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Women in Action 2017-2018: Part 2 – 2018 Analysis

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.

Early Movies:

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.

Superhero Movies:

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. Continue reading

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Women in Action 2017-2018: Part 1 – 2017 Review

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.

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Women in Action 2017-2018: Preamble

So 2017 was a year, wasn’t it?

Six years ago, I started looking at how actresses were advancing and not advancing in movies in terms of the big star parts in big budget and high status films, mainly action, suspense, SFFH and action comedy. Women have been frequently blocked from major roles in those films, especially having fewer opportunities to be the lead role, as well as kept as much as possible from working behind the camera. (Women make up only about 12% of the directors for film in the main English language market.) They’re paid considerably less than their male counterparts, as people have been made aware, even though on average they have a more reliable track record for bringing in profitable box office. They are given fewer lines of dialogue than male actors, even when they’re in the lead role, and often fewer action things to do, even though women performing action and fight work has increased overall.

When I began doing this, in 2012, that was something of a turning point year for women movie stars in high profile action, so much so that the media actually noticed and called it rather optimistically the “Year of the Women.” The question was then, would that momentum build or sputter out. The answer seems to be that over the recent years the momentum did build, leading to gains for women actors. But an acceleration of women’s roles doesn’t mean that the increase is going particularly fast, given from where it started. For women, it has been a continual slow process of trickle, trickle erosion in what they are allowed to do, and most importantly, how often they’re allowed to do it, and how their participation is viewed in the industry.

In Hollywood, the (mostly white) men who still run most of the film dream factory are heavily focused on their status, on how other men see them, to bolster their position in their jobs. They are thus deeply invested in the idea that (mostly white) male actors are better for big action films, more competent and more popular, leading to a system that also sees men as better at doing the production and financing of movies (and thus reducing the competition in their field.) For Hollywood executives, even the women ones, an action movie with a female lead that does well has less status than working and hanging with a male movie star. The status of male movie stars is also carefully propped up with higher pay, and bigger budgets and wider promotion for their films, even though costly flops are not uncommon. To keep that system of male bonus points and high status going, Hollywood still tries as much as possible to treat women either as exploitable gophers (on the production side,) or replaceable eye candy (as actresses.) Hollywood brands action movies that don’t do as well with women leads as evidence that all actresses can’t carry franchises reliably, while successes of women-led movies are often dismissed as having only niche appeal and/or being flukes.

But there is eventually a limit to how much your status bonus points can get you versus actually producing real money in Hollywood. If one studio makes a woman-led action picture that does well, there is pressure on other studios to try to do woman-led films like the hit one. While global audiences have become essential for big movies, it’s often very unreliable (and not really hostile to women either,) and so domestic U.S. box office is still a concern — and the biggest group going to movies in the theaters in the U.S. are the women. The more women-led action films there are that do well, the less convincing the business arguments that women can’t bring in reliable box office and handle franchises, that they’re niche and narrow in appeal, sounds to people. Actresses continue also to leverage the star power they do have to form their own production companies and launch projects featuring themselves and other women off the ground, a number of them doing very well. So while things are still slow and Hollywood tries to block women – and itself – with as much foot-dragging as possible, at this point the industry would be hard-pressed to try to turn back time and keep women from the big roles and action pictures, even if it wanted to do so.

But star power and the lure of money weren’t the only things that had an impact on the industry with regards to women this last year. For a very long time, women and others have been trying to improve the workplace conditions in the industry, specifically with regards to sexual abuse and harassment of workers, which are endemic to it, particularly in targeting and controlling women. Such abuse is not only traumatic and often criminal, it discriminates against women, helps depress their salaries, and drives many of them out of the business altogether. The horrible case of Bill Cosby, everybody’s dad whose history of serial rapes got amplified media attention and legal prosecution in recent years, not only drew focus to sexual abuse in the industry but showed that media, the courts and the public might now sometimes start to listen if victims banded very publicly together. This came to a boil in the subsequent case of influential producer Harvey Weinstein in 2017, who really should be in jail along with half the people who worked for him. The fact that Weinstein’s victims were also so numerous and that many of them were high profile actresses whose careers he tried to ruin caused the media endless fascination, and from there the boulder rolled – directors, screenwriters, actors, and further ripples in every industry from tech to the government.

The reverberations are still going on, including a few court cases and a smattering of firings. In Hollywood’s case, it ripped the lid off of just how bad the industry remained. And this has caused some surface changes in the business that may run deeper, given that an entire woman’s movement is blazing through the industry like a tornado. Hollywood is promoting its women-led movies a lot harder, it’s facing an army of actresses on pay inequality and professional treatment, and it’s finding its facile excuses for its discriminatory system and for only slowly changing that system to be constantly challenged. It’s too early to know if large changes are really going to happen from all this, especially given the current government in the U.S. But it has given a special significance to the women-led movies that came out in 2017 and a white hot spotlight on women actors and women-led big movies for 2018.

So let’s take a look at the tumultuous year of 2017 for women in the movies and where things are going in 2018.

 

 

Death of the Female Movie Star? We’re Just Getting Started, Part 1

Death of the Female Movie Star? We’re Just Getting Started, Part 2 (2011/2012)

How Are You Ladies Doing? (mid-year 2012)

It’s Time for Women in Film (2012/2013)

The Female Movie Star Lives in 2014, Yearly Update, Part 1 (2013 review)

The Female Movie Star Lives in 2014, Yearly Update, Part 2 (2014 preview)

Women in Film, Part 1: 2014 Review

Women in Film, Part 2: 2015 Preview Analysis

Women in Film Take the Stage, Part 1: 2015 Review

Women in Film Take the Stage, Part 2: 2016 Preview Analysis

Women In Film — Part 1: 2016 Review

Women In Film — Part 2: 2017 Analysis

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Women In Film, Part 2 — 2015 Analysis

In this Part 2 of Women in Film, we are moving on from 2014 to our new year 2015.

2015 is going to be the year of big returning franchises. Some of the biggest of the biggest are set to hit from now in April through December this year: James Bond dusts himself off, a re-booted Mad Max, a new Jurassic Park, an alternate timeline (reboot) Terminator, Mission: Impossible V, and the big daddy of them all, the return of Star Wars, the final chapters, now that Disney bought out George Lucas. All of them are male-centric, and added to them are the starting films in Marvel’s multi-studio plan for world domination: Avengers 2, Ant-Man and a reboot of the Fantastic Four in the ancillary Marvel mutant-based universe owned by 20th Century Fox. Marvel has plans for the ladies (see below,) but they don’t really start this year (unless you count the wonderful show Agent Carter on television.)

So it doesn’t look like an ideal year for women film stars and I’m not going to pretend it will be a female showcase, but it’s not going to be a down-tread either. It’s kind of interesting what they’re doing. The new Bond film, Spectre, has been playing up its women more than usual – Monica Bellucci especially, and Lea Seydoux and Stephanie Sigman; and Mad Max: Fury Road has gone to enormous trouble to market having Charlize Theron kicking ass as a one-armed cyborg commander, with a bevy of young actresses playing major roles: Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, and Megan Gale. The Terminator franchise knows a warrior Sarah Connor goes over better, so in their new alternate timeline restart, Terminator Genisys, that’s what we’re getting with Emilia Clarke, backed by a possible android-playing Sandrine Holt.

Jurassic World has thrown their marketing focus understandably on having red hot Chris Pratt star, but the film is also featuring Bryce Dallas Howard in the co-star role, along with Judy Greer, Katie McGrath, and Lauren Lapkus. Mission: Impossible V returns, having disappointedly dumped Paula Patton’s very interesting character from the last movie (she’s off doing a t.v. series now,) but has substituted in up and comer Rebecca Ferguson. Star Wars: The Force Awakens has been very closed-mouthed about their cast, but we do know that Carrie Fisher returns as Princess Leia and that Gwendoline Christie, Lupita Nyong’o and Maisie Richardson-Sellers have major roles. And Furious 7 also returns this week, with its multi-ethnic cast in which Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Elsa Pataky, Ronda Rousey, and Nathalie Emmanuel play central roles, an aspect that they always market.

Moving to the female-led action films, so far this year, in what is considered the “dead” period at the start of the season, we’ve had Jennifer Lopez produce and star in the soapy psychological thriller The Boy Next Door, with a tiny budget that produced a solid hit. Jupiter Ascending, starring Mila Kunis, from the Wachowski siblings, was yanked from the summer blockbuster roster last year and dumped into February. While the movie is a bit of a hot mess, it made more sense than Prometheus and was a lot of fun. Its big budget special effects meant it wasn’t likely to be a hit, given the circumstances, but it’s breaking even and still doing world box office.

The big female-led action movie of the year will again be Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, the last film in the hit franchise. As such, and coming out around Thanksgiving a month before Star Wars, it’s likely to do pretty big. Also just coming out now is the sequel to Divergent, called The Divergent Series: Insurgent, with Shailene Woodley, which has already shot past its production budget in a week and is well on its way to being another big hit for that series. Disney is continuing to monetize its park rides with Tomorrowland, a big budget special effects sci-fi movie for the summer, starring Britt Robertson, who gets helped by George Clooney in saving an alternate world from destruction.

Melissa McCarthy and Paul Feig again team up in May to produce and McCarthy to star in Spy, a comic spy thriller in which McCarthy plays a pencil-pusher analyst who has to take on a field agent role, backed by Rose Byrne, Jason Stratham and Jude Law. If successful, it puts McCarthy on a three year winning streak. Reese Witherspoon is also doing more producing and starring with Sofia Vergara in a comic buddy action film, Hot Pursuit, in which Witherspoon plays a cop protecting Vergara’s witness in a drug case.

Natalie Portman stars in Jane Got a Gun, a western about a woman trying to save her outlaw husband. And we have a whole passel of women-led thrillers: Selma Hayak produces and stars in a quirky film about a woman staving off assassins in Everly. Halle Berry seeks her stolen son in the film Kidnap. Emily Blunt continues her upward moves by starring in Sicario, as an FBI agent working with the CIA to take down a cartel. Viola Davis produced and stars in with Jennifer Lopez again the revenge thriller, Lila & Eve, in which two mothers go after the killers of their children. Olivia Wilde, Hailee Steinfeld and Nicole Beharie play three women surviving attacks by soldiers in The Keeping Room. Sanaa Lathan stars in the psychological stalker thriller The Perfect Guy, and Margot Robbie returns in the sci-fi post-apocalyptic movie Z for Zachariah, only very loosely based on the 1970’s novel.

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