This weekend, Lucy, starring the newest female action star Scarlett Johansson, took the middling summer box office by storm. The film, directed by Luc Besson, took in a little over $44 million at the box office, besting the Rock as Hercules by $15 million.
Women helped drive Lucy to success — half the audience for the film were women, while only 42% of Hercules‘ audience was female. (It bears mention that Hercules was marketed as an estrogen-free movie; the trailers focused mostly on star Dwayne Johnson, and the movie’s only prominent female characters were a little-seen love interest and a cardboard-cutout of a "strong woman" frequently called mannish for being able to battle just as fiercely as the guys.)
This reaffirms the point that, in order for a film to be a success, you have to figure out a way to get women in the theaters. Nikki Rocco, the head of marketing at Universal, which released Lucy (it was financed by Besson’s Europa Corp for $40 million), said it best in the Hollywood Reporter: "You need a female lead for women to come. It’s time to broaden the genre." An anonymous executive (from another studio) added: "Lucy once again shows that women can really rule the big screen."
Maybe the folks in Hollywood are finally starting to realize that female protagonists will draw girls and women to theaters in droves — but also boys and men as well.
I’m going to be honest: I thought Lucy was terrible. When I saw this headline last week on Indiewire’s Criticwire — "Is Scarlett Johansson’s ‘Lucy’ the Summer’s Smartest Dumb Movie, or Its Dumbest Smart One?", I thought, "No, it’s just the dumbest dumb movie."
I have no problem with a female-centric movie that I didn’t like becoming a success. (To be fair, there are many people who did like it — it is currently at 58% on Rotten Tomatoes.) It’s even a relief. It’s fantastic that a movie starring a woman can still be a success without the high expectation of it being "good or better." I feel that crappy movies about women should be successes, just like crappy movies about men are. As Bella Abzug said: “Our struggle today is not to have a female Einstein get appointed as an assistant professor. It is for a woman schlemiel to get as quickly promoted as a male schlemiel." Amen.
But let’s remember, there is still so far to go. It’s great that the people who distribute movies are recognizing that certain types of movies starring women will be successful. This really bodes well for the action genre.
This summer the successes of Maleficent, The Fault of Our Stars and now Lucy has gotten people in Hollywood to pay attention to women onscreen. But let’s remember, there are still so many other issues for movies for us to deal with especially with women behind the scenes.