There are a lot of reasons to see the new Beauty and the Beast. For one, it has sentimental value; it's a timeless fairytale, and anyone who grew up watching the Disney animated version is probably excited to see one of their favorite childhood stories revamped. It's the perfect fam movie to go see on the weekend, and since it's PG, everyone can attend. Also, Emma Watson is perfect as Belle, and we all want to see our fave Harry Potter star on the screen again. For these reasons and more, it's not entirely surprising that the film had a record breaking opening weekend at the box office. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the film broke $350 million globally, which makes it the most successful PG title North America and overseas to date — and what's even cooler is that Beauty and the Beast's success is due in large part to female moviegoers.
While Beauty and the Beast has always been one of the more progressive princess stories, Belle has new depth in this latest version, and it's clearly resonating with women. Watson worked closely with the directors, writers, and even costume designers of the movie to make sure that Belle would be a complex, fully formed character. While Belle's affinity for books and knowledge has long been key to the story, this movie takes that intelligence even further. Belle is an inventor, not just an assistant to her father, and invents her own washing machine. Watson even insisted on revamping Belle's costumes, giving her a tool belt, pockets, bloomers, and riding boots. "[Belle is] absolutely a Disney princess, but she’s not a passive character," Watson said in an interview with Vanity Fair. "She’s in charge of her own destiny.”
Turns out, when the leading female character of a movie is an actual, relatable, aspirational person, women head to the theaters. According to The Hollywood Reporter, women made up nearly 72 percent of all Beauty and the Beast audiences in its opening weekend, a truly impressive number. The film has topped over other blockbusters released recently like Kong: Skull Island and Logan, both movies featuring a male protagonist. This financial success is significant, as it could give Disney and other studios an incentive to write and produce films with complex women at the center in the future.
As said, there are plenty of other reasons Beauty and the Beast likely did well. Watson's star power is a draw, the movie was well promoted, and the widespread media coverage can't have hurt sales. But these outside factors don't have to undercut the social significance of a movie featuring a complex female lead finding such success, especially among women. Audiences are clearly responding to on-screen portrayals of fully formed, complicated women. And despite the controversy created by the inclusion of Disney's first openly gay character, Lefou, the fact that the movie still made so much money should encourage studios to give more screentime to queer characters going forward.
While Beauty and the Beast owes so much of its box office success to Watson and the character she cultivated, it would be awesome to see more female directors put at the helm of these films, as well. It's clear that audiences are yearning for new and diverse voices and perspectives, and will run to the theaters when these are presented.