Female-Driven Movies Make Money, So Why Aren’t More Being Made?

Female Driven Movies Hollywood Power of
Kaiti Hsu for Variety

It’s good business to cast strong women in lead movie roles. Last summer’s opening weekend was a master class on femi-nomics when “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “Pitch Perfect 2” faced off on May 15 — and both films came out ahead.

“Mad Max: Fury Road,” directed by George Miller, starred Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa, a rebel opposite Tom Hardy’s Max. No distressed damsel, the character with her own story arc was so tough the choice ignited a backlash that the franchise had gone fanatically feminist. As for “Pitch Perfect 2,” the sequel directed by co-star Elizabeth Banks featured Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson and Hailee Steinfeld in a femme-friendly musical comedy.

By the numbers, “Mad Max” cost an estimated $150 million to make. Opening weekend reaped $44 million, with worldwide grosses at $375 million and $153 domestically. Meanwhile, “Pitch Perfect 2” cost an estimated $29 million to make, opened to a $70 million weekend, grossed $285 million worldwide and $183 million domestic. Both films had strong female stars but represented very different genres — and the more female-focused of the two had the better return on investment.

More recently, Emily Blunt proved her box office chops in “Sicario,” in which she stars as an FBI agent who gets a crash course in the drug war, with Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro as her dubious mentors. Lionsgate Entertainment opened the $30 million thriller on Sept. 18 in platform release in six venues with a whopping $65,000 per-theater average.

SONG And DANCE: “Pitch Perfect 2” grossed $285 million worldwide, setting the stage for another sequel and proving that female stars can open a movie.

“The numbers speak for themselves. Period. Worldwide grosses for ‘Pitch Perfect 2’ and ‘Cinderella’ were over $800 million. Clearly women aren’t the only ones going to see these movies,” says Academy member Peggy Rajski, associate arts professor/head of producing, NYU Graduate Film Program.

Looking back in 2015, whether we love or love-to-hate “Fifty Shades of Grey,” the female-directed (Sam Taylor-Johnson), female-led (Dakota Johnson) literary adaptation of the bondage bestseller had a benchmark year. On an estimated $40 million budget, the movie grabbed a worldwide gross of $570 million, with a $94 million opening weekend.

“Fifty Shades of Grey” is a sexy potboiler that could not be more different from “Mad Max,” “Pitch Perfect 2,” “Cinderella” or “Sicario.” In short, the house of female-driven cinema has many, many rooms — most of them as yet unexplored. Meanwhile, two novel-based, female-driven sequels are already in development: “Fifty Shades Darker” is in the script stage and slated for 2017, while “Fifty Shades Freed” has been announced for a 2018 release.

The massive success of “Fifty Shades of Grey” reflects the way in which the movie industry has put bias before good business practices. The book industry has long-known that women are among their most avid readers with the household purchase power behind them. It’s not news that the “Twilight Saga” was an established literary franchise long before it made Kristen Stewart famous and, in four films, grossed over a billion dollars.

“The Hunger Games” trilogy, stretched to four movies, made Jennifer Lawrence a major star by keeping true to the novels’ winning female-driven recipe. With the final installment, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2” opening on Nov. 20 in time for the Thanksgiving sweep, the franchise has grossed Lionsgate $2.2 billion so far.

Female-driven pics score at the B.O.
$70m “Pitch Perfect 2” opening weekend
$2.2b Culmulative B.O., ‘Hunger Games” pics
$94m “Fifty Shades of Grey” opening weekend

Beyond the event movies, female-driven comedies are on the rise. Both Melissa McCarthy’s “Spy” (worldwide $236 million) and Amy Schumer’s “Trainwreck” (worldwide $138 million) were R-rated summer hits. Amy Poehler and Tina Fey hope to capture Christmas with the upcoming “Sisters.”

It comes as no surprise that given the opportunity, female-driven films connect with audiences. Rajski raises the question: “Over half the world’s population is female. Why wouldn’t you target that audience more aggressively?”

The gender gap is bad business: as Oscar winner Meryl Streep pointed out in 2012: “Why? Why? Why? Don’t they want the money?” Her question echoes three years later, begging for a shareholders’ revolt. Female-driven movies make money. In an era when movies are beset by competition from quality television, video games and alternative entertainment, the industry can’t afford to be biased.

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  1. I think there should be lees there is way to many

  2. Lyn says:

    Since World War I, WWII, Vietnam War, Iraq (Desert Storm) War, etc leaving the population of women after each war, losing ten thousands, maybe millions (?) men dead and gone which unbalanced our US population. Until 2013 when women were allowed to fight in the US wars but it will take decades before the US sexes are balanced. I am surprised that a woman is not President by now. I am a 56 year old woman and my all-time favorite movie is “No Escape” starring Ray Liotta with not a single woman in the cast. In my opinion, most of the movie studios are doing better now: doing away with all kinds of women. “There’s way too much estrogen on television these days” replies Mel Gibson in the (2000) movie “What Women Want” i agree with this statement. I was raised with actors like Steve Reeves, Clint Walker, Chuck Connors, and John Wayne, there were NO women that I view in the same way. If I was a lesbian, then I probably be obsessed with other women but no, I am straight.

  3. jalind52 says:

    Well . . . if you don’t like the way the wagon rolls, then get out and change the wheel . . . as in make a feature film with whatever gender in the principal cast suits you in your favorite genre . . . otherwise don’t complain about the free ride insisting that someone else make the movies you want. It’s very easy to stand in the back of the room and throw darts that the folks in front actually who are actually doing something, isn’t it?

  4. Lucifer says:

    Poor Linda, her fragile female ego has gotten the best of her and she cannot see past her obsessive fetish of being a victim.

  5. Linda says:

    It’s interesting that most of the comments on this article are from men. Men are so concerned about losing and so very threatened that a woman might be better that they have to see to it that women don’t get a fair shake. Grow up, you’re a bunch of immature, selfish little f-cking boys.

    • Steven Mosley says:

      If women were “better” their movies would be massive box office successes and production companies far and wide would be searching desperately for female directors. So far this hasn’t been the case. I’d suggest you take your misplaced indignation and wasted energy and turn it towards something more productive. Perhaps empowering female artists on some level?

      • Duder NME says:

        MALE: I agree with Linda.
        MALE: whoa whoa WHOA! Dafuq?
        FEMALE: He was agreeing with you, Linda. Enhance thine calm.
        INTERNET’S BIGGEST FORMER TROLL: Wow, I think I’ve found my replacement…

      • Steven Mosley says:

        I’d agree it is juvenile, and the notion would never have occurred to me. As my other posts have stated, I’m a meritocrat. Some of my favorite writers are women. I just see a society of equal sexes and wonder what “female empowerment” even means anymore. Something like 85% of nurses are female. Are we going to see articles elucidating this disparity? Apparently not as many women want to choose this field. To overrepresent those that do in senior positions, based on nothing but a quota, is frankly offensive.

      • Linda says:

        Oh, I see how that works, according to you (ie, the man who knows all); girls look out for girls and guys look out for guys. That’s pretty juvenile if you ask me.

      • Steven Mosley says:

        My post didn’t convey anger in even the slightest amount. You are projecting your anger onto me; obvious and somewhat juvenile. Female empowerment isn’t my job, nor responsibility, as you might have guessed given my male name.

      • Linda says:

        Awwwwe, did I hit a raw nerve Steven, you’re pretty angry there. I have seen plenty of crappy movies with men, men, men, as if they were the only species on earth. The only reason those movies got made was because it was a white male executive making the decision. Most of the movies getting produced nowadays should have never gotten produced to begin with. But I’m sure it satisfied some fragile male ego somewhere. How are you doing in the female empowerment department Steven?

  6. Jim says:

    You cited a bunch of movies from 2015….sounds like a lot of female-driven movies ARE being made.

    • Duder NME says:

      Run, Jim! Linda’s on a rampage, espousing also ran wisdom and calling everyone “Steven”! Can nothing sate the beast? Where’s Kasi Lemmons when we need her??? Why hath Kathryn Bigelow forsaken us????

    • Linda says:

      Awwwwe, did I hit a raw nerve Steven, you’re pretty angry there. I have seen plenty of crappy movies with men, men, men, as if they were the only species on earth. The only reason those movies got made was because it was a white male executive making the decision. Most of the movies getting produced nowadays should have never gotten produced to begin with. But I’m sure it satisfied some fragile male ego somewhere. How are you doing in the female empowerment department Steven?

  7. Duder NME says:

    You can go ahead and believe it’s not about “status”, but then you’d eschew a large part of Hollywood logic. Studios are slow to change, and aren’t interested in big or small pictures, rather than the immediate gratification of the short term. Universal, a studio that almost always was the lowest of the top six, just made 5 BEEEEELLEEEON DARRAHS in one year. You think Sony or Disney (who thought had a lock on 2015) will care what one movie makes? They’re in search of the winning formula, which is both amorphous and imaginary. They look at their own obvious successes and bellow “DAH WAI CANT WE HAZ PHYF BEEEELUN TOO DAH?????”. It’s like my nephew at Xmas time: gets a toy, plays with it for five minutes, then abandons it and wonders why the other nephew got “something better”. Hollywood stopped being “high school with money” and graduated to “kindergarten with toys” long ago.

    Women-driven movies are still too unknown a venue to slather onto the public, and are therefore the newest of the niche. Sure, we’ll have a Ghostbusters and a Captain Marvel and EONS LATER we’ll have a Wonder Woman, but the percentages currently resemble those of the Blockbuster Age of the 80s, which was when Hollywood was still trying to figure out that Summer was actually a GOOD time to release a film (vas iz zis you zay?). Until women show an undying fetish towards spending a modicum of disposable income as today’s 12-18 aged boys do on sequels/reboots/requels/baysplosions, get ready for the long slough.

  8. Min says:

    Twilight was 5 films and grossed 3.4 billion in box office.

  9. Lucifer says:

    “Not enough female-driven movies are being made and Hollywood ignores female audiences. Now let me list you some of Hollywood’s biggest franchises and box office hits of the last couple of years that are all female-driven and targeted towards women.”

    This article is a joke to say the least. Also, if Meryl Streep and many of these other A-list actresses (who could go years without working) were so concerned about not enough female roles, why not give their roles to less famous actresses? Oh, that’s right, because this is basically a ploy for the A and even b-list actresses to get even more work.

  10. Sara says:

    I think the intention of this artilcle is to show that the female market is as impirtant as the male market and how hollywood should give more importance to female crowd.

    In previous years when summer films came out all were blockbusters targeted to the boys with super heore films dominating at the box office.
    Its really rare these days going to the movies and a find a good number of films targeted to us.

    We dont have to be action heroines or super strong feminist woman we just want more films aimed to us( woman).
    We want a fair share of films appealing to the female croud when we go to the movies and lots of schdules.

    Almost every time i go the movies with my girls happen to us that for example some kind of beautiful is just 3:00 pm, 6:00 pm and 9:00 pm while the latest jurassic park is at 2,3,4,5,5:30,6 ,6:30, 6:40 ,7,8 ,9,10 and 11:00 pm.

    • CelluloidFan35mm says:

      I have a question.
      I understand that you want more movies aimed at you and you want your fair piece of the action that don’t have to have action heroines or super strong feminist women but my question is whether you those movies that play into the stereotypes and cliches of what women want on screen. (Rom-Coms, romance, weepy dramas etc.)
      There are movies that the studios aim at me that I want zero part of and will avoid like the plague and I say that as a person of color and male. I’m tired of superhero movies, lazy blockbusters, juvenile comedies, civil rights/slavery/butler/maid movies and urban targeted thrillers/comedies (i.e.: The Perfect Guy, Tyler Perry flicks.) I like a good genre movie as much as the next person but I do not be defined by them according to what the studios are convinced I will like (It has become insulting at this point). I want a mix of different types of movies and good ones.

      Let be honest here. Movies in general these days from the studios are between mediocre to flat out putrid regardless of race or gender. I’ve only seen about ten movies so far this year that I considered to be worth the (discounted) money that I paid for it. I usually go to indie film, repertory theaters, VOD, satellite TV and streaming these days for more superior entertainment.

    • Duder NME says:


  11. Leon says:

    Not a fan of this article.

  12. Leon says:

    Oh my god. So ridiculous. I hate these articles. Cause they make a issue out of nothing. There are plenty of female driven movies. I think there are too many now. Considering almost every time they remake a movie they put a female in the lead more often then not.

    Dumb article. Fire this writer.

  13. Emily E. says:

    Mr. Mosley, it has nothing to do with capitalism, it has to do with sexism. Women aren’t being offered these beautiful, life-changing roles in Hollywood. They are being given to, more often than not, straight white men. It’s not about men making movies about women. You’re right, women should be doing that. But, it’s not a simple task for a woman to gain the exposure in the film industry needed to direct, write, or produce a blockbuster. I advise you to look at another article on Variety, published today, that you can learn a bit from, “How Women in Hollywood Are Finally Taking a Stand Against Sexism” by Ramin Setoodeh.

    • Lucifer says:

      I am really interested to know what these “beautiful, life-changing roles” are that “straight, white men” steal from women. You cannot possibly be talking about superheroes, action heroes, or even historically-based films? Last time I checked, there is a much wider variety of female characters in film and especially in television.

      Also, sexism has nothing to do with becoming successful in Hollywood, it’s all about nepotism and cronyism. Hollywood isn’t a boy’s club or a white club, it’s an exclusive and tight-knit club of people who will only work with one another because they know what makes money.

      However, it should be mentioned that female directors are dominating the indie film community at the moment. They have production companies, scholarships, and workshops devoted just to female directors and writers.

      I advise you to look outside the lens of sexism and racism and start realizing preconceived issues or problems are much more complex than a buzzword.

  14. WhiteMalePrivledge says:

    The movies you all mentioned were fairly bad films. Pitch perfect is hardly west side story or on the water front. Will anyone really remember it in 20 years time?
    Same goes for mad max and hunger games. Hardly the most impressive film series.
    Yes they all made money, but should we really be encouraging and rewarding mediocre films?
    Can you honestly tell me that pitch perfect is an example of the best of what women can make?
    Instead of these continous articles on more women directors, or more women writers, and more non white actors or directors.
    Why not some articles on why we arent making better films and tv shows?
    Why arent we trying to improve film, instead of worrying about what genitals a film director has or what colour they are. Why are we not asking for better films?

    • Duder NME says:

      Why would we need articles on “WAI NO BATTUR MUUVEES” when the answers are all too obvious? Here’s the TL;DR of it for ya: 12-18 agers with disposable income. That’s “wai”. Rid the cinema of that equation, then Hollywood will buy more “quality” from Sundance and the like (don’t pretend that’s not the case otherwise).

      Class dismissed.

    • CelluloidFan35mm says:

      Well said. Just give me some better movies on the screen because we are barely getting them now.
      And you wonder why people are going to Netflix and satellite TV in massive numbers.

    • Seth says:

      Hunger Games and Mad Max will be remembered. They are very good films. The answer to your questions is that it’s really hard to make great films but not impossible…just wait for the films this Oscar season. A lot of female protagonists…

  15. Steven Mosley says:

    These articles always read like, “why don’t men make more female movies.” If female centric movies make money, and there are a lot of talented female artists in Hollywood, why don’t these people make some films and make some money? It’s basic capitalism. Today with the internet, there is every opportunity for women to make their mark on the film industry. There are literally no excuses. Instead we get articles on Variety wondering why men aren’t making more films for women.

  16. Brent says:

    (Sigh) Political correctness, which is bogus, shouldn’t be an issue. Especially when studios only see dollar signs.

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