Box Office Analysis: Female demographic gets big push

Early spring is typically a season dominated by testosterone-laced action tentpoles, but with Pitch Perfect 2 blowing the tires off Mad Max: Fury Road, the boys of summer may get benched by funny girls

By Katherine Monk

Mad Max may have defeated a villainous clan of wasteland warlords in order to survive a two-hour hell ride, but he couldn’t beat the ladies of Pitch Perfect 2 in the box office demolition derby called opening weekend, raising some doubt as to who rules the box-office in the era of digital, videogames, bit-torrent downloading and studio movie ennui.

As this weekend’s tally proved: Women are starting to outspend men at the wicket.

Mad Max revved up a respectable $44 million in receipts, but Elizabeth Banks’s gleeful girl movie about snarky singing competitors hollered to the tune of $70 million, proving the long-vaunted 14-year-old boy demographic does not rule

Anna Kendrick in Pitch Perfect 2

Anna Kendrick in Pitch Perfect 2

the box-office after all. According to the Motion Picture Association of America’s annual report for 2014, women outspent men on movie admissions by a slim margin, but an historical one, with women accounting for 52 per cent of overall box-office. The bump was thanks in large part to Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss factor powering the Hunger Games to the number two spot last year with $337M, following American Sniper’s $349M, but beating Guardians of the Galaxy’s $333M.

This year could see similar results, thanks to another Hunger Games outing scheduled for November 2015, as well as another Melissa McCarthy vehicle in the comedy Spy (June 5), the Sundance tear-jerker Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (June), Madame Bovary (June), What Happened Miss Simone (June), Amy Schumer’s debut in Trainwreck (July), Magic Mike XXL (July), Lily Tomlin’s Grandma (August), Kristen Wiig and Zach Galfianakis in Masterminds (August), Meryl Streep’s Ricki and the Flash (August), Charlize Theron’s reappearance with hair in Dark Places (August) and the Sundance breakout, The Diary of  Teenage Girl (August).

Typically, the high-brow girl stuff is saved up for awards season starting in early September, but now that women are occupying centre-frame in some previously boy-targeted genres such as action spectacles and buddy comedies, the scales are balancing out.

The current top ten breaks down somewhat evenly if viewed by typical gender and genre preference: The chick-oriented Pitch Perfect 2 sits in the top spot (#1), Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara’s Hot Pursuit (#4), Blake Lively’s Age of Adaline (#7), the kid-friendly Home (#8), and Carey Mulligan’s spunky embodiment of Bathsheba Everdene in Far from the Madding Crowd (#10).

On the stereoptypical boys’ side: Max Max (#2), Avengers: Age of Ultron (#3), Fast and Furious 7 (#5), Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 (#6), Ex Machina (#9).

The even split is a bit of a surprise given we’re steaming into the very jaws of summer blockbuster season, but the trend seems to be indicative of a slight shift in the types of movies studios are releasing, and the demographic slice they’re trying to attract.

Overall, 2015’s box office chart is still dominated by boyish pursuits with the biggest releases to date being Avengers ($373M) and Furious 7 ($343M), but coming in close behind are Kenneth Branagh’s lavish costume drama Cinderella ($197M) and the narratively limp, but financially engorged Fifty Shades of Grey ($166M). Following in their femme-powered path are films such as Shailene Woodley’s Insurgent ($127M), Age of Adaline ($37M), The Boy Next Door ($35M), The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel ($32M) and the Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds’s drama about Nazi pilfering of a family heirloom, The Woman in Gold ($28M).

We can probably thank Kristen Wiig for the estrogen boost in the typically testosterone-laced days of early May. Back in May 2011, Wiig’s Bridesmaid’s baffled the box-office pundits by going toe-to-toe with Thor all summer long. When all tickets were tallied, Thor totaled $181M while Bridesmaids earned a spot in Asgard with $169M, both falling behind the year’s big winner that skewed right down the gender line: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 2.

Emma Watson, who co-starred in the top-earning franchise as the brainy and true-blue Hermione Granger, said she’s making gender equality a personal priority through her professional work on-camera, as well as through her work as a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador. Watson says the boys often called her bossy, a complaint shared by many strong women, but she’s always going to be a proud feminist and fight for a woman’s place in the film industry, and the world in general. “Men and women should have equal rights and opportunities,” she said. And who knows? Now that she’s ranked as one of the world’s most influential people by the New York Times, women may not only represent a bigger piece of the box-office pie, but soon, they may even get a chance at sharing more than a measly three per cent of the top power positions as directors and producers.

@katherinemonk

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