When movie headlines of 2008 are analyzed, undoubtedly industry watchers will note the proliferation of superhero movies and the emergence of “The Dark Knight” as the critical and financial powerhouse among them.
The disappearance of high-profile films such as “Star Trek” and “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” moved to 2009 for business reasons, also is sure to be discussed.
When it comes to the awards contenders, 2008 will be remembered as the year when Nixon and Frost again faced off, when Brad Pitt finally aged backward, when “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” made a comeback, at least for one Indian lad.
But 2008 truly should be recognized as the year when studios finally were forced to acknowledge the power of women as both filmmakers and audiences - or at least as the year they should have been. Recent developments indicate some haven’t quite learned the lesson.
The most recent film to prove this point: “Twilight,” the movie adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s vampire romance novel. The film opened Nov. 21 — the slot abandoned by “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” — and topped the box-office charts with about $70 million. Directed by Catherine Hardwicke, the film marked the biggest opening ever for a female director.
In its second and third weeks, “Twilight” held onto the second place, behind the seasonal comedy “Four Christmases.” The film has made more than $138 million and counting, according to RottenTomatoes.com.
Even more impressive, Summit Entertainment made the film for $37 million, so it came close to doubling its money the first weekend alone. That’s also when the fledgling company gave the green light to “New Moon,” the film version of the second book in Meyer’s four-book “Twilight” saga.
“Twilight” had significant woman power behind the camera: Not only was the book written by a woman, it was adapted by a female screenwriter: Melissa Rosenberg, who penned the previous Summit film “Step Up” and is a writer on the TV series “Dexter.” And Hardwicke, whose previous credits include “Thirteen” and “Lords of Dogtown,” helmed the project.
The Associated Press reported that women and girls made up more than 75 percent of the film’s opening-weekend audience, according to Fandango.com. In interviews at the “Twilight” press junket in Los Angeles, Hardwicke told reporters that Summit’s sole focus was in drawing in the core audience of women and girls:
“The studio did not care if boys liked the movie. They said, ‘We don’t care, we’re not giving you any more money.’ I had these elaborate storyboards, I had a lot more in the baseball sequence, and they said ‘We just care about the core audience. We’re not trying to reach out.’”
Clearly, the company was savvy enough (or perhaps just cheap enough) to put its faith in the female audience to draw in the numbers.
With good reason: Women film-goers spent much of 2008 proving just how much their worth. Before “Twilight,” the movie version of “Sex and the City” was the biggest chick flick on record, bowing on May 30 and making $55.7 million its opening weekend. It has made more than $152 million so far, putting it at No. 9 on www.the-numbers.com’s list of top-grossing movies of the year.
In the No. 10 spot is another woman-driven blockbuster: the film version of the ABBA musical “Mamma Mia!” Starring Meryl Streep, Julie Walters and Christine Baranski, it has made more than $143 million at the box office so far. The film was directed by Phyllida Lloyd, who directed the stage version, and written by Catherine Johnson, who penned the book for the musical.
Last month, “Mamma Mia!” became the fastest-selling DVD of all time in the U.K., sinking the 10-year-old record held by “Titanic.” “Mamma Mia!” sold just short of 1.7 million units in its first day on sale, compared to 1.1 million units sold by “Titanic” on its first day in 1998, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
The film’s worldwide box-office take is in the neighborhood of $600 million, according to the Los Angeles Times, which earlier this month talked to Streep about the success of the film.
She told the L.A. Times that women executives and producers championed “Mamma Mia!” and “The Devil Wears Prada,” the 2006 women-driven hit that earned Streep an Oscar nomination.
“Donna Langley (president of production) was our champion at Universal for ‘Mamma Mia!’ Nobody wanted to make that,” Streep told the L.A. Times. “The smart guys banked on ‘Hellboy’ to carry them throughout the year. The ‘Mama Mia!’ wagon is pulling all those movies that didn’t have any problem getting made.
She added, “Our budget would have fit in the props budget of ‘Hellboy,’” referring to this year’s sequel “Hellboy II: The Golden Army.”
This financial success also comes in the same year that writer-director Courtney Hunt’s “Frozen River” — a movie about women made by women — won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and has been honored by the National Board of Review, New York Film Critics Circle, and has been nominated for several Independent Spirit Awards.
Still, it’s difficult to tell whether Hollywood has really learned the power of women audiences and female filmmakers, even in light of all this evidence. The acclaim for “Frozen River” and the quick green light for “Twilight” sequel “New Moon” are encouraging.
At the same time, Summit Entertainment and Hardwicke jointly announced this week that Hardwicke won’t be directing “New Moon.” According to the news release, “Summit’s targeted end of 2009 or early 2010 release of the film, ‘New Moon,’ does not work with Ms. Hardwicke’s required prep time to bring her vision of the film to the big screen. Thus as has been done before with many successful film franchises, the studio will employ a new director for ‘New Moon.’”
According to The Hollywood Reporter, creative differences may also have played a role. And, Summit’s second choice for “New Moon” director isn’t a woman. The trade publication reported Friday that Summit is in negotiations with Chris Weitz (“American Pie,” “The Golden Compass”), who has never helmed a “girl-oriented project,” to direct the sequel.