These 2017 box office stats are a sign of times changing — for the better.

The final box office numbers are in from 2017, and there's one clear takeaway from the top earners.

Women killed it.

For the first time in nearly six decades, the three highest-grossest films in North America all featured women in lead roles, according to The Wrap.

Daisy Ridley starred as Rey in "Star Wars: The Last Jedi," which has raked in a whopping $530 million domestically to date.



GIF from "Star Wars: The Last Jedi."


Emma Watson led an all-star cast of "Beauty and the Beast," which pulled in over $504 million in U.S. theaters.

GIF from "Beauty and the Beast."

And Gal Gadot transformed into director Patty Jenkin's "Wonder Woman," which earned over $412 million. It's now the top-grossing live-action movie ever directed by a woman.

GIF from "Wonder Woman."

The last time women-led films cleaned up in similar fashion was nearly 60 years ago, when Mitzi Gaynor starred in "South Pacific," Rosalind Russell became "Auntie Mame," and Elizabeth Taylor inspired fans to turn out for “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."

And it's not all about the money, either — the characters themselves are blazing trails.

Ridley's lightsaber-wielding Rey is a force to be reckoned with in a film where it's the men who let their emotions get the better of them. "Wonder Woman's" feminist message is obvious in just about every plot point throughout the movie. Even Watson's Belle takes on a more assertive, self-possessed nature than in the original Disney classic.

Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images.

But while these fictional female characters are leading the charge, change for actresses in real life has been slow.

USC's Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative 2017 report found that, among the year's top-grossing fiction films, the number of speaking roles for women has remained largely unchanged — and abysmally low — throughout the past decade, Bustle reported.

Hollywood largely remains an old (white, straight, cisgender, abled) boys' club — with a sexual harassment crisis on its hands, no less. Women-led stories are often overlooked by the producers who have the power to bring those narratives to life on screen. The same can be said for stories about people of color, the LGBTQ community, disabled people, and so many others representing overlooked, marginalized groups.

Yet "The Last Jedi," "Beauty and the Beast," and "Wonder Woman" prove that female-led films can be hugely successful.

It's not that audiences won't turn out to see stories about women — it's that filmmakers are more hesitant to create them in the first place.

Why?

Harvey Weinstein and director Steven Spielberg in 2012. Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for HFPA.

Change needs to happen from the top down, but just 7% — 7%! — of the top 250 films of 2016 were directed by women. When there are more women in consequential roles behind the camera, the same will be true for the stories told in front of it.

Paul Dergarabedian of ComScore, a media analytics company that collects film earnings, believes 2017 wasn't an anomaly, though — it was a sign of the changing times.

“It is just a renaissance going on in 2017," he explained to The Guardian, of the year's top films. "And now moving into 2018 ... female-led movies and movies with female characters at the center of the story have moved front and center in terms of the box office and in terms of critical acclaim.”

Let's hope so. It shouldn't take Jedi training to get women-led movies made!

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

4-year-old New Zealand boy and police share toys.

Sometimes the adorableness of small children is almost too much to take.

According to the New Zealand Police, a 4-year-old called the country's emergency number to report that he had some toys for them—and that's only the first cute thing to happen in this story.

After calling 111 (the New Zealand equivalent to 911), the preschooler told the "police lady" who answered the call that he had some toys for her. "Come over and see them!" he said to her.

The dispatcher asked where he was, and then the boy's father picked up. He explained that the kids' mother was sick and the boy had made the call while he was attending to the other child. After confirming that there was no emergency—all in a remarkably calm exchange—the call was ended. The whole exchange was so sweet and innocent.

But then it went to another level of wholesome. The dispatcher put out a call to the police units asking if anyone was available to go look at the 4-year-old's toys. And an officer responded in the affirmative as if this were a totally normal occurrence.

Keep Reading Show less