Is 40 Box Office Poison for Women in Hollywood?
Power in Hollywood is defined by the ability to get a green light and bring in big bucks. And at the moment Angelina Jolie is powerful. She's also 33. Would things have been different if she were 43, or would she garner the same level of respect and results? All things considered, the question must be asked: do women over 40 have power in Hollywood?
Capitalism would seem to be genderless. Money doesn't care if you are a man or a woman. Studios only look at the bottom line, not if the bottom is male or female. Or do they? If power in Hollywood is expressed by who can get a movie made, how much that star will be paid and how much said star can bring into the box office, then gender shouldn't matter.
Fifty-one-year-old Michelle Pfeiffer is a household name, but her box office scores reveal a rather harsh reality. For every "Hairspray" or "What Lies Beneath," which both topped $100 million at the box office, there is a "Stardust" ($38 million) or "To Gillian on her 37th Birthday" ($4.14 million). To be fair, "Dangerous Minds" made $84.9 million and opened on her name alone. Of course, that was in 1995 - 13 years ago.
Pfeiffer's male equivalent at the box office could be be Russell Crowe, 44, who has had a similar career path. "Gladiator" pulled in $188 million, whereas 2007 film "A Good Year" barely made $7.5 million, and both were from director Ridley Scott. Crowe fared better with 3:10 To Yuma ($53 million) later that year. In an industry where you're only as good as your last opening weekend, how can power be defined solely on the basis of money?
The power of greenlight is given to producers and studio heads and bestowed upon lucky directors and actors deemed worthy and bankable. The script and the pitch is where the beginnings of power really develop. Add to that a well-known star and you have a potent mix. So why does that mean someone as talented as Annette Bening (who turned 50 in May) can star in Oscar nominated roles but cannot carry a movie on her name alone?
"The Women" is set to open on September 12 with an all-star cast of Hollywood's elite female actors, including Benning. Any one of these female stars on their own may not have the star power to open a movie, but together producer Victoria Pearman and director Diane English are hoping they will. Meg Ryan (who is 46) had a huge following in the late 80s and into the 90s, but the turn of the century was not kind to her. Rumors of infidelity and plastic surgery left America longing for the sweetheart they grew to love in hits like "When Harry Met Sally" and "Sleepless In Seattle." Are audiences ready to embrace Ryan in this new film featuring her as a victim of adultery?
Ryan is joined by Jada Pinkett-Smith (a spry 37 year old), who took on Will Smith's name as a part of hers after their marriage. His name has proven to be worth its weight in gold. Mr. Smith, 39, has starred in an amazing 12 movies that grossed over $100 million. "I Am Legend" made $77.2 million in the opening weekend alone with his name riding solo above the title. Only Angelina Jolie has been able to duplicate that kind of success as a stand-alone female name above the title with "Tomb Raider" coming in at $131 million, and only with an action film. This power was also marked by the "Wanted" ad campaign that brought in over $100 million at the box office and was based around Jolie. But even Angelina is not immune to low profits after starring in a drama called "A Mighty Heart," which garnered her an Oscar nod and not much more than $9 million at the box office.
Genre alone cannot be the answer. In 1996 then 40-year-old Geena Davis tried with an action film called "The Long Kiss Goodnight" and was met with mix reviews and only $33.3 million at the box office. And no one will let her forget about "Cutthroat Island" and how its abysmal failure almost killed a genre the way "Can't Stop The Music" killed disco, thus making "Pirates of the Caribbean" an unlikely hit.
Luckily, anything can and does happen in Hollywood, and the rules about women over 40 are no exception. Apparently, if women travel in packs or use a springboard their chances of box office success increases exponentially. "Sex In the City: The Movie," ($152 million) "Mama Mia!" ($136 million) and "The Devil Wears Prada" ($124 million) were all based on previous works, and both "Sex" and "Mama" had the advantage of casting several over 40 women in major roles. Pair that with either younger cast members or sexy leading men, and they have proven to be box office gold.
Four days before "Sex and the City" was set to bow, Picture House, the production house responsible for "The Women," folded and was threatening to reduce "The Women's" September opening to a no frills, paltry 200 screens. That is until "Sex" raked in $56.8 million during its opening weekend. Now with a glitzy premiere and a nearly 3000 screen showing, "The Women" hopes to replicate Carrie Bradshaw's brand of success.
If "The Women" does well it may prove to be the biggest boost to women over 40 Hollywood has ever seen. If it tanks, women of a certain age might find their power diminished the next time an all-star, all female cast script gets pitched. Perhaps that will change when a certain A-list female turns 40 in seven years.
Story by Erin MacMillan-Ramirez
Starpulse contributing writer
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