In their January 24th announcement of J.J. Abrams as the new Star Wars director, /Film mentioned that one time directorial candidate Matthew Vaughn had pitched Chloe Moretz as a potential star. Star Wars has been a huge part of my life for 30 years, and not much could make me beam like the idea of a Star Wars feature film that tells the story of a female Jedi. But MAN does that open up a can o’ worms!
Does this excite me? Oh so very much, yes it does. “Geek girls” are largely coming into their own these days, and I am hopeful that one day that term won’t even exist. It singles us out, and in the mind of some lingering neanderthals makes us less-than. But with more and more ladies out and proud in the nerdisphere, our demographic is one that is becoming more respected and legitimate. There have been some divine heroines on the small screen, but how does the silver stack up to its little sister? Not well, I fear.
Let’s take a look at some of the female led action movies from the past decade or so. I’m not speaking of movies that had a kick-ass chick in them, but rather those that centered around a lady badass. “Charlie’s Angels” was the first to come to mind, with its three beautiful leads and Bill Murray, what could go wrong? Well, judging by the 124.4 US gross, not too much. It was a fun ride based on a well established franchise. Was it a “good” movie? Meh. Up next in dollar signs? “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.” Again, a drop dead gorgeous superstar and a well established franchise that grossed 115 mil US.
And from there? Nothing has even come close. “Underworld,” a female led film that didn’t already have a fan base, made an impressive 63.5 mil. That is a true rarity in this gender genre.
And from there it halves again. “Resident Evil,” another wildly successful video game franchise, featured Milla Jovovich after her turn in “The Fifth Element.” We already knew she was not to be effed with, but “Resident Evil” only grossed 39.5 mil (Even “The Fifth Element,” which also featured action legend Bruce Willis, only grossed 63.5 – but to be fair it was probably hurt as far as US audiences go by having a French director and Chris Tucker little-girl-screaming his way through two acts). “Sucker Punch” made 36.4 mil, “Aeon Flux” 25.9, “Elektra” 24.3, and “Ultraviolet” 18.3.
What the hell happened? Well, I think we can all agree that not all of these movies are… Well… Good. Don’t get me wrong – I really enjoy lots of movies that aren’t “good” in a traditional critical sense so I am not hating on any of these movies, regardless of whether or not they would fall into my own personal list of awesomeness. Hell, when I heard what “Sucker Punch” was about my reaction was “chicks fighting robots with flamethrowers while flying B57′s and listening to Bjork? Oh, so this is a movie about heaven?” But none of the aforementioned female led films have achieved over a 40% rotten score on Rotten Tomatoes, save one. “Charlie’s Angels.” I’m going to repeat that, just for flair. “Charlie’s Angels” is the only recent female action movie from that list to achieve a passing score on Rotten Tomatoes. Yeesh. I got cold chills just typing that. It’s an incredibly depressing trend, and one that Hollywood needs to step out of in double time.
There are, however, three noteworthy exceptions. One swept in like The Beatles on the tail of a huge literary success: “The Hunger Games.” Would this trilogy survive on its own merit without the phenomena that was its printed predecessor? Probably a moot point, as Katniss Everdeen brought in over a 407 million dollar box office. Her stories had already been read and loved by people of all ages, genders, and fandoms (or lack thereof). Katniss was bound to be a crossover hit from the start, and I truly hope that young people will grow up with The Hunger Games trilogy just like I grew up with Star Wars (but they should totally watch Star Wars, too).
Second is a scarcely seen film that starred a relatively unknown rookie leading lady. “Haywire” has a very impressive 80% score on Rotten Tomatoes. 80%! Depending on your school’s scale, that’s a high C or low B! Pretty awesome, right? Even with Steven Soderbergh’s high credentials, this film grossed only 18.6 million US. It’s budget? 23 million. Not an encouraging figure for studio heads to see.
I’ve tried to keep to films that are less than 15 years old to set my examples, but I would be remiss to not point out the third, and the mother of them all. And studio heads would be remiss to not review this history: “Aliens.” This movie, on a budget of 18.5 million, saw a box office receipt of 85.2 USD. A 460% return. A director/writer with one major credit to his name, and a lead that is in no way traditionally beautiful and not at all glamorous, and a genre film that is still on the critics’ “best” lists almost 30 years later.
What’s the magic formula? How did “Aliens” get it so damn right? It’s got brilliant writing and beautiful direction and amazing special effects. OH MY GOD just like other brilliant action and sci-fi movies that star men. Write a great screenplay, hire the best director for the job, and cast the performer with the most charisma. The end. Gender need not be the focus of an action hero, only an aspect. Unless you’re James Bond, I suppose. Don’t try to cater a female hero to geek women by emphasizing her Carrie Bradshaw, and don’t cater to men by featuring her slave bikini. Serve us all, and give us a great film.