The Femme Flicks Flap, Comments by Joanna Langfield

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All the recent talk regarding the future of actresses as leads in commercial films got me wondering. What’s the real story? Is it true that women don’t open films well enough, that serious female-oriented work doesn’t benefit Hollywood?

It would take a semester of research to go through the voluminous stats and calculate the effectiveness of marketing strategies. And, most certainly, that should be done if we are to come to a real understanding of this situation. But, in the process of conducting a very unscientific and admittedly cursory study, here’s what I found.

It’s is true that Hilary Swank’s “The Reaping,” Nicole Kidman’s “The Invasion,” and Jodie Foster’s “The Brave One” did not fare well at the box office. In a comment issued to my colleague Anne Thompson at Variety, Warner Brothers’ Jeff Robinov admitted that “we didn’t get the reviews we had expected” for “The Brave One.”

But, interestingly, George Clooney’s “Michael Clayton,” which opened to mostly positive reviews (albeit not one from me), was also a financial disappointment for that studio–despite its heavy hitting male star.

So, what are the biggest earners in movie history? Virtually all are male-oriented action and special effect driven movies or animated family films. That said, number one, continues to be “Titanic,” which, along with a spectacular sinking ship, offers Kate Winslet in a passionate romance with Leonardo DiCaprio. And, number 50 on the all-time chart, according to BoxOfficeGuru.com, is “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” the little femme-written, directed and starring movie that could and did earn $246.40 million.

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Moreover, female-oriented pictures do seem to have the potential to pay back their investment, at least in terms of award recognition. In just the past two years, modest earners such as the femme-driven “Notes on a Scandal,” “North Country” and “Mrs. Henderson Presents” have rewarded their producers with countless nominations, including several for the biggest boy in town, Oscar.

While I might prefer to see more women on screen sooner rather than later, there are many pictures in the “femme flicks” pipeline. Slated for 2008 release: the best selling “The Lovely Bones” and sequels for “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” and “Sin City” (“A Dame to Kill For,” promising Brittany Murphy and Rosario Dawson kicking butt). The inevitable Anna Nicole movie has already filmed, and we’re getting daily reports from the set of the new “Sex and the City” reunion. The always popular Julia Roberts has a few projects in development–other than her real life pregnancy. So, too, do Jennifer Anniston, Nicole Kidman, Hilary Swank, Naomi Watts, Drew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, Sandra Bullock, Anne Hathaway, Drew Barrymore and Tina Fey. Sigourney Weaver may not have the power to get another “Alien” chapter green lit, but she and James Cameron have reunited for a different sci-fi thriller, “Avatar,” due May 2009. And there’s light at the end of this tunnel for Jodie Foster: she’s in pre-production to direct and co-star with Robert DeNiro on a drama called “Sugarland.”

Additionally, Warner Brothers is soon to release two films directed by women: Alison Eastwood’s “Rails & Ties” opens October 26 and Kirsten Sheridan’s “August Rush” is due on November 21.

Some of these femme made and/or oriented movies will be good. Some will not. But they are being made and released–along with a lot more male-oriented pictures. Whether they make money (and therefore, encourage the funding of similar projects in the future) or not is, ultimately, not only up to the studios, the critics and media, it’s also very much up to the ticket buying public.

What are your thoughts?

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Joanna Langfield

Her voice is heard throughout the 50 states and around the world by more than one million listeners on her syndicated radio programs: Joanna Langfield’s People Report and Video and Movie Minute. She’s also seen and heard as a regular contributing commentator on CNN International, CNN, Fox News and CNBC. In print, her articles have been published in such high profile magazines as Video Review and McCall’s. Joanna Langfield is known for taking interviews to another level with probing looks at celebrities’ insights rather than just their latest projects. As a result, she’s secured a niche among the nation’s premier interviewers and movie critics. Joanna began her career on the production staff of a local Boston television station. She then focused her energies towards radio and produced talk shows at WMEX-AM in Boston. After moving to New York, she became executive producer at WMCA-AM for talk show personalities Barry Gray and Sally Jessy Raphael. She began hosting a one-minute movie review spot which, in turn, led to her top-rated weekend call in-show, The Joanna Langfield Show (1980-83). Joanna moved to WABC-AM to host The Joanna Langfield Show on Saturday nights from 9:00pm to midnight. It was the highest rated show in its time slot. From 1987-1989, Joanna hosted Today’s People on the ABC Radio network, which was fed daily to over 300 stations around the country. She also appeared on WABC-TV as a regular on-air contributor. In 1989, Joanna formed her radio production company, Joanna Langfield Entertainment Reports, to syndicate her radio reports. She is considered to be one of the top authoritative commentators on the entertainment industry. Read Lagfield's recent articles below. For her Women On Film archive, type "Joanna Langfield" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).