2008 was not just the year that Hillary and (oh, Lordy) Sarah tried to shatter the presidential glass ceiling, but at the multiplex, too, the female-centered Sex and the City ($152 million), Mamma Mia! ($143 million), High School Musical 3 ($89 million) and Twilight ($152 million and counting) challenged the box-office big boys.
Conventional wisdom states that only the coveted young male demographic shells out the dinero that makes studio executives’ pulses race. But, only nine 2008 films made more money than Mamma Mia, Sex and the City and Twilight, and four of those were cartoons for kids. With female-driven stories outpacing supposedly sure things like The Hulk and Wanted, maybe the girls are finally getting their say in which movies pop the popcorn.
Mamma, Sex, HSM3 and Twilight were calculated gambles, all pre-sold properties with dedicatedeven rabidfan bases adapted from a perennial Broadway staple, long running and/or highly rated TV shows or from the tippy top of the best seller list. They are the exact equivalents of the predictable action franchises, sequels and reboots that have minted money for studios roughly since the advent of the original Star Wars or, more accurately, since The Empire Strikes Back.
What is puzzling is the ire that these distaff sensations have provoked in the mostly male critical fraternity (not sorority, of course). Why so contemptuous, my friends? Women have suffered silently through the endless, boring stunt sequences and paper-thin female characters in the studio blockbusters for years without questioning the right of these films to exist.
But, Carrie Bradshaw is precisely equivalent to James Bondshe satisfies fans and fills a niche. The Bond films, particularly the recent, “rebooted” Daniel Craig outings, have been intentionally stripped of the more lighthearted moments that might appeal to female audiences. I’m sorry to report that a naked Daniel Craig being tortured does not hold the same charm for women as a Sean Connery quip.
A male viewer likewise is not interested in a recap of Carrie’s ’90s fashionista moments. Fine. Ladies, it’s meant for your eyes only.
Male critics swoon over The Dark Knight and lobby for an Oscar Best Picture nomination. I’m OK with that. And, granted, Heath Ledger’s creepy-crawly anarchist, The Joker, is original and memorable (and sadly, tragic). But the anti-heroes of The Dark Knight and Twilightthe crime-fighting Bruce Wayne and the vampire Edward Cullen, respectivelyhave equal gravitas in this precise pop cultural moment. Christian Bale with his silly pointy-eared bat get-up and throaty Lauren Bacall growl has the same importanceto his fansas swoony Robert Pattinson, America’s No. 1 VILF, with his silent movie make-up and method actor angst, has to his.
It’s amazing and wonderful that female movie-goers have made some box-office history. I won’t argue that Meryl Streep jumping on a bed and singing ABBA songs, or Zach Efron and Vanessa Hudgins spooning and dreaming about prom night, is more edifying than Bond and Batman, just that they are no worse. And the ideal, of course, is an entertaining, thoughtful, well-acted film that everyone could enjoy equally. Boys, if you don’t want to watch Twilight, don’t. But, spare me your double standards.