Summer releases tend to focus on male dominated movies with sequels, remakes, and comic book adaptations. It is an outdated business model that still brings in enough revenue for diversity to be ignored. Eventually, studios better start to notice changing trends with tentpole releases. This summer has been a humbling moment for the Entertainment Industry as they come to terms with their movies and the lower than expected grosses. There has been an unexpected savior that has succeeded at the box office: female characters drawing in women audiences. Many of the female driven movies made a lot of money (kept profit margins healthy) and garnered a lot of unnecessary and excessive controversy.
It all started with Maleficient released at the end of May. This benefited from being one of the only Disney summer releases so people initially flocked to it by default. Also, one male dominated release after another opened, so this was fortunate to open after weeks of big budget blockbusters. However, this is only a minor reason and it made too much money for a standard Disney release. Angelina Jolie brought audiences in as did the Sleeping Beauty premise. Children were dismissed from school for the summer so this benefited Maleficient. The look of the film reminded me of those hollow, CGI infused goth-pop Tim Burton movies with lavish costumes and stunning set designs that do so well with audiences. The movie unexpectedly faced controversy regarding the issue of rape.
One of the few, true sleeper summer hits was The Fault in the Stars. We can thank female audiences who read the book and have anointed Shailene Woodley into the A-List. The social media engagement for this movie was top notch and Fox should be credited. Interesting box office stat: Ms. Woodley is the only actor or actress that had two movies of different genres open above $50 million this year with Divergent and this. That is quite the accomplishment! She also annoyed members in the Salon/Slate reading, “chattering-class” with her comments about not wanting to be labeled a feminist because they hate men and she doesn’t. It was the “check your privilege” moment at the summer box office. Despite the backlash, she is allowed to speak her mind and many who criticized her forgot that Millennials do not like stereotypes / labels and the term feminist has baggage.
Contrast the Shailene Woodley backlash with the praise for A24’s edgy romantic comedy Obvious Child. The Jenny Slate movie rocked a limited release in urban art houses and performed a decent box office despite the actual controversial abortion theme. Filmmaker Gillian Robespierre crafted a thoughtful narrative that touched upon modern issues women typically face. Not surprisingly, it mostly divided some critics and audiences for various reasons including partisan lines. Rave reviews, festival buzz, and additional WOM screenings propelled this into an indie niche hit. The weekly box office declines were very minimal indicating excellent word of mouth from audiences. Expect Jenny Slate to be in more movies in the future. Like Lake Bell and Greta Gerwig last year, this was her summer as the breakout indie queen at Landmark Theaters.
Melissa McCarthy opened on the 4th of July with the critical panned Tammy. Despite a negative CinemaScore grade of a C+ from audiences, the movie performed decently especially with a cheap budget. This shows her audience will show up in support of solidarity no matter the quality (or lack thereof). Young, male dominated critic’s dog piled against Tammy on Twitter for “bombing” after five days even though it more than paid off its budget on opening weekend. I could see how people are getting sick of her and overreacted. For me, Melissa McCarthy delivers an obnoxious, female Chris Farley shtick that limits her talents. She is a lot better than her recent roles. Here’s hoping her success continues with plentiful and diverse career.
Very quietly and in a humble manner, the black-and-white subtitled foreign film Ida silently amassed almost $4 million in the box office despite a lack of advertising and a minor buzz at Telluride and Toronto last fall. Catering to the neglected older adults seeking a substantial movie telling a story, Ida is about a 1950’s Polish nun who visits family before taking her Catholic vows only to discover she is Jewish. Her identity is reveal and her struggle with God begins. This was a critically and commercially win for Music Box Films which made a name for themselves with the subtitled Millennium Trilogy (Lisbeth Salander as The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). Urban audiences who appreciated the low key, quiet movie made this the most unlikely indie hit of the summer.
With Lucy, even a movie with a female in a leading role can be fun and stupid. The resurgence of Scarlett Johansson continued after the fantastic opening weekend of Lucy. Few summer wide releases were as ridiculous and confident than Luc Besson’s wild and weird Lucy. Though it divided audiences, it was labeled this year’s dumbest smart movie and smartest dumb movie. I noticed on social media some women wrote critiques or just briefly mentioned this kind of movie wasn’t proper for actresses. I disagree. Ms. Johansson was tough, competed with the boys, and she didn’t exploit her sexuality keeping her clothes on. A win for feminist box office in my book.
Even last year, a movie like The Hundred Foot Journey would probably open in a limited release, roll out platform strategy and surely not wide. What a refreshing change of pace. Yes, the movie might as well be called Helen Mirren’s Marigold Kitchen but I’m secretly rooting for The Hundred Foot Journey to succeed despite the sappy and cliché look of the film as well as Oprah’s name being attached to it. We need more movies like this or we might as well embrace 37 Marvel reboots, sequels, and spinoffs in the next five summers (which many movie goers might not mind). Thanks to the success of movies like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, this is playing in smaller towns where older women live.
Maybe this doesn’t count, because the movie Boyhood is about a boy growing into a man. However, the strongest developed character and most accomplished performance in Boyhood was Patricia Arquette as the Mom. She was a solid female character in a summer filled with them. Her raw and versatile performance is the kind hard working actresses’ only dream of flawlessly executing. And this was done over the course of 12 years! The only other person who transforms in front of our eyes besides Ellar Coltrane is Patricia Arquette. Richard Linklater pulls a low key yet furiously complex role out of Patricia Arquette demanding respect and awards consideration. The three times I have watched Boyhood, she continued to impress me the most.
With the various summer releases catering to and about women, when will the decision makers within the industry take notice? Only time will tell, but let’s hope it is sooner rather than later.
One thought on “From Lucy to Ida: Female Characters Dominate 2014 Summer Box Office.”
Scarlett Johansson is my favorite actress… she did well in this movie.