Unofficially, 2017 is the year of Wonder Woman.
The superhero film starring Gal Gadot and directed by Patty Jenkins stormed the box office this summer, taking the No. 1 spot during its opening weekend back in June, and going on to become the highest grossing live-action film directed by a woman. Wonder Woman 2 is already set for a December 2019 release.
“I still need time to process everything because it’s been so incredibly, unbelievably amazing,” Gadot, 32, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue.
The Israeli actress kicks off PEOPLE’s 25 Women Changing the World joined by five real-life wonder women: ER nurse Kelly Lynch, Marine pilot Major Khadijah M. Nashagh, Southern California firefighter Lovie Jung, ER pediatrician Dr. Liza Kearl and Air Force Capt. Staci Rouse.
“They are the true heroes,” says Gadot, who accompanies fellow stars Pink, Uzo Aduba, Jessica Chastain and America Ferrera, as well as epidemiologist Dr. Celine Gounder, Whole Child International founder Karen Spencer and primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall, on this year’s list.
As a former Israeli solider (the country requires all citizens to enlist when they turn 18), Gadot has a first-hand appreciation for the women serving today. “There is something very important and unique about the fact that you’re putting your life on hold and you’re giving back to your country,” she admits. “There is something beautiful about that selflessness.”
The former Miss Israel continues, “My service was for two years, but in an ideal world I would love for all the countries to not have an army so we don’t have to fight each other. But that’s not the case — we’re still not in an ideal world. There is still a long way to go.”
While Wonder Woman‘s success took a big step in the right direction towards empowering women, Gadot wants the movie to positively influence men’s schools of thought.
“It’s amazing that girls are exposed to the visual of strong women that are fighting so beautifully and having this amazing sisterhood relationship and caring to each other, but yet they can hold a sword and ride a horse,” the mom of two says. “But you can’t only empower the women. You ‘ve got to educate the men too. This movie is for everyone. It’s for boys to go to the movies and see that women can be amazing and badass and strong and inspiring, and not only me.”
Gadot, a mom of two, also has a message for people of any gender.
“It would be awesome if people weren’t [in a] hurry to judge each other and would be able to put themselves in the other people’s shoes,” she says. “People have their very solid opinions very quickly, and sometimes it’s based on something that is inaccurate.”