Like 2017, 2018 is a year with a lot of movies coming out. I’m liable to miss some and others may get moved around to next year or unexpectedly into this one, but let’s take a look at the up-coming season that we know so far. Women are not starring in a ton of the big action franchises, reboots and adaptation films this year, but they are playing substantial roles in those movies as co-leads and major character in ensembles. And there are a number of big films in which they are the lead, some of them looking to be potentially important for women’s gains in action and big budget.
Some movies have already been released or more widely released in the first six weeks of 2018, mostly films that were low-budget and problem children for distribution or are competing in the 2017 awards season. Proud Mary, a Blaxploitation homage starring Taraji P. Henson as an assassin, came out on a small budget but has sadly not hit it out of the park with just over $21 million in domestic box office and a lack of marketing support from its studio. Hopefully foreign box office will let it eventually come out ahead. Horror thriller Insidious Three: The Last Key, starring Lin Shaye as a psychic, has continued to perform in that franchise with a tiny budget and bringing in over $164 million in world box office. Also brought out early is the medium-budgeted romantic thriller Fifty Shades Freed, which ends the book adapted trilogy, starring Dakota Johnson and earning over $274 million in world box office so far. (This hit franchise does help “women” pictures get made as having box office potential, but otherwise has probably not done a great deal for women advancing in big films.) Smaller, notable Oscar-leaning movies that had December debuts but opened wider in 2018 are the gothic film Winchester, starring Helen Mirren, and the bio pic I, Tonya, starring Margot Robbie. Both have earned small but respectable amounts and good buzz and are likely to increase their take after the awards season.
In non-woman led action films so far this year, we’ve had the final YA adapted Maze Runner: The Death Cure, starring Kaya Scodelario, Rosa Salazar and Patricia Clarkson in key roles, for an over $259 million box office to close out that previously delayed franchise; the low budget thriller Den of Thieves, featuring Meadow Williams, for a medium take so far; the war and terrorism bio pictures 12 Strong and The 15:17 to Paris, neither of which had much female participation and have done middling box office; and Liam Neeson’s thriller The Commuter, starring Vera Farmiga in the chief villain role and which is closing in on $100 million box office. There were also two live action-animated mix movies Paddington 2 and Peter Rabbit, featuring Sally Hawkins and Rose Byrne respectively. Paddington 2 has done well for that franchise with over $213 million world box office, while Peter Rabbit, despite the efforts of many, many British actors doing voices, has underwhelmed with only $56 million so far on a mid-sized budget and probably won’t be establishing the Beatrix Potter books as a franchise this go round.
The summer blockbuster season now starts in mid-February, with this year’s launch being given to the Marvel-verse’s much anticipated Black Panther, which has already pulled in over $462 million in world box office and smashed all sorts of records. Black Panther has a fundamentally important group of kick ass women as main characters, played by Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Angela Bassett and Florence Kasumba, as well as a lot of women in supporting minor roles, a win not just for women in action, but actresses of color in big movies.
The superheroes will, as they have been doing the last several years, dominate the big scene in movies this year. DC/Warner has got its machine finally up and running, but it is rather overwhelmed by Marvel, which in addition to its giant, incredibly successful Disney Avengers Marvel-verse that includes Black Panther, has the entire Fox/Marvel X-Men-verse, Fox’s related but meta-style Deadpool franchise, and then Sony/Marvel’s Spider-verse without Spider-Man directly (because they lent Spider-Man to the Avengers universe.)
While there’s only one big superhero movie this year in the franchises that is woman-led, all the movies are going to feature women characters in major ways. In the Marvel-verse, in addition to Black Panther, they are putting out sequel Ant-Man and the Wasp, which promotes Evangeline Lily’s Wasp character to equal billing with Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man this time and will feature Michelle Pfeiffer as the chief villain. And in the summer, we have the next, enormous Avengers movie, Avengers: Infinity War, Part 1, in which pretty much every character in the Marvel-verse franchise ever is going to show up as the currently divided Avengers join back together to go to war over the Infinity Stones and the fate of the Earth.
In the complicated land of the X-Men, we get another prequel film, X-Men: Dark Phoenix, in which the X-Men in the alternate new timeline have to deal with a storyline concerning Sophie Turner’s young Jean Grey, in the wake of the events of the previous movie, X-Men: Apocalypse. This is the nominal woman-starring superhero flick and Turner is backed up in it by Jennifer Lawrence, Jessica Chastain, Alexandra Shipp and others. Fox/Marvel will also be releasing Deadpool 2, which takes place in a surreal world adjacent to the X-Men and involving a few versions of their characters. Morena Baccarin, Brianna Hildebrand and Leslie Uggams will be reprising their roles in the sequel and be joined by Zazie Beetz as mercenary Domino.
Sony is coming out with Venom this year, and the thriller will feature Michelle Williams, Jenny Slate and Michelle Lee. They are also putting out a big animated feature: Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse, which may feature some female voice actors as versions of Spider-Man in a multiverse take on the web-slinger. And DC/Warner will follow up on Justice League with Aquaman, the solo outing for Jason Momoa, which will also star Amber Heard and Nicole Kidman.
The Women in Action:
Outside of the spectacle superhero movies, a number of much anticipated woman-starring big pictures will be sprinkled throughout the year. The biggest buzz has been for Ocean’s 8, a spin-off of the successful Ocean’s Eleven heist films, starring Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett leading a team of eight women thieves and trying to pull off a complicated heist on Anne Hathaway. Also on deck is a prequel reboot of Tomb Raider, this time starring Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft with support from Hannah John-Kamen and Kristin Scott Thomas. The original Tomb Raider years back not only made Angelina Jolie a star but gave a big boost for a bit to women in big action roles. While the reboot may not have as much impact, it’s got the entire game franchise backing it up.
We have a number of science fiction films starring women this year. The biggest is the adaptation of the iconic YA novel A Wrinkle in Time. The story will star Storm Reid as the main character, searching for her father, and she’ll be supported by Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Rowan Blancherd. The film is directed by Ava Duvernay with a screen adaptation by Jennifer Lee, with the big name actresses helping to produce as well. You don’t get more women-power stuffed than this and the film looks like it’s going to be visually stunning.
Also women-packed is the film Annihilation, adapted from the bestselling novel, which stars Natalie Portman in a woman-only science team investigating a mysterious transformed land zone where expeditions keep disappearing. She’ll be backed up by Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny and Tessa Thompson. We’re also getting the big budget live action adaptation of the cyberpunk manga Alita: Battle Angel from James Cameron, starring rising star Rosa Salazar as the title character in motion capture, and supported by Jennifer Connelly, Michelle Rodriguez, Lana Condor and Eiza Gonzalez.
Amandla Stenberg will star in The Darkest Minds, adapted from the YA book trilogy, and backed by Mandy Moore, Gwendoline Christie and Golden Brooks. The film posits a post-apocalypse in which most children died of a disease that leaves the remaining ones with superpowers and imprisoned. We’ll have to see if it can launch another successful YA dystopia franchise and keep that avenue going. Action star Gina Carano also takes the post-apocalyptic route as a bounty hunter looking for criminals in the ruins of civilization in the film Scorched Earth. The Transformers franchise will give us Bumblebee, starring everyone’s favorite yellow car-robot-alien, teamed up with Hailee Steinfeld as the human lead this time. The sequel Deep Blue Sea 2 will have Danielle Savre facing off against engineered super sharks.
In the suspense thriller area where women often manage starring roles, Jennifer Lawrence tackles the adaptation of the novel Red Sparrow, about a Russian spy/assassin who looks to defect. Claire Foy will be yet again another actress taking on the role of hacker Lisbeth Salander in the sequel The Girl in the Spider Web, based on the best-selling book series. And Gabrielle Union will fight off a home invasion to protect her family in the film Breaking In.
Revenge and crime will also figure big in films like Widows, in which the widows of a group of crooks start their own operation, starring the very busy Michelle Rodriguez, Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki and Carrie Coon. Taraji P. Henson has a second movie out for the year in Acrimony, where she plays a wronged wife out for payback. Michelle Pfieffer stars in Where is Kyra? in which a woman whose life has collapsed goes on a dangerous and mysterious path. Making its way into wider distribution, the film Assassination Nation stars Odessa Young as a high school senior in Salem, Massachusetts when the town turns into chaos. Australian thriller The Nightingale, starring Aisling Franciosi, has a woman going into the Outback to avenge her family.
Horror films for the year with women leads include remake Suspiria, pushed back from last year, about a mysterious ballet academy and stars Dakota Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz and Tilda Swinton. Toni Collette apparently is freaking people out starring in psychological horror film Hereditary. Unsane takes place in a mental hospital and stars the also busy Claire Foy. Truth or Dare forces star Lucy Hale and friends to play a deadly game. And the new Halloween is not a reboot but instead a sequel of the same name in which Jaime Lee Curtis will again reprise her famous character in the franchise for a final confrontation with the resilient, magically powered killer Michael Myers, with Judy Greer playing her daughter.
On the big bio front, we have Mary, Queen of Scots, with Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie playing the opposing queens. And Melissa McCarthy will tell the story of fallen celebrity biographer Lee Israel in the bio film Can You Ever Forgive Me? The Miracle Season, starring Helen Hunt and based on a true story, is about a girls basketball team that must struggle on after the unexpected death of their star player.
In the more YA end of the pool, we have the adaptation of fantasy novel Every Day, in which Angourie Rice plays a teenager who falls for a spirit who inhabits a different person each day. I Kill Giants is an adaptation of the graphic novel in which a troubled girl played by Madison Wolf believes she has to defend her town from giants, and she may or may not actually be right. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms turns the famous ballet into an adventure fantasy starring Mackenzie Foy, backed by Keira Knightly, Helen Mirren and Miranda Hart. And famous YA novel Where’d You Go Bernadette? has been adapted into a film in which Emma Nelson plays a teen who has to find her missing, troubled mother, played by Cate Blanchett.
There are also going to be plenty of action comedies and some high profile dramas starring women. Chief among them is Disney’s huge sequel attempt, Mary Poppins Returns, starring Emily Blunt in the role made famous by Julie Andrews. Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again is an ambitious sequel for the hit Abba musical, with extensive flashbacks, Amanda Seyfried taking the lead role, and legendary Cher joining the extensive cast. The Spy Who Dumped Me stars Mila Kunis with Gillian Anderson and Kate McKinnon, a comedy thriller about a woman who discovers her ex-boyfriend is a spy.
Update: Looks like we may also be getting the sequel to Enchanted this year, entitled Disenchanted, with Amy Adams returning to the role that made her a star in Disney’s romantic spoof of its own princess movies that mixes live action and animation.
Overboard is getting remade, with the story about a rich person with amnesia tricked into being part of a working class family having an up-dated gender switch, with Anna Faris playing a working mom who desperately dupes her obnoxious former employer, played by Eugenio Derbez, into believing he’s her husband. The best-selling novel Crazy Rich Asians is having an adaptation starring Constance Wu, as an Asian-American woman who has to deal with her fiance’s wealthy Chinese family. Melissa McCarthy’s comedy entry this year, Life of the Party, focuses on a mother who goes back to college at the same university as her daughter. Amy Schumer’s newly produced comedy is a gamble called I Feel Pretty, about a woman whose head injury makes her think she now looks like a fashion model. Half Magic from Heather Graham’s production company stars Graham, Stephanie Beatriz and Angela Kinsey as women who befriend each other and help change their lives with more adventure. Rom-com The Competition sees Thora Birch avoiding long term relationships until a man challenges her to test her theories about love. And black comedy Dear Dictator has rebellious teen Odeya Rush taking in her pen pal — an exiled Castro-like dictator from a small island nation, played by Michael Caine, who teaches her how to cause revolt in her high school.
High profile dramas starring women bring us a British adaptation of the historical novel The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society, renamed just Guernsey, in which stalled novelist Lily James discovers she has a fan club on Guernsey Island and sets out to tell their story of surviving World War II. Kings stars Halle Berry as a mother of five trying to keep her family together and safe during the L.A. Rodney King riots. Please Stand By, starring Dakota Fanning, tells the story of an autistic woman who travels to enter a Star Trek writing competition. Midnight Sun stars Bella Thorne as a young woman who can be killed by sunlight due to an illness. Mary Magdalene stars Rooney Mara in the title role of the Biblical epic. And Rachel McAdams and Rachel Weisz star in Disobedience, adapted from the novel and produced by Weisz, about two women whose love is forbidden by the Orthodox Jewish community one of them left and the other remains in.
Beyond the woman-led films, a number of major action films will feature women in prominent roles. In the franchises, Star Wars will do a side prequel on young Han Solo — Solo: A Star Wars Story, which will feature Emily Clarke and Thandie Newton. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom has Bryce Dallas Howard reprising her lead role amid the dinosaurs. Pacific Rim Uprising has the very busy Tian Jing, Adria Arjona and Rinko Kikuchi fighting monsters. Mission: Impossible – Fallout, the sixth film in the spy franchise, is taking the unusual step for that series of having some of its women characters reprise their roles – Rebecca Ferguson and Michelle Monaghon, as well as starring Vanessa Kirby and Angela Bassett. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, part of the Harry Potter-verse, will have Katherine Waterston and Alison Sudol reprise their starring roles, as well as Zoe Kravitz, Carmen Ejogo and others.
Also in the franchise/reboot territory, we have The Equalizer 2, featuring Melissa Leo; The Predator, a sequel in that franchise that will feature Olivia Munn and Yvonne Strahovski; a reboot of the vengeance movie Death Wish, featuring Elisabeth Shue, Camila Morrone and Kimberly Elise; and yet another version of Robin Hood, this time from the Brits, and starring Eve Hewson. Creed II will continue the hit spin-off of the boxing Rocky franchise and feature the very busy Tessa Thompson.
Newer big releases this year offer us first Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the best-selling SF novel, Ready Player One, which will star Olivia Cooke, Letitia Wright, Hannah John-Kamen and McKenna Grace. Dwayne Johnson will have two big action movies this year — Rampage based on the video game and starring Malin Akerman and Naomie Harris, and hostage flick Skyscraper, starring Neve Campbell. Emily Blunt, besides her Mary Poppins debut, will star in her husband’s SF horror movie, A Quiet Place. Maggie Grace and Melissa Bolona will do the honors in crime thriller The Hurricane Heist. And the ambitious adaptation of the best-selling, post-apocalyptic steampunk series Mortal Engines will have Frankie Adams, Hera Hilmar, Jihae, Caren Pistorius and Leila George in key roles. On the more comic thriller end, we have Gringo, starring Charlize Theron, Amanda Seyfried and Thandie Newton again; and Game Night, starring Rachel McAdams, Chelsea Peretti, Kylie Bunburry and Sharon Horgan.
Women will also have major roles in smaller budgeted thrillers such as Titan, Mute, Replicas, Alpha, Captive State, Hold the Dark, 7 Days in Entebbe, Beirut, and Traffik. The Sicario drug thriller ditched or was unable to retain Emily Blunt, and so is going forward in Sicario 2: Soldado with male leads, but the film will also star Catherine Keener and Isabela Moner. In horror, women will be featured in The Purge 4: The Island, Nightmare: Return to Elm Street, Overlord, The Meg, Primal Rage, Submergence, Strangers: Prey at Night, The Lodgers, The Nun, Slenderman, Spinning Man and The Open House.
In big animation releases, the much awaited sequel Incredibles 2 will have Holly Hunter and Sarah Vowell reprising their roles as part of the superhero family. Wreck It Ralph 2: Ralph Breaks the Internet will return Sarah Silverman and Jane Lynch, and have a whole bunch of actresses voicing game characters and Disney princesses. There will be monsters with Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation (starring Selena Gomez;) and new entry Monster Family (starring Emily Watson and Jessica Brown Findlay.) Also, we’ll have animals with Isle of Dogs (featuring Greta Gerwig, Scarlett Johansson and Tilda Swinton;) and Duck, Duck, Goose (starring Zendaya.) Early Man will take us prehistoric (featuring Maisie Williams;) and Small Foot introduces us to the Yeti (starring Zendaya again, with Yara Shahidi and very busy Gina Rodriguez.) And the garden gnomes also return in the sequel to Gnomeo & Juliet, entitled Sherlock Gnomes, with very busy Emily Blunt returning as Juliet.
Some of these movies will undoubtedly sink in a crowded year, but a number of the big releases that are woman-led or have women in key roles look to have a good shot at succeeding. That Black Panther has done so well with multiple major roles for women is certainly a wonderful sign for the actresses and proves their worth at the box office. We have a lot of rising stars in actresses like Rosa Salazar, Zendaya and Tessa Thompson, an established young generation of stars like Jennifer Lawrence, Margot Robbie, Saoirse Ronan and Gina Rodriguez, and powerhouses like Sandra Bullock, Reese Witherspoon, Emily Blunt, Charlize Theron and Cate Blanchett. And a lot of these women, at all levels, are producing projects as well as starring in them with increasing success.
So 2018 overall appears to be a year where women actors have taken a big chunk of the action field, and that momentum will continue into 2019 and 2020. (Assuming we don’t have nuclear war, etc.) Actresses of color are gaining ground slowly, with global box office actually starting to help fuel diverse casting, and there are some encouraging signs of women improving the depressing statistics on working behind the cameras as well. If some of the big women-led films like Ocean’s 8, A Wrinkle in Time and Tomb Raider don’t do so well, that might be a bit of a setback for women actors in general, but isn’t likely to erode all the gains they’ve made the last six years at this point. With the often lower budgets women-centered films have, the profit margins can be very solid. All in all, we can expect to see some fun and striking performances from women in action this year.