(See Part 1 here.)
So, has the female movie star died off as we enter into the full 2014 movie season? No, and not just in the area of the big budget action movies. “Women’s” pictures – comedies and dramas led by women – also have made money these past few years and upped profiles. August: Osage County, a female star-studded Broadway play adaptation, for example, made on a small budget of salary-cut-for-the-indie-prestige with the Weinsteins, nearly $60 million in 2013.
In fact, women-led films — drama, comedy or action — have in recent years consistently counteracted the current claim that the middle-budget film is dying out in favor of the big tent poles. The women are cheaper and given less investment in budgets, as previously visited, and so when their films do well, the profits are higher than bigger movies that just break even. More women-led films made over $100 million in 2013 than in 2012, when they were more highlighted in PR and media attention.
Of course, it’s not necessarily making movie stars if the women are regulated to a mid-low budget ghetto. And women directors are still being shut out of both big tentpole films and lower budget Oscar contenders. But there is upwards pressure. If Sandra Bullock can get $20 million and 15% of the gross for Gravity and Angelina Jolie can fund and direct movies, that means younger female actors can push for more green and better deals. Actors like Jennifer Lawrence, Kristen Stewart, Mila Kunis and Emma Stone are already bonafide movie stars making millions. Actors like Natalie Portman and Charlize Theron are also in the A-list club with large salaries for their bigger projects.
Does that mean then that 2014 is going to be a super year for women actors in film, though, and in the big action movies? The answer is that it is and it isn’t. 2014 is shaping up to be a good year in terms of women being highly present and doing major, high profile roles in action films. There are, however, less women-led action films in the pipeline for 2014 than the previous two years. Some of those films coming out are likely to do very well at the box office, but there is the inevitable desire in Hollywood to slow down the supposed “risk” of the females, and take on the male security blanket action pics and hope that the male stars can keep milking the world foreign box office. The reality is that if your woman-led action picture does well, you don’t get nearly the status in the industry that you do if your man-led action picture does well, and so regardless of the box office, the tendency is to advance the males, with male directors. That means women have to continue with trickle, trickle erosion and still being mostly seen as the eye candy while they kick ass.
So 2014 is going to have its comic superhero movies, old world myth fests and action spectaculars led by men and special effects. The numbers of recent studies about women’s participation in film are not heartening. And yet the tipping point we seem to have witnessed in 2012 does not seem to be tipping backwards. It’s just continuing on its sneaky roll, with Hollywood now automatically putting in a female member or more for every action team, an increase in female power villains, and a lot more excitement about the actresses in big power flicks than most of the male stars. That’s…annoying, really. Who likes riding in scanty clothes on what continues to be a slow moving glacier? But what’s becoming normal – having the women there, kicking ass and frequently leading – is shaping the future of movies slowly and surely. Hollywood likes its myths, but it likes money too. And audiences have shown that they clearly don’t care if it’s a woman or a man in the lead, or in any other role.
So what is coming up for women in the action pictures, all kinds, in 2014:
Women-led action pics for 2014 include first off the YA adaptation Divergent. A lot of folks are seeing this as Hunger Games lite, but the books have a solid fan base who don’t seem unhappy with what they’ve heard about the film so far. The film is coming out in late March (at what is now the start of the “summer” season,) probably doesn’t have a large budget, and seems to be getting a lot more studio support than previous female-centric YA adaptations last year. Then there is surprisingly the film Veronica Mars, based on the cult t.v. show. Veronica Mars got a lot of attention off of its Kickstarter partial budget campaign, which is now making the film a bigger deal, and fan enthusiasm is high, while the budget is very low. Veronica Mars brings the television sensibility to the film – that the woman can be the detective/action person who leads and everyone else circles around – so even if it isn’t a huge hit, it’s going to help and definitely ups Kristen Bell’s profile.