It was a good weekend at the box office for movies about women. The top two movies, "Frozen" (a Disney animated feature about not one but two princesses) and "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" (about a teenage girl gladiator) are in their second and third weeks of release, respectively, yet they sold nearly $60 million in tickets between them, for a total of nearly $400 million to date, just in North America.
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There were also two female-centered art-house films, "The Book Thief" and "Philomena," both of them top 10 movies, earning about $5 million between them. Plus, Sandra Bullock's "Gravity" is still orbiting just outside the top 10, having earned $251.5 million domestically over two months. Add to that the current No. 8 film, "The Best Man Holiday" (which has proved a solid draw for women ticket-buyers because of its gender-balanced cast, its themes of family and romance, and its quartet of handsome male leads), and you have six of the top 12 films either featuring strong women or at least strong appeal to women.
In other words, this should be the kind of weekend that proves to Hollywood two things: that movies about women sell tickets, and that women are not a niche audience. If the box office results aren't enough to do that, maybe some other new statistics will help make the case.
First, there's this striking stat from the New York Film Academy's new study of gender imbalance in movies, both on screen and behind the camera, stating that women and men buy an equal number of movie tickets. That flies in the face of conventional wisdom (at least in Hollywood) that the studios should keep making superhero spectacles because most ticket-buyers are teenage boys.
Then there's the gender breakdown for the two blockbusters currently dominating the chart. The New York Times reports that 43 percent of the audience for "Frozen" has been male, while according to Variety, the audience for "Catching Fire" has been 41 percent male. So the presence of women as strong leads hasn't been too much of a turn-off to the male audience Hollywood usually courts.
Granted, some of "Frozen"'s male viewers may have been fooled by a misleading marketing campaign that emphasized talking snowmen over the two princess heroines. Indeed, the Times reports, after the relative failure of Disney's "The Princess and the Frog" to attract male viewers a few years ago (apparently, the word "princess" in the title was a turn-off), the studio found much greater success selling princess-movie tickets to both genders by using vague titles like "Tangled" and "Brave" (and now, "Frozen"). Still, after two weeks, enough time has passed for word-of-mouth to have taken over on "Frozen." And there was never any ambiguity that "Catching Fire" centered on Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss Everdeen.
The NYFA study, laid out in an easy-to-read infographic, spells out some fascinating but not terribly surprising stats. They show, for instance, that men outnumber women on screen except when it comes to nudity or partial nudity; that the top-earning actors earn far more than the top-earning actresses, and that actresses age out of that top-earning bracket much sooner than actors do; and that the gender balance is even worse behind the camera, and that the representation of women improves slightly when women are the screenwriters or directors.
None of this means that movies directed by women, or about strong women are guaranteed hits.
The only woman director whose movie got a wide release in 2013 is Kimberly Peirce, with her remake of "Carrie," which earned a so-so $35.3 million. But a sample of one isn't much to go by. Women will never be able to disprove the conventional wisdom that they can't direct hits if they're never given a chance to try.
As for movies with strong heroines, this year has been littered with failures of such movies that tried to tap into the same fantasy/young-adult vein that has been so successful for the "Twilight" and "Hunger Games" franchises, flops like "Beautiful Creatures," "The Host," and "The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones." Then again, there's one other thing they had in common: they weren't very good.
If the successes of "Frozen" and "Catching Fire" prove anything, it's that movies with strong heroines can sell lots of tickets, even to guys, as long as they tell good stories.
categories Box Office