This past weekend, The 355 was finally released and the latest action spy pic stars Jessica Chastain, Diane Kruger, Penelope Cruz, Lupita Nyong’o, and Lin Mi Sheng; The female cast plays a group of spies who join forces to get a top-secret weapon that falls into a mercenary’s hands. Unfortunately, despite the big names, the film was bombarded with negative reviews and ultimately failed to even make the projected $7 million that analysts say that the movie would make opening weekend. However, this isn’t anything new as female-led action pics aren’t exactly a hot commodity in the filmmaking world. For every Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel, there’s a Charlie’s Angels or Elektra, and with a noticeable rise of female-led action pics, it’s become apparent that the failures outweigh the successes. So, what happened? Why do most action features fail to produce financial results at the box office? Well, the key thing is something that Scott Mendelson from Forbes does a good job pointing out; His article highlights the abundance of options that audiences have these days, namely Karen Gillian’s Gunpowder Milkshake, Ava (which actually stars Jessica Chastain as well), Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Kate, Kate Beckinsale’s Jolt, and Maggie Q’s The Protege. The point is that we’re no longer in a period where women being the lead is a special attraction, especially in action-led vehicles.
Now, action pics with female leads can easily go back to Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor from Terminator or Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley from Alien; however, the mainstream was never overcrowded with action pics that had a woman as the focal point. I won’t dive deep into the political reasons as to why women were barely given an opportunity to lead mainstream films as it’s been well documented how politically corrupt the inner workings of Hollywood are. It didn’t help that when women were given an opportunity to lead an action film, it flopped hard at the box office. Halle Berry’s Catwoman was made on a $100 million budget but only made $83 million worldwide. Elektra had a $43 million price tag, but only saw returns of $57 million worldwide. This was actually a spinoff to Ben Affleck’s Daredevil, which did decent business at the box office by making nearly $200 million worldwide. The only notable female led feature that did well at the time was the Charlie Angel’s reboot featuring Lucy Liu, Cameron Diaz, and Drew Barrymore. However, since the success of Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel, the market for female-led pics has vastly opened and now more women are getting opportunities within the genre. The main problem is that the genre needs to evolve pass the notion that women leading an action pic is a special attraction. The biggest detriment to the The 355 is that it’s a spy flick that’s 20 years too late. There’s nothing in the film that separates itself from franchises such as James Bond, The Bourne Identity or Mission Impossible. It’s great that more chicks are allowed to kick ass on screen, but there needs to be more focus on originality. Movies like Die Hard, Terminator, The Raid, and John Wick introduced a new element that helped take the action genre in new directions. Of course, originality should never come over a good story and compelling characters, but the genre is so crowded at this point that there needs to be more than the novelty of women that kick ass.
Another notable issue is that most of these films cater mainly to women. Granted, there’s nothing wrong with that as James Bond was a franchise geared towards men. However, women aren’t much action junkies like men. Can you imagine a string of romantic comedies with the prime target audience focused on men? Movie wise, it’s possible to make a great male-centric romantic comedy, but men aren’t the right demographic for this genre. It’s important that these female-led features also cater towards men, who are more than likely willing to go purchase a ticket for these types of films. Unfortunately, we’ve gotten a string of feminism films that make it a war between men and women. When most of your feature is saying that all men are obnoxious, sexist, evil douchebags, you’re shunning away a good portion of the audience that would more than likely see your film. This notion seems obvious, but most female-led pics seem to make this mistake. Whether we want to admit it or not, the success of Wonder Woman has to do with the fact that DC and Patty Jenkins understood their audience. Diana is clearly the lead protagonist of the film, but Steve Trevor is a strong supporting male character. Men tend to be the demographic that buys comic books more than women. Wonder Woman didn’t have an anti-men message attached, which is why guys felt more compelled to see the film for themselves. Birds of Prey came with a strong anti-men message and despite the popularity of the central character, it flopped hard at the box office. The action genre is growing each and every year; If female-led pics hope to stand a better chance, then they desperately need to shake up the formula.