Kathryn Bigelow has built her career via movies notable for their macho characters, whether it’s bank-robbing surfers in Point Break to adrenaline-addicted bomb squads in The Hurt Locker.
The 58-year-old, who became the first woman in history to win the Oscars best director crown on Sunday, has demonstrated repeatedly that in the male-dominated world of Hollywood she is more than capable of holding her own.
Bigelow’s ex-husband James Cameron has said his former spouse revels in proving that “she can out-gun the guys.”
Bigelow herself says she was first attracted to movies as an artistic medium after watching Sam Peckinpah’s infamously bloody Western The Wild Bunch while studying as a painter in New York in the 1970s. Born in California in 1951, Bigelow studied film at Columbia University before later teaching at the California Institute of the Arts.
Her first short film The Set Up offered a prelude of the themes that have been found throughout her career: a 20-minute depiction of two men brawling. Bigelow made her feature film debut with 1982’s The Loveless, a biker movie starring the then little-known Willem Dafoe, but had to wait five years for her follow-up, the genre-blurring vampire movie Near Dark.
The action movie Blue Steel was followed in 1991 by Bigelow’s breakthrough commercial success, Point Break. The film went on to earn more than $83 million worldwide and has become a cult classic.
Bigelow’s next three films, the 1995 thriller Strange Days, 2000’s The Weight of Water and 2002’s Cold War thriller K-19: The Widowmaker were commercial catastrophes however, each faring poorly at the box office.
The last of those three films was dubbed K-19: The Career Tanker by critics after it netted only $65 million dollars despite costing around $100 million and featuring stars such as Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson.
In fact Bigelow had not made another film until she returned to helm The Hurt Locker, which saw her return once again to the familiar territory of characters struggling to adapt in the most extreme conditions.