Where Are the Women of Summer?

With Vin Diesel and The Rock currently muscling their way to global domination and Thor set to kick off the summer's action-packed slate with his comic book brawn, there's already a surplus of testosterone at the box office. But looking forward to the next few months, the field's only going to get more crowded with bromantic buddies, pirates, alien robots, superheroes, and cowboys mixing it up at the multiplex. Where have all the ladies gone?

The question applies to the on-screen heroines of summer 2011, but it could also directly affect the female ticket-buying contingent this season. Compared to the last few summers, the coming May-August period features a surprising lack of female-driven or female-oriented films. Universal's Bridesmaids leads the pack almost by default, but should do well thanks to enthusiastic word of mouth, star Kristen Wiig, and a persistent marketing campaign; the ensemble comedy is all the more enticing for serving up R-rated laughs in a traditionally lame genre. Rom-com, wedding pic, chick flick -- call it what you want, but Bridesmaids is just about the only game in town when it comes to mainstream wide-release summer offerings outside of children's films and male-targeted action pics.

Other female-oriented films that could surprise this summer include adult comedies Friends with Benefits and Bad Teacher, lit adaptation The Help, or limited releases like Another Earth (starring and co-written by Brit Marling), Higher Ground (Vera Farmiga's directorial debut), and Miranda July's The Future. But these films seem to lack the magnitude of a Sex and the City event film, the word-of-mouth of a Mamma Mia!, or the built-in box office potential of a Twilight sequel, for instance. Take a look at numbers from the past few summers (not factoring in critical reception or profit-cost ratios) each of which yielded multiple films that crossed nine figures worldwide.


The Twilight Saga: Eclipse $698.4M

Salt $293.5M

Sex and the City 2 $288.3M

Knight & Day $261.9M

Eat Pray Love $204.5M

Killers $98.1M

Letters to Juliet $79M


The Proposal $317.3M

The Ugly Truth $205.2M

Julie & Julia $129.5M

The Time Traveler's Wife $101.3M

My Sister's Keeper $95.7M


Mamma Mia! $609.8M

Sex and the City $415.2M

What Happens in Vegas $219.3M

Made of Honor $105.9M

The House Bunny $70.4M

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 $44.3M

That's not to say women won't be interested in going to the movies this summer, or that they don't enjoy genre films as much as men do. Female ticket buyers will surely come in droves to help many of this summer's mainstream blockbusters to boffo business, as they do each year. The movies themselves reflect this; Chris Hemsworth's abs aren't on display in Thor for the heterosexual males, and almost no summer superhero/action film is complete without an obligatory romantic subplot.

But even beyond the simplistic clichés of what studio execs think attract women to the movies (hint: It's complex, guys -- we're not all the same) this summer season marks a change in studio thinking -- a scaling back of female-centric event films.

To explore the conundrum of this summer's movie sausage party (a veritable wiener roast), Movieline enlisted Women and Hollywood founder Melissa Silverstein (@melsil), Boxoffice Magazine Editor-in-Chief Amy Nicholson (@amyboxoffice), and Movieline's own critics Stephanie Zacharek (@szacharek) and Michelle Orange (@michelleorange) to weigh in on the upcoming slate and what it could mean for the box office.

Next: The search for the women of summer 2011

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  • Lynn says:

    Interesting read.

  • La Faustin says:

    "Chris Hemsworth’s abs aren’t on display in Thor for the heterosexual males"? I beg to differ.
    THOR [and similar films]:abs = SATC:shoes

  • Marxie says:

    I'm so glad to see that I'm not alone in my hope for good "women" movies. I see anything (and I do mean anything--I paid for opening weekend tickets for The Expendables) but there are very few movies that I can relate to. I hate rom coms and would much prefer a female lead in an action role. Look at all the superhero/comic book males who have movies, yet none of the ladies. Even boys' cartoons have been made into movies (Transformers, GI Joe) but not the girls'--and I will tell you, I would run right out and get tickets to a She-Ra movie.
    The House Bunny listed here as a female-oriented movie? Really? That looked terrible and yet another way for men to ogle women. Give me a movie about Boudiccea. Give me a movie about Eleanor of Acquitaine or Eleanor Roosevelt. There are so many interesting women in history--and interesting books with women--I do not understand why I keep seeing dumbass movies made for teenage boys.

  • Jen Yamato says:

    Hmm. Good point. His abs are for all!

  • blizzard bound says:

    Maybe there will be a good foreign film.
    The best women movies I've found are pre-Code. I think that's the last time real women were on the screen.

  • It's great foreign films and indies that are really 'women's films'.

  • Take another look says:

    You couldn't have looked too far to have missed Fox Searchlight's 'Snow Flower and the Secret Fan', adapted from the great novel by Lisa See. A modern storyline was even added by Wayne Wang (for better or worse) just to lure younger women in. Bring tissues.