Another summer blockbuster season has come to a close. And at first glance, it appears that what we traditionally think of as “boy movies” have won the battle for most box office dollars.
The five highest grossers of the season were, in order: “The Avengers,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “Brave” and “Ted.” With the exception of that Pixar film about the red-haired Scottish girl who prefers archery to arranged marriage, every one of those movies successfully attracted the coveted young, male and movie-geeky audience the studios rely upon to keep revenues flowing.
But the summer film landscape was more complex and gender-inclusive than an initial scan of that top five list suggests.
As A.O. Scott recently wrote in this New York Times piece about cinema in the summer of 2012, “something feels different about this year, and it may just be that such movies [with female protagonists and appeal] feel less anomalous, less like out-riders in a male-dominated entertainment universe. The ground may have shifted a little.”
Has gender-stereotyping in Hollywood ended? No. But consider the following.
The audiences that showed up for the opening weekends of these allegedly testosterone-fueled releases often skewed male, but not by an extreme margin. “The Amazing Spider-Man,” as one example, drew ticket buyers who were 58% male and 42% female, according to Box Office Mojo. On that same weekend, Oliver Stone’s violent crime drama “Savages” attracted a 51% female audience. A month later, “The Bourne Legacy” rose to the top of the box office with an opening weekend crowd that consisted of 52% men and 48% women, practically an even split. These so-called guy movies clearly have greater cross-gender appeal than the media sometimes make it seem.
Some of the more profitable films released this summer — the “Magic Mikes” and “Best Exotic Marigold Hotels” that amassed very respectable revenues on highly modest budgets — were propelled toward success largely by female audiences. And, as Post film critic Ann Hornaday previously noted, stories with female heroines — movies like “Snow White and the Huntsman” and the aforementioned “Brave” — held places of greater cultural prominence this season. (For the record, plenty of males may be responsible for propelling thoughtful films like “Moonrise Kingdom” into profitable positions this summer, too.)
MPAA data shows that in 2011, women comprised 51% of the moviegoing population, while the number of tickets sold was evenly split between the genders. The bottom line: Young men may remain Hollywood’s most coveted demo, but women are an equally powerful force in the moviegoing economy.
As tempting as it is to think of summer as “boy movie season” and fall as “grown-up lady film season,” our cinematic habits are, thankfully, much more nuanced than that. Hollywood needs to realize that members of both genders are open to all kinds of multiplex experiences. We can’t be placed in a box. In fact, instead of trying to think outside of one, we humbly suggest that studio heads and filmmakers should throw out the notion of placing potential ticket-buyers into boxes in the first place.