Last week, I wrote a piece about the recent rise of Cinematic Female Badassery, which got its first boost over the weekend with the SXSW premiere of the Charlize Theron vehicle, Atomic Blonde. That the early reactions were mixed is beside the point, because there is no way a movie like this, with a relatively low budget of $30 million, isn’t going to do excellent worldwide business upon its late July release.
You know how I know this? You’ve got a female-led action flick with a legitimate, proven star in the lead, doing a huge amount of butt-kicking, which means you’re not only going to draw women to see it but also a whole other part of the viewing public who will turn out for it: namely, those who enjoy a good, old-fashioned butt-kicking. Like, say, the people who showed up to see John Wick, which happened to be directed by David Leitch, who also directed… wait for it… Atomic Blonde.
If you doubt it, I’ll remind you of a movie that was released on the same weekend three years ago, with several intriguing similarities to Blonde: a little Scarlett Johansson vehicle called Lucy. While Lucy cost a wee bit more than Blonde (it was budgeted at $40 million), it brought in over $460 million worldwide. Which doesn’t suck. At all.
It’s part of what was so disheartening about the news that Warner Bros. is planning to reboot The Matrix. Aside from the head scratching nature of this decision, there is also the fact that the studio had a perfect opportunity to turn the project on its head and, y’know, make a woman the hero. Either focus on the Trinity character or, even better, make The One, the person who saves us all, female.
The original film was made by two progressive filmmakers — formerly Andy and Larry Wachowski, now Lana and Lily — and rather than follow in their footsteps, Warner once again dropped the ball, falling back on the same old, boring, tried and true formula. Now, that said, it’s possible that a female lead is, in fact, what they have in mind, but if that’s the case, why not open with that? Why instead focus on the fact that they want Michael B. Jordan to front it?
Because that’s almost certainly not what they have in mind, and shame on you for thinking otherwise.
This is not rocket surgery. Women enjoy going to the movies as much as men do. As much as teenaged boys do. As much as anyone male does. And yet, studios refuse to acknowledge this, as well as the fact that movies targeted specifically towards women tend to do very well at the box office.
Interestingly, and in a connected vein, I’ve been watching a lot of romantic comedies lately. I do this whenever I’m newly single. I used to drink a lot, but a little maturity and a fair amount of therapy have given me much healthier coping mechanisms for when life doesn’t go the way you planned. So, movies. Lots of them. Nothing overly sappy, of course, but the funnier and the more heartwarming — minus the treacle — the better.
Aside from proving once again just how powerful a positive force movies can be, and a healing one at that, I’m also reminded how rare it is that studios are even making movies like this anymore. Just recently, in fact, MGM scrapped its plan to make one called Set It Up, with Emilia Clarke and Glen Powell, two rising stars who would have been totally adorable together on screen as two assistants trying to get their bosses together, who instead fall in love themselves. Sounds magical.
But the simple truth is, they don’t believe it’s worth making smaller movies that might end up being more profitable, but don’t have the financial upside of a tent pole. Why make a $20 million movie, after all, that might make $150 million, when you can make a $150 million movie that could possibly, maybe, potentially hopefully clear $1 billion?
Except, for the price of one of those tent poles, including P&A, you could make three or four rom-coms, or straight female comedies, or actioners like Atomic Blonde, and for the same amount of money (not even including the tens of millions you would need to market the bigger film), could end up with grosses in the $600-800 million range, or even higher.
Lower risk, equal reward, much higher profits, and an unending amount of goodwill toward an audience desperate for movies in which they can see themselves.
There’s another aspect of this, too, that being the constant cry to hire more women directors. If, for whatever idiotic reason, studios are reluctant to hand over their bigger budget fare to female directors, what better way to up the numbers than to bring them on to helm smaller projects like these? It’s a win-win, with no losers.
The desperate need for these movies, by an audience yearning for them, tends to make them do exceptionally well at the box office, with a low bar to clear for profitability thanks to their generally low cost. It’s a pretty straightforward business model that the studios have all but forsaken, which makes absolutely no sense, in the same way that the top heavy tent pole philosophy doesn’t, but try telling them that.
Year in and year out, they need to be reminded of their neglected female audience, but it’s not a lesson they ever seem to learn. When movies like Salt (which did close to $300 million worldwide), or Trainwreck, or Lucy, or even Tammy do well, they’re shocked. They can’t believe their good fortune, that they happened to make a movie that appeals to women and, jeez, who knew such things?
Um, I did. We did. We all do. We always have. We keep mentioning it, too, but no one seems to be listening. In fact, I hear there’s an opening at Paramount that they’re having trouble filling, and this kind of expertise could come in quite handily, in case anyone has the ear of Bob Bakish.
It would be nice if these kinds of decisions became second nature, and that the concept of making cheaper, more inclusive films for a wider audience so hungry for them wasn’t quite so alien, but this seems to be the sad current reality.
Which is even more depressing than being single again, if you ask me.