I was reading the other day about how it is hoped that Hilary Swank's new movie, "Amelia" will be a box office draw and not another one of those "women movies" that do not lure people to the movies.
The exact line struck me as particulary ominous:
If it ["Amelia"]fails, it will be cited as yet more proof that strong female protagonists are box office poison. (Click here to read the rest of it-– sorry, subscription required)
The article goes on to say that apart from hits such as Sex and the City and Mamma Mia!, strong women in movies are not a draw whatsoever. I thought of Kill Bill, Vol. 1 & 2, myself, but maybe studios would also think those movies flukes.
Then again, maybe the industry has a point. A simple look at the user-voted Internet Movie Database's Top 100 kind of takes care of any doubters. The top ten movies are as follows:
|1.||9.1||The Shawshank Redemption (1994)||452,492|
|2.||9.1||The Godfather (1972)||369,952|
|3.||9.0||The Godfather: Part II (1974)||216,860|
|4.||8.9||Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo. (1966)||136,191|
|5.||8.9||Pulp Fiction (1994)||370,419|
|6.||8.8||Schindler's List (1993)||245,444|
|7.||8.8||One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)||188,709|
|8.||8.8||The Dark Knight (2008)||399,886|
|9.||8.8||12 Angry Men (1957)||99,118|
|10.||8.8||Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)||250,822|
Okay. So out of these ten movies, NONE of the main characters are female. Arguments could be made as to how,
- There are women in nine out of ten of the movies (The Shawshank Redemption was a sausagefest, mostly set in jail).
- Appallingly, The Empire Strikes Back is the one movie where Princess Leia –a bona fide strong female lead– confesses her love for Han Solo who, like a total asshole, doesn't say it back, but instead says, "I know."
- Curiously, Pulp Fiction may be the one movie with the strongest female lead. Except that, you know, she ends up overdosing on heroin. Magic Markers will never be the same.
Okay. Point made, point taken. But why? Why is this so?
Invoking my "Bullshit my way out of blog" card, I believe it is because powerful women make people uncomfortable. It's always okay to see men angry, brooding, displeased, or chased around.
We do not, as a society, expect or even want to truly, really see a woman spewing foul vitriol during a chummy conversation; squinting grittily into the desert sun while munching the end of a cigar; sending severed heads as calling cards; pretending to be insane and then getting electroshock therapy; getting gang-raped in the laundry room of a Maine prison; or even running a successful and seemingly-callous business operation while saving people from extermination.
For all our bravado and the things we can and DO do, we women would rather be the pretty princesses, or the lovely wives who order five dollar shakes and sip on the straw with perfectly manicured hands. The women in these movies, with very few exceptions (and a niggling omission here and there as I have not seen a few of these movies all the way through, though I am familiar with their plots and characters since they are part of the popular culture canon), are the weathervanes: the happier and more stable they seem, the better we feel. Michael Corleone's girlfriend married him, after all– we thought we could trust him, too.
Even Nurse Ratched, wretched creature that she is, seems to want to point out that there is a better way– an easier, more compliant way, perhaps, but it didn't have to end like it did.
I'm quite sure many won't agree with my mini-psychoanalysis of these movies. You don't really have to– opinions are like leaves and they rain freely down on you, especially at this time of year. However, there is a fuzzy point in there somewhere: women are not men.
And speaking of that, here comes The High Priestess. Through the years people have disliked the idea that there could be such a "heretical" card as that of a female pope or female priest inserted into the deck. But the truth is that a female aspect to a deity or a higher power is an essential, if often overlooked, role. A female power is not going to be like an action-hero, wrathful, action-figure Jesus, if you will, but she will have her feminine attributes, feminists be damned.
And so, it is with the movies: every movie needs her feminine side. They are all there, seen and unseen, those women who help tell the story. And curiously, when they have the spotlight or when their role pushes the boundaries of expected roles, people react– sometimes approvingly, but other times less so.
The feminine aspect is, maddeningly to many, subtle.
So is the unconscious mind, which this card represents.
And frankly, this unconscious mind needs to sleep. I may continue my rant without end tomorrow, as I talk about the Empress, or the worldly aspect of womanhood. ZzzzzZzzzzz.
Interesting thoughts. I wish I had time for a more in-depth response. (Why do so many of my sentences have to begin with “I wish I had more time for…?” Sigh.) Given my whole obsession with movies featuring kick-ass women, it may not surprise you that I have things I want to say!
I do want to throw in a few quick observations, possibly more in response to the article you mention:
1) Many, many more movies are made with male protagonists than female, so it’s not surprising that those topping the list don’t feature a lot of female protagonists.
2) Movies with female protagonists are often geared towards appealing to female audiences (i.e. “chick movies”) rather than to general audiences. It seems like the goal is often to make a “movie for women” rather than “a good movie,” so the appeal is narrowed.
3) So many of the box office failures with strong women characters can be attributed to their being overall sucky movies. Hundreds of sucky movies with male leads are made every year, but their lameness is not blamed on having male protagonists!
4) The imdb list may be skewed towards the tastes of younger males, who seem to dominate movie websites.
I may be in the minority, but I’m a woman who likes to see a powerful woman in a movie! Mind you, powerful doesn’t need to mean a woman in a role that is traditionally male. (Though I do enjoy those movies, too.) Some of my favorite movies feature women who are both strong and feminine:Gosford Park, Cold Comfort Farm, Amelie. I consider the protagonists in Fargo and Silence of the Lambs to be feminine as well, though the women hold jobs that are typcially male-dominated.
Oh man– thank you for all that! I was hoping someone would add insight to this, and yes: sometimes it does boil down to movies being good versus movies being bad. Lets talk some more about this! Eke out some time, kick-ass woman! ;o)