I was looking through Business Insider’s list of female-lead movie franchises, and I noticed some interesting—and not particularly encouraging—numbers.
First, a lot of these franchises tend to trend downward, with subsequent entries making less money than the initial movies. These aren’t necessarily Bond-like franchises, in other words, with story and action potential that can last years. They’re Hollywood wringing diminishing returns out of once-promising ideas. Bridget Jones Diary made $281,929,795 at the box office, but Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason made slightly less, pulling in $262,520,724. Underworld started at $298,376,455; Underworld: Evolution brought in $111,340,801; a Kate Beckinsale-less Underworld: Rise of the Lycans made $91,327,197; and it remains to be seen how the fourth movie, currently in theaters, ends up performing. Jamie Lee Curtis only really starred in the first two Halloween movies: the initial installment made $60 million worldwide while the sequel brought in $25 million. The Scream movies stayed relatively flat, making $173,046,663, $172,363,301, and $161,834,276 for the movies with the original cast. And the Scary Movie films had a more uneven trajectory, making $278,019,771, $141,220,678, $220,673,217, and $178,262,620, respectively.
The Resident Evil movies are an exception to the trend, as is the Alien franchise. The former saw its box office go from $102.4 million, to $129.3 million, to $147.7 million, to $296.2 million. It’s no surprise that a fifth movie is in the works. The Alien franchise started out with $104,931,801 in its first go at the box office, rising to $131,060,248, $159,773,545 and $161,295,658 by Alien: Resurrection. Given the hype around Prometheus, I’d be curious to see if it’s the most successful of the series.
Now, it’s not that all big franchises starring men show consistent growth, but they do tend to have generally upward trajectories. Spider-Man 3, Iron Man 2, Mission Impossible IV, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, and Transformers: Dark of the Moon, to name the most recent entries in some of the biggest current male-centered franchises, have all ended up pulling higher box office than the movies in the franchises that preceded them.
But the real worrying point is how much lower the box office threshhold is for these women-anchored franchises than for ones starring men. The only movie franchise starring women that’s even in the box office leagues of these superhero movies is the Twilight franchise, which has the advantage of being based on an existing property (the same is true for superhero movies, though there are probably not as many hard-core Iron Man readers as there are Stephenie Meyer devotees). Maybe the lesson Hollywood should take is that we need some superheroine movies, or to start dipping into the well of books with large female readerships. Though not if they’re going to be sloppy ways of trying to force Katherine Heigel on us, yet again. Don’t think you snuck One For the Money by us.