Last night BuzzFeed published an article entitled “Why The Success of ‘The Heat’ Doesn’t Mean Anything to Hollywood.” In the article, the writer goes on a lengthy statistical roller coaster “proving” that the reason that Hollywood doesn’t make more “female-driven” movies is because really nobody goes to see them anyway. He also intermixes interviews with The Heat director Paul Feig and studio executive Terry Press, lamenting the harsh reality. The article asks, “can the cycle be broken?”
Well the first cycle that needs to break is the one where after every successful movie with female stars premieres, mainstream media posts articles like this. There are many, many problems with women and Hollywood, but the ideas that a) nobody wants to see a movie starring women, b) Hollywood won’t make female-driven movies because nobody sees them, and c) women only want to see movies starring women are all fallacies that need to die. Then maybe we can talk about the real problems.
“Movies with mostly male casts have on average better opening weekends and better total grosses”
There are many things wrong with BuzzFeed’s methodology in calculating the many charts that led to the above conclusion. First being their definitions of what constitutes a “male” or “female” driven movie. How is Bad Teacher not a female-driven movie? It was explicitly sold on the appeal of Cameron Diaz, and its main conflict was between her and another woman, the devious Ms. Squirrel (Lucy Punch). Just because there were also several male characters does not mean that Diaz was not the most significant aspect of the film. I agree that it’s hard to say exactly what a female-driven movie is when there are multiple leads intermixed with men and women, so I prefer to use the Bechdel Test plus common sense. So I agree that X-Men: First Class was more equal between the sexes but the Twilight Movies? They aren’t a standard bearer for feminism but they certainly are female-driven.
BuzzFeed’s stats are likewise limited only to summer movies, because apparently only those are the movies that matter. Except that’s complete crap. Let me draw your attention to another Melissa McCarthy starrer from this year, Identity Thief, which grossed $134.5 million domestically, higher than the “male-driven averages” in BuzzFeed’s charts for 2008, 2010, and 2011. How about the third highest-grossing film of 2012, The Hunger Games? It went on to take in nearly $700 million worldwide. Definitely female-driven. Definitely a huge success. Released in March. I’d also remind you that the highest grossing film of all time, Avatar, while by no means female-driven, was released in December.
Also, while acknowledging that there are vastly more male-driven than female-driven films, the article does little in the way of explaining how that will affect the statistics. With a larger sample, the male-driven films have a greater chance for outliers screwing up the average (the article recognizes this for 2008’s outlier, The Dark Knight, but completely ignores it for The Avengers in 2012). How are female-driven movies supposed to compete when there is such a small sample?
Basically, the charts in the article are skewed. Women have a lot bigger box-office draw than BuzzFeed will admit. They’re just not looking at it from the right angle or with the right movies.
“Studios are reluctant to make female-centric movies because audiences are reluctant to race out to see female-centric movies”
The stats in the article are presented as data to prove why Hollywood is less likely to green light a female-driven film, but it ignores a huge metric that studio executives must factor when determining the success of a movie: its budget.
You know the saying about how the bigger they are the harder they fall? Well that goes double for movies. The biggest flops of the past two years, John Carter, Battleship, After Earth, and perhaps soon White House Down, were all made even worse by their starting budgets. John Carter made $282 million worldwide (only $73 million in the United States) against a reported $250 million budget (these aren’t always accurate, studios will make them smaller publicly) not including the estimated $120 million in marketing costs. To put it simply: Disney lost a bundle on the film.
On the other hand you have a small female-driven film like 2012’s Pitch Perfect. It made $113 million globally against a $17 million budget, and much smaller marketing budget driven by social media and advanced screenings. That’s a nice profit for Universal.
The BuzzFeed article also mentions how women are less likely to go see a movie in its opening weekend which may or may not be true (the assertion of Press that “Women are more discerning, period, the end. That’s the truth. In everything” is so problematic I won’t get into it now). I’ll remind you that The Hunger Games opened to $152 million. But the real thing is, although a film’s opening weekend is very important, it is not the be-all end-all for everything.
Pitch Perfect was not an overnight success. It had a limited release (effectively dampening its opening-weekend potential), which was part of the marketing strategy. As a result, the film’s gross came in slowly, but it came in nonetheless. The film has been considered a huge success and a sequel has been greenlit. So clearly, Hollywood recognizes the appeal of a slowburner like Pitch Perfect or The Help (which made $211 million against a $25 million budget, but only made $26 million in its opening weekend). They just don’t recognize this nearly enough.
“Studios aren’t making enough good female-centric movies to attract attention away from the male-centric movies that are dominating the marketplace”
Back in the summer of 2012, I waited in line for a midnight showing of a film I eagerly anticipated. Why? Because the trailer looked brilliant, I loved the filmmakers and the source material, and as a bonus it had a great female character with awesome red hair. I am, of course, talking about The Avengers. Did you think I meant Brave just because I am a woman? Well guess what, I saw that one at midnight too. But I liked The Avengers better.
I’m a woman and I like a whole wide range of movies. Superhero, rom com, thriller, raunchy comedy, drama, musical, tear-jerker, you name it, I’ll see the movie if it looks good (other than horror but that’s mostly because I’m a terrible scaredy cat). The idea that women don’t like male-tentpole films is as offensive and false as the horrible fake geek girl stereotype is. Just look at the figures. Cinemascore reported that audiences of the zombie-apocalypse thriller, World War Z were 51% female in its opening weekend. Magician caper Now You See Me also had a 51% female audience in its first frame. The stats go on.
Nobody dragged me to The Avengers. I went because I wanted to see the Hulk smash. This year I saw Iron Man 3, World War Z, Man of Steel, and a bunch more movies for men too. Because I think it’s fun when things go boom, just like the boys do. And just like many women do.
But it’s not just the action and adventure that can attract women to male-starring films. BuzzFeed’s article fails to account for the sexual appeal of male movie stars. Just like gratuitous shots of Megan Fox in Transformers undoubtedly brought young men to the film, so did gratuitous shots of an almost-nude Channing Tatum bring young women to see Magic Mike. That film made $167 million dollars globally against a $7 million budget. And it had a lot to do with moments like this. Superhero movies, likewise, have a swath of hunky gentlemen at their disposal as well. I’ll remind you of this moment in Thor.
This is by no way saying that the female/male disparity behind and in front of the camera is anywhere near okay. Because it is super not okay. It’s really, really, really not okay. We need more movies directed, shot, edited, acted, animated, etc, by women. But women can’t be boxed in as an audience group either, forever exiled to watch Safe Haven on an endless loop. It’s all part of the greater ongoing struggle for women. Happily this weekend I was able to go see a movie that passed the Bechdel test, was undoubtedly-female driven, was written by a woman, and starred two of my favorite actresses, and had a whole slew of explosions and f-bombs.
And I was not the only one who was excited. After reading many, many temperature related puns you can see that The Heat made $39.1 million this weekend, roasting/burning/setting fire to standard male-blockbuster White House Down, which only made $25 million. The Heat cost $43 million to make and White House Down cost $150 million. The Heat‘s audience was 65% female. So when given the choice between women blowing stuff up and men blowing stuff up, audiences (that’s all human beings, regardless of gender, White House Down was only 51% male) seem to have chosen the ladies.
So you’re wrong, BuzzFeed, The Heat‘s success means plenty, to me, to the general moviegoing public and yes, to Hollywood. It means that a) when Hollywood makes a great female-driven movie, women and men will show up, b) women like movies that star men and women that aren’t sappy rom coms, and c) Hollywood is running out of excuses for not putting more movies like The Heat into production. Don’t blame the audience, BuzzFeed, we’re telling Hollywood what we want. They’re just not listening.