Where Are the Women of Summer?


With the exception of Bridesmaids, this summer's female-oriented films seem to have little traction as summer event films as opposed to last year, when Sex and the City 2, Eat Pray Love, Salt, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, etc. (see previous page) opened with more awareness/momentum. Agree/disagree? What factors account for this?

Stephanie Zacharek (Chief Critic, Movieline): You're right about the summer slate -- there are very few films targeted toward women, and when I see that, I worry a little. It's not so much that women need films specifically designed for them; I actually find a lot of the pictures designed to attract women moviegoers -- most of Norah Ephron's and Nancy Meyers' movies, both Sex and the City movies -- to be insulting and pandering.

What worries me is that movies are so microtargeted now. The Hangover II is "for" frat guys, Water for Elephants is "for" housewifey types who just want a "nice" movie, maybe with a love story, Madea's Big Happy Family is "for" black people. The individual qualities that might make any of those movies interesting or appealing or moving in a basic human way cease to matter. "Who is it for?" is always the big question. Today there's almost no such thing as filmmaking for a general adult audience. And when the movies are that microtargeted, you can look at the upcoming slate and easily discern the audiences who don't matter so much at the box office -- this summer, it looks as if we're talking about women.

The studios are obviously following the money -- that's what they're built to do, so let's not feign shock or dismay. But it obviously affects the kinds of movies that get made, and it seems the parameters are getting narrower and narrower: You've got your action movies, your animated things, your comedies. None of those genres is specifically just for guys, but no one is exactly courting women moviegoers either. The moviegoing audience is getting splintered into these very specific groups. And for me, that's the core problem, even more than the lack of movies aimed specifically at women. In the '30s and '40s, I don't think guys were staying away from pictures like Bringing Up Baby or The Palm Beach Story -- everybody went. And in the '70s and '80s, everybody saw movies like The Sting and Klute and Tootsie. Now, forget good romantic comedies -- we don't even have that many good psychological thrillers anymore, things that all sorts of moviegoers might want to see. The term "mainstream" has become something of a fallacy when we're talking about movies. It basically means people who read comic books and who like lots of action -- which covers a lot of moviegoers, but not everybody.

Michelle Orange (Critic, Movieline): I'm inclined to focus on the positive. There may not be the same quantity of big studio films fronted by women, but for the most part those movies you listed are not the kind of thing I'd want to see more of. I'm hoping Bad Teacher might work, and Will Gluck did a nice job with Easy A, maybe Friends with Benefits will give Mila Kunis a chance to step up. But there is a group of smaller, female-directed films studded throughout the summer -- The Future, Circumstance, Sleeping Beauty -- that I'm happy to see. I'm curious about Dirty Girl, the Juno Temple film.

Amy Nicholson (Editor-in-Chief, Boxoffice Magazine): Twilight, Knight & Day and Killers put as much (or more) pressure on the shirtless ones, Tom Cruise and Ashton Kutcher to sell the movie as they did on Kristen Stewart or Cameron Diaz. The ladies weren't to blame if the flick failed. (Exception: Katherine Heigl, who people seem to think is the cause of everything bad from 27 Dresses to global warming). With the exception of Larry Crowne -- which, let's face it, is a Tom Hanks movie first and a Julia Roberts movie second -- the few big name actresses that still exist are shying away from summer 2011.

Melissa Silverstein (Founder, Women and Hollywood): To me, summer is a depressing time at the movies. There are mostly big budget action films and comic book films that are led by men and targeted at men and boys. It's as if women don't exist in the summer and I find that so narrow minded because women do buy 50% of the tickets. But again, women go see movies about men and men seem to not want to see movies about women and I'm sure those convictions are enhanced in the summer time when people are more focused on lighter fare.

This summer seems to be especially focused on that type of material. There are usually a couple of films that are described as "counter programming," i.e. targeted at women, and this summer the big one is The Help but that doesn't open until August 12. I expect Bridesmaids to be big (for both men and women) and The Help will mostly be driven by the female audience.

But there will be movies out there that might interest women. They will be smaller and women will need to seek them out but some of them look great including: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (July 15); Another Earth -- co-written by Brit Marling (July 22); Sarah's Key (July 22); The Whistleblower (August 5); Higher Ground -- directed by Vera Farmiga (August 12); Circumstance -- written and directed by Maryam Keshavarz (August 19).


How will the smaller slate of films for women will affect the summer box office, if at all, considering that this summer offers tent poles aimed at male and female demographics?

Melissa Silverstein (Founder, Women and Hollywood): I don't think that the smaller slate for women will help or hurt the box office at all. What I do say is that it's a good thing there are great TV shows on targeted at women in the summer on the cable networks cause you won't see many older women, and by older I mean 30 and up, at the multiplex this summer because the movies look so bad. This lack of films targeted at the older female only fuels the argument about how women don't go to the movies. Women do go to the movies -- we buy 50% percent of the tickets -- but we don't go and see things that waste our time or insult our intelligence. If Hollywood could figure out how to actually program to women consistently, films that are successful that are targeted to women would be considered a trend rather than a fluke.

Amy Nicholson (Editor-in-Chief, Boxoffice Magazine): The summer does seem oddly gender neutral. If you're a mega-expensive Marvel blockbuster, you've been focused grouped into pleasing all four quadrants. At least there'll be a lot of date nights. And from June to August, the female-centered movies that do exist -- see: The Help, Monte Carlo -- are pointed at a teen and young 20-something audience. If you're a 50-year-old woman, you better have a good DVD player.


Besides franchise sequels or lit adaptations with built-in audiences, what kinds of female-oriented films are best-suited to compete in the summer season?

Amy Nicholson (Editor-in-Chief, Boxoffice Magazine): There's a misconception that women swoon for dramas and romances. What we really want is a good comedy, one that doesn't pander to shoes and shopping. If I ran a studio, instead of investing $200 million in special effects, I'd take $20 million and go scouting for the a scriptwriter who could pen the next When Harry Met Sally.

Melissa Silverstein (Founder, Women and Hollywood): Women don't run out to the theatre on opening weekend in the same way, so the films that are successful are the ones that can open small and build on word of mouth. If a movie targeted at women gets good word of mouth it grows. Look at how Secretariat performed. It was dismissed after opening weekend but held steady and did solid box office numbers. That's because there was good word of mouth.

A film targeted at women can be successful in the summer when it is dismissed by critics just as long as women are talking about it, like Mamma Mia!. Why they have not put a sequel to that film together or put together a similar film is beyond my comprehension. That film made over half a billion dollars. It was perfect summer fare -- light and fun and with Meryl Streep.


Which films do you predict will exceed expectations this summer thanks to female ticket buyers? (i.e., Will the power of Chris Hemsworth's abs or Johnny Depp's appeal compel?)

Melissa Silverstein (Founder, Women and Hollywood): Based on my research no film can be successful without getting a strong amount of females into the theatre. From what I hear Thor seems to be good and Natalie Portman is on top of the world, so I am looking for that one to do really well. I think that Larry Crowne, if it is good, could perform because it will be an actual film with people talking -- Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks -- and it's not full of effects. That might be a good alternative to all the superhero films. I also think women love Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, so I would imagine that Cowboys & Aliens would do great. I also think One Day could have some potential because there are not a lot of romances this summer. But I haven't seen any of these films yet and based on what I know about women and their moviegoing habits, a film has to generate some good word of mouth for women to spend their time and their money.

I think The Help will be the women's appointment movie of the summer with women going with their friends and leaving the husbands and kids at home. That book has been on the best seller list for a long time. I also think that it will cross race and age since there are diverse stars in the film.

Michelle Orange (Critic, Movieline): I think films like Bridesmaids, Friends with Benefits and Crazy, Stupid, Love might get big boosts from female ticket buyers. And The Smurfs. The Smurfs are going to kill it.

Amy Nicholson (Editor-in-Chief, Boxoffice Magazine): Hemsworth's abs. All the way.

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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.