Ask a Dork: Female-led Films
Do you think the success of Frozen/Catching Fire will show Hollywood there’s a market for female-led films or be seen as the exception to the rule?
There are indeed more male leads in modern cinema today than there are female. In fact, there always has been. That isn’t to say that there is a “rule,” however, as it is much more likely that this is just how the culture of filmmaking has progressed. For instance, a lot of films since the days of the silver screen have been written by men. This was due to the belief that “women write films for women and men write films for everyone.” Was this a misinformed notion that likely negatively impacted both the quality and dynamics of cinema since? Probably, but recognizing that today doesn’t change the fact that years of male writers writing male leads (assumedly because they could project themselves into those roles) have led to a number of tropes and genre staples. That’s why so many movies today have male leads.
I guess you could cite Frozen and Catching Fire as standing in the face of precedent, but that statement doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny as most successful animated Disney movies have female leads and there have always been a few popular movies to hit it big with female protagonists. These films, however, are usually dramas, thrillers, romantic comedies, or art-house. They’re also not usually complete characters or (in the case of the romantic comedy) serve as shallow wish fulfilment for the assumedly female audience. Â Make no mistake — Katherine Heigl has made quite the pretty penny off the unfulfilled desires of single, white women.
With all that in mind, there indeed has always been a market for female-led films. The only real change that we’ve seen now is in how lucrative that market has become in certain genres. Catching Fire isn’t just a popular drama; it’s a popular action feature. Excluding the god-awful Resident Evil films, no other female-led feature has been able to attract piles of cash like the Hunger Games franchise. This begs the question: why is the Hunger Games property so popular when most conventional thinking tells us that the action audience is mostly composed of men who like to see men punch other men?
I’d have to attribute this to three things: (1) recent studies indicate that women are more inclined to read a book and subsequently see the movie adaptation, (2) the Hunger Games movies boast quite a bit of violence and death, which male fans of the genre have often flocked to, and (3) there is a strong enough story to lure moviegoers who don’t typically jive with action flicks. I suppose it could be claimed that the types of movies modern men and women enjoy are less informed by gendered conventions, but there is no real evidence to back that up.
In the future, I predict that there will be more female-led movies that appeal to audiences of men and women, but that doesn’t negate the fact that excellent movies starring women already exist and have done well at the box office. I think claiming Frozen/Catching Fire’s success as a “turning point” is a bit pre-emptive and subject to an availability heuristic fallacy.