It seems that this debate pops up every time a female-driven film overperforms at the box office, since women (over 50% of our population, btw) are still considered a niche audience in Hollywood. They are perpetually forced to prove their spending power to the suits in Hollywood, who immediately question it if one film bombs. Think Sisyphus pushing that rock up the mountain of box office grosses.
Over the past few years, female-driven films have had big highs and crushing lows at the box office, and almost wiped from existence at one major studio. But each time, they came roaring back. So can we please stop acting surprised when a movie is successful and it just so happens to star women? (Pretty please…)
2005 – LOW
Aside from being a weak year for movies all around, 2005 was especially hard for actresses. An Entertainment Weekly column pointed out that this genre was in dire straits. No film with a woman as the sole lead broke $100M that year. Flightplan was the closest with $90M, even though that Jodie Foster film was originally written for a man and even kept the character’s name Kyle. The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Wedding Crashers portrayed the romantic comedy from a male POV to much acclaim. They were humongous hits at the box office, showing executives that bromance could top romance. Even the Best Actress Oscar race was slim pickings that year, with Judi Dench and Cherlize Theron scoring nods with unpopular films. Has anyone even seen Mrs. Henderson Presents?
2006 – HIGH
The Devil Wears Prada saved the female-driven film. That’s all.
All the main characters were women, and yet the film did not center around a wedding or finding a husband. Hollywood was stunned. Women actually went to the movies! Prada opened against Superman Returns on July 4th weekend and earned a strong $28M. Word-of-mouth carried the film to $125M domestically. Overseas, it pulled in over $200M – more than the hyped, uberexpensive Superman. The film turned Meryl Streep into a box office star; she delivered another 3 blockbusters in 2 years. Most important, the success of Prada gave Sarah Jessica Parker the confidence to forge ahead with the Sex and the City movie.
2007 – LOW
Bromance films reigned supreme. Sausage fests 300 and Wild Hogs pulled in a combined $379M during the traditionally sleepy spring season. Summer comedies Knocked Up, I Now Pronouce You Chuck and Larry, and Superbad all grossed over $120M apiece. Meanwhile, pricey films The Invasion starring Nicole Kidman and The Brave One starring Jodie Foster flopped big time. This prompted Warner Bros. President of Production Jeff Robinov to declare, "We are no longer doing movies with women in the lead.”
2008 – HIGH
Once again, the industry was shocked – SHOCKED – that women go to the movies. Sex and the City opened in May to a record-breaking $57M – the biggest romantic comedy and R-rated comedy opening in history at that time. It was seen as the first female-driven “event” film, with women going in groups to see the movie the way fanboys attended comic book films. The film grossed $153M in the US, proving the true power of women at the movies. Again. And the fact that the film starred 4 women over the age of 40 gave Hollywood a heart attack.
That fall, another female-driven franchise opened to stellar numbers: Twilight. Need I say anymore about Twilight? To this day, it’s the most popular and highest-grossing film franchise powered predominantly by female audiences, with nearly $800M in domestic grosses thus far.
2009 – MEGA-HIGH
The weekend of November 20-22 was one for the record books. Twilight: New Moon and The Blind Side, both female-led films, gave a 1-2 punch to the box office, earning a combined $177M in just 3 days. Female audiences were the driving force behind the attendance. 80% of New Moon’s and 59% of Blind Side’s opening weekend audience were women. New Moon had the third biggest debut in history. It was the second highest-grossing weekend in history ($250M for all films), just behind the opening weekend of The Dark Knight. The dynamic duo grossed over $1 Billion internationally. The Blind Side won Sandra Bullock her first Oscar. (Don’t worry, Twihards: Kristen Stewart won an MTV Movie Award for her performance, too.) It was the highest-grossing picture to win an actor an Academy Award – male or female – since Forrest Gump in 1994.
Oh, and did I mention who released The Blind Side?
While young men may be a more reliable moviegoing demographic, that doesn't mean female-driven films should forever be an endangered species. I do understand where Hollywood is coming from. Women will watch a movie starring all men (e.g. The Departed, The Hangover) but it's tough to get men to watch a movie starring all women. But that doesn't mean they should stop making female-centric movies altogether. The reason both genders saw The Departed and The Hangover is because they were good movies. That's why they're seeing Bridesmaids. There is an audience for female-driven movies, but it's an audience that cares about quality -- no matter if it's a man or a woman on the screen.