Tag Archives: action movies

It’s Time For Women in Film!

So last year, I did a two part essay called “Death of the Female Movie Star? We’re Just Getting Started” that got a bit of attention (more than 2 people read it!) That essay has come back to me in relevance several times over the last year and a half, especially Part 2 about the 2012 current involvement of women in action films and leading films. And now that we’re firmly into the summer blockbuster season of 2013, I thought I’d take the temperature of what’s going on in Hollywood again.

Now that we’ve hit Memorial Day weekend in the States and are chugging into the blockbuster summer movie season at full steam, how are things going in the film and action film arena this year in regards to women?

Clearly this year we are having a bit of a testosterone festival, dominated by Marvel (who still needs to learn to make better use of their great female characters,) by aging male action stars often paired up with younger male would-be action star actors, returning male-dominated action franchises and big SF set pieces that unlike last year don’t seem inclined to have women in the leads.

So have we gone backwards, after the surge of feminine power in 2012? Not really, if you look closely and remember that the widening of female roles in film tends to be a sneaky cultural trickle rather than a canon boom. Like last year, women are solidly in major supporting roles in many of the big action flicks, and those supporting roles see them often playing action divas as important parts of the team, not just damsels in distress. In Iron Man 3, for instance, even smart but violence averse Pepper Potts got her fight on not once, but twice, while Robert Downey’s Tony Stark had panic attacks. Fast & Furious 6 may be as macho as they come with its two male leads, but Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez, Gal Gadot and Gina Carano helped power the movie as major and active players, and that happening was a deliberate choice by the franchise. The idea of having a woman soldier, thief, spy, scientist, superhero, etc. on an action team has become routine, which means it’s going to continue and in steady numbers. Even in the Expendables franchise, whose purpose is to feature male action legends, they had to have a feisty female activist (Gisele Itie) in the first one and a female combat specialist (Yu Nan) in the second.

But how is it stacking up in action films where women are more in the lead position? It’s a mix and often in movies that get less media attention, but it’s not a bad roster in a year of Marvel, Star Trek, Will Smith and Brad Pitt.

Horror films, mostly low budget, continue to do fairly well and be female friendly. (Well, female threatening too, but that’s a whole other subject.) Women have had the lead role or co-lead role in films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D, Mama, Dark Skies, The Last Exorcism Part II, The Lords of Salem, and Black Rock; and will continue to do so in the up-coming  The Purge, The Conjuring, Random, Haunt, The Devil’s Rapture and Paranormal Activity 5.

The launch of Evil Dead in a new chapter for the beloved cult franchise starred Jane Levy and turned an extremely nice profit, ensuring more Dead movies that fans have long awaited. Another big reboot horror film is the up-coming Carrie remake, starring Chloe Grace Moretz in the title role and Julianne Moore (who wins the Gene Hackman award for being in tons of movies this year, including the lead in indie drama The English Teacher.)

On the somewhat cheesier side, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, powered by hot commodity Jeremy Renner and action heroine Gemma Arteton as titular brother and sister, did middling domestically but scored big globally. (The film got scolded for making females evil, ugly villains, which is in line with the two evil queens of the Snow White movies last year. That’s a valid point, but the other point is that all these movies are using female villains instead of the traditional male ones, where female villains were usually absent or only in supporting roles.  Like women becoming established as part of action hero teams, so too are female villains getting more play. So again, attrition towards improvement rears its head in strange places.)  Gemma Arteton is back later this year in Neil Jordan’s vampire movie Byzantium, with co-lead Saoirse Ronan, (who wins the young runner-up Gene Hackman award this year.)

The Host, from Stephanie Meyer’s SF novel (again starring Ronan,) and Beautiful Creatures from the YA series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, both came out early in the year and basically flopped. The books were bestsellers with passionate followings, but not all in those followings were happy with the adaptations and the movies were marketed to highlight their romance elements rather than their action ones. This was presumably on the erroneous belief that the audience for the Twilight movies had little interest in action, even though emphasizing its action scenes is what helped the Twilight franchise sell. Without enough global box office (though Beautiful Creatures got most of their money there,) the films didn’t go anywhere. (And again, female villains!)

But up next in this vein is The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, starring Lily Collins of successful Mirror, Mirror last year, from the bestselling YA series. Mortal Instruments has a very big fan base and it’s chockful of horror action which has been used in the marketing so far. So it will be interesting to see how it does. Even if it doesn’t do great, expect Hollywood to keep being interested in female led YA and YA fantasy adaptations, meaning the women get a chance alongside similar male led films like Percy Jackson.

In SF, Sandra Bullock’s delayed film Gravity about a female astronaut in trouble will be coming out with all the backing of George Clooney’s production machine behind it. And November brings us the next Hunger Games film, Catching Fire, the biggest female action lead of the year with Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence.

On the less speculative thriller front, low budget film The Call starring Hallie Berry also turned a tidy profit and the crime indie Spring Breakers did extremely well. (Yes, the women in that movie were in bikinis – cultural trickle, trickle.) Up later in the year are The East, starring Brit Marling who co-wrote the screenplay, following the craze for movies about undercover work in cults, Violet & Daisy about a pair of female assassins starring Ronan again and Alexis Bledel, and the second crime spree film The Bling Ring, about a mostly female gang of teenage thieves, from female director Sofia Coppola. The female gang of thieves movies are in fact becoming a staple over the last fifteen years or so, again establishing that you don’t necessarily need Clyde to do a movie about Bonnie and have it work.

In animation, the enormously successful The Croods made use of Nicholas Cage and cute animated animals, but the story was a father-daughter bonding coming of age film, rather than the more traditional father-son film. Next up is Epic, based on the William Joyce novel, The Leaf Men and The Brave Good Bugs, which actually has a female lead, though you wouldn’t know it from the commercials for it.

In the action comedy world, Identity Thief shifted from the usual male-male dark comedy buddy tale to the chemistry of Melissa McCarthy with Justin Bateman and made a killing. McCarthy plays comic buddy again this summer and this time it’s with Sandra Bullock as two cops paired up together in The Heat. If The Heat does well, expect Hollywood to try more female buddy action films. (And not even necessarily in bikinis.)

While it would be nice to have a better showing this year for the females as leads,  (and to not have Captain Kirk sexually harass his gratuitously lingeried female scientist  underling  in Star Trek: Into Darkness or the producers of the film be obnoxious in their apologies about it,) there definitely doesn’t seem to be a backwards drift. Women still only make up about 11% of the movie leads while making up 52% of the North American viewing audience (and likely as much of the foreign audience one day soon.) But no matter how reluctantly for reasons we’ve discussed before, Hollywood will follow the scent of money and that means women are still getting more and more active seats at the table.

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How Are You Ladies Doing?

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.

 

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Movie Trailers with High Octane

First, for Thanksgiving, Colin Farrell does the criminal trying to go straight but gets dragged back in bit  in London Boulevard, (it actually looks pretty good):

Next, Jack Black doing his thing in the remake Gulliver’s Travels for Christmas, (the trailer shows far too much of the movie):

Ben Foster used to star in a kids show when he was like twelve, so seeing him in the dark, adult roles he prefers today always makes me smile. And then makes me scared, because he’s pretty good at the dark roles. And in The Mechanic, January 2011, he’s teamed up with British action wunderkind Jonathan Stratham, as an assassin and apprentice out for revenge, so it’s two bullet-shaped heads for the price of one:

In March 2011, L.A. is under attack yet again from aliens, and this time it falls on the Marines to save us in World Invasion: Battle Los Angeles, (this trailer conversely doesn’t show enough material, but everyone seems very frightened):

In April 2011, Jake Gyllenhaal is a soldier who finds himself in a time travel mission dilemma in Source Code. It’s kind of like the Denzel Washington movie, Deja Vu, but on a train, over and over (ironically, Denzel is also doing another train movie):

In June 2011, Ryan Reynolds blasts off as Green Lantern, from the DC Comics superhero character, a film that asks us to buy Blake Lively as his fighter pilot boss:

And lastly, the lauded comic Cowboys & Aliens comes to the screen in July 2011 with Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig, and enough steampunk to stuff Trigger:

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