Will Men Go See ‘Little Women’? Director Gillian Armstrong Faced the Same Worry in 1994

Armstrong says studio fears over the accessibility of "Little Women" played a part in the film's limited budget.
"Little Women"
"Little Women"

Following a report from Vanity Fair last week claiming male awards voters are skipping FYC screenings of Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women,” much of the pre-release conversation around the latest adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel has shifted to whether or not men will pay to see the film in theaters. Will “Little Women” struggle to attract male moviegoers? It’s a question many box office pundits are curious about as the film gears up for its Christmas release. It’s also a question that Gillian Armstrong is quite familiar with having directed her own “Little Women.” Armstrong’s adaptation, starring Winona Ryder and Claire Danes, opened in 1994 to strong reviews and similar fears from Sony about getting men to the theaters.

Armstrong was recently interviewed by Vulture reporter Rachel Handler, who reminded the director that her “Little Women” was viewed by the studio as a “needle in the eye movie.” The phrase meant that men would rather stick a needle in their eye than go see a “Little Women” movie. Armstrong said the biggest challenge that came out of the studio’s fear her film would only appeal to female moviegoers was money.

“Our budget was minuscule. We were making a little girl’s film,” Armstrong told Vulture. “That affects every single thing: Where we can shoot, how many days we have, how much money we have for every department. We were forced to go to Vancouver, because it’s cheaper [to film there]. Vancouver has hardly any period buildings at all. It turned out there are like, literally two period houses that you could shoot. So we built the ‘Little Women’ house, and in the second period house, we shot London in one room and the ball in another room. We shot three different places around the world in one house.”

Armstrong remembered the moment studio executives realized they were wrong to fear the movie’s accessibility to all genders. The filmmaker showed off a director’s cut of “Little Women” on the Sony studio slot and many of the male executives were left wiping tears away because of the film’s emotional impact.

“[The male executives] came up to me and said, ‘We’ve got to tell you, we were actually dreading that we had to all go and look at this little girl’s film, and we absolutely loved it, and we see it is more than a film for little girls,'” Armstrong said. “That’s when they said, “We’ll give you some extra money toward the music, and we’ll give you some extra money so you can send a second unit back to shoot.’ And then they really put their heart and soul behind the marketing. That was one of the highlights of my life, making that room full of men cry.”

The male executives might have liked “Little Women,” but that doesn’t mean they didn’t have at least one gripe: “The funny thing they said was, ‘We think men will really love it, but the biggest issue about getting men in to see the film will be its title! ’Cause no man would want to be seen walking into a cinema that has a title up there saying ‘Little Women.””

Armstrong’s “Little Women” grossed over $50 million and earned three Oscar nominations. Gerwig’s “Little Women” is opening nationwide Christmas day.

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