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Women in Film – Part 2 – 2017 Analysis

So if women built on momentum in 2016, what is happening this year? A fair amount, given that the “summer blockbuster” season for 2017 started in early March with Fox’s Marvel X-Men entry Logan and reboot film Kong: Skull Island. Women play principle roles in both those movies – young Dafne Keen playing a mutant girl with Wolverine-like abilities, and rising player Brie Larson is in the new Vietnam-era set Kong as an intrepid war photo-journalist, along with Tian Jing playing a biologist.

Some other action movies have already rolled out in the last two and a half months as well, as the former dumping ground of the new year has become a potentially fertile time period. The two reigning queens of the horror action films, Kate Beckinsale and Milla Jovovich, have returned with Underworld: Blood Wars (which was pushed forward from its original October 2016 release date,) and Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, Jovovich’s final film for the game tie-in franchise. The new Resident Evil racked in $307+ millions on only a $40 million budget and still going, for an all-time high for the franchise. Underworld: Blood Wars has had a slower start, but brought in over $81 million on an even smaller budget and still going globally. The two actresses together also got some extra press for their work in these successful but often dismissed franchises, since media has noticed that women are now taking point just a tiny bit more in hit action and SFF films.

On a slightly different spoke of the action wheel, Disney’s live action musical version of Beauty and the Beast, starring Emma Watson, had a record-breaking opening weekend with over $170 million domestically and has earned over $392 million in world box office. That’s good since the budget for the film was quite huge with the motion capture effects, and they estimate it might reach the billion dollar mark. Disney doing live action alt versions of its animated princess classics has so far been nothing but extremely popular, so more transformation of the vault properties are planned, as well as things like the up-coming 2018 Mary Poppins sequel. That’s going to give quite a few up and coming actresses spotlight roles backed by Disney’s machine.

The horror franchise of The Ring finally got its new one out, Rings starring Matilda Lutz. Rings has brought in over $81 million on a $25 million budget. And on a smaller scale, Before I Fall, adapted from the hit YA novel, stars Zoey Deutch and a female-heavy cast with a story of a teenager who relives the day of her death over and over, trying to change things. It hasn’t brought much money in yet, but has had a limited release.

In addition to Fifty Shades Darker bringing in audiences for nearly $375 million on the psychodrama front, women have so far this year played key roles in hits xXx: The Return of Xander Cage, The Great Wall, The LEGO Batman Movie, horror thriller Split, John Wick: Chapter Two, sleeper horror hit Get Out, and kid-friendly adventure Monster Truck. There’s also been a cluster of high grossing global Asian films, such as Jackie Chan’s Kung Fu Yoga and the animated film Your Name, in which women are doing major leads.

But what are the big up-coming films for the rest of the year with women leads? Chief among these for 2017 is first off Wonder Woman, out in June, starring Gal Gadot — the movie we’d come to believe would never actually happen as nervous studio executives just weren’t sure about risking big budget girl cooties. But DC Comics is in a film franchise arms race with Marvel/Disney, with The Justice League of which Wonder Woman is an integral part to be its answer to The Avengers. And DC is getting to beat Marvel to the punch with having the first woman-led film in their franchise, since Marvel’s Captain Marvel movie got pushed back to make room for Spider-Man being incorporated into their schedule and the Black Widow movie isn’t yet on the timetable. So they’ve poured quite a lot into promoting the film, with appealing trailers, and expectations are high for the first live action film of the most famous female superhero. Which of course raises the specter of studios possibly again blaming all actresses if Wonder Woman isn’t a blockbuster, and using that to try and nix future woman-led superhero movies as too risky. At this point, however, the momentum seems unstoppable – the machines of these comics franchises are just too big to risk leaving out the women. So Wonder Woman gets her movie shot and that’s a high water-mark for actresses in action.

No, I don’t know why they went with her kneeling either.

 

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Women in Film – Part 1: 2016 Review

It’s time to get back into the topic I’ve been trying to do annually for a few years now on how female actresses are doing in box office power in the big budget action, SFF, thriller, action comedies and horror films of each year – the mostly bigger money, bigger press or “cool” films that can catapult actors into a very high tax bracket. In the previous year of 2015, women packed a lot of punch in their roles in franchises and led in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and several other quite successful films, so 2015 ended up being a bigger year for the actresses than expected. 2016 did not quite match it, perhaps, in buzz, but at the same time, it marked a genuine shift and momentum that has been developing since 2012. Actresses are still struggling with blocks to their participation in film, but have firmly established themselves in action and big budget, a trend much less likely to reverse at this point.

A good chunk of that is again due to the folks at Star Wars/Disney. Needing a placeholder movie for 2016 to tide people over till Star Wars: The Last Jedi at the end of this year, the Star Wars machine planned their first supplementary prequel film for December 2016 — Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which covers the desperate mission to obtain the plans for the Death Star taken out in the very first Star Wars movie, A New Hope. That was a bit special and the filmmakers did some rather special things with it. They first off made the story a grimmer, tragic, bitter war flick along the lines of The Dirty Dozen or The Guns of Navarone (which let’s face it, always pleases critics and fanboys.) They CGI-wizarded one of the late great actors of the original Star Wars films, Peter Cushing, into a useful cameo and made excellent use of Darth Vader, (nice to hear James Earl Jones having fun with the voice again.) They came up with my now favorite robot, K2, voiced by the beloved Alan Tudyk in full snarky form.

And they decided, even though Force Awakens had been a woman-led story, to have Rogue One be one too, with Felicity Jones playing Jyn Erso, daughter of the designer of the Death Star, who leads a rogue platoon to go get the plans and try to reach her father. They expected the film to do well in December but not quite in Force Awakens territory. But the dramatic caper was a huge hit, coming in as the second most successful movie of the year, with over a billion worldwide box office and still going. Even if you argue that Star Wars has a bit of a built-in safety factor as a franchise, that the new SW movies have both been women led and done phenomenally does more than trickle, trickle erode the argument that women can’t open big movies well. And Rogue One is also set up to have solidified the change in the toy industry after Rey in Force Awakens forced the issue – lots of Jyn action figures and related merchandise, doing very well.

“I rebel.”

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Women in Film, 2015-2016, Part 2 – 2016 Analysis

Note to self: Get film analyses done before the chaotic month of May, especially as the “summer” season now officially starts in mid-March. Actually, with new strategies in releasing animated and thriller movies and such, you could say that it’s kind of summer all year round now. So while I was getting my ducks in a row once again, what has been happening/may be happening in 2016 for women in film?

While it is not likely that 2016 is going to be as seismic a year for actresses as 2015 or 2012, nor are the media likely to pay quite as much attention (they get bored, the dears,) there’s a definite shift going on that 2016 is busily helping push forward. Big action franchises looking to expand into global media empires, led by Marvel/Disney and DC Comics/Warner, are making use of women to further expand their tentacles. There are an enormous number of movies coming out, including women-led pictures that continue trends we’ve been seeing for the past six years or so.

The actresses hit the ground running first with SF YA movie The 5th Wave, based on the bestselling book, starring Kickass star Chloe Moretz and looking to pick up some of The Hunger Games and Divergent audiences. The alien invasion movie was cheap to make, and since it did well overseas, it made nearly $110 million, turning a very nice profit and possibly green-lighting sequels. Also early on, the horror movie The Boy, starring Lauren Cohan, took in nearly $65 million on a tiny budget, and other women-led horror movies The Forrest and The Witch (I sense a title trend here,) took in nice profits on low budgets. Sadly, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, adapted from the mash-up novel, finally came out with limited distribution, but it was late in the game and it did not succeed. Let’s hope it becomes a cult film.

The action kicked up in March with animated film Zootopia, starring Ginnifer Goodwin as a female rabbit cop who enlists a fox con artist to help solve a perplexing case. The kids movie was a massive hit, with over $993 million in world box office and still climbing towards a billion. 10 Cloverfield Lane, a loose sequel/concurrent film to J.J. Abrams’ cult horror movie Cloverfield, starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead holding her own against John Goodman and aliens, was done on a small budget and earned over $100 million in box office. The third title in the Divergent series, Divergent: Allegiant, starring Shailene Woodley, did experience some mid-series fatigue but made over $176 at the box office, paving the way for the fourth and last film.

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Women In Film Take the Stage – Part 1, 2015 Review

It’s time (finally!) for Women in Film, where we take a look at the state of women actors in tackling the serious Hollywood box office – the “summer” blockbusters, tent pole special effects movies, high octane action films, suspense thrillers, horror flicks, big buzz dramas, children’s and animated major features and comedy adventure films. In this first part, we’ll take a look at the past year of 2015. In Women in Film, Part Two, we’ll take a look at what’s been happening so far and what’s still to come in 2016 (and a little about 2017 and beyond.)

I will admit that I did not, going in, have particularly high expectations for the movies in 2015 when it came to the “lady actors.” I thought, from the look of those revamped big boy franchises for that year, that 2015 would be something of a placeholder year , like 2013 and 2014 – a year that didn’t particularly lose the trickle, trickle gains for women set off in 2012, since it would have some women leads in films and women in major supporting roles in big ensembles, but didn’t dramatically advance them either, since the machismo looked to be coming out the ears of the summer and winter line-ups.

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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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Aliens in Pretty Dresses, Part 2

Actress Gabourey Sidibe wowed people during the awards season, including at the Oscars, but in typical fashion, the media has decided to treat her as another kind of alien in a pretty dress. First came shockjock Howard Stern blasting that Sidibe would never get another acting role after Precious because of her size. That Sidibe has already done another movie and has a major role in a television series was of course easily discoverable to anyone on the Internet, but Stern has made his living for decades making controversial, misogynic comments for press coverage, currently to prop up his ailing sattelite radio network. Whether he’s right or not has always been irrelevant.

Then came some rinky-dink diet company hacking acacia pills offering to make Sidibe their spokesperson and help her lose that horrid weight, which the media relayed with gleeful delight. A couple weeks later, we have rumors all over the media of insiders at Vogue Magazine saying that Sidibe will never set foot into the domain of Anna Wintour, the lady who has done more to have stick aliens in pretty dresses than perhaps anyone. Apparently they were under the impression that Sidibe had any interest in appearing in Vogue at all.

Hollywood needs and has always needed heavier actors for a variety of roles, or just because that actor is damn good in the part, but the collective culture now seems to freak out whenever someone who isn’t a size 6 takes a lead role and is actually rewarded for it. Heavier male actors have it slightly better, especially if they are comic ones like the late John Candy and Kevin James, but plus size women tend to be regarded as some kind of strange fluke when they’re the ones in the spotlight. Roseanne changing the landscape of television, Camryn Manheim winning an Emmy, Jennifer Hudson an Oscar, Queen Latifah building a multi-media empire and hawking cosmetics with her skinny colleagues — these things are often greeted in the media as if they were visitations from Mars that must be puzzled over and analyzed for the hidden conspiracy. That Sidibe works on her health and weight, but regards herself as beautiful, ambitious, and strong upends the world of Botox and bulimia that is somehow supposed to be women’s chief aspiration.

As was evident in the ads in magazines, the problem has only gotten worse with young actresses finding it lucrative publicity to hook up with the fashion world, get paid to do events, market their own rags, and destroy the muscles in their arms. The culture is turning these women into aliens, while claiming women like Sidibe are the unusual outsiders. Explain that the average size for women is size 14 and the media will dutifully report it while wondering if Sidibe shouldn’t go on a liquid diet and get her stomach stapled so that she can look like poor Heidi Montag.

Long may actresses like Gabourey Sidibe continue to confound them with their alien visitations. Perhaps one day she will be joined by her slimmer colleagues who finally stand up to movie studios, fashion designers, advertisers,  and the media to say that no, they aren’t going to starve themselves anymore so that they can look like they’re dying — and ten years later, if they make it, announce that yes, they did actually have the eating disorders they always denied, like the stars on Ally McBeal. Sidibe may horrify the Howard Sterns of the world, who make their money off of pretending to be horrified, but to millions of us on the planet, she is not the one who doesn’t belong.

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