Movie News & Reviews

Female filmgoers flex new box-office clout

Anna Kendrick stars as Beca in “Pitch Perfect 2.” The film was No. 1 at the box office last weekend.
Anna Kendrick stars as Beca in “Pitch Perfect 2.” The film was No. 1 at the box office last weekend. Universal Pictures

When Rebel Wilson, Anna Kendrick and Brittany Snow walked down the carpet at the premiere of “Pitch Perfect 2,” the roars of mostly female fans screaming their names resembled an a cappella medley from the film itself.

“I just love their girl power,” said 25-year-old Jessica Hernandez, one of the hundreds who lined up as early as 9 a.m. for a prime spot in the “fan pit” outside Los Angeles’ Nokia Theatre.

“Girl power” seems to be at the heart of “Pitch Perfect 2’s” $69.2 million opening weekend, with an audience that was 72 percent female. Its debut far surpassed pre-weekend projections that the film would have a $35 million to $45 million opening. For perspective, consider that in one weekend, the sequel beat the entire $65 million domestic haul for the original 2012 film.

Even the reboot of George Miller’s action film “Mad Max: Fury Road,” which came in behind “Pitch Perfect 2” but ahead of projections with a $45.4 million opening, has a strong woman powering the film. Charlize Theron kicks as much butt as co-star Tom Hardy.

These films aren’t outliers – at least this year. “Cinderella” and “Fifty Shades of Grey” have earned the year’s third- and fourth-highest box office sales, respectively, to date with largely female audiences. And the year’s No. 1 movie, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” not only gave Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow a back story and a budding romance with the Hulk, it added a second female Avenger, Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlett Witch.

“The genie is out of the bottle now,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior analyst at the audience measurement service Rentrak. “Hollywood is catching on to the fact that it’s good business to try and attract female audiences.” Female-driven films, he said, have gone from being a trend to being the norm.

Studios have long made billions primarily by aiming at young males – the comic-book-loving “fanboys” who flock to theaters to see action films. But lately, robust totals for films such as Disney’s “Maleficent,” which was the No. 3 film last summer, have proved the worth of catering to long-underserved female audiences.

“I think now there is recognition in the industry that if you make a film like the ‘Avengers,’ you have to make it interesting for everyone who is going to see it,” said Bruce Nash, who founded the box-office statistics site The Numbers.

Analysts say this summer’s films will likely set records, helping box-office receipts climb to a projected $11.2 billion by the end of 2015. Much of that revenue is expected to come from female-driven films that are being paired strategically with male-centric films as counterprogramming to help boost the overall box office.

This means that on the same June 5 weekend that Vinny and the boys hit the big screen with “Entourage,” Melissa McCarthy’s comedy “Spy” will make its debut. The male-stripper flick “Magic Mike XXL,” based on the 2012 original that starred Matthew McConaughey and Channing Tatum, opens opposite sci-fi blockbuster “Terminator: Genisys” on Fourth of July weekend. And Amy Schumer’s highly anticipated comedy “Trainwreck” launches July 17 against Marvel’s “Ant-Man.”

Some of the counterprogramming, propelled by positive buzz, could outpace the blockbuster counterparts.

“Spy,” which premiered at the South by Southwest festival this year, will likely top “Insidious 3” and “Entourage” when it comes out next month, according to people familiar with pre-release audience surveys. The espionage comedy is written and directed by Paul Feig, who also directed McCarthy in the hit comedies “Bridesmaids” and “The Heat.”

Nash warns, however, that if a rom-com or romantic drama is all a studio is offering, “I think you’re in trouble.”

That may be why some big blockbusters have shifted to include more women to help attract female moviegoers.

Lionsgate helped break the mold with franchises such as “Twilight” and “Hunger Games.”

“They showed you can still do a big-scale movie like that and bring in a big audience,” Nash said, “even if it skews a bit more female.”

“Furious 7” set box-office records in April with a massive $143.6 million domestic opening. Part of the film’s success came from its diverse fanbase. Though it is an action film, known for over-the-top car chases, it’s also known to bring in both male and female moviegoers. Opening weekend drew in a 49 percent female audience.

“It’s ridiculously important (to have female-driven films),” said Kay Cannon, writer and co-producer of “Pitch Perfect 2” at the film’s premiere, “because we make up half the society so we have to get our stories out there.”