Movie Feature

8 Burning Box Office Questions: Is Hollywood ignoring women? Will 'The Lone Ranger' save westerns?

By Lucas Shaw (Reuters)Movies - 23 April 2013 12:00 AM

8 Burning Box Office Questions: Is Hollywood ignoring women? Will 'The Lone Ranger' save westerns?

‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ and ‘Iron Man 3’ will make piles of cash, Channing Tatum is going to save the president and Superman will return to the big screen.

While we are certain all of these things will transpire this summer, there are a number of questions marks for Hollywood studios headed into the year's loudest season.

From Paramount's decision to delay the Brad Pitt zombie film ‘World War Z’ to the inexplicable paucity of films that appeal to women, we identify eight questions that the movie business needs to ask itself.


From the start of May to the end of August, a ceaseless stream of action heroes, super heroes and comedians will parade through the multiplexes. Almost every single one of them will be a man starring in a film geared towards other men.

Four splashy movies will open in theaters during the first two weeks of June -- an M. Night Shyamalan/Will Smith sci-fi thriller (‘After Earth’), a new Superman movie (‘Man of Steel’) and two comedies, one about two guys (‘The Internship’) and another about six (‘This is the End’).

'The Great Gatsby' trailer

Though comedies and action movies may appeal to marginally different constituencies, those four movies all target men, specifically men between the ages of 15 and 35. ‘The Avengers’, for example, owed 60 per cent of its grosses to men, according to Disney exit tracking.

May is even less hospitable to the fairer sex. An agent last week noted that of all the major movies opening that month, the one most appealing to women could be ‘The Great Gatsby’. For those that skipped F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, it depicts a man ashamed of his humble origins who believes the accretion of endless wealth and glitzy parties will cement his status among the elites.

It's a man pursuing the American dream in an age when women were lucky if they could drive a car. Sounds like a chick flick.

The only film that is unashamedly for women and starring women is ‘The Heat’, a buddy cop movie with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, both of whom have better box office track records than many of the men being given big roles in tentpole films.

Though some of the biggest movies of this year (‘Identity Thief’, ‘Mama’) and last year (‘The Hunger Games’, ‘Twilight’) performed well thanks to female fans, all evidence suggests studio executives have seen ‘Anchorman’ too many times:


The Brad Pitt zombie film set off alarms when Paramount decided it needed reshoots and pushed its release date from last December to this summer. With a budget already north of US$100 million, the studio hired ‘Cloverfield’ scribe Drew Goddard to rewrite the third act and sent the crew back to Budapest.

Rewriting the end on the fly? Uh-oh.

'World War Z' trailer

Yet while reshoots were once a sign of trouble, they are increasingly common with studio movies, especially a big-budget picture. If you're going to spend that much money, you might as well spend more to get it right. Or so the thinking goes.

Paramount already had a lot of luck with reshoots on this year's ‘G.I. Joe Retaliation’. At first slated to open last year, it debuted in March and has already racked up more than US$250 million at the worldwide box office.

Can ‘World War Z’, once referred to as "a nightmare from top to bottom," replicate that off-kilter formula for success?


As Hollywood has pivoted from expensive movies dependent on star power to even more expensive movies dependent on pre-established brands, it has handed the reins of its most important films to unproven talent. In the case of ‘John Carter’, it failed.

Zack Snyder hands Henry Cavill Superman's cape, Guillermo Del Toro puts ‘Sons of Anarchy’ star Charlie Hunnam center stage in ‘Pacific Rim’ and Gore Verbinski made Armie Hammer his ‘Lone Ranger’.

'Pacific Rim' trailer

All of these actors entered these projects with a pedigree, but none has carried a summer tentpole that could make or break a studio's summer -- and their career trajectories.

We know at least one of them is hungry for it. When we spoke with Hunnam last year, he expressed a desire to be an action star with some grit under his fingers, a man filmmakers courted to play a bad ass.

"I embrace pain," he said. "I get injured all the time in my work. People are just so terrified of any kind of physical or psychological pain in our lives that it makes us all really soft. If that trend continues, I don't know where we find ourselves with 12 billion people on the planet all afraid of their own shadow."


The first two ‘Hangover’ films brought in more than US$1 billion at the box office. The five ‘Fast’ films have surpassed US$1.5 billion. The latest installments of each franchise collide at the box office 24 May just one week after ‘Star Trek’. They aren't the only wide releases that weekend either, as Fox and Blue Sky Studios' ‘Epic’, an animated film featuring the voice of Beyonce Knowles, also opens.

The first family film to open since ‘The Croods’, ‘Epic’ appeals to a very different audience and will be welcomed by parents hesitant to introduce their five-year-olds to ‘Star Trek’. The other two films, one a raunchy comedy and one a star-driven action movie, appeal to similar (male) audiences.

An Universal executive said ‘Fast’ is testing through the roof and the weekend will be big enough to accommodate everyone. Others agree, though expect them to fall short of their predecessors. Stay tuned.