The year of 2017 had a lot of movies released and the “summer” blockbuster season has now crept into February, though troubled or uncertain productions are still dumped in the early part of the year. Combine that with twice the usual number of big budget pictures released for the holiday season along with the Oscar bait movies, and the impact of the actual Memorial Day to Labor Day season becomes somewhat less important. A number of the big films in 2017 were well received on content, such as the British WWII production Dunkirk (a film with nearly no women in it,) which bodes well for ambitious plans in 2018 and 2019. However, there were a hefty number of large flops and franchise movies that failed domestically in the U.S. and were reliant for most of their profit on world box office, leading the whole summer take to be down over 10% for the year.
Hollywood is combatting the appeal of large amounts of acclaimed and varied television by trying to coordinate big franchises with a t.v. side (see Marvel and D.C. Comics,) and with reserved seating, reclining seats and better food options in U.S. theaters, plugging it as a cheaper night out than a concert or play ticket even with film ticket price raises. They are heavily dependent on securing box office in Europe and Asia, where China has only a limited number of slots for foreign films, leading to a continued reliance on established spectacle that can lead to costly disasters and is likely not sustainable. (Asian movies themselves have been doing very well in box office, frequently rivaling the English-language Hollywood market, but I have some difficulty getting info on those and the actresses that may be in them.) Studios keep trying to reboot old properties they own as less expensive launches that will have foreign name recognition or nostalgia value in the States, but that frequently has not worked that well beyond the superhero and Star Wars films, and a number of the older reliable franchises like Transformers seem to be running out of steam.
In the U.S., smaller budget dramas and comedies are actually finally getting a boost, as they can turn tidy profits – and that’s an area where women have been allowed to take a bigger role the last decade. Horror films, another good area for actresses though it tends not to make them stars, also seem to be immune to market shifts and usually have tiny budgets for maximum profits in the U.S. and abroad. Hollywood seems to have temporarily lost some interest in adapting bestselling YA SFF this year, a sector that helped young actresses, with the last Divergent and Maze Runner films both delayed, which again may limit the chance of new franchises if the trend continues.
After seismic events in 2015 and 2016, in good part thanks to Disney’s Star Wars franchise, 2017 proved to be fairly impactful for women actors in action, if maybe a bit more muted on those lower budget thrillers and horror flicks that were women-led. A number of those smaller thriller films starring women got pushed back to 2018, like the spy thriller Red Sparrow and trippy SF film Annihilation. There were also a few high profile flops for women-led films, such as (very predictably) Ghost in the Shell, the Flatliners sequel and adventure comedy Snatched.
In terms of box office wow for 2017, however, women-led action films did land with a determined thump. Once again, the number one worldwide box office film for the year was December release Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi, rocketing to over $1.3 billion in under two months. Daisy Ridley reprised her lead role as young Jedi candidate Rey, squaring off with Mark Hamill playing a guilt-stricken Luke Skywalker, trying to save the son of her mentor Han Solo and deciding to take her destiny and identity into her own hands. The sprawling and complicated middle film of the new SW trilogy also let the late Carrie Fisher shine in what was to be her last performance as General Leia Organa, (she also helped with the script,) and had Gwendoline Christie’s First Order Captain Phasma trying to enact revenge on her former stormtrooper Finn. It added Kelly Marie Tran as rebel mechanic Rose in a key role, Laura Dern as Leia’s right hand woman, Vice Admiral Holdo, and Fisher’s daughter, Billie Lourd, as a rebel Lieutenant, with Lupita Nyong’o reprising her alien role in a cameo. All of that apparently made some macho posturers mad, but everybody else had a good time and the Star Wars juggernaut is firmly secure.
The bigger supposed gamble was DC Comics/Warner’s first entry of the year for their slow building franchise, the final arrival of the Wonder Woman movie in the summer, starring Gal Gadot and set in WWI without a Superman or Batman in sight. The plot of the movie was a bit flimsy, as superhero films are wont to be, but Gadot gave a stellar performance, backed up by a bunch of actresses as the Amazonians, led by Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright, Elena Anaya as a scarred German scientist, and scene stealing British actress Lucy Davis. The strong action scenes and interesting visuals carried the day and Wonder Woman brought in over $821 million in world box office, putting it in the top ten for the year. More importantly, it produced a DC franchise film that not only made money but that most people liked, with some actual solid humor to it. There was a lot of pressure on this movie, and it delivered, so much so that they had to adjust the Justice League movie to give Wonder Woman a bigger presence and bring in some of the Amazonians for it. Wonder Woman 2 has been greenlit as part of the DC franchise and it will keep its female director, Patty Jenkins, who now holds a box office record for a woman director.