Is 2015 The Summer Hollywood Finally Bet Big On Women?

Hollywood has a woman problem, both behind the scenes and in front of the camera. There isn't enough female filmmakers making big movies, and there aren't enough big-budget films centering on — or even featuring — complex female characters. This is something discussed many times in recent years here and on other sites. Over the last decade we've seen the Bechdel test, a simple routine which calls attention to drastic gender inequality in our big screen stories, blow up in popular culture.

The old Hollywood way of thinking has always been that female driven stories doesn't usually equate to huge box office successes unless they involve princess fairytales or epic love stories. In recent years we have seen a growing desire for female driven stories on the big screen, from young adult adaptations like Twilight or The Hunger Games to 2013's Oscar-winning success Gravity, or even breakout b-action films like Lucy.

But the tables are turning and we're starting to see Hollywood bet big on female-driven stories. This summer alone is filled with blockbuster films with strong female characters in the central role. I thought now that we are almost half way into June we should look back and forward and take an assessment of the new era we may have approached.

Tomorrowland Britt Robertson


Not only is the main character of Tomorrowland a teenage girl, but one of the biggest supporting characters is also a woman. Even then, the lead role was originally written as a male character, but Brad Bird and screenwriter Damon Lindelof decided the role worked better as a teenage girl. Lindelof told Vulture that "It felt very ordinary. There is a completely false perception of, 'Well, our main character is interested in space travel, so it's gotta be a boy,' but the first time I said, 'Well, what if it was a young girl,' it just felt like it was exactly right for us."

We do still seem to have a problem when it comes to marketing and merchandising. You wouldn't know that two of the three main characters are female, judging from the theatrical poster for the film. The one-sheet features two male actors, George Clooney and the actor who plays the childhood version of his character in flashbacks. But I guess if you have a movie with George Clooney you market the star?

Also, the popular Funko Pop line of figures for the film features the old and young version of George Clooney's character, and the film's villain, but neither of the two female leads. Did Funko believe that fans of the movie wouldn't want Casey or Athena figures?

But now that the film under impressed at the box office and is now reportedly set to lose over $100 million for Disney, the New York Post wonders if a flop of that size will hurt future non-fairy tale/love story female driven films.

Mad Max Charlize Theron

Mad Max: Fury Road

Despite being marketed around the titular character played by Tom Hardy, Fury Road is just as much about Charlize Theron's character Imperator Furiosa. The film has been a smash with audiences and critics alike, earning over $317 million worldwide so far. It could possibly hit $450 million before it leaves theaters.

Jurassic World - Bryce Dallas Howard

Jurassic World

The Jurassic Park sequel hits theaters this Friday and stars Bryce Dallas Howard, even though the marketing is being built around Chris Pratt. And for good reason, as I note in my Jurassic World review, the character's main purpose seems to relay exposition and over-dramatically respond to whats going on as her dinosaur theme park begins to crumble in her hands. Her character is disconnected from her family and humanity, and Howard plays up the coldness of the character so much that I'm not sure I even care if she lives or dies.

But the rest of the movie works well despite this. And execution aside, its kind of great that a huge blockbuster sequel/reboot like Jurassic World went for a female lead, when studio studies would likely show that dinosaur film's demographic probably skews more male. And the movie will be a gigantic dinosaur sized success, as its expected to gross over $400 million, $110-$140 of which will come from its opening weekend alone.

inside out

Inside Out

Pixar has for the most part been beloved by both critics and moviegoers, but even the Emeryville animation studio has been criticized for years for not featuring a female protagonist. This criticism certainly led to Brave,  which was okay but not up to the level of the other non-Cars Pixar animated feature films. But Inside Out knocks it out of the park, and not only is the main character of Riley a complex female protagonist, but three of the five emotions inside her head are also female (sadness, joy and disgust, leaving anger and fear for the male roles).

And as I said in my review of the film, this film is a better female-driven story than in the rest of the movies in Pixar's catalogue, but maybe even in Disney animation history. You could maybe argue for some of the recent Disney animation princess movies like FrozenTangled or The Princess and The Frog, but for my money there isn't a stronger and more relatable female-focused Disney animated film than Inside Out. And besides, its not a fairy tale or a love story.

That said, it appears Disney is having some problems connecting the crazy inside-the-head-of-a-teenage-girl concept with audiences. The initial Inside Out teaser trailer spent the first two thirds on a highlight reel of Pixar's best films and characters, trying to sell the new film on the Pixar brand rather than the concept or characters. Sure, the characters inside Riley's head have been the focus of the recent set of marketing blitz but will it connect with mainstream audiences? One thing I've learned, never underestimate the power of Pixar. Many financial publications have bet against them in the past when it comes to their overly-original concepts, and they've all eaten crow.

Pitch Perfect 2

Pitch Perfect 2

You almost can't get more female than Pitch Perfect, the ensemble cast returned this summer with a whopping $69 million opening weekend, more than the entire theatrical run of the first film. While I love love LOVE the first film, the sequel packs some good sounds and more laughs but lacks the heart and fun of the original. Universal is already working on a Pitch Perfect 3.

Spy poster header


This is the biggest movie this summer that I have missed, and I've heard its hilarious. Sure, at this point a Paul Feig-directed female driven comedy seems like a sure bet, but that his films can open in a summer filled with huge explosions and special effects and grab the #1 slot is something to celebrate even if its considered underperforming when compared to Feig's previous film. Word of mouth on this movie is strong.

Trainwreck - Amy Schumer and Bill Hader


And we should also mention the Judd Apatow-directed Amy Schumer-starrer Trainwreck even though it seems to be more of a straight-up romantic comedy than the other films on this list. Early word coming out a surprise work-in-progrss screening at South by South West Film Festival claims it may be Apatow's best comedy in years, if not his career.  The film will hit theaters in mid July as counter programing to Ant-Man, I'll be interested to see how it performs.

Star Wars 7 images - Daisy Ridley as Rey

Have We Hit A New Era Of Female Driven Blockbuster Movies?

And beyond this summer we only need to look to the biggest film release of the year, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, to see where we are headed. The film features Daisy Ridley in the starring role, which is likely going to be the lead protagonist for the next trilogy of Star Wars films. Its probably way too early to tell, but I think its safe to say we've come a long way from Slave Leia in a bikini on Jabba's sail barge. And with Hollywood doing female Ghostbusters and 21 Jump Street movies, it seems like we are entering an era of female-driven big budget films.

But the future usually looks bright when you're looking forward. The New York Post asked in the earlier linked article, how many films might it take to "underperform" (like Spy) or "flop" (like Tomorrowland) to have Hollywood executives lean the ship towards the other side again?