Hollywood got the memo. Women like movies too.
It’s a “duh” moment, but one that took a shockingly long time to arrive. The opening weekend numbers for”Pitch Perfect 2,” which annihilated the competition with a staggering $70 million bow, illustrate the financial power of this frequently ignored consumer group.
“It’s a validation of the fact that if you make movies by women for women starring women they’re going to do well,” said Phil Contrino, vice president and chief analyst at BoxOffice.com.
What makes “Pitch Perfect 2” something of a rarity is that it not only stars women like Rebel Wilson and Anna Kendrick, but its behind the scenes talent, director Elizabeth Banks and writer Kay Cannon, are also female.
The film’s success over male-dominated “Mad Max: Fury Road” prompted Lynda Obst, the producer of “Sleepless in Seattle,” to engage in a bit of chest thumping on Twitter.
“64m weekend for Pitch Perfect 2 beats MadMax!! Here come the Girls;the Frozen Generation to take over the box office! Watch out Caped Heroes,” she tweeted.
Still, there is a number of glass ceilings left to shatter. Women only made up 7% of directors in the top 250 grossing films last year.
That percentage could increase thanks to some well timed hits. “Pitch Perfect 2” is the second-biggest debut for a film from a female director, behind only Sam Taylor-Johnson’s “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which also premiered this year. Is it a coincidence that both of these films were produced by Universal, the only major studio with a female chief in Donna Langley?
There are still alarming examples of inequity. Despite the fact that Melissa McCarthy and Jennifer Lawrence remain two of the most consistent draws in the movie business, female actresses have to settle for less money than their male counterparts. The pressure may be mounting for that to change, however. This week, the American Civil Liberties Union urged state and federal agencies to launch investigations into gender discrimination at studios, TV networks and talent agencies.
The situation at the multiplexes seems to have improved even if a pay gap remains for on-screen talent. There’s evidence that the success of female-driven blockbusters such as “Hunger Games” and “Bridesmaids” is finally paying off this year. This summer overflows with films powered by female talent: “Trainwreck,” which Amy Schumer wrote and stars in; “Spy,” with Melissa McCarthy; “Ricki and The Flash,” which features a star turn for Meryl Streep and a Diablo Cody script; and “Paper Towns,” a tween weepie that could turn Cara Delevingne into the next Shailene Woodley.
It doesn’t always work, of course. “Hot Pursuit” starred Sofia Vergara and Reese Witherspoon and was directed by Anne Fletcher, but a dearth of laughs resulted in hostile reviews and a dismal box office performance. Quality is key.
Contrino thinks these films are evidence that Hollywood understands the ticket-buying power of women. “This year is a big year,” he said. “To have the confidence to have put some of these films in summer drives home the point that Hollywood is getting it.”
“To be having this conversation in 2015 is a bit of a drag,” he added. “It took far too long to get to this point.”
Traditionally summer has been reserved for comicbook flicks that play well to teenage boys, but the success of “Pitch Perfect 2” and recent films like “The DUFF” and “Insurgent” suggests that movie marketers may have been chasing the wrong chromosomes. The opening weekend crowd was 75% female and 62% under age 25.
“Young females are clearly some of the most enthusiastic moviegoers around the world,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak. “They cannot be marginalized ever because they can drive your box office to record heights.”
There was plenty to celebrate for female filmgoers and feminists this weekend beyond “Pitch Perfect 2.” Demographically, “Mad Max: Fury Road” appealed overwhelmingly to men, but George Miller’s apocalyptic opus boasts one of the great female action heroes in Charlize Theron’s glowering, mechanically armed Imperator Furiosa. The film took such pains to be more equal opportunity in its mayhem that Miller went so far as to tap “Vagina Monologues” author Eve Ensler to serve as a consultant on the movie and advise him on ways to beef up the female roles.
Warner Bros., the studio behind “Mad Max: Fury Road,” thinks that the gender breakdown will grow more evenly weighted despite having an opening crowd that was 70% male.
“It will start to shift,” said Dan Fellman, Warner Bros. domestic distribution chief. “That happens with big movies like ‘The Hangover’ or ‘The Matrix’ that start predominantly male, but people hear how funny it is or how cool it is and the demographics start to filter.”
It was also a weekend that saw “Carol,” a lesbian romance starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara with a script from Phyllis Nagy, premiere in Cannes to some of the festival’s strongest notices, with critics predicting serious awards attention.
In an interview with Variety, Blanchett said she it was important that actresses and the media continue to bang the drum for greater equality on screen.
“I want it to not be discussed anymore,” Blanchett said. “But it needs to be discussed.”