×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Hollywood May (Finally) Put More Stock in Women After 2015 Hits

Hollywood has long treated actresses like second-class citizens, but 2015 could finally be a turning point. Only three months into the new year, two of the three top-grossing films have been headlined by strong female characters: Universal’s “Fifty Shades of Grey” starring Dakota Johnson (with a worldwide gross of more than $550 million), and Disney’s “Cinderella” with Lily James in the title role and Cate Blachett as the evil stepmother (to the tune of $260 million worldwide).

“Insurgent,” the second installment in the “Divergent” franchise starring Shailene Woodley, is performing strongly with more than $180 million worldwide so far. Women comprised 60% or more of the opening-weekend crowd for all these movies.

“Things have changed in the last year, and that’s mainly because one hit after another has been female-driven,” said Celine Rattray, a producer of “The Kids Are All Right” and co-founder of Maven Pictures. In the past, she added, “The whole industry would act shocked that women like seeing films about women.”

And the summer will feature a bounty of female roles, with “Trainwreck” (headlined by Amy Schumer), “Spy” (with Melissa McCarthy and Rose Byrne), “Pitch Perfect 2” (starring Anna Kendrick and directed by Elizabeth Banks), “Hot Pursuit” (a buddy comedy starring Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara), “Tomorrowland” (with newcomer Britt Robertson propped up by George Clooney) and “Magic Mike XXL” (where Jada Pinkett Smith slips into Matthew McConaughey’s leather chaps).

It’s not just studio movies that are giving women the spotlight. Film festivals have already debuted enough breakout performances in indie pictures to pack next year’s Oscars — and fall festival season will bring a whole new crop. Audiences at Sundance were wowed by Saoirse Ronan in “Brooklyn,” Blythe Danner in “I’ll See You in My Dreams” and Lily Tomlin in “Grandma.” Sally Field became the darling of March’s SXSW with her tour-de-force performance in “Hello, My Name Is Doris,” a comedy that’s about to land distribution. “I’ll never have a similar character offered to me again,” Field told Variety. “They don’t write roles for women anyway, and they certainly don’t write roles for women of age and women of color.”

Even though women make up 50% of the box office, studio executives still often focus on greenlighting movies dominated by men (see “Spider-Man,” “Batman,” “X-Men” and “Iron Man”). When hits emerge, such as “Sex and the City,” “The Heat” or “Twilight,” the industry treats these films as exceptions. But the widespread popularity of “Hunger Games” and “Maleficent” has forced Hollywood to treat the female audience as a key demographic, not an afterthought.

“As a working producer, I’m certainly hearing much more conversation about making movies for women and girls than I ever have at any point in my career,” said producer and Women in Film president Cathy Schulman. “But I don’t think that’s changing for women behind the camera.”

In fact, the situation for female directors appears to be getting even worse. In 2014, women represented 7% of directors of the 250 top-grossing films, according to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, down 2% from 17 years ago. Though this year’s Sundance boasted notable films from female directors such as Marielle Heller (“The Diary of a Teenage Girl”) and Leslye Headland (“Sleeping With Other People”), filmmakers who emerge from the festival circuit don’t get the same opportunities as men.

“It’s perplexing and it makes me want to tear my hair out,” said Lucy Fisher, producer of “Insurgent.” “The facts are staring us in the face and they’re very bad. The more people are conscious of it, the more efforts will be made to address it.”

Movies are still playing catch-up to TV, which thrives on strong female roles, from “Scandal” to “How to Get Away With Murder” to “Girls.” Part of the reason is economic. Directors say that there are still numerous hurdles to cross when securing financing for a film headlined by a woman. “We were turned down by everyone we sent it to,” says Brett Haley, the director of “Dreams,” who funded his $500,000 project by relying on individual investors. “Everyone was like, ‘How can we market a movie about a 70-year-old woman?’’

Michael Showalter, who directed “Doris,” experienced the same reticence in Hollywood: “Not only did people not want to take the risk, they didn’t know what to make of it,” Showalter says. With a little luck, some of these women will end up with Oscar nominations, an acknowledgment that Hollywood can overcome its phobia of women who reach a certain age. “When you look at the history of the Academy Awards, female roles are not as rich as the roles given to males,” said Michael Barker, co-president of Sony Pictures Classics and the distributor of “Grandma.” “It’s regrettable because we have this treasure trove of great actresses who are underserved.”

More Film

  • Bohemian Rhapsody

    'Bohemian Rhapsody,' 'Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' Among Cinema Audio Society Winners

    Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” won the Cinema Audio Society’s top prize for sound mixing at Saturday night’s 55th annual CAS Awards. The film is Oscar-nominated for sound mixing this year along with “Black Panther,” “First Man,” “Roma” and “A Star Is Born.” In a surprise over heavy-hitters “Incredibles 2” and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” Wes [...]

  • Oscars Placeholder

    Make-Up and Hair Stylist Guild Applauds Academy's Stance on Airing Every Oscar Winner

    Rowdy boos were followed by triumphant cheers at the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild Awards on Saturday in Los Angeles, as the Hollywood union touched on a week of controversy over a reversed decision to hand out four Oscars during the show’s commercial breaks. Hair and makeup was one of the four categories that would [...]

  • Marvelous Mrs Maisel Vice

    'Vice,' 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' Lead Make-Up and Hair Stylists Guild Awards Winners

    Adam McKay’s Dick Cheney biopic “Vice,” starring Oscar nominees Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Sam Rockwell, won two awards at the sixth annual Make-Up and Hair Stylists Guild Awards Saturday night. The film won for best period and/or character makeup as well as special makeup effects. “Mary Queen of Scots” received the prize for period [...]

  • Bette Midler

    Bette Midler to Perform on the Oscars (EXCLUSIVE)

    Bette Midler will perform “The Place Where Lost Things Go” at the Oscar ceremonies on Feb. 24, Variety has learned. Midler, a longtime friend of composer-lyricist Marc Shaiman, will sing the song originally performed by Emily Blunt in “Mary Poppins Returns.” The song, by Shaiman and his lyricist partner Scott Wittman, is one of five [...]

  • Olmo Teodoro Cuaron, Alfonso Cuaron and

    Alfonso Cuarón Tells Why His Scoreless 'Roma' Prompted an 'Inspired' Companion Album

    Back around the ‘90s, “music inspired by the film” albums got a bad name, as buyers tired of collections full of random recordings that clearly were inspired by nothing but the desire to use movie branding to launch a hit song. But Alfonso Cuarón, the director of “Roma,” is determined to find some artistic validity [...]

  • Berlin Film Festival 2019 Award Winners

    Berlin Film Festival 2019: Nadav Lapid's 'Synonyms' Wins Golden Bear

    Israeli director Nadav Lapid’s “Synonyms,” about a young Israeli man in Paris who has turned his back on his native country, won the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlinale on Saturday. The Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize went to François Ozon’s French drama “By the Grace of God,” a fact-based account of the Catholic Church [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content