In this Part 2 of Women in Film, we are moving on from 2014 to our new year 2015.
2015 is going to be the year of big returning franchises. Some of the biggest of the biggest are set to hit from now in April through December this year: James Bond dusts himself off, a re-booted Mad Max, a new Jurassic Park, an alternate timeline (reboot) Terminator, Mission: Impossible V, and the big daddy of them all, the return of Star Wars, the final chapters, now that Disney bought out George Lucas. All of them are male-centric, and added to them are the starting films in Marvel’s multi-studio plan for world domination: Avengers 2, Ant-Man and a reboot of the Fantastic Four in the ancillary Marvel mutant-based universe owned by 20th Century Fox. Marvel has plans for the ladies (see below,) but they don’t really start this year (unless you count the wonderful show Agent Carter on television.)
So it doesn’t look like an ideal year for women film stars and I’m not going to pretend it will be a female showcase, but it’s not going to be a down-tread either. It’s kind of interesting what they’re doing. The new Bond film, Spectre, has been playing up its women more than usual – Monica Bellucci especially, and Lea Seydoux and Stephanie Sigman; and Mad Max: Fury Road has gone to enormous trouble to market having Charlize Theron kicking ass as a one-armed cyborg commander, with a bevy of young actresses playing major roles: Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, and Megan Gale. The Terminator franchise knows a warrior Sarah Connor goes over better, so in their new alternate timeline restart, Terminator Genisys, that’s what we’re getting with Emilia Clarke, backed by a possible android-playing Sandrine Holt.
Jurassic World has thrown their marketing focus understandably on having red hot Chris Pratt star, but the film is also featuring Bryce Dallas Howard in the co-star role, along with Judy Greer, Katie McGrath, and Lauren Lapkus. Mission: Impossible V returns, having disappointedly dumped Paula Patton’s very interesting character from the last movie (she’s off doing a t.v. series now,) but has substituted in up and comer Rebecca Ferguson. Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been very closed-mouthed about their cast, but we do know that Carrie Fisher returns as Princess Leia and that Gwendoline Christie, Lupita Nyong’o and Maisie Richardson-Sellers have major roles. And Furious 7 also returns this week, with its multi-ethnic cast in which Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Elsa Pataky, Ronda Rousey, and Nathalie Emmanuel play central roles, an aspect that they always market.
Moving to the female-led action films, so far this year, in what is considered the “dead” period at the start of the season, we’ve had Jennifer Lopez produce and star in the soapy psychological thriller The Boy Next Door, with a tiny budget that produced a solid hit. Jupiter Ascending, starring Mila Kunis, from the Wachowski siblings, was yanked from the summer blockbuster roster last year and dumped into February. While the movie is a bit of a hot mess, it made more sense than Prometheus and was a lot of fun. Its big budget special effects meant it wasn’t likely to be a hit, given the circumstances, but it’s breaking even and still doing world box office.
The big female-led action movie of the year will again be Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, the last film in the hit franchise. As such, and coming out around Thanksgiving a month before Star Wars, it’s likely to do pretty big. Also just coming out now is the sequel to Divergent, called The Divergent Series: Insurgent, with Shailene Woodley, which has already shot past its production budget in a week and is well on its way to being another big hit for that series. Disney is continuing to monetize its park rides with Tomorrowland, a big budget special effects sci-fi movie for the summer, starring Britt Robertson, who gets helped by George Clooney in saving an alternate world from destruction.
Melissa McCarthy and Paul Feig again team up in May to produce and McCarthy to star in Spy, a comic spy thriller in which McCarthy plays a pencil-pusher analyst who has to take on a field agent role, backed by Rose Byrne, Jason Stratham and Jude Law. If successful, it puts McCarthy on a three year winning streak. Reese Witherspoon is also doing more producing and starring with Sofia Vergara in a comic buddy action film, Hot Pursuit, in which Witherspoon plays a cop protecting Vergara’s witness in a drug case.
Natalie Portman stars in Jane Got a Gun, a western about a woman trying to save her outlaw husband. And we have a whole passel of women-led thrillers: Selma Hayak produces and stars in a quirky film about a woman staving off assassins in Everly. Halle Berry seeks her stolen son in the film Kidnap. Emily Blunt continues her upward moves by starring in Sicario, as an FBI agent working with the CIA to take down a cartel. Viola Davis produced and stars in with Jennifer Lopez again the revenge thriller, Lila & Eve, in which two mothers go after the killers of their children. Olivia Wilde, Hailee Steinfeld and Nicole Beharie play three women surviving attacks by soldiers in The Keeping Room. Sanaa Lathan stars in the psychological stalker thriller The Perfect Guy, and Margot Robbie returns in the sci-fi post-apocalyptic movie Z for Zachariah, only very loosely based on the 1970’s novel.
Further in the sci-fi area, Guillermo del Toro will bring out his new horror fantasy Crimson Peak, starring Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain. Blake Lively plays an immortal woman hiding from discovery in the film The Age of Adaline. Addison Timlin plays the unwitting woman of interest to two fallen angels in Fallen. And Kaya Scodelario stars as the young artist who must decide whether to betray her king, Louis the XIV, when a mer-woman is captured and brought to court in the adaptation of the Vonda N. McIntyre’s alternate history novel, The Moon and the Sun.
In the kids and teens area, the movies we know so far include just out animated Home, in which Rhianna voices a young girl dealing with aliens, a movie which has already gone over $100 million in its first weekend; and Jem and the Holograms, a live action adventure film based on the old animated music cartoon series, starring Aubrey Peeples as rocker Jem with a female band. Pixar is doing an interesting animated one for them – Inside Out, in which the inner emotions of a young tween, led by Amy Poehler as Joy, have to work difficult odds in the brain to help their person.
Disney, for their part, intends to continue live action versions of its animated classics. Out now is Cinderella, starring Lily James, (and featuring a new Frozen short film as well.) While the film isn’t as much of a diversion from the original animated movie as Malificent was, it does offer a moderately spunky Cinderella and a woman-centered cast, and in a couple of weeks, has made over $339 million in world box office. (Disney is bringing out the live action version of Beauty and the Beast, starring Emma Watson, in 2016.) I’m not sure that this process acutely helps actresses into action starring roles, but it certainly doesn’t hurt, and having the kids and musical adventure area a solid platform for women film stars does give them some new opportunities.
Horror, with its lower budgets, continues to be a place where women also frequently get to star or be heavily featured. 2015 will offer us It Follows, Out of the Dark, Nightlight, Unfriended, Before I Wake, Insidious: Chapter 3, Sinister 2, The Visit, The Disappointments Room, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, and Rings, the third movie in the mega The Ring franchise.
Outside of the action sphere, women are also managing to lead in high profile and decently budgeted dramas, comedies and a number of biographies. 2015 already brought us the kind-of erotic love story adapted from the bestselling novel Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James. With a medium budget, and directed and written by women, the film has grossed over $546 million and definitely made a star out of actress Dakota Johnson.
The year will also bring us Sisters, a sort of action comedy starring and produced by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, Amy Schumer’s much anticipated comedy Trainwreck, the sequel musical comedy Pitch Perfect 2 starring Anna Kendrick, Queen of the Desert in which Nicole Kidman plays the notorious Gertrude Bell, and Anne Hathaway will star in The Intern, about a woman at a fashion website. The Duff, a teen comedy starring Mae Whitman, on a small budget has made over $30 million. The female centered sequel The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has also been out for a couple of weeks and already brought in over $67 million.
Also up this year, a bio film of Effie Gray; Far From the Maddening Crowd starring Carey Mulligan and adapted from the Thomas Hardy novel; Meryl Streep rocking a comedy as a former rock star who returns to reconcile with her family in Ricki and the Flash; Maggie Smith playing a homeless woman in The Lady in the Van; Helen Mirren in the biographical drama The Woman in Gold; director Maya Forbes’ autobiographical film of her childhood in Infinitely Polar Bear; and a bio film of author Mary Shelley called Mary Shelley’s Monster. Alison Brie will star with Jason Sudeikis in the comedy Sleeping with Other People; Americanah, a much buzzed about film about Nigerian immigrants, will feature Lupita Nyong’o; and Angelina Jolie will direct, write and star in with Brad Pitt the couple drama By the Sea.
Of course, those women-led projects, some of which will rake in nice box office or Oscar nominations possibly, won’t have the status and impact granted to the action films in Hollywood, and the action films do remain majority male led (and male directed.) Actresses will, however, continue to do trickle, trickle efforts in major, often kick-ass roles in the action movies this year, including: Ex-Machina, Cymbeline, Tracers, San Andreas 3D, Poltergeist (reboot,) Pan, Pixels, The Martian, Self/Less, Masterminds, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (remake,) Regression, No Escape, Triple Nine, The Maze Runner 2: The Scorch Trials, Frankenstein, London Has Fallen, Vacation, Goosebumps, The Last Witch Hunter, The Secret in Their Eyes, Autobahn, Midnight Special, Point Break (reboot,) Project Almanac, The Day of the Triffids, and Spooks: The Greater Good. Already action hits this year include the children’s adaptation Paddington, featuring Nicole Kidman as the female villain, a trend that continues; con artist thriller Focus, featuring Margot Robbie (who is having a busy time bouncing up to the A-list;) and fantasy YA adaptation Seventh Son, with Julianne Moore taking the female villain role.
And then there are the comic book movies, which have dominated the Hollywood scene this past decade, even when they’ve flopped. The comic empires themselves, while male dominated, have offered opportunities for many great women characters. The movie adaptations have of course been way more cautious (and probably again producer status conscious,) keeping female involvement secondary and limited. That may or may not be changing, but the up-coming schedules of the two big comics companies – Marvel and DC Comics – show a little more daring towards the other half of the population, at least on the theory of using cross-series marketing.
Marvel has been more successful, licensing two franchises – Spider-Man and mutants – to different studios with varying degrees of success before forming their own studio and creating an interlocking set of films in maybe the most ambitious franchise attempt of all time. Marvel managed to make a deal with Sony to bring Spider-Man into the main franchise fold. This unfortunately delayed other films in their schedule, but they still plan to bring out a Captain Marvel (Carol Danvers) film in 2018, (as well as a Black Panther film the same year.)
While Captain Marvel isn’t cast yet, she may be making an appearance in some of the other Marvel movies before her solo gig. There won’t be a Black Widow movie (because the Marvel people are idiots and possibly because Scarlett Johansson annoyed them by being pregnant during the shooting of Avengers 2: Age of Ultron,) but the character will be making appearances in some of the up-coming movies, as will the small stable of female characters Marvel has been building. This year, Avengers 2 will offer us Black Widow, Maria Hill and Peggy Carter as returning characters, and bring in Elizabeth Olsen as the Scarlet Witch. Ant-Man will offer us Evangeline Lily as a character who may become the Wasp or the villain Red Queen, as well as another Peggy Carter appearance and supporting performances from Judy Greer and Lyndsi LaRose. The mutant franchise of Marvel’s also offers us a new Sue Storm in the rebooted Fantastic Four, played by Kate Mara.
DC Comics is essentially now following Marvel’s playbook. Which means we finally get a Wonder Woman movie in 2017 – ahead of Marvel, no less. Before getting her own film, Wonder Woman, played by Gal Gadot, will appear in the kick-off film Batman vs. Superman, due out in 2016, and will be in the Justice League movie set for later in 2017. Other female characters are scheduled to appear in DC movies like Suicide Squad, in which the villains become heroes of sorts. Margot Robbie, the It Woman of the moment, will play fan favorite Harley Quinn, and Viola Davis, also busy in both film and t.v., will co-star. Many of the other roles aren’t quite known yet, and DC’s casts are whiter overall, but the sheer fact that they finally decided to launch Wonder Woman is practically a miracle. It’s one that we have to wait for, though, as DC has no movies for 2015, concentrating instead on its (second or third) alternate universe on television with multiple shows (one of which will be a team show.)
All of this makes 2015 fun for having female movie stars capture screen time, but can it move the needle for women getting more than 17, 18 percent of the main film roles? With fewer romantic comedies coming out, probably not. But the continued push of women in the bigger budget and mid-budget action flicks is bearing fruit. And 2016, with a female Ghostbusters cast, movies in the Resident Evil and Underworld franchises, Noomi Rapace in Prometheus 2, young star Shailene Woodley taking on yet another dystopian franchise in Allegiant, Chloë Grace Moretz doing her own dystopia in The 5th Wave, the return of Alice in Wonderland 2: Through the Looking Glass with Mia Wasikowska, etc., means that actresses are getting a lot more attention and establishing themselves as go-to stars for action pictures. We have a crop of young movie stars rapidly making a name for themselves jumping off of buildings, and a number of older actresses producing their own action vehicles and getting the scheming villain roles that used to automatically go to the male actors. We have not gone backwards, and so it will be interesting to see what is going to happen over the next five years. Especially as the summer season now starts at the beginning of April and may not let up until next January. So strap yourselves in, because Furious 7 is a launch this weekend: