Despite the year being 2014, women making up half of all movie-goers, and a whole bunch of statistics saying otherwise, a scary number of people still believe that female-led movies can't do well at the box office. The good thing is, though, that every time a movie starring a woman does become a success, the naysayers are forced to realize that they're in the wrong. And when a film does as well as Maleficent, the Disney blockbuster that just became the highest-grossing movie of Angelina Jolie's career? Then they're forced to sit back, shut up, and get on board with the simple fact that female-led movies can, and do, make just as much money as the ones starring men — and in fact, sometimes they even make more.
What makes the success of movies like Maleficent even better is that in addition to proving that women can lead movies, they also highlight the female stars who have made strides for feminism, film after film. Jolie, for instance, has one of the most feminist filmographies of any actress working today, a resume filled with movies that've done great things for women. It's not just the big movies like Maleficent, either, although those should certainly be noted; Jolie's film history includes an impressive amount of tiny indies that may not have made lots of money, but did major things for feminism. A few highlights:
With a nearly $300 million worldwide gross, Salt is one of Jolie's most successful films. It's also one of her most feminist, thanks to a plot usually given to men and a female anti-hero main character. Oh, and it was originally written for Tom Cruise, but when he dropped out, the writers completely changed the movie so that Jolie could have the leading role.
This period-piece drama, about a woman who realizes that her son is an impostor, is a feminist's dream: a complex leading character, conversations about things other than men, themes of male-caused disempowerment and women's fight for independence. It may not have made a ton of money, but it did provide filmmakers with an example of how to make a high-quality, feminist movie.
A Mighty Heart (2007)
Like Changeling, A Mighty Heart wasn't a box office smash by any means. The drama, about the wife of kidnapped journalist Daniel Pearl, is one of Jolie's lowest-grossing films, barely making back its $17 million dollar budget. Yet while it may have failed as a money-maker, the movie found huge success in its feminism, showcasing a beautifully drawn female leading character with compelling, three-dimensional actions and emotions.
Girl, Interrupted (1999)
Jolie may have had a supporting role in the movie, but she certainly made quite an impression. In addition to the acclaim, the Oscar, and the increased celebrity, the actress proved that not all female characters have to be heroes or villains. Like her Lisa, they can be a thousand things at once: manipulative, misunderstood, difficult, insecure, and, of course, endlessly watchable.
Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005)
With all the focus on Jolie and Pitt's chemistry, it's easy to forget that Mr. and Mrs. Smith is actually a pretty feminist movie. Jolie's character is just as much the deranged, brilliant, dangerous assassin as Pitt's, and how about that all-female super-spy agency? As cool — and feminist — as it gets.
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