Female Ghostbusters? Why Studios Want More Women-Led Blockbusters

Ghostbusters Ladyheads - H 2014

Ghostbusters Ladyheads - H 2014

UPDATED: It's no coincidence that films about lady superheroes and "Expendabelles" are among the projects in the works.

This story first appeared in the Aug. 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Summer 2014 may go down as the time when Hollywood finally realized the power of women at the box office.

THR reported Aug. 2 that Sony wants to launch a female-led reboot of Ghostbusters from Bridesmaids director Paul Feig. Two days later, the studio said it is targeting 2017 for a woman superhero film set in the Spider-Man universe. Marvel Studios, whose Guardians of the Galaxy lured a 44 percent-female audience on opening weekend (the biggest share of any Marvel film) is said to be close to greenlighting a Black Widow pic for Scarlett Johansson. And The Expendables producer Avi Lerner said Aug. 4 he wants to shoot a female spinoff Expendabelles in 2015 (Sylvester Stallone says he wants Sigourney Weaver to star).

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It's not a coincidence. Even as U.S. box office is down about 18 percent this summer, women and girls are driving some of the biggest success stories, including Maleficent ($727.5 million globally), The Fault in Our Stars ($263 million worldwide) and Lucy (a $43.9 million U.S. opening). They follow female-fronted smashes The Hunger Games and Frozen. "It used to be people would look at the success of individual titles and look at them as being the exception to the rule," says Columbia president of production Hannah Minghella. "But I don't think we can think that way anymore."

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Plans to pursue female superhero movies mark a particularly seminal moment, since Hollywood was burned when Catwoman and Elektra failed in 2004 and 2005, respectively. Statistics suggest times have changed. Video game-loving fanboys are making fewer trips to the multiplex, while females have shown a willingness to support action franchises like Hunger Games. For instance, women comprised 50 percent of the July opening-weekend audience for Lucy, which trounced male-centric Hercules.

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Sources says the success of Lucy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which heavily featured Johansson, added momentum to a standalone Black Widow movie. "I very much believe in doing it," Marvel's Kevin Feige told Comic Book Resources. "I hope we do it sooner rather than later."

Disney, which releases Marvel films, has been a strong leader in female-fueled properties, including recent hits Frozen and Maleficent. "As Disney has for decades, our live-action team is currently looking to tell stories featuring empowering role models" says Disney president of production Sean Bailey.

Indeed, studios seem more primed than ever to launch female hero movies. Warner Bros. has plans for a Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) spinoff if Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and The Justice League work, and Fox has several possible lady leads in the X-Men franchise, including Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique. Sources say Marvel feels Zoe Saldana's character in Guardians could even be ripe for her own film after Guardians 2

"I wouldn't say no if I was offered a spinoff," says Saldana, who played the green-hued Gamora in Guardians. “I want to see more women, period, in films and in art. Whether they're kicking ass, handing ass, I don't care -- as long as more stories are told through the eyes of women. That way I can have an even share of options when I go to the movies instead of just watching male-driven films with male points of view.”

E-mail: Rebecca.Ford@THR.com
Twitter: @Beccamford