Hollywood Seeks Box Office

Article below from Washington Post talks about male actors bring in more bucks than female actors.

The action movies make more than romances and other types of movies that generally feature actresses (chick flicks).

Hollywood as an entertainment industry rather than address some societal problem. In Hollywood Bohemians
I discuss that Hollywood movies included gays and lesbians and adulterers. They added humor and made Hollywood look unique because they were taboo. This helped Hollywood’s self definition and it sold the business.
The images gave gays and lesbians more humanity but they did little to change the culture’s attitude toward homosexuality or adultery.

Want to be a big deal in the movie industry? There’s one sure-fire way to increase your chances: Be born male.

According to 157 film-industry professionals surveyed recently by Forbes magazine, actors are far more reliable than actresses when it comes to the one measure Hollywood values most: money. The publication set out to determine the most “bankable” actors and actresses in Hollywood — that is, who’s perceived to be best at attracting money to a project, who sells tickets once a picture is released, and who keeps the cash rolling in afterward from DVDs and the like. The magazine asked film people to rank some 1,400 actors and actresses on their moneymaking power.

The result: Men vastly outnumbered and outranked women by a wide margin. Only four actresses (Angelina Jolie, tied for No. 2; Julia Roberts, No. 11; Meryl Streep, No. 16; and Nicole Kidman, No. 22) ranked among the 30 most bankable. Just 28 women were among the top 100, and only 185 were in the top 500 (for the record, the Hollywood suits rated Will Smith as the most bankable of all).

All told, male stars were almost twice as likely to be considered bankable by film-industry types as their female counterparts.

It’s tempting to dismiss this result as another example of Hollywood sexism. That is, since men run the movie business, it’s no surprise that movies reflect the tastes and preferences of men. But it’s not really that simple. Since Hollywood is also a business that is acutely sensitive to the whims and shifting desires of its customers, sexism couldn’t pay without the audiences’ complicity.

As it happens, the survey says a few things about the movie business but a lot more about moviegoers.

The first thing to consider is how Hollywood has changed since the days when Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Shirley Temple were the most popular stars on the studio lot. Back then, says Patricia Aufderheide, a communications professor at American University who studies film, the studios cranked out lots of inexpensive movies primarily for domestic consumption, featuring stables of contract players. But since the 1960s and ’70s, the studios have evolved into financiers and marketers of films that earn most of their money abroad. This has radically altered the kinds of movies that get made, and who stars in them, she says.

Because the most reliable cross-border films are big-budget action movies — car chases, shoot-’em-ups and explosions speak pretty much the same language in Dubai as in Dubuque — men have a built-in advantage for these heroic leading roles, she points out. Thus, the male-centric action genre all but guarantees full employment for the likes of stars like Smith, Denzel Washington, Matt Damon and Tom Cruise.

The only actress who has consistently broken into this men’s club is Jolie, points out Anne Thompson, a film blogger and the former editor of the movie magazine Premiere. In hit movies like “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” and the recent “Wanted,” audiences have accepted Jolie as a gun-toting, butt-kicking spitfire — a track record no other actress in history can claim, she says.

A few women — Sigourney Weaver in the “Alien” films, for example — have occasionally pulled this off, but only when the plots call for them to protect a child. Jolie, on the other hand, isn’t dependent on this story device. “I don’t think the culture was ready for this before,” Thompson says of Jolie’s action-heroine status. “It wasn’t able to accept women with guns.”

But this raises a question: Since not every film is an action pic, wouldn’t women be as important, as “bankable,” as men in other kinds of movies, such as romantic comedies? Don’t women, more so than men, flock to movies like “Sex and the City” and “Mamma Mia!”?

Yes, but the market for these films is far more limited than comic-book blockbusters like “The Dark Knight” and “Iron Man.” Romantic comedies tend not to open with the same box-office numbers as the latest action, sci-fi or horror movie, and don’t play as well outside the U.S. market. Romantic comedies also carry a dreaded label: “chick flick.”

This is where the sociology and gender psychology of moviegoing comes into play. A couple choosing which movie to see on a Friday or Saturday night play a subtle game of dominance and submission, says E. Ann Kaplan, the director of the Humanities Institute at Stony Brook University in New York and co-editor of “Feminism and Film.” More often than not, she says, the woman gives in and the guy gets to see what he wants.

“Women will go where the males want to go,” Kaplan says. “If he says, ‘I want to go to ‘I Am Legend,’ she’s not going to say, ‘I won’t.’ . . . After all the strides of the women’s movement, after all the efforts to bring women to parity with men, it’s still a question of power and pleasing your male.”

Or as Thompson puts it, “Women are trained in this culture to see things from a male point of view, to be sympathetic to men, to go along for the ride with them, to laugh at what they find funny. But men don’t extend themselves to identify with women in the same way.”

Paul Dergarabedian, a longtime box-office analyst now affiliated with Hollywood.com, suggests there may be something about these choices and behaviors that are hard-wired into the sexes at a very early age. In general, he says, young boys were less enthusiastic than girls about seeing Disney’s “Pocahontas” or “Mulan,” two animated movies built around heroines. But girls were just as likely as boys to see “Aladdin,” “The Lion King” and “Toy Story,” which were dominated by male characters.

“Men [dismiss] a ‘women’s’ film as a chick flick,” Dergarabedian says. “Women see an action film as a movie.”

Nevertheless, some observers think the pattern could be slowly changing. Noting Jolie’s breakthrough status and the success of romantically themed movies like “Twilight” and “He’s Just Not Into You,” Forbes editor John Burman, who conducted the magazine’s “bankability” survey, says, “I think women are making inroads. Audiences are becoming more accepting of seeing more types of [actors and actresses] in different roles.”

But others are skeptical. Jolie seems to be a singular figure among actresses (does anyone see Reese Witherspoon or Kate Winslet becoming the next action hero?). What’s more, some of the most popular romantic comedies of recent vintage have thrust men into the lead roles, cutting further into the small territory that women have claimed for themselves. Movies such as “Wedding Crashers,” “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Superbad” were about the romantic misadventures of men and teenage boys.

“It’s called the entertainment industry for a reason,” comments Aufderheide. “Hollywood isn’t in the business of social change. It’s not in the feminist industry. It’s in the business of maximizing its sales. . . . You don’t look to Hollywood to buck a tide or tradition.”

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