It looks like the latest “Charlie’s Angels” movie will mark another big-brand box office flop. The Hollywood Reporter puts it bluntly: “Sony’s Charlie’s Angels crashed and burned in its domestic opening with an estimated $8.6 million, becoming the third high-profile reboot or sequel in a row to bomb after ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ two weeks ago and ‘Doctor Sleep’ last weekend.” Crashed and burned is something of a pun given that “Ford v Ferrari” grossed a cool $31 million over the weekend. (And deservedly so.)
Director (and writer and producer and star) Elizabeth Banks set the stakes high for “Charlie’s Angels.” Either that, or she was giving the film a convenient excuse for failure. “If this movie doesn’t make money it reinforces a stereotype in Hollywood that men don’t go see women do action movies,” she told the Herald Sun ahead of opening weekend.
By Banks’s logic, “Charlie’s Angels” certainly reinforced that stereotype. But is her contention about the stereotype correct? Do men categorically eschew women-led action flicks? As IndieWire notes, “Earlier this year, the Brie Larson-starring ‘Captain Marvel’ grossed $426 million in the U.S. and over $1.1 billion at the worldwide box office. ‘Wonder Women’ ended its summer 2017 run with $821 million worldwide.”
Banks has an answer for that. “They’ll go and see a comic book movie with Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel because that’s a male genre,” she reportedly said to the Sun. “So even though those are movies about women, they put them in the context of feeding the larger comic book world, so it’s all about, yes, you’re watching a Wonder Woman movie but we’re setting up three other characters or we’re setting up ‘Justice League.'”
This modifies her original description of the stereotype, which can also be clearly interpreted as a condemnation of it, in a significant way. It’s not simply that men don’t flock to women-led action movies, it’s more specifically that men don’t flock to women-led action movies outside a “male genre.” (If you accept that definition.)
I get it; Banks wants cash to back projects like “Charlie’s Angels,” and making a movie that appeals to both men and women is a good way to do it. She doesn’t have cry sexism in the process.
First, it’s not exactly condemnable sexism for men to be less interested in women-centric films. It’s not exactly condemnable sexism for women to be less interested in “Jackass” (which, to be clear, I love) either. Even if men saw them because they like comic book universes, the successes of “Captain Marvel” and “Wonder Woman” plainly suggest men have no categorical aversion to action films led by women. The original “Charlie’s Angels” movie did pretty well, by the way.
Banks is echoing the feminist line that emerged around the release of the “Ghostbusters” reboot. Here’s a sampling of those sentiments from “Seeing Ghostbusters on Opening Weekend Could Actually Help Fix Hollywood Sexism” via The Cut, in 2016:
…female-led blockbusters in Hollywood are still such a rarity, and the view that audiences won’t watch movies helmed by women so pervasive, that every female-led film is seen as a litmus test for every future one. (Particularly a major action-comedy tentpole like this one.) If Ghostbusters flops, nobody will point to the weak script or an excessive budget. They’ll look to the one factor that deviates from the Hollywood norm: the gender of the stars fronting it.
As in country music, perceptions of what consumers want may inform business decisions that hamper female projects. But Banks seems clearly to be arguing both that those perceptions are correct and that they are evidence of sexism.
Deadline has a great breakdown of why the new “Charlie’s” likely flopped, and from the script to the lack of star power, none of the obvious reasons involve sexism. (Same for “The Kitchen.”) The Hollywood Reporter has a similar autopsy report.
Deadline quotes RelishMix including the film’s “girl power” messaging among the reasons it flopped: “Angels is the latest example in a ‘woke’ effort to reboot a franchise that many were not all that interested in to start with. In fact, many references to the 2000 version get a call-out as a reason this one doesn’t seem to compare – whether it’s the cast or the action teased from the film. And, as observed with other recent films, some action/adventure, unfortunately fans say they’re steering clear of this one because of its ‘girl power’ messaging.” But it’s not exactly sexist for viewers steer clear of a movie that signals its interest in pushing feminist messaging on audiences.
Maybe the problem is less with men than with the films. Maybe the problem is with vaguely political marketing campaigns that exhaust moviegoers who’ve seen one too many heavy-handed reboots. Or maybe there isn’t actually a problem at all, and Banks should stop floating inflammatory excuses that aren’t substantiated by the evidence.