It’s hard to gauge the full effect that Wonder Woman‘s success will have on the film industry. Studios and producers will no doubt have noticed that investing in a female-driven summer tentpole payed off big and that the conventional Hollywood wisdom that says women can’t carry a blockbuster just doesn’t apply anymore—if it ever did.
While the industry moves slowly, some waves are already being felt. WIRED has suggested that we’re seeing a “Wonder Woman effect” in the form of women-centric films dominating at the box office this summer. The Wonder Woman effect has also been invoked to describe everything from a sense of hope for the future of women in the industry to increased sales of leather outfits by the film’s costume designers.
(Yes, I know Wonder Woman didn’t invent the strong female character, but the industry has been incredibly risk-averse with action projects foregrounding women and finally broke new ground by financing Wonder Wonder as it would a male-centric superhero picture, while also hiring a woman to direct.)
What remains to be seen is how many more big budget action films will feature women both in front of and behind the camera. Atomic Blonde hasn’t been as big of a hit as expected, though it’s on the verge of overtaking its male counterpart, John Wick, at the box office. We can only imagine how well it might have performed with a Wonder Woman-sized budget of $150 million instead of its modest $30 million.
A lot of talk has focused on actor salaries and production budgets, but the long-tail effects of Wonder Woman‘s success will likely run deeper in the industry. To get a sense of where the action is headed, VICE caught up with two women, Atlin Mitchell and Maja Aro, who have worked as stunt performers and stunt coordinators in a variety of films and TV shows, including some superhero fare.
While women in directing and acting roles are getting more attention (and money), the women behind these films’ biggest action scenes tend to stay in the shadows. And their work is some of Hollywood’s most under-celebrated. After all, they have to do the same intense stunts as men but often in heels and skimpy clothes. “Guys are always wearing big baggy jackets or a loose shirt; women are always wearing skin-tight clothes,” says stunt performer and coordinator Atlin Mitchell. “We do have pads. They’re just really low-profile.”
Atlin Mitchell came to stunt work with a background on the Canadian national gymnastics team and a six-year stint as a Cirque du Soleil performer. She co-coordinated the stunts on last season’s Supergirl on the CW, while also working as Melissa Benoist’s stunt double in the title role.
Maja Aro has been a stunt double in TV shows like Arrow, The Flash, and Bates Motel and has done stunts in movies including Cabin in the Woods, Godzilla, and War for the Planet of the Apes. For the past two years, she has been the stunt coordinator on ABC’s Once Upon a Time. She echoes Mitchell’s comments. “The guys forget about it sometimes, especially the male coordinators. You’ll be doing the exact same stunt as a guy, but you’re wearing, like, no clothes, or you’re in six-inch heels,” she says. “I’ve definitely done a lot of things where you don’t get to wear nearly the amount of protection that the guys do. But we signed up for it. We said yes. We love our jobs, and we want to do our jobs.”