Hollywood is used to catering to the young, white, male demographic. In this way Hollywood is not especially different from, say, every other industry on Earth. But lately they’ve been seeing diminishing returns on that investment. It appears the movies that have been raking in all the cash money this year are — gasp! — movies with female characters, female-centric stories and, wouldn’t you know it, predominately female audiences. From The Hollywood Reporter:
Many male-skewing summer tentpoles are luring fewer females. That’s an issue because the women demo is wielding more influence. Moms and girls helped turn Frozen into one of the biggest successes of all time ($1.27 billion)… Fox’s The Fault in Our Stars also mobilized younger girls (82 percent of the opening audience was female; 79 percent was under 25)…By contrast, females made up only 39 percent of Amazing Spider-Man 2’s debut audience… The same trend applies to Transformers: This summer’s Age of Extinction skewed 64 percent male during its first weekend, more than the previous two films, and it played the oldest… it is destined to be the lowest-grossing Transformers in North America.
The lesson it appears THR wants the MPAA to take from these numbers is this: instead of pandering to young white dudes, let’s pander to women and girls! That’s what THR says at the top of the story: “The new rule? Women are dependable, while men and younger moviegoers aren’t.” This response — taking these statistics, applying them to something quantitative and easily changeable — isn’t too surprising, as movies are trying to go full-Moneyball with data to determine what will get people into theaters. Shift the focus from guys to girls, ticket sales will soar, problem solved.
Now, I love being pandered to just as much as the next human. Who doesn’t like being pandered to a little? Well, you don’t, I’m sure. You’re too smart for that.
Yet even as a lady who is on the verge of being courted by the entertainment industrial complex, I feel an obligation to point out here that “ignore boys and make girl movies” is really not the take-home message from this data.
You know why no one saw The Amazing Spider-Man 2? Because it’s been about thirty seconds since the last guy suited up as Spidey. Because it is way too soon for a sequel. Because we’re a little maxed out on superhero movies at the moment. Because even the unstoppable charm offensive that is Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield’s real-life love is not enough to make people spend fourteen dollars on a mediocre movie no one asked Marvel to make.
Why aren’t Americans jumping in their normal cars and speeding to the cineplex to watch the newest installment in the apparently never-ending Transformers franchise? Because it is not a good movie. It is, in fact, aggressively horrible. It is so bad that critics described viewing it as a physically excruciating experience, like the “cinematic equivalent of being tied in a bag and being beaten by pipes.”
Why does Frozen continue to make buckets and buckets of money? Because Frozen is excellent. It is the total package of movies: it is smart and funny, it is wonderfully voiced and beautifully animated. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll sing “Let it Go” in the shower.
The Fault in Our Stars is a movie based on one of the most popular books in America. John Green, the novel’s author, has a tremendous and devoted fan base. The movie, made by popular demand, stars arguably one of the most talented (certainly one of the most in-demand) actresses of her generation.
Yes, TFIOS and Frozen have the “girl” thing in common. Some other things they have in common: they are not sequels. They boast talented casts. They tell emotionally resonant stories. In short: they don’t suck. People like good movies. People do not like bad movies. People like original ideas. People do not like derivative ideas. (No, Frozen being loosely inspired by The Snow Queen does not count as derivative.) And there is no shortcut to making a good movie. There is no algorithm. The way to fix the Transformers problem is not to turn all the boy robots into girl robots, or to make the female character the hero while the male character, half-naked and generally useless, gazes at her in lust.
Please don’t stop pandering to one audience just to start pandering to another. Just make good movies.