Speaking as she picked up her own "Legend" award on stage, Mirren noted the director of recent James Bond movie Skyfall had cited a string of male directors – including Paul Thomas Anderson, François Truffaut, Martin Scorsese and Ingmar Bergman – but ignored the contributions of female film-makers. Mendes had earlier picked up awards for best director, best film and the Empire "Inspiration" award at the ceremony in central London.
"It was great to hear Sam [Mendes'] list of moments that inspired him... I did however note there was not one woman's name there, behind the camera," said Mirren, to cheers from the audience. "Nothing against Sam … I hope, I pray, I know in five or 10 years, when the next Sam gets up and make his or hopefully her speech … there will be 2 or 3 or 4 women's names there ... Go girls!"
Elsewhere, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey won prizes for best actor (Martin Freeman) and best science-fiction or fantasy film. Best actress went to The Hunger Games' Jennifer Lawrence, who won the equivalent Oscar this year for her work on a different film, Silver Linings Playbook. The Impossible's Tom Holland won best male newcomer, and the equivalent female prize went to Les Miserables' Samantha Barks. Best British film went to Sightseers, Ben Wheatley's black comedy about two lovers on a caravan holiday who embark on a murderous rampage.
Danny Boyle won the outstanding contribution award. The Empire awards are voted for by the film magazine's 2.8 million readership.
Full list of winners
Best film: Skyfall
Best British film: Sightseers
Best actor: Martin Freeman (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey)
Best actress: Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games)
Best director: Sam Mendes (Skyfall)
Best male newcomer: Tom Holland (The Impossible)
Best female newcomer: Samantha Barks (Les Misérables)
Best comedy: Ted
Best horror: The Woman in Black
Best thriller: Headhunters
Best sci fi/fantasy: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
The Art of 3D award: Dredd 3D
Empire Hero: Daniel Radcliffe
Empire Inspiration award: Sam Mendes
Empire Legend: Helen Mirren
Empire outstanding contribution: Danny Boyle
• This article was amended on 25 March, to correct Helen Mirren's quote and make it clear she did not directly accuse Sam Mendes of sexism.
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