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« MGM's Into the Woods (1949) | Main | Linkcatcher »

Year in Review: Women in Hollywood Box Office

Two yummy year in review lists per day. Here's Manuel to talk money 

Last year’s Box Office Top Ten is, as we all know by now, populated with talking raccoons, fighting robots, dangerous apes and superheroes of web-slinging and shield-throwing capabilities, so for this end of year report, we’ll focus instead on female-led films and how they fared with the public. It's a celebration of a corner of Hollywood more in line with the TFE sensibility.

Note: I am using “female-led” quite strictly (though, as always, quite subjectively in some cases).

Ensemble films like Guardians of the Galaxy, The LEGO Movie, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Godzilla are missing from the list below because, while they feature female characters in key roles, they remain male-centric, at best making their female-character (or if we're lucky characters) central amid an obscenely male-skewing world (Saldana in GOTG, Lawrence in XM:DOFP). At worst they side-line their actresses totally - what are Keri Russell and Elizabeth Olsen even doing in their respective films?.

After the jump see what the top 11 female-led films of 2014 grossed last year (along with other lists)

Maleficent, Katniss & Amazing Amy: a trio of ladies you do not want to mess around with

All figures from BoxOfficeMojo as of January 1st (numbers in parenthesis refer to their overall standing):

TOP 11
2. (6) MALEFICENT* $241.4 Podcast 
3. (17) GONE GIRL* $166.1 Jason's reviewpodcast
4. (18) DIVERGENT* $150.9 Review
5. (22) LUCY $126.6 Podcast
6. (23) THE FAULT IN OUR STARS $124.8 Review
7. (34) TAMMY* $84,5 Review
8. (35) ANNABELLE $84.2
9. (36) THE OTHER WOMAN* $83.9
10. (46) INTO THE WOODS $64 Interview, Review
11. (53) ANNIE* $56.9

*Films (co-)written by women 
In the Actual Top 10 for 2014 only two films feature female co-writers: The Guardians of the Galaxy and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

Note: I struggled with whether to include Interstellar and Edge of Tomorrow, two blockbusters that ostensibly feature female roles quite prominently (with the latter almost being a two-hander) but which were nevertheless marketed and narratively centered on the male figures. Compare that to Into the Woods, which, while a true ensemble piece, really focused on selling itself on the strength of Anna Kendrick’s Cinderella and Meryl Streep’s Witch, and thus merited inclusion. It’s also the film that’s bound to leapfrog a couple of these titles seeing this total accounts for a mere week (how high will it go, do we think?).

I was curious as to how these films played critically. The answer? Not very well. Their averaged Rotten Tomatoes score was a rotten 51.5, a middling 54.09 on Metacritic and a tepid 6.5 on IMDB. Compare that to the average numbers for the Top 11 grossing films: 73.2, 62.55 and 7.44. There are various things to consider when looking at these numbers, the first being that nothing dictates that female-led or female-centered films should be or intrinsically are better (this is sometimes forgotten when things like the Bechdel Test, which all but The Other Woman pass, is taken as a quality arbiter). That said, the fact that Hollywood invests its best and brightest on tentpoles and big-budget spectacles as well as the still mostly male-dominated field of film criticism may account for the discrepancies; whether there’s anything to be gleaned from X-Men’s 92 (RT) to Into the Woods’s 71 is up for discussion but since we’re dealing with numbers, I figured we’d add a couple more to the table.

Tris, Annabelle and Lucy, uh... yet another trio of ladies you don't wanna mess with

Unsurprisingly, top grossing female star Jennifer Lawrence tops the list (even if her sequel didn’t really register to quite the same degree that Catching Fire did, being off by almost $100 million. Anyone have any theories on this?) while Angelina Jolie, Scarlett Johansson, Shailene Woodley, Melissa McCarthy, Cameron Diaz and Meryl Streep round up the list of headliners who might still be considered as able to sell a film. Indeed, if one looks at the overall Top 100 box office list, you find most of these women elsewhere accounted for (Jolie’s directorial debut at #47 and climbing, Lawrence’s X-Men at #7, Scarlett’s Cap America at #3, Diaz’s Sex Tape at #78, McCarthy’s St Vincent at #73, Streep’s The Giver at #70). If we were to create a roster of contemporary female box office champions, we’d only be one Miss Bullock short (give or take a Jen Aniston if we’re being kind).

It must be noted though that said roster looks unsurprisingly white. There really is no equivalent to a Will Smith or, even a Denzel Washington this side of the equation, though to be fair, out of the Top 30 films of 2014, only Big Hero 6 (arguably at that), Ride Along, and The Equalizer feature non-white protagonists, with only Annie on our Top 11 featuring a non-white lead. This is an industry-wide problem but one worth pointing out since we’re focusing on structural inequalities here.

Thus, I also wanted to offer this list of Top 10 films directed by women, though you’ll note that I had to dig deep. It’s also possible I missed some titles in my scanning (I surely wouldn’t have known Step Up All In had a female director had I not been doing some extra research, but there’s a chance other films slipped through the cracks).

Interestingly, both Jolie and DuVernay's films center on male biopics


1. (47) UNBROKEN $62.5 Interview
2. (116) STEP UP ALL IN $14.9
3. (118) BEYOND THE LIGHTS $14.4
4. (123) BELLE $10.7 Capsule
5. (157) OBVIOUS CHILD $3 Michael's Reviewpodcast
6. (179) CITIZENFOUR $2.1
7. (186) FED UP $1.5
8. (194) SELMA $1.2 Michael’s Review, podcast, premiere
9. (200) LAGGIES $1 Quick take
10. (219) PALO ALTO $0.76
11. (232) THE BABADOOK $0.60 Interview

Unbroken will of course continue to extend its lead while Selma will surely finish right above Step Up All In (or so I hope, at least) it’s worth noting that adding the totals right now barely add up to what Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 1 grossed in its opening weekend. That said, you’ll notice not only the wider diversity of this list both on and off-screen (admittedly still topped by a story of white men at war) but also the seemingly shift in quality from the list above, with Beyond the Lights, Belle, Obvious Child, Citizenfour and Selma (even Unbroken!) all notching various Best Of mentions these past few weeks.

In this sense, these two lists point us to the way the needle is turning if ever so slowly in Hollywood, with female-focused films making significant dents at the box office and with women behind the camera making auspicious debuts (see also Jennifer Kent and Ana Lily Amirpour) and solid films cashing in on early accolades (Selma’s Ava DuVernay’s imminent-though-I-rather-not-jinx-it Oscar nomination the clearest example of this). Was it a banner year of women in front and behind the camera? Hard to say, though there’s plenty to be hopeful about, especially with certain other female practitioners in behind the scenes roles being recognized in high profile pics this awards season from Sandra Adair’s editing for Boyhood to Gillian Flynn’s screenplay for Gone Girl, Mica Levi’s score for Under the Skin and Susie Davis & Charlotte Watts’s production design for Mr Turner, among others.  

For those looking for more female-directed titles released in 2014, you can check out this list. How many have you seen? 

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Reader Comments (8)

Into the Woods will earn at least $120million, probably more.

January 2, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterbrandz

Loved this whole article. Thanks, and happy new year!

January 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterNick Davis

Wild is also performing incredible well for the amount of theaters it's being shown in. I wonder, given the inspirational theme, moving story and incredible performances, how high it can go during the rest of January and February.

January 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAdam

Theory on the Hunger Games smaller profit: Catching Fire was the best book, according to everyone who's read the books that has talked to me, and this movie is the least action-oriented. My sister and brother-in-law went to see it over Christmas break, and he came back saying "Well that was boring." They both saw it as a long intro for the finale, which is true. They also both said they want to see the last one. I personally liked the political questions in this one a lot, but I think even critics were waiting for the action (hence the lower score). The finale will outgross this one and will have stronger reviews as well, I imagine. Even with the smaller profits, though, this one is coming darn close to being the highest earner of 2014. (Maybe the last Hobbit will win that battle?)

I am happy that the highest grossing movie series with a female lead in history (can't even think who the closest competition would be) is so respected by critics. Plus, it's something I actually want to watch! It's hard for Hollywood execs to argue ticket buyers don't show up for female leads with the Hunger Games films dominating so completely.

January 2, 2015 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

Even thought the films were bad Diaz and Mccarthy can get bums on seats,Diaz as a box office draw still astounds me though.

January 2, 2015 | Unregistered Commentermark

I think "Into the Woods" will nail 200 million in the US, making it both Streep and Blunt's highest grossing film there.

January 2, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

Mockingjay never played in IMAX theaters, which likely took $20-30m in grosses away right off the top. Doesn't explain the whole decline from Catching Fire, but that in combination with all the factors eurocheese so astutely pointed out above probably does.

January 3, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

eurocheese -- i imagine ALIENS and TWILIGHT would also be on the list with Hunger Games in terms of high grossing series with female leads.

January 3, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

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