Lisa Schwartzbaum of Entertainment Weekly wrote an excellent article about the studio’s surprise that Iron Man 2 is playing so well to female audiences. According to Indie Wire, the report upon which Schwartzbaum’s article is based:
“What you’ll see on Sunday is people taking their moms to see Iron Man,” says Paramount distribution executive vp Don Harris. “You can’t make a statistic like that up.” In tracking, the female figures for Iron Man 2 were so high, adds Harris, “you would expect such numbers from a film like Sex and the City 2.”
Why? Why is it, that in this day and age that it’s surprising for women to enjoy science fiction/comic books/action movies?
There has always been a strong fan base among women for the nerdy and the geeky. How many little girls grew up playing Princess Leia or Wonder Woman or Jamie Summers? Take a look at Science Fiction literature; some of the greatest authors of the genre are women. Mary Shelley, Andre Norton, Ursula K. LeGuin, Sheri Tepper have all created iconic tales of speculative fiction. As a mater of fact, the concept of the secret identity was originated by a woman, Baroness Emma Orczy, author of the Scarlet Pimpernel published in 1903.
The simple fact of the matter is that comic books and Spec-Fic is rife with themes that interest women and draw them in. It may not be the same things that interest men, but they are there just the same. For example, the Xmen comic deals with lots of masculine themes, but there are also the relationships that interest women readers – Kitty Pryde and Wolverine, Jean and Scott, Storm and T’Challa all have a strong appeal to female readers. We may not care so much about the bang bang shoot’em ups, but the outcomes and the consequences are far more rewarding for a woman reader than for a man.
This obviously translates to the big screen and television. Buffy, Ripley, Trinity and most recently Avatar’s Neytiri have all drawn in female audiences. These are our role models. We don’t see many iconic female characters outside of Science Fiction/Fantasy movies that as girls we look up to. So of course we’re going to go see films in these genres to find more of the same. And we’re going to bring our daughters with us, growing the audience.
It just makes sense.
A few years ago, Hollywood was hot for female action movies. They were going to revolutionize the genre. What did we get? Catwoman and Elektra, two of the worst superhero movies ever made. The suits didn’t understand it at the time. There was a huge demand for women in more heroic roles, why did these films fail? Why didn’t they get the audience that they expected?
Probably because the writing was crap. All there was to these movies were women in skimpy clothes prancing around. There was no human interactions, no relationships that women could be invest in. The stories were practically non-existent, the acting was wooden and the premise was ridiculous. As a result Hollywood has pretty much turned it’s back on the prospect. The Wonder Woman movie has been sitting in pre-production hell for 3 years because the studios can’t wrap their head around the fact that what women want are great characters, strong stories and compelling relationships. Having a female centric film is icing on the cake.
It was my mother who sat down and watched Wonder Woman and Doctor Who with me. She’s the one who introduced Sprout to Star Trek – another show with some amazingly strong women characters. Women have always been interested in Science Fiction and related works. The reason why Iron Man 2 works with women is because the main character is charming, his struggles are compelling and relationships are believable. Yes, we do enjoy the special effects and the explosions just as much as the guys, being a FX-geek I can say that. But they aren’t what brings us in. If the studios can keep making movies of Iron Man’s caliber, women audiences are going to keep coming and the numbers are going to grow.
Maybe this is the start of Hollywood actually getting it and start handing off these fantastic properties with strong women characters to great writers and directors. It’s in their best interest, but we fangirls have to demand it.