“I’m a bitch!” From the CinemaCon stage, Charlize Theron proudly delivered this assessment of her character in Universal’s “Atomic Blonde,” which she also developed and produced. Her pride is understandable: She’s the abstract for Hollywood’s newest vision of women on screen: They’re hot, fearless, funny and brassy.
It’s a model once hailed as near radical, back when Universal released Paul Feig’s “Bridesmaids” in 2011 and it went on to earn $288 million worldwide. (Hollywood still seems to be in no rush to put women behind the camera; most of these women-starring films touted at CinemaCon, with the notable exception of Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman,” were directed by men.)
Much credit goes to Universal chairman Donna Langley, who shepherded “Bridesmaids” as well as Amy Schumer vehicle “Trainwreck.” She also bet heavily and won when she aggressively chased down the “Fifty Shades of Grey” and “Pitch Perfect” franchises. Now, it’s become a template across all studios seeking to broaden their box office potential.
Studios also seem to be increasingly comfortable with matching ass-kicking women to their male heroes. Universal cast Algerian “Star Trek” breakout and CinemaCon Female Star of Tomorrow Sofia Boutella to overpower Tom Cruise in the title role of “The Mummy.”
Boutella also has enthusiastic sex with undercover spy Charlize Theron in stuntman-director David Leitch’s action-packed Focus Features fightfest “Atomic Blonde.” And Theron was more than up to the athletic challenge — Focus screened an astonishing long-take choreographed fight sequence which would give Chow Yun Fat pause. She also holds her own as a manipulatively alluring villain in “The Fate of the Furious,” which Universal screened in full at CinemaCon.
EuropaCorp producer-director Luc Besson cast Milla Jovovich-lookalike Cara Delevingne as the first female superhero from the comics of his youth. She trades stunts with Dane DeHaan in “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” to be released by STX, a studio that promotes itself as women-friendly. They also nabbed Jessica Chastain in the title role of Oscar bait “Molly’s Game,” the directorial debut of Aaron Sorkin that profiles a true-life high-stakes poker wrangler.
And in Paramount’s “Annihilation,” directed by Alex Garland, Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh take up arms in the process of solving a biological mystery.
Michael Bay doesn’t have the best history with portraying women onscreen, but he has cast 14-year-old tough-girl Isabella Moner in “Transformers: The Last Knight,” alongside British actress Laura Haddock, who meets his usual babe standard but kicks ass — and occasionally dons glasses to establish her academic credentials.
On the comedy side, Sony’s Scarlett Johansson vehicle “Rough Night” features a gang of women letting loose on vacation in Miami, while Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith and gal pals take on New Orleans in Universal’s “Girls Trip.” At Universal’s panel, Pinkett Smith praised director Malcolm Lee for handling his improvisation-giddy cast so well while on location at the Essence Festival. “It wasn’t easy,” she said.
And STX wasted no time greenlighting a sequel to “Bad Moms,” the highest-grossing R-rated comedy of 2016. The hook? “Moms Christmas.” And rising “Harry Potter” and “Beauty and the Beast” star Emma Watson stars as a smart woman who lands a job in the near future in “The Circle,” run by a Steve Jobsian figure portrayed by Tom Hanks. (James Ponsoldt adapts Dave Eggers.)
Even when the women have to provide serious eye-candy duty, there seems to be an effort made to balance the scales. In Paramount’s “Baywatch,” Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron’s physicality is just as objectified as their female costars, and the running gag is how wimpy some men are, no matter how packed their abs. One guy sings in the shower: “I am woman, hear me roar,” as a woman comments, “I’ve never heard that coming from a man before.”