For movie lovers, summer is often the busiest time of the year. Practically every week, a new blockbuster opens in theaters, guaranteed to draw in sold-out crowds and break box office records. The plots of these films may vary, but the ideas behind their release are generally the same: Studios know that moviegoers love nothing more than two hours of pure, unadulterated summer fun.
Like every summer before it, this season is bound to bring a surplus of big-budget movies to a theater near you. Already, there’s been Fast & Furious 6, After Earth, Star Trek Into Darkness, The Hangover Part III, Iron Man 3, and The Great Gatsby, and it’s barely a week into June. And over the next few months, plenty more will arrive. Ready? There’s Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson’s The Internship, Superman origin story Man of Steel, Brad Pitt’s zombie apocalypse World War Z, the self-explanatory White House Down, Disney’s The Lone Ranger, alien attack story Pacific Rim, X-Men revival The Wolverine, Mark Wahlberg’s 2 Guns, Matt Damon’s futuristic sci-fi Elysium, and many, many more.
If you’ve been keeping count, that’s 15 big budget films that have been or are scheduled to be released this summer. Their plots range from assassination attempts to alien invasions to mutant superhero origin stories, but they all share one thing in common: Not a single one of them stars a woman.
It’s a known fact that women are underrepresented in Hollywood. Countless studies have been done showing the lack of strong leading roles available for female actors, as well as the shortage of female writers, directors and producers on feature films. Yet, in recent years, it seemed like female-led films were starting to make a comeback. There was 2011's Bridesmaids, of course, which seemed to be the bright light at the end of the industry's very dark, very long, female-less tunnel. Then The Help. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Pitch Perfect. Zero Dark Thirty. More and more major studio films starring women were hitting theaters, and while the numbers still paled in comparison to movies with male leads, they looked to be growing. And then 2013 came along. In the year's first five months, these are the major studio films that have been released starring women: Mama, Identity Thief, Beautiful Creatures, and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. If you count the re-release of Jurassic Park in 3-D, that makes a total of six major studio films released in 2013 with female leads. Six. To put it in perspective, take a look at this recent tweet by Entertainment Weekly's Mark Harris:
As for the next female-led movie coming out? You only have to wait a whopping 20 days for Paul Feig's The Heat, starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. And, after that, another three weeks until Vera Farmiga-starring horror film The Conjuring is released on July 19.
There's absolutely no reason that female-led movies should be so rare. Women make up 50 percent of audiences, and the box office success of female-led films like Bridesmaids has proven that they can be just as financially beneficial to studios as movies with male leads. Yet while seemingly every summer, there’s another Spider-Man or Batman movie hitting theaters, there hasn’t been a superhero movie starring a woman since 2004’s Catwoman. (We know, we know, but still.) Blame it on the major studios: Indie houses have churned out a good number of 2013 films starring women, like Fox Searchlight's Stoker and A24's Spring Breakers. Yet only The Weinstein Company has produced any substantial numbers. In the last two years alone, they released 10 films starring women, out of 25 total. It's still not a great percentage, but at least it's something.
So what is it that makes major studios so hesitant to have women star in their summer movies? Summer is the season of superheroes, and American audiences like their superheroes tall, dark, and handsome. From Bruce Wayne to Tony Stark, the heroes that movie studios have brought to life all share one defining trait: they're dudes. They're brawny, deep-voiced, and physically capable of fighting crime and seducing women, often at the same time. Superheroes have muscles — both literally and at the box office.
As for a woman donning a cape and capturing villains? It's not quite as easy. When female superheroes, like Catwoman or 2005's Elektra, have been introduced, they've bombed at the box office and failed with critics. It's the same for TV: a 2011 pilot for Wonder Woman never aired, while shows such as Smallville and Arrow have found enormous success.
So major studios resort to their fail-safe male-led superhero movies. Women are put on the back burner during summer movie season, made into romantic interests with little personality (see: Iron Man's Pepper Potts, The Dark Knight's Rachel Dawes), or relegated to the supporting role in a male-dominated picture (see: Black Widow in The Avengers).
This is a shame. Non-superhero female-led films have proven to have box-office power, and audiences have responded well to comedies and dramas starring women. (At least people can finally admit women are funny? Yay?) But one day, I'd love to see Wonder Woman, a multifaceted character with more personality than Daredevil and the Green Lantern combined, finally get her big-screen due. Maybe Black Widow can get an Avengers spin-off of her own, following in the footsteps of Iron Man and Thor. There's always hope — over the last few years, there's been enormous growth in interest for superhero movies. (Hello there, billion-dollar Avengers!) And more superhero movies equals more opportunities for women to take the lead. Studio executives may be hesitant to greenlight a female-led film (or even add an additional lady or two to existing franchises, like Avengers), but if there's any time to take the chance, it's now.
It's up to the studios to make the effort. I hope they do. In the meantime, I'll be counting the days until the release of The Heat, one of the only films this summer that recognizes half of the population.