Marvel Studios, Warner Bros, Disney, Paramount Pictures
At the start of 2020, five of the year’s most-anticipated films — “Birds of Prey,” “Mulan,” “Black Widow,” “Wonder Woman 1984,” and “The Eternals” — all starred female leads and were directed by women.
For the first time, fans were seeing multiple female-led superhero movies come to theaters in the same year.
Then the coronavirus pandemic happened, resulting in delays and a jam-packed fall schedule that will leave films competing against one another for box-office dollars.
Even when theaters eventually reopen, will these movies even perform in the way they would have pre-pandemic? Industry experts predict the box office will have its worst performance since 1998.
Even in a year where female-led films will most likely still dominate the box office, they’ll still lose.
Before the world health crisis, women were going to rule Hollywood and the box office in 2020.
After a record-setting year at the box office in 2019 led by “Avengers: Endgame,” the “Lion King” remake, “Frozen 2,” and a “Spider-Man” sequel, the 2020 lineup of movies meant it was going to be a huge year for women on screen.
Five of Fandango’s most anticipated movies for 2020 were either films from female directors or centered around female characters. The three most anticipated horror movies (“A Quiet Place Part II,” “Halloween Kills,” and “The Invisible Man”) all starred leading ladies.
Fox, WB, Universal, Paramount Pictures, Disney, Fox, Marvel Studios, WB, Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney, Universal. Composite by Kirsten Acuna/Insider
For the first time, fans were going to see multiple female-led superhero movies come to the box office in the same year that didn’t just star women. They were also directed by women.
Viewers were finally getting a sequel to 2017’s “Wonder Woman,” one of the best films in the DC extended universe. Maisie Williams was set to star in Fox’s long-delayed “New Mutants.” After more than a decade, Black Widow was getting her own long overdue solo movie, which was set to kick off the summer slate of movies.
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney
And it wasn’t just superhero movies.
“Mulan,” a remake of 1998’s Disney animated movie of the same name, was poised to be one of the highest-grossing movies of the year. Insider screened the Niki Caro-directed film at its premiere March 9. While we can’t say much about it yet, it’s Disney’s best remake to date. Original co-director Tony Bancroft, who was a big fan of the remake, told Insider after the premiere that it was going to be a big win for the studio.
After her role in “Mary Poppins Returns,” Emily Blunt was set to star in both “A Quiet Place Part II” and “Jungle Cruise.”
Even the male-centric world of “Fast and Furious” was going to bring back Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Nathalie Emmanuel, Helen Mirren, and Charlize Theron front and center for Memorial Day weekend. Similarly, MGM’s Bond movie, “No Time to Die,” made it a point to transform and modernize what it means to be a Bond woman in the age of #MeToo. According to The Hollywood Reporter, “Fleabag” creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge was brought on to help bring a female perspective to the script.
There were at least 20 movies coming to theaters which either starred a woman in a leading role, was directed by a woman, or both in 2020.
And then the coronavirus pandemic happened.
Now, movies are pushed back and some are delayed until next year
“No Time to Die” was the first film to move to a new spot on November 25. “Mulan” is currently set for a July 24 debut at theaters. “Wonder Woman 1984” is slated to release three weeks later on August 14.
Meanwhile, the entire Marvel Studios’ calendar has shifted. “Black Widow” is taking the “Eternals” release slot on November 6. The latter film will no longer debut this year. It’s now set for a February 12, 2021 release.
“A Quiet Place Part II” was pushed back until September 4 though the billboards around Los Angeles, California, frozen in time, will tell you it already premiered. “Jungle Cruise,” a Disney film starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Emily Blunt based on the theme park attraction, was pushed back to next summer.
The highly-anticipated “F9” moved back a year to April 2, 2021, subsequently pushing back the release of “Fast 10.” There is no release date for “New Mutants.”
Why this blow hurts: It took years to get so many female-led movies to screen with female writers and directors, and now many of these movies will be released within a few weeks of one another
Clay Enos/ ™ & © DC Comics
Women accounted for 12% of directors of the top 100-grossing movies of 2019, according to a study from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film on the employment of women in the Top 100, 250, and 500 films of 2019. That number is up from 8% in 2017. According to the same study, women accounted for 20% of all writers in the top 100 films of 2019. In 2010 and 2017, that number was 10%.
When it comes to women in lead roles, a 2020 USC Annenberg study on inequality across gender and race found that 43 of the 100 highest-grossing movies of 2019 featured a female lead or co-lead. That’s a 13-year high. Only 20 of the 100 top movies from 2007 featured a female lead or co-lead.
Why did it take so long to see an increase in female-led films both in front of and behind the camera?
Well, in part, it took years to justify why female-led films and female-led superhero movies were bankable in Hollywood after flops like “Catwoman” (2004) and “Elektra” (2005).
Studios couldn’t seem to fathom that audiences wanted something beyond the male gaze of popular female characters under a thinly-veiled plot. (“Catwoman” is literally about Halle Berry’s character saving the world from a dangerous face cream at an evil cosmetics company. It’s also filled with a lot of terrible cat puns.)
It wasn’t until the success of Kristen Stewart’s “Twilight” series (2008-2012) and the Jennifer Lawrence-led “Hunger Games” franchise (2012-2015), that action films with female leads were seen as a hot commodity. But instead of an influx of female superhero films, Hollywood searched for the next big YA film adaptation, which didn’t always pan out (“The Mortal Instruments,” “The Giver,” and “Beautiful Creatures” are among the many attempts of book-to-screen.)
In 2013, it still seemed a far-fetched idea to give female characters like Wonder Woman a solo movie. Gal Gadot’s debut as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman’s wasn’t in the 2017 film. It was a scene-stealing cameo in 2016’s “Batman v. Superman.”
In his book, “The Ride of a Lifetime,” then-Disney CEO Bob Iger, said he had faced roadblocks from Marvel Comics in getting both “Black Panther” and “Captain Marvel” to screen. In the book, Iger recalled someone from the Marvel team in New York telling him that “female superheroes never drive big box office.”
Fast forward and “Wonder Woman” succeeded in 2017 grossing over $821 million worldwide. 2018’s “Captain Marvel” exceeded expectations with a massive opening weekend and again by crossing $1 billion at the box office. For the first time, five of 2020’s superhero movies were to be headlined by multiple women, not men.
These films will now be forced to open within a packed schedule and compete with each other
Movies that were set to be sprawled out across an entire year will, in many cases, be released within a few weeks of one another and their box-office opportunity will shrink along with it. Many of these movies won’t only be competing against each other, but will be competing for eyeballs and money against other new releases that were already set for the fall and for next year.
Assuming the current release schedule remains the same, there’s only one week between the release of Christopher Nolan’s next event film “Tenet” and Disney’s “Mulan” remake. Three weeks later, “Wonder Woman 1984” will be in theaters. Another three weeks later, we get “A Quiet Place Part II.” “Black Widow” will compete with WB’s “Godzilla” sequel two weeks after its release November 6.
Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Bros., Jasin Boland/Disney
There are at least 21 movies set to debut in the last two months of the year. In addition to pushed back films, big releases include “West Side Story,” “Dune,” “Godzilla Vs. Kong,” and the sequels to “Top Gun” and “Coming to America.” Any way you slice it, the fall — and November and December, especially — are going to be very crowded, tough months at the box office for any film to really stand out.
And that’s assuming that theaters will be reopening by then.
When theaters do eventually reopen, these female-led films will face a different uphill climb as well. Will these movies even perform in the way they would have pre-pandemic? Industry experts predict this year’s box office will have its worst year since 1998.
Even in a year where female-led films will most likely still dominate the box office, they’ll still lose
When the theaters do reopen, there are so many questions that could affect the success of movies. Will audiences even want to go to theaters and sit among strangers? Will they have the funds available? Will theaters be able to hold the same size crowds as before or will they limit the number of people, resulting in fewer box-office dollars?
In China, theaters started reopening before they were closed up again in late March. In the US, theater executives and owners are desperate to reopen and are struggling to figure out how to convince people to sit in the same room as strangers again. That’s assuming they’re allowed to reopen with CDC and government mandates.
At least so far, movie studios still intend to release “Mulan,” “Black Widow,” “A Quiet Place Part II,” and “Wonder Woman 1984,” four of Fandango’s most-anticipated films of 2020. Those four may very well wind up among 2020’s highest-grossing films. But the harsh reality is the worldwide grosses may be lower than expected because of varying social distance practices across the world and the way theaters operate upon re-opening.
Even in a year where women will likely wind up dominating Hollywood, they’ll get the short end of the stick.
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