Thursday, December 13, 2012

2012 in film: The female-driven blockbuster is no longer a surprise, no longer written off as a 'fluke'.

2012 isn't just the year where we saw one female-starring and/or female-centric blockbuster after another.  2012 was the year when such a thing no longer merited any real surprise.  Back in 2008, we also had a solid run of female-centric smash hits.  Sex and the City, Mama Mia!, and finally the initial Twilight installment.  But we also had endless hand wringing about what these successes meant to the industry and/or how these various films (especially the first and last) were oh-so harmful for their target demographic.  What a difference four years can make.  This year we had The Hunger Games, Snow White and the Huntsman, Brave, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn part II, and what looks to be a surefire smash in Les Miserables in a couple weeks.  And you could certainly make the case for the likes of the male-stripper dramedy Magic Mike, The Vow, and Prometheus (which of course starred Noomi Rapace and Charlize Theron), as well as the rather successful Pitch Perfect which slowly grossed $65 million.  What's important isn't that these female-centric films all were pretty huge hits, with several achieving genuine blockbuster status.  What's important is that nobody really gave a damn.

I've always said that progress comes when we don't feel the need to comment on it anymore.  And with the success of many (if not most) of the above films, we did not see hand-wringing editorials exclaiming that "Holy shit, girls go to the movies too!"  We didn't see essays feeling the need to "explain" the appeal of these female-starring would-be tent poles.  For the first time in recent memory, we saw a Kristen Stewart action picture being treated every bit as seriously as one starring Johnny Depp.  The sheer consistency of these films and their week-by-week success showed the industry (presuming it didn't already know) that there is indeed a upper-level box office playing field for major films that feature actresses in more than just the love interest/sidekick role.  And even some of the would-be sidekicks got to have more fun than usual, as evidenced by Anne Hathaway's Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises and Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow in The Avengers.  And arguably just as important, when a film like Fun Size or Haywire out-and-out tanked, no one even considered the once-popular notion that female-centric films are box office poison outside of the romantic comedy genre.  They were judged on their individual box office merits rather than representing the entire future of female-driven cinema.

It wasn't a perfect year. Outside of the indie scene, the lack of decent female roles is still a problem (would Jessica Chastain's blistering Zero Dark Thirty be such a revelation if female star vehicles were more common?).  Even would-be Oscar front runners Chastain and Rachel Weisz still played glorified pieces of ass in Lawless and The Bourne Legacy respectively while Jennifer Lawrence may win that Oscar for playing a token love interest in The Silver Linings Playbook.  The Amazing Spider-Man traded the complicated relationship for a 'insert pretty girl here' romantic subplot that fooled most purely due to Emma Stone's charisma, while Skyfall had the franchise's most regressive gender relations in decades as some sort of skewed 'get the series back to Connery basics' mentality. But the undeniable success of the likes of The Hunger Games and Snow White and the Huntsman meant more than just a new dawn of female-friendly blockbusters.  It means that these films are now *expected* to be blockbusters and that when one fails (as some among the flurry of young-adult lit adaptations will surely do), it won't be a referendum on gender-skewed box office.  

2012 wasn't the year where actresses and female-centric genre material proved their worth at the box office.  2012 was the year when we stopped pretending to be surprised by it.

Scott Mendelson                   


Janie Clayton-Hasz said...

Noomi RAPACE, not Noomi Pearce!

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