The final box office numbers are in from 2017, and there’s one clear takeaway from the top earners.
Women killed it.
For the first time in nearly six decades, the three highest-grossest films in North America all featured women in lead roles, according to The Wrap.
Daisy Ridley starred as Rey in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” which has raked in a whopping $530 million domestically to date.
Emma Watson led an all-star cast of “Beauty and the Beast,” which pulled in over $504 million in U.S. theaters.
The last time women-led films cleaned up in similar fashion was nearly 60 years ago, when Mitzi Gaynor starred in “South Pacific,” Rosalind Russell became “Auntie Mame,” and Elizabeth Taylor inspired fans to turn out for “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”
And it’s not all about the money, either — the characters themselves are blazing trails.
Ridley’s lightsaber-wielding Rey is a force to be reckoned with in a film where it’s the men who let their emotions get the better of them. “Wonder Woman’s” feminist message is obvious in just about every plot point throughout the movie. Even Watson’s Belle takes on a more assertive, self-possessed nature than in the original Disney classic.
But while these fictional female characters are leading the charge, change for actresses in real life has been slow.
USC’s Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative 2017 report found that, among the year’s top-grossing fiction films, the number of speaking roles for women has remained largely unchanged — and abysmally low — throughout the past decade, Bustle reported.
Hollywood largely remains an old (white, straight, cisgender, abled) boys’ club — with a sexual harassment crisis on its hands, no less. Women-led stories are often overlooked by the producers who have the power to bring those narratives to life on screen. The same can be said for stories about people of color, the LGBTQ community, disabled people, and so many others representing overlooked, marginalized groups.
Yet “The Last Jedi,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “Wonder Woman” prove that female-led films can be hugely successful.
It’s not that audiences won’t turn out to see stories about women — it’s that filmmakers are more hesitant to create them in the first place.
Change needs to happen from the top down, but just 7% — 7%! — of the top 250 films of 2016 were directed by women. When there are more women in consequential roles behind the camera, the same will be true for the stories told in front of it.
Paul Dergarabedian of ComScore, a media analytics company that collects film earnings, believes 2017 wasn’t an anomaly, though — it was a sign of the changing times.
“It is just a renaissance going on in 2017,” he explained to The Guardian, of the year’s top films. “And now moving into 2018 … female-led movies and movies with female characters at the center of the story have moved front and center in terms of the box office and in terms of critical acclaim.”
Let’s hope so. It shouldn’t take Jedi training to get women-led movies made!