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Are There Any Bankable Actresses in Hollywood?

March 11th, 2008 2:30pm EDT
Halle Berry in Things We Lost In The FireNot too long ago Warner Bros. president of production, Jeff Robinov, stated, "We are no longer doing movies with women in the lead." Apparently, Robinov won't even look at a script with a female lead. Is this man spewing forth misogynistic quackery, or is he, as a businessman, simply stating the obvious - that women no longer come with built-in audiences, opening weekend numbers, and box office success?

Ticking off the names of guaranteed male money makers is easy: Will Smith, Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell, Tom Cruise, Bruce Willis, Jim Carrey, and even behind-the-camera comedy scribe Judd Apatow can all be considered reliable box office draws.

When contemplating the females, the names of several women easily come to mind: Jennifer Aniston, Cameron Diaz, Halle Berry, Nicole Kidman, Angelina Jolie, Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman, Reese Witherspoon, and Cate Blanchett - but none of these women have starred in hits within the past year. Most rarely, if ever, deliver box office gold.

Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie, inextricably linked by a common bleach blond mate, are also connected by their Teflon actress existence, constantly starring in films that fail to earn money. Aniston's last efforts, "Derailed", "Rumor Has It", and "Friends With Money" all underperformed. She broke that streak, however, with "The Break-Up," which amassed 38 million dollars in its 2006 opening weekend, perhaps fueled by her off- and on-screen partner Vince Vaughn.

Jennifer Aniston in The Break-Up

Jolie's past few films "A Mighty Heart", "The Good Shepard", "Alexander" and "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow" failed to fuel audience interest as well. Besides her borderline voyeuristic romp with Brad Pitt in "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" her movie star appeal has more to do with her otherworldly beauty and "dare you to look" disposition, rather than cinematic success. And really, isn't the sign of a good movie star a star who draws people into the theaters?

Angelina Jolie in A Mighty Heart

For some time Reese Witherspoon could do no wrong, but recently, she's been nothing but wrong. "Legally Blonde 2", "Just Like Heaven", "Penelope" and "Rendition" - all saw anemic box office returns.

Reese Witherspoon in Just Like Heaven

Halle Berry has fared the worst, however, with Razzie worthy bombs in her repertoire including the infamous "Catwoman", plus "Perfect Stranger" and "Things We Lost in the Fire."

Halle Berry in Perfect Stranger

Poor Nicole Kidman, once a glittering emblem of post-Tom Cruise triumph, swinging and singing like a pro in "Moulin Rouge" and winning an Oscar for "The Hours" now she finds herself straddling a broom in "Bewitched" and blithely facing aliens in the bomb, "The Invasion."

Nicole Kidman in The Invasion

The common denominator in most of these failures stems from a dilemma women face at the box-office: their gender doesn't position them to open blockbuster action movies, and no woman has propelled herself to the dumb/funny realms of a Stiller, Ferrell, Sandler, or Myers, who open big with young audiences and both sexes. Women are still pigeonholed into their "chick flick" genres, and finding a gem like "When Harry Met Sally" is difficult when there are so many "Fool's Golds" and "Miss Congeniality 2s". Women seem to fare the best when the scripts are stereotype free and the women are allowed to be more than eye or arm candy.

Good luck trying to find that in Hollywood, however. Men still produce most of the movies and write most of the scripts. That doesn't always mean one-dimensional characters, however. Kate Winslet and Cate Blanchet have remained steady box office draws with their spot-on characterizations of women full of wit, power, humor, and self-expression.

The story of 2008 happened to revolve around a smart character named "Juno" who didn't sing cute songs, receive a makeover, or rule because she was a "mean girl." She was just a witty, independent, fun teenage girl who actually resembled a human being, not a pre-pubescent blow up doll. The sensation that was Diablo Cody also reminded Hollywood that women write women well and can also trump the boys at the box office (take that Clooney). Speaking of "Mean Girls," please remember who penned that hit; the woman gracing the cover of April's "Vanity Fair", Tina Fey. Women can even do sports movies, such as "Bend It Like Beckham," written by Gurinder Chadha.

In a post-Julia Roberts world, cinema is searching for its next matinee idol-ess. While these high-profile actresses are in demand, and have front page-worthy personal lives, their box office records remain shaky at best. The question is, will there ever be a female who can guarantee an audience, or is Jeff Robinov simply reiterating what we as moviegoers prove time and time again - we're not willing to pay money for hollow characters and sub par scripts. So Hollywood, give us what we want, and maybe number crunching execs and audiences alike will cheer.

Story by Tiffany Bagster
Starpulse contributing writer