Record number of black directors among 2018's top films, earning $1.6 billion at the box office

  • Of the 100 top fictional movies at the box office last year, 16 of them were directed by black filmmakers.
  • These 16 directors accounted for more than $1.6 billion at the U.S. box office.
  • Across the 1,200 top films released from 2007 to 2018 and the 1,335 directors behind them, only 80 were black or African American.
SANTA MONICA, CA - MARCH 03:  Directors Ava DuVernay (L) and Spike Lee pose during the 2018 Film Independent Spirit Awards on March 3, 2018 in Santa Monica, California.
Kevin Mazur | Getty Images
SANTA MONICA, CA - MARCH 03: Directors Ava DuVernay (L) and Spike Lee pose during the 2018 Film Independent Spirit Awards on March 3, 2018 in Santa Monica, California.

Hollywood's record-breaking year at the box office wasn't the only noteworthy thing about 2018. Of the 100 top fictional movies at the box office last year, 16 of them were directed by black filmmakers, nearly three times as many as 2017 and double the number a decade ago.

About 14 percent of the directors of the top 100 films were black, including Ryan Coogler ("Black Panther"), Spike Lee ("BlacKkKlansman"), Antoine Fuqua ("Equalizer 2") and Ava DuVernay ("A Wrinkle in Time"), according to a report released by USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative.

The organization's list tracks the top 100 fictional films, meaning that any documentaries that crack the top 100 grossing films are not included in their calculations. For instance, this year "Won't You Be My Neighbor," the documentary about Fred Rogers was number 97 on the top 100 list, but was omitted. This allowed "Superfly," directed by Julien Lutz, known professionally as Director X, to make the cut.

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09:  Director Ryan Coogler attends the 'Black Panther' BFI preview screening held at BFI Southbank on February 9, 2018 in London, England.
Jeff Spicer | Getty Images
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09: Director Ryan Coogler attends the 'Black Panther' BFI preview screening held at BFI Southbank on February 9, 2018 in London, England.

These 16 directors accounted for more than $1.6 billion at the U.S. box office, fueled by the stellar performance of Coogler's "Black Panther." The superhero film grossed more than $700 million domestically and hauled in an additional $646 million from international markets.

The film was lauded by critics and audiences, earning a 97 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, one of the highest ratings a film can get.

While no other film directed by a black director was able to reach the same heights as "Black Panther's" box office gross, four other films managed to break past the $100 million mark.

"A Wrinkle in Time" hit $100.4 million in the U.S., "The Equalizer 2" starring Denzel Washington scooped up $102 million, "Creed II" earned $113 million and "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse," which was co-directed by Peter Ramsey, Robert Persichetti Jr. and Rodney Rothman picked up $117 million.

Across the 1,200 top films released in from 2007 to 2018 and the 1,335 directors behind them, only 80, or about 6 percent, were black or African American. Of the film distributors, Lionsgate has hired the most black directors in this time period, followed by Sony and Universal.

What makes the number of black directors in the top 100 so notable in 2018, is how few black directors were hired for these films in the past. While 2007 saw eight black directors in the spotlight, only six were recognized in 2017.

"While we do not see this finding mirrored among female or Asian directors, this offers proof that Hollywood can change when it wants to," Stacy Smith, professor at USC Anneberg and one of the authors of the report, said in a statement.

Notably, DuVernay, who directed "A Wrinkle in Time" is the only black female director to crack the top 100 film list this year, and one of only four women. Kay Cannon ("Blockers"), Abby Kohn ("I Feel Pretty") and Susanna Fogel ("The Spy Who Dumped Me") also released top films in 2018. Since 2007, only 4.3 percent of all directors have been female.

In addition, the report noted Asian directors only represented 3.6 of 2018's top 100 films. Among them is James Wan, who directed DC's "Aquaman." The film grossed $222 million in the U.S. so far and more than $623 million internationally.