Cannes: Femme-tastic Box Office Challenges Old-School Buyers

'Pitch Perfect 2'

Amid shifting demos (and megahits 'Pitch Perfect 2' and 'Fifty Shades'), sellers on the Croisette are fielding far more interest in distinctly feminine projects.

Across the globe, female audiences are driving the box office, and it’s impacting Cannes film buyers — even if they don’t like it.

“It’s not just the box office, the television channels are also going female, female, female,” says Thomas Weymar, managing director of European buyer Telepool. “I’d just love to be able to buy a real macho Western, but it’s not to be.”

Elizabeth Banks’ femme-fueled Pitch Perfect 2 is on course to gross $60 million or more in North America this weekend (beating the action-heavy Mad Max: Fury Road’s projected $42 million). It follows The Fault in Our Stars, Fifty Shades of Grey, Cinderella and Scarlett Johansson’s action smash Lucy as global hits fueled by women.

And these movies aren’t just a phenomenon in English-speaking markets. Fault, earning $307 million globally on a $12 million budget, grossed a massive $31.2 million in Brazil and $15.1 million in Mexico. Begin Again, starring Keira Knightley, topped out at $16.2 million in the U.S. but grossed a stunning $25.9 million in South Korea for a global haul of $63.5 million.

Veteran foreign sales agents say that in many countries, such as South Korea and China, women are making the decisions on what movie to see. “More people are finally recognizing what we’ve always known,” says Mimi Steinbauer, president and CEO of Radiant Films. “And I do think Lucy was a real shift in terms of thinking.”

Millennium Films president Mark Gill agrees that even action is a big draw, noting that the largest single demographic for Millennium’s Expendables 3 worldwide was women over 25. Steinbauer is one of numerous agents shopping female-centric projects at the Cannes market, including a new film starring Hailee Steinfeld, Carrie Pilby. Historically, film markets have been a breeding ground for macho-infused action fare, but increasingly the other gender is the focus. (Steinfeld has a second project at Cannes, the YA film adaptation Break My Heart 1,000 Times, which Good Universe is selling).

“Buyers are definitely saying this is a demographic they are buying for,” says Christian de Gallegos, president of sales company International Film Trust, which is shopping Bleeding Heart to foreign buyers in Cannes. The drama, which recently premiered at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival, stars Jessica Biel as a yoga instructor trying to help her long-lost sister. “South Korea was the first territory to acquire the movie,” says de Gallegos. “It sold there in only two days, and now we have offers in every territory.”

At Saturday’s “Women in Motion” talk at the Majestic, Salma Hayek said the movie 
industry is in trouble exactly because women are overlooked. “[The studio executives] 
think, ‘Chick flicks, romantic comedies.’ Guess what? We’re smarter than that.”

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