I was once President of my pillow & blanket fort as a child... then my sisters came along.
Females in the Movies
A recent interview with Elizabeth Banks on the reception of her latest film, a reboot of Charlie’s Angels, started rattling some thoughts in my head. The actress brought up a controversial topic on sexism among the moviegoers and the seemingly lower stance that women have in Hollywood. Resulting in me asking, where exactly are we at right now with women in Hollywood? Are we improving to see more female empowerment on the big screen or has nothing changed at all? Banks made the claim that the reasons for her reboot’s box office failure was due to the fact that “men don’t go see women do action movies.” Is that true? I’m a man, I didn’t go see it. So, it must be true, according to her claims. Although I believed my reasons for not seeing the picture were fairly simple, no money and the underwhelming marketing for the movie honestly didn’t sell me on seeing another Charlie’s Angels reboot. Not because it features a significant female cast, I mean it’s Charlie’s Angels so of course it stars women, but because the trailers screamed “generic” to me.
- 'Charlie's Angels' (2019) A Girl-Power Movie Review
Charlie's Angels are at it again with a brand new reboot... sort of. Last year anyways... Close enough! Will these three kick-ass ladies with attitude beat the baddies and save the day? Probably. Let's find out!
Then again, I don’t speak for the entire male population. Maybe it’s possible that most men, or even other genders, simply did not want to see Banks’s movie based on the sexist reasons she had suggested. What does that mean for women in big budget action flicks though? Is it possible for a woman, or an ensemble of women, to break through in the big leagues of blockbusters? Or are we so close-minded as a society to never let that happen for a female star? Why don’t we spend a little time to talk about it! In this article, I’d like to take a look back into a little bit on the success and failures of female leads in the mainstream film industry. What may or may not support the claims of director/actress Elizabeth Banks, what examples may or may not be breaking new ground for women in genres such as action, where the success of the new Charlie’s Angels may have gone wrong, and hopefully come up with a conclusion of where exactly we stand today on the matter.
Yes, I realize that I am a man talking about “a woman’s place” in the film industry. I’m not trying to force any agendas, be disrespectful to any gender, or voice any negative opinions on women in general. This topic simply intrigued me in a time that I really craved something to delve into and write about in the great world of moviemaking. To me, when it comes to film, I don’t give a sh*t about what someone’s gender is. Truthfully, the reasons why I watch film is to either be entertained, enlightened, or challenged in one way or another. That’s how I see movies. If at any point, my words come across as rude or ignorant, please forgive me and let us have a calm discussion in the comments below!
Where Women Started
Let’s be totally honest, women had a very minor and basic function when it came to the dawn of cinema. More or less portraying the damsel in distress or romantic interest for our male protagonist to fall in love with. Hell, one of the earliest famously known female roles is that of the woman tied to a railroad track by the villain for a strong and manly hero to save the day in the nick of time. Far from anything all that prominent or developed as a character. Although, frankly there was no real development for any character on the big screen for the silent era of film. Then again, it was a trope for women that carried over for several decades. Women were the ones that always needed saving, protecting, or falling in love with their sweet prince. Never really capable of handling most of the “heavy lifting” when it came to battling the evildoers.
Disney for several years was clearly guilty of that very cliché in many of their classic pictures; Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, Lady and the Tramp, Aladdin, and so on have more or less fit the female role inside a relatively confined box. Restricted from giving a woman’s character more than roughly being a pretty princess in need of saving. Now don’t get me wrong, they are still brilliant animated features that have gone down in history to warm the hearts of billions. I am in no way questioning the quality of these films to be any less than stellar, but they did feed into a stereotype for women characters in Hollywood to not be provided all that much depth or handling of the action. Does that mean that these movies are sexist? A question I’m not entirely sure how to answer exactly, other than to go with my gut and say “no.” No, I don’t believe that the Disney movies I had listed are necessarily guilty of sexism. In my opinion, I feel that a more deliberately negative message or moral of what the filmmaker’s opinion on the opposite sex’s place is within the writing would explicitly be sexist. In the case of my examples, I don’t believe that these are attempting to force the stereotype of keeping women in a strict role, they so happened to tell stories that didn’t do female characters all that many favors though.
What is a Sexist Movie?
Another difficult question to answer, all I can do is make an educated guess and go from there. From my perspective, a movie that is sexist is one that intentionally feeds into an ill moral of degrading a certain gender or even manipulating that very gender with cynical material disguised as entertainment. That, to me, feels like a sexist movie. Does that mean that practically all action movies of the last fifty years are sexist because they exclusively cast male leads as opposed to females? I don’t think that’s a fair assessment of any sort of male leading action-adventure. For instance, some of the greatest action movies of all time I wouldn’t change a thing about because the casting is damn near perfect just the way they are. Classic action flicks under the belts of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Will Smith, Jason Statham, etc. I would not claim to be sexist on the basis that they aren’t starring Demi Moore, Sigourney Weaver, or Molly Ringwald… Yes, starlet redhead Molly Ringwald from Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone. Who else? However I do agree with the argument that there should definitely be far more female led action flicks to show off women kicking ass too.
What movies are degrading to women and what aren’t? Like I had mentioned prior, I don’t think casting a male lead automatically means that the movie is sexist. What I do believe is sexist is when a movie gives a false sense of female empowerment in order to push its own agenda by using that demographic by cynical tactics. Two very dissimilar female led films based on con artists were released in the year of 2019; The Hustle, a remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels starring Rebel Wilson and Anne Hathaway, the other was Hustlers starring Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu. Both star a nearly full female cast, both attempt to focus on a woman’s strengths within a crime affiliated tale targeting men for cons, and they both prominently feature blossoming friendships that evolve into a spiritual sisterhood. One of which is easily making it onto my personal ‘Best’ list of the year, while the other is at the very bottom of the barrel. Any guesses as to which one was written and directed by mainly men who had no clue how to write a genuinely feminist favoring story, while containing the “woman empowerment” element as a mere shallow layer to cover up a dreadful comedy? Click here for the answer…
The Best Hustle
Seriously, in all the marketing for The Hustle, it mostly relied on giving the impression that this was a movie about women getting revenge on all the men that have wronged them via absurd scams. That is not what The Hustle is truly about in the slightest. It’s about absolutely nothing for approximately the first forty-five minutes of screen time, then eventually becomes a petty rivalry as the two female leads place a bet on who can con a seemingly naïve man to empty his deep pockets first. Hustlers, on the other hand, is determined to unveil this real-life story of a small group of women who truly grow into becoming a family through this con artist scheme targeting rich dudes who deserve to be knocked down a peg or two. Also, what a surprise that the smarter movie is written and directed by women who actually knows how to develop empathetic female characters intelligently.
While both Hustlers and The Hustle made a profit on a budget sum of approximately twenty million dollars, Hustlers was clearly the more successful box office hit with an opening weekend of over thirty-three million and a total worldwide gross of nearly 150 million dollars. Then again, The Hustle didn’t fall too far behind with turning in a profit of almost $100 million worldwide. Does that mean that the male audience is open to seeing full female casts star in crime-comedy/drama? Why do these two “girl power” features strive when apparently Charlie’s Angels faulters at the box office? Are there any female led financial Hollywood successes from this year?
Exploring 2019’s Women in Action
Inside the genre of action, there are obvious selections that no doubt made their mark at the box office this year; Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, and Spider-Man: Far From Home were never at risk of bombing. Male leading action flicks set within a thoroughly established current franchise (i.e. Marvel, DC, Star Wars, etc.), there’s no chance of losing money in these titles quite frankly. What about the titles that aren’t guaranteed to be box office conglomerates? The productions that may have an audience somewhere in some capacity, but are taking a significant risk when casting a woman in a film that doesn’t exactly have the numbers to back them up.
For instance; despite the Terminator franchise certainly having its fans (me included), the series has been struggling for decades now to get its feet off the ground. Terminator 2: Judgment Day, back in the early 1990s, was arguably the last installment to receive any true praise and mind-blowing commercial success. With the utter disappointment that 2015’s Terminator: Genisys turned out to be for producers, it seems that the filmmakers have made a recent attempt to reboot the Schwarzenegger driven franchise once again under the title of Terminator: Dark Fate. This time, however, refueling with almost a total female cast that included the reprisal of Linda Hamilton in the iconic role of Sarah Conner. Not even two weeks after release, as I write this article, the film has been entirely pulled from theaters after its colossal bomb at the box office.
Why did Terminator: Dark Fate truly fail to meet financial expectations? Was it really akin to the claims Elizabeth Banks made where no men are actually interested in female led action movies or the fact that Terminator is a dying franchise that has finally run out of steam? We all know that the series hasn’t been exactly winning hearts of fans for a couple decades now. Domestically, Genisys flopped so badly it couldn’t even come close to breaking even in ticket sales. Same goes for Dark Fate for that matter. At this point, I’m fairly positive no matter what the next Terminator entry did it will likely be destined to fail, regardless of any gender specific casting.
What About Marvel?
It’s no secret that early this year, Captain Marvel earned a big score at the box office as it was shockingly close to recouping its own budget within the opening weekend of release. Eventually making over a billion dollars worldwide. Is that not considered a success under the female action picture status? According to Banks, not so much. During her interview, Banks also mentioned the success of comic book movies; such as Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel. Proclaiming their success to be only achieved through the means that they are catering to a male demographic in the comic book movie genre. How valid is that statement for the comic book genre to strictly belong to a male audience? Personally, I find that to be a rather flimsy excuse.
Comic books, no doubt, have a large male fanbase. There is also a huge female fanbase for comics as well though. Deep down, I don’t particularly believe that comic books are only for dudes. Hell, one of my best friends is a woman and she can easily whoop my ass in any sort of comic book trivia given to her. So to say that titles like Captain Marvel or Wonder Woman only made money because most males are comic book nerds doesn’t seem all that solid of an excuse. My own mother doesn’t know the first thing about comic books, but she has a blast with Marvel and DC film properties. Does the male demographic under the comic book fandom help? Of course. Not to the extent that Banks is trying to argue though. At least I don’t believe so.
What Do Women Think?
In case anyone is unaware… I’m a dude. I know, what a twist, seeing how I am so beautiful. Do not be fooled by my irresistibly feminine charms, I am in fact male of the male gender that is male… Anyways, so I thought to myself, “What do the women in my life think about this topic? Do they see a problem where I don’t or do they feel comfortable in the representation currently being handled in Hollywood?” So I comprised a list of questions pertaining to the subject at hand. Here is what a few lovely ladies had to say about the matter!
How do you feel about women starring in action flicks? Is it important to you seeing more female characters handling themselves in the action?
Do you feel that Hollywood is representing the female gender properly in film today? Why or why not?
How do you feel about women starring in comedies?
Do you wish that there were more female action leads today? Why or why not?
I wish there were better ones, women are tough too.
— Ms. Kaylon
I would like to see more female action leads, but I don't want to have a woman tossed into a role just to say that there are more and I should be happy with what I got.
— Ms. Sarah
Who is your favorite actress and why?
How important is it to you that men and women have equal opportunities in front of and behind the camera in the film industry? Please explain your reasons as to why or why not.
Do you have any specific thoughts/opinions on the role that women have played within Hollywood up to this point? If so, please elaborate.
Do you have a preference as to what the gender is of the protagonist or antagonist for any particular feature? Why or why not?
Did you see the new Charlie’s Angels reboot in its theatrical release? If yes, what did you think of the movie? If not, why did you not see it in theaters?
Do you have any thoughts on why the newest Charlie’s Angels has become such a failure critically and financially?
If you have any final thoughts on this subject of women in Hollywood and action movies, please by all means, add your comments here.
What Have We Learned?
If there’s anything we can take away from the words of these awesome ladies, it’s probably that women want to connect to story and character more than the fact if a movie is simply starring fellow women. Gender doesn’t seem to be a major factor in an enjoyable theatrical experience, it’s whether the audience can get into a thoughtful story and relate to characters with a genuine personality. What a twist? No one wants to feel manipulated by some political agenda when watching a film, we want to have a fun time at the movies. Honestly, that shouldn’t be a difficult premise to figure out. From my understanding, women didn’t go see something like Elizabeth Banks’s Charlie’s Angels because they weren’t impressed and felt the agenda seeping through its marketing campaign.
Maybe the next time a director is so quick to judge men for “not wanting to see women go do action”, they should actually ask what women thought about their movie… better yet, ask if they even bothered to see it at all. Because it seems to me that none of my female friends or family members ever came close to contemplating spending a penny on a ticket for the newest Charlie’s Angels. It’s possible that female moviegoers smelled the gender agenda from a mile away or the cast doesn’t have the name recognition and audience draw necessary for success currently. There is of course the chance that we have misjudged the picture prematurely, while the final product has more material to offer. Hard to say for sure when the advertising deters its own target demographic from giving the movie any shot at all.
Are Women Making the Big Bucks?
With the success and failures of any theatrical release, there are a number of factors playing into the equation. Marketing, word of mouth, public interest, time of year, casting, name recognition of director/writer/producer/actor, budget, franchise or independent production, and so on and so forth. That being said though, are women led casts earning a decent profit at the box office these days? I gathered up what statistics I could for comedies/action/dramas/horror/etc. released within 2019 starring female leads. Keep in mind that some of these numbers are subject to change as a couple of the titles are still in their theatrical run currently as I write this article.
|Budget||Opening Weekend USA||Gross USA||Cumulative Worldwide Gross|
Charlie’s Angels (So Far) [November 15]
Hustlers [September 13]
The Hustle [May 10]
Terminator: Dark Fate [November 1]
Anna [June 21]
Captain Marvel [March 8]
Alita: Battle Angel [February 14]
The Kitchen [August 9]
Crawl [July 12]
Men in Black: International [June 14]
Miss Bala [February 1]
Black and Blue [October 25]
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil [October 18]
Dora and the Lost City of Gold [August 9]
Ready or Not [August 21]
Booksmart [May 24]
Frozen II [November 22]
Harriet [November 1]
Judy [October 4]
Annabelle Comes Home [June 26]
Dark Phoenix [June 7]
Poms [May 10]
Little [April 12]
Ma [May 31]
Unplanned [March 29]
Isn’t It Romantic [February 13]
If Money Talks, What Does It Say Here?
Out of the entire 2019 lineup, it appears that womanly features of Hollywood have roughly similar highs and lows of any other mainstream release. Then again, it is difficult to dispute the fact that some of the biggest box office bombs out of the year were from female leading pictures. Dark Phoenix was possibly the most shunned and despised X-Men installment since 2006’s The Last Stand. Terminator: Dark Fate fled theaters faster than it entered them. I don’t think there’s a soul in the United States that gave a damn about Men in Black: International, for good reason. The Kitchen died a horrible death in its laughably short stint… deservedly so. And did anyone reading this even know the newest Luc Besson action flick, Anna, came out like six months ago? Don’t worry, it was just a remake of Besson’s better movie Le Femme Nikita; go watch that instead.
Taking a look at the other side of the spectrum for woman leading features, setting aside the big name franchises; Hustlers was a sleeper hit crime comedy/drama that no one was expecting. Ma, Ready or Not, and Crawl made some big splashes within the horror genre. Black and Blue experienced a modest success for women in action. Dora and the Lost City of Gold weirdly found a crowd with its theatrical debut. Alita: Battle Angel may not have done wonders in the states, but it did seemed to make the big bucks in the foreign markets. From all these details provided, I feel as though there is clearly an audience that loves seeing women kick ass in the movies and we’ve proven that with our contributions to some of what I just listed off.
According to a couple of articles in Forbes Magazine from late September, there seems to be a slight gap between the highest paid actors and actresses of 2019. Whether this shows that there is a definitive bias on public demand of the genders or maybe Hollywood is gipping these fine women from pay they deserve, I cannot say for certain. All I know is that if money talks then it is most likely saying something in the numbers down below.
Highest-Paid Actresses Of 2019
Highest-Paid Actors Of 2019
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson
Robert Downey Jr.
As we can see from the information above, Scarlett Johansson seems to be the highest paid actress this year with a sum of 56 million dollars. More money than I will ever see in my lifetime, that’s for sure! To anyone, like myself, that’s one hell of an impressive earning right there and deservedly so seeing how this talented actress’s versatility ranges within several genres of film; from action to sci-fi, drama, comedy, and everywhere in between with the exception of horror. However, when we look over at the male spectrum of an actor’s earning from the same industry, we see that Johansson’s $56 million doesn’t even match with half of the top earning men of Hollywood. The top moneymaker in the acting business seems to be that of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson at 89.4 million dollars. It’s insane to think that these salaries are normal for some people. Holy moly!