Shark Tale” ($162 million), “Over the Hedge” ($155 million), “Megamind” ($148 million), and “Bee Movie” ($127 million).

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