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Embracing Gender and Racial Diversity Pays Off (And Then Some) for Universal Pictures

Embracing Gender and Racial Diversity Pays Off (And Then Some) for Universal Pictures

Summer’s big success story isn’t just “Straight Outta Compton,” which topped the box office for the second week in a row this past weekend, but also its studio, Universal Pictures

Without a single superhero, Donna Langley and Company have muscled their way into a revenue tier that’ll go down in the history books. The Independent notes that Universal claims a whopping 28.2% market share in domestic ticket sales from January to August of this year. “No studio has ended a year with more than 20% market share since 1997,” the British paper observed. Universal’s killing internationally, too. The studio’s $3.78 billion at the foreign box office sets a new industry record for international ticket sales. 

“This is the box-office equivalent of the 100-year flood,” said box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian. “To get to this level, you have to have everything firing on all cylinders. Every movie is overperforming.” 

Universal’s big pay days are clearly borne of success on multiple fronts, from the executive offices to the marketing department to the performers, storytellers, and other creatives who contribute to every facet of the studio’s films. But one clear answer also emerges: the studio’s willingness to cater to female moviegoers and audiences of color — and hire women and racially diverse filmmakers to tell their stories. 

The ladies first: Langley brought “50 Shades of Grey” to Universal and hired a female creative team in director Sam Taylor-Johnson and screenwriter Kelly Marcel. In turn, the two, with breakout star Dakota Johnson, made “50 Shades” a multiplex phenomenon (which makes the sequel’s rumored takeover by an all-male writing-directing team that much more depressing). Elizabeth Banks got her first turn behind the camera with “Pitch Perfect 2,” while Angelina Jolie Pitt made her first studio film with “Unbroken,” which became a sleeper hit after its Christmas 2014 release. (The box-office numbers for the WWII drama made Jolie Pitt the most profitable female director of 2014.) Amy Schumer also stamped the rom com with her sensibility by penning and starring in “Trainwreck.” 

Universal also earned beaucoup bucks by betting on diversity with “Straight Outta Compton,” which boasts an African-American helmer in F. Gary Gray, and “Furious Seven,” one of Hollywood’s least white/male-centric franchises, which continued its series of directors of color for #7 by bringing on genre filmmaker James Wan. 

Universal had more demographically traditional fare like “Minions” and “Jurassic World” to add to this year’s ledger books, too, but the takeaway here seems clear: gender and racial diversity sells. How long do we have to wait until the rest of the industry finally catches up? And until we can finally get another woman of color protagonist from a studio? 

Coming next from Universal’s female-centric fare are Guillermo del Toro’s Victorian horror story “Crimson Peak, starring Mia Wasikowska, and Jolie Pitt’s “By the Sea,” starring the actress/director and Brad Pitt. 

[via The Independent, THR, THR]

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