Are Hollywood’s sexist ways finally catching up with its box-office prospects?

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Gal Gadot stars in "Wonder Woman." Warner Bros. photo

Gal Gadot stars in “Wonder Woman.” Warner Bros. photo

Warner Bros. Pictures reached a rare milestone this weekend by exceeding the $1 billion mark at the domestic box office.

Deadline Hollywood notes this is the 17th time Warner Bros. has hit that mark — a feat no other studio has accomplished. Year to date, the studio is pacing ahead of 2016 stateside ticket sales by 9 percent.

Christopher Nolan’s surefire Oscar contender “Dunkirk” actually marched Warner Bros. past the $1 billion line by exceeding expectations with its $50.5 million opening weekend at 3,720 venues.

But Warner Bros. owes a lot of its 2017 success to the superheroic performance of “Wonder Woman,” which as Deadline Hollywood notes this weekend surpassed Disney/Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” to become the summer’s highest-grossing film with $389 million.

It’s been a bit of a lackluster summer at the domestic box office, and it may just be that Hollywood’s failure to adapt to the reality that women moviegoers want to see more movies starring women that has at least in part caused its summer blahs.

As Steven Zeitchik points out in his excellent analysis for the Los Angeles Times, several big-budget live-action movies over the last few months have been dropping at an alarming rate — at least 55 percent — in their second weekends. Films that boasted strong opening weekends like “Spider-Man: Homecoming” “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” and “The Fate of the Furious” have been just as likely to be afflicted by steep drops as underperformers that didn’t start strong, like “Transformers: The Last Knight,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” and “Alien: Covenant.”

It’s easy to dismiss the summertime struggles at the domestic box-office to franchise fatigue, the notion that people are just tired of seeing the same old characters on the big screen. (That might help explain the success of “Dunkirk,” which received glowing reviews, but it doesn’t explain the dismal failure of “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” which garnered lukewarm reviews, including mine that you can read here.)

Dan Stevens plays The Beast, left, and Emma Watson plays Belle in the live-action adaptation of the animated classic "Beauty and the Beast." Disney photo

Dan Stevens plays The Beast, left, and Emma Watson plays Belle in the live-action adaptation of the animated classic “Beauty and the Beast.” Disney photo

Topping the list

But check out the only big-budget live-action movies in the 2017 box-office top 20 that have managed to dodge the 50 percent second weekend drop: “Beauty and the Beast” and “Wonder Woman.”

They also happen to be the two biggest movies of the year. The staying power of the live-action version of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” has helped it haul in more than half a billion dollars domestically and given it a huge lead as the highest-grossing film of the year.

“Wonder Woman” leaped into the No. 2 spot for 2017 this weekend, with the first superhero movie to be directed by a woman – and remember that just a few months ago, Patty Jenkins’ film was considered a big risk for a number of reasons, especially because it starred and was helmed by women – likely to reach $400 million domestically before summer ends.

“Yes, a superhero title that some in Hollywood were skeptical about even making — ‘would men come?’ was the gist if not the literal refrain — is about to be the highest-grossing film of the summer,” Zeitchik writes.

“All of this should lead the entertainment industry to a very clear conclusion about its box-office blues: There are simply too many men and not enough women on screen to earn back the money these big-budget films demand.”

Note that the No. 1 and No. 2 movies of the year do not boast new characters. Disney debuted the acclaimed animated version of “Beauty and the Beast” in 1991, and Belle has been a mainstay among its Disney Princesses since. Wonder Woman has been a top-shelf character in the DC Comics universe for more than 75 years.

But they’re still a rarity at the box-office, especially among mainstream, big-budget titles, simply because they focus on female characters.

“There’s long been a sense among pundits that the studios’ single-minded pursuit of young males is misguided: As a group, they’re too elusive, and chasing them can too often lead to a race to the bottom aesthetically. But that was just a feeling. This summer is providing hardcore forensic proof,” Zeitchik writes.

“Men can still drive hits, of course; ‘Guardians,’ which is male-led, has earned over $386 million domestically and jumped slightly ahead of its unexpectedly potent predecessor. And some modestly scaled offerings, such as the sleeper hit ‘Baby Driver,’ are male-driven. But as reliable tent-pole business, men are becoming ever-dicier.”

Jennifer Lawrence stars in "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2." Lionsgate photo

Jennifer Lawrence stars in “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2.” Lionsgate photo

Crunching the numbers

If “Beauty and the Beast” stays in the top spot – and no other movie is even within $100 million of its haul at this point – it will mean that the top-grossing film at the domestic box office four of the last five years will boast a female lead. According to Box Office Mojo, the top domestic movies the past four years are “Star Wars: Rogue One” (main character Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones), 2016; “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (Rey, Daisy Ridley), 2015; “American Sniper,” (which eventually overtook “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” by outlasting it in theaters into the following year), 2014; and “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” (Katniss Everdeen, Jennifer Lawrence), 2013.

“An old saw about movies aimed at teenagers (YA films, in industry parlance) had it that girls will see movies with boy leads but not the other way around. Hollywood held on to this way of thinking for an alarmingly long time — until recently, when ‘The Hunger Games’ proved it untrue. It’s males who will actually cross over to see a YA action movie with a female lead, even as more women than ever will come out if the heroine is also a feminist icon,”writes the LA Times’ Zeitchik .

“The big-budget summer box office is now proving this true on a tent-pole level too, and in fact is reversing the saw. Movies with women at their center, whether musical love stories or kick-butt action films, can double down on females and attract plenty of males too.”

He points to the record-setting opening weekend for “Wonder Woman,” which drew an audience that was 53 percent female vs. 47 percent male, which shows it skewed a bit toward women moviegoers but actually drew pretty equally among women and men.

Although novelty may play a factor, the idea that since so few movies about women are making it into theaters, women are going to turn those few movies into hits comes apart when you consider the grim box-office performance of Scarlett Johansson’s “Ghost in the Shell.” But give women a movie that stars interesting women in a positive light like the long-awaited “Wonder Woman,” last year’s “Hidden Figures” or Johansson’s 2014 sleeper hit “Lucy,” and you’ve got a likely hit.

As previously reported, Alliance of Women Film Journalists member MaryAnn Johanson of spent 16 months crunching the numbers for her Where Are the Women? Project, examining 295 current-release films — including every U.S. wide release of 2015 — for their representation of women. Despite the excuses we often hear, she found it costs nothing for Hollywood to not only make movies about women but to also make films that present them as real, well-rounded people. According to Johanson’s analysis, movies with female protagonists and movies that represent women well are no more and no less profitable than movies with male protagonists and movies that don’t represent women well.

Plus, since movies that represent women cost 20 to 24 percent less to produce and are just as likely to be profitable, movies about women are actually less risky, as business propositions, than movies about men, she found.

Still, of the 153 wide releases in the U.S. in 2015, she found only 34 had female protagonists or an ensemble that was primarily female. That just more than 22 percent, despite the fact that women account for 51 percent of the population. Another 15 percent had women protagonists sharing the spotlight with male coprotagonists, while almost 63 percent feature male protagonists or ensembles that were primarily male.

Furthermore, only 31 percent of 2015’s films represented women well, by which Johanson means “women are depicted as fully human, embodying the same kinds of flaws and struggling with the same sorts of problems as men onscreen have to deal with.”

Captain Marvel will finally come to the big screen in 2019 in Marvel Studios' first female-led movie in its blockbuster Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel photo

Captain Marvel will finally come to the big screen in 2019 in Marvel Studios’ first female-led movie in its blockbuster Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel photo

Making changes

Over the past few years, industry watchers, especially the women among us, have wondered what it would take for Hollywood to finally release more movies about women, especially those made by women.

As suspected, it looks like dollars are making the difference, especially based on the activity over the past few days at San Diego Comic-Con, where San Diego Union-Tribune writer Peter Rowe reported “an argument could be made at Comic-Con — and in U.S. pop culture writ large — that this is the Year of the Woman. Forget the ups and downs of the real world of politics, business and sports. In this fantasy world, grrl power has never been more powerful.”

As The Hollywood Reporter notes, after the smash success of “Wonder Woman,” Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) and her fellow Amazonian woman warriors dominated the Comic-Con trailer for Warner Bros. Nov. 17 superhero team-up “Justice League.” Plus, Warner Bros. revealed a sequel to “Wonder Woman” is officially on its release schedule, with Gadot again reprising the lasso-wielding role in the sequel to the most profitable movie yet from the DC Extended Universe, according to

In other comic-book movie news from Comic-Con, Deadline Hollywood reports that Sony Pictures has optioned the movie rights to the Action Lab Comics series “Princeless.” The series, created by Jeremy Whitley and Emily Martin, centers on a young black princess who, instead of waiting for a prince to save her, becomes her own rescuer. She breaks out of her tower, befriends the dragon guarding her, and sets off on a quest to rescue her six older sisters, who are also locked in towers and guarded by assassins.

Stefani Robinson, a writer on “Atlanta,” “Man Seeking Woman” and FX/Marvel’s animated “Deadpool,” has been tapped to write the “Princeless” script.

Marvel also brought big news about its first female-led superhero movie, “Captain Marvel,” planned to finally soar onto big screens in 2019, to Comic-Con. As The Verge reports, Disney/Marvel announced that “Captain Marvel” will be a period piece set in the 1990s, essentially setting it up as a prequel to the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige already has said that Carol Danvers (Oscar winner Brie Larson) will be the most powerful Marvel superhero put on screen, and at Comic- Con, the studio announced that her mighty Captain Marvel will battle none other than the Skrulls, a race of shapeshifting alien invaders are among Marvel’s most famous and formidable foes.

Whether they’re kicking bad-guy butt or waltzing a spellbound prince into redemption, 2017 has proven that movies starring women can be box-office champs. Let’s hope that Hollywood is finally getting the message in the language the studios seem to speak best: profits (or the loss thereof).


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