So, way back in February, due to a blog post by Australian author Joel Shepherd, I did a two part post on whether things were really looking dire for female movie stars or not (and had been in the past.) The second part of that post essay was about the up-coming movie landscape, specifically the blockbuster summer in which women stars are traditionally small potatoes. This summer, a number of moderate to large budgeted films with big buzz were going to be women led, a situation that got the media’s attention. The question was whether the films would do well, reinforcing the idea that women led hits were bankable, in addition to smaller films led by women performing decently and more frequently. So now that we’re headed into the last part of summer and several months down the road, how has it gone?
The answer is, pretty well. We started in the late winter with the Soderbergh spy thriller Haywire, starring Gina Carano. The budget was only $23 million and it made over $31 million. That’s nothing to write home about, but it’s not a flop either. The even smaller thriller production Gone, which had Amanda Seyfried paying her dues, managed to pull in a respectable over $16 million number, even though it was barely marketed. Comic mystery thriller adaptation One for the Money, starring Katherine Heigl, flopped as expected but at $37 million box office, most of it domestic, on a $40 million budget and not that much advertising for it, it wasn’t an utterly horrible flop and doesn’t skew the record that much. What to Expect When You’re Expecting, the woman-filled, non-action “women’s movie” of the season, did over $67 million on a $40 mil budget – okay, especially since it was a mostly domestic audience and an ensemble film, and it should do okay on DVD.
The latest Underworld installment, Underworld Awakening, which brought Kate Beckinsale back to the franchise in the lead, had a fairly big budget for the series at $70 million and did better than any other installment of the franchise so far with over $160 million worldwide. Mirror Mirror, the first, more comic Snow White movie starring Lily Collins and Julia Roberts, had a moderate budget of $85 million and took in nearly $163 million, nearly double its production cost.
Then came The Hunger Games, the adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ bestselling YA novel, starring Jennifer Lawrence. On a budget of $78 million, with a female lead and a SF post-apocalypse story about children killing each other as entertainment and social control, it was considered a huge gamble, even though the series has many male and female fans. If it had done even moderately well, it was going to be seen as a victory, a solid “replacement” in the market for the finishing Twilight series. It did better than well. It’s made over $680 million. Its foreign take started kind of slow – which wasn’t due to having a female lead as female led movies often do well overseas – but has since picked up as the film opens in more and more countries.
Could the run be sustained, though? The next big female “gamble” was the second Snow White movie, Snow White and the Huntsman, starring Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron. With a big budget of $170 million for the CGI, it was going to have to do extremely well to recoup and Mirror Mirror had already had the shot at the Snow White story only a few months before. It made over $354 million worldwide, not as much as cheaper The Hunger Games, but more than enough to probably get that sequel they’re angling for. And then came Brave, Pixar’s “first ever” female lead animated feature, starring a, well sort of Disney princess Pixar-style, red-haired and Scottish. Would it do well, especially with a big budget cost of $185 million? Brave had one of the best openings Pixar has had for a non-sequel feature with $68 million opening weekend. It’s taken in nearly $225 million in only three weeks of showing. Like The Hunger Games, its foreign box office is being broken out slowly and is liable to bring in much more of the total in the next few months.
And as it turns out, although I wasn’t aware of it till it was out in June and I was forced by my family to see it — there was another female-led giant film of the summer – Prometheus, possibly the most expensive nonsensical movie ever made. The Alien prequel stars Noomi Rapace, as an archeologist/biologist doctor who finds out God is nasty, and also had again Charlize Theron playing a major role as resident ice queen. Rapace’s character was no Ripley, but the highly anticipated film bet on a female protagonist again for the franchise and has pulled in over $295 worldwide so far. (The reported production cost was $130 million.)
That’s about it for the female led films for the summer season, though it’s worth noting that Scarlett Johansan, the only female on the team of superheroes in The Avengers (at the studio’s insistence, natch,) looks to be getting a deal that might net her $20 million for the sequel, plus a possible spin-off feature for her character Black Widow. The big boy superheroes take the fore with Amazing Spiderman out now and Batman: The Dark Knight Rises to come out soon. 2012, however, will see the last movie of the Twilight franchise – Breaking Dawn, Part 2, in November, which is notable because Kristen Stewart’s Bella will be going in the last film from prophesied human whom everyone has to protect to super-powered vampire mom protecting her prophesied daughter. And also the next installment of the Resident Evil franchise, Resident Evil: Retribution, comes out in September, starring Milla Jovovich (who also totally stole the picture The Three Musketeers last year.)
Next year, some of the female-led films we know so far are the next Hunger Games film, Catching Fire; the animated feature Epic, with Amanda Seyfried doing the voice of the protagonist; Sandra Bullock’s SF movie Gravity; another YA adaptation, The Mortal Instruments, starring Lily Collins; the adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s SF novel The Host, starring Saoirse Ronan; a remake of Carrie starring Chloe Grace Moretz; another Soderbergh thriller, The Bitter Pill, starring Rooney Mara; Reese Witherspoon’s legal thriller Devil’s Knot; Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring; the drama Very Good Girls; Lasse Hallstrom’s Safe Haven; the The Evil Dead remake that’s more of a re-boot and stars Jane Levy; and the animated Dorothy of Oz. Also, the not female-led but female friendly Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, starring Gemma Arterton and Jeremy Renner, and Scary Movie 5. 2013 looks to be fairly full of testosterone, with a number of big movies like The Hobbit and the re-boot again of Superman, but the females are not going away, and female directors are in the mix and have a better shot at action films than they did a few years ago. Females are now a staple as secondary main characters in nearly every action film, in slightly larger numbers than before.
So 2012 definitely marks a sea change and from here on, it’s drip, drip, drip for more potentially successful erosion. The future for female movie stars is looking better than it was and less limited to romantic comedies and horror flicks. Now we just need that Wonder Woman movie.