Why ‘feminist’ films flop

No, misogyny is not to blame for the box-office woes of the new Charlie’s Angels film.

Maren Thom

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The new film reboot of the Charlie’s Angels franchise will be released in the UK next week. It is written, directed and produced by Elizabeth Banks, who also stars in it as the wisecracking Bosley. Maybe she did the catering, too.

Banks is a genuinely funny actor, and the Pitch Perfect movies she produced are highly enjoyable. But I was not excited to see Charlie’s Angels, and that seems to reflect the wider sentiment: the film bombed at the US box office. It cost $48million to make but only brought in $8.6million on its opening weekend.

There are several competing theories as to why this has happened. Some cite the film’s lack of star power. Others point to a ‘reboot fatigue’ among cinemagoers. Some of the more feminist reviewers have aired their disappointment that, while the film is a more feminist take on Charlie’s Angels, it doesn’t do enough to shake the ‘jiggle television’ of the original show and the two early 2000s films.

But the main factor here seems to be a lack of public interest in ‘feminist’ remakes. Recent films like Charlie’s Angels, Ocean’s 8 and Ghostbusters, all sold purely off the back of their female-led cast and (in some cases) female-led crew, failed to attract an audience. And some have inevitably claimed this is because we live in an inherently misogynistic society.

Indeed Banks had this excuse lined up before her film was even released. ‘If this movie doesn’t make money, it reinforces a stereotype in Hollywood that men don’t go see women do action movies’, she said in an interview. She even had an answer for why Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel, which both have female lead characters, were major hits:

‘[Men will] go and see a comic-book movie… because that’s a male genre. So even though those are movies about women, they put them in the context of feeding the larger comic-book world. Yes, you’re watching a Wonder Woman movie, but we’re setting up three other characters or we’re setting up Justice League.’

Whether or not men are as simpleminded as Banks suggests, her explanation doesn’t account for why her film’s target audience – young, empowered women – have also stayed away from the cinema.

The more mundane truth here is that the whole concept of this feminist Charlie’s Angels reboot is fundamentally flawed. It wants to keep the silliness of the original TV show and be a modern high-tech spy thriller, and it wants to make feminist points along the way. Inevitably, the po-faced feminism of the film sucks the life out of the silliness and the thrills.

The 2000s Charlie’s Angels movies worked because the stars – Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu – made fun of themselves. They knew they were playing ludicrous characters and embraced this. The new Angels, by contrast, are humourless and woke – adept at lecturing, sneering and putting down unreconstructed men. And no one – male or female – wants to be condescended to during their afternoon out at the cinema.

This points to an underlying problem with today’s feminist identity politics. It tries to understand social relations almost solely through the prism of gender relations. And when this theoretical model oversteps its boundaries and starts to inform how culture is made, it creates untruthful, uninvolving and banal art.

The feminist call for more female representation in cinema has created a genre of what could be called the ‘female-voice’ film. The same could be said for films which are said to give ‘voice’ to racial and sexual minorities. To translate from the cultural-studies jargon, ‘voice’ here refers to films in which a particular identity group is front and centre. They star in these films and usually take a larger share of the writing, directing and production credits. These films are supposedly informed by the experiences of these identity groups, in contrast to all other films which, by default, are said to reflect a ‘white’, ‘male’ and ‘heteronormative’ experience.

In this schema, individuals are reduced to an identity – one based not on their totality, but on only a small part of who they are. This inevitably makes for shallow, two-dimensional films, in which identity, rather than busting ghosts or carrying out heists, drives the plot and motivates the characters. Reducing people to identities turns fictional characters into unrelatable caricatures.

Even films like the all-female Ghostbusters reboot – in which the individual performances are human, engaging and often hilarious – are in the end nullified by this reductionist framework. These films also tend to feature lots of clunking expositional dialogue, which expresses the filmmaker’s agenda rather than the characters’ inner life. People instantly recognise this as bad storytelling.

This is why people stay away from films that pander to ‘voices’, and why so many men and women do not enjoy self-consciously ‘female’ films. They present diminished caricatures of women, men and human relations, which people experience as untrue. Ideological point-scoring makes for terrible cinema.

Maren Thom is a writer based in London.

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Comments

zack smith

7th December 2019 at 11:12 am

Oh can we do something about looney WOKE casting. There isn’t a costume drama that doesn’t cast a large number of on-white actors in inappropriate roles. It is a bizarre attempt to rewrite history. The reality is this country was 99% white till very recently.

This attempt to retcon history fails on another level. WOKE types are saying that non-white Britons are only legitimate if a fake past can be created for them. It is a racist trope, they are effectively saying that non-white people can only live here because they were always here.

zack smith

7th December 2019 at 11:09 am

The problem with WOKE films and TV shows, is they put WOKE first and entertainment second. They double down on this by attacking male fans as sexists who need to be reeducated. The most bizarre example of this is Doctor Who. It is hard to think of a more harmless group of people than male Doctor Who fans. If you listened to what feminists said about them, you would think they were a bunch of wife beaters who stopped Hillary being elected.

Then the same feminists are shocked when male fans simply walk away and find something else. First rule of show business, don’t abuse your own audience.

David McAdam

3rd December 2019 at 11:33 am

It’s not only on cinema screens. My wife and I decided to endure the Heartland Netflix series about a young girl gifted with the talent to train and calm wayward horses. Nothing objectionable about this but throughout the episodes she was portrayed as being far more wiser than adults and more capable than animal vets and seasoned trainers. She also won everything she turned her hand to including a cattle round-up contest where with two teenage female companions beat three mature men who spent their entire life rounding up cattle. In short, the series could be summed up as female adequate, male inadequate. Anne with an E is another tiresomely feminist example of this contrast.

Frank Strong

30th November 2019 at 11:14 pm

The movies are full of women breaking men in half bish bash bosh smashing their bones and flipping them over. Even skinny petite women throwing men aside and whacking them down. And yet soon as somer bloke shoves a woman on the Bus or elbows a woman on the Tube there’s anti-man headlines shouting about male violence.

David Goldsmith

29th November 2019 at 6:24 pm

This is hardly a feminized film, like Oceans 8 or the Ghostbusters one, the original TV Charlie’s Angels was an ‘all-girl’ job with two support roles going to men, they’ve just swapped one of those parts to a woman’s role.

More importantly, the original TV show was a ground-breaking example of diversity casting: they insisted on a blonde, a brunette and a redhead.

Anne Ward

27th November 2019 at 8:53 am

There’s not one decent hard tight fist in the six hands in the photograph at the top of the article. Plenty of women do some form of martial arts and know how to make, and use, a fist, but not one of these charlies does.

Ven Oods

25th November 2019 at 11:50 pm

“And some have inevitably claimed this is because we live in an inherently misogynistic society.”

Surely, the smart money would be in making all-women movies aimed squarely at those misogynists. Or would that be selling-out?

Paul Robson

4th December 2019 at 7:12 pm

it’s not mysognistic, but I suspect the film audience on some films – Mama Mia, 50 Shades of Grey, most Romcoms. Some of them made a lot of money.

zack smith

7th December 2019 at 11:17 am

Sex sells, there is a reason for young attractive women have traditionally dominated in Hollywood. WOKE takes away sex and glamour. Men who find the latest starlet attractive must immediately report to the nearest metoo re-education camp.

The result is are bland fun free films, which prudes like Mary Whitehouse would have approved of.

Tommy Peters

25th November 2019 at 11:07 pm

Folks, an ideal ‘female voice’ is Colombiana where Zoe’s sexuality is rendered inert. It is serious storytelling of the imaginary female powerhouse women and men embrace, built at the expense of a real South American mafia. We await the sequel, but only when Beeson is back on his typewriter and Saldana is out of her gym. Meanwhile those hilarious lady-assassin attempts that emerge now and then, are tolerable.

Brian Coley

23rd November 2019 at 4:02 pm

This is a result of the #Metoo power grab by women for Hollywood power. Men get out of the way it’s time for women to dominate, so you men can just shut up and go away.

Now we have the results of this entertainment coup. With women’s writing, directing acting and marketing talents now front and centre, films, reboots and franchises are now tanking at the box office. The only time this has worked was Captain Marvel, and that was because that film was shoehorned into the most successful film franchise ever, and fans were lied to and told they had to see this film, to understand the conclusion of a cinematic universe of over twenty films.

All other attempts to genderswap or usurp successful male led franchises, have failed spectacularly.

It’s almost like men and women are NOT equal, equivalent or interchangeable, and when women stick their necks out, and have to rely on their own abilities, they fall flat on their arses!

Remember ladies, you did it to yourselves.

Mac Mac

25th November 2019 at 4:02 pm

“It’s almost like men and women are NOT equal, equivalent or interchangeable, and when women stick their necks out, and have to rely on their own abilities, they fall flat on their arses!”

Sounds about right to me.

Andrew-Paul Shakespeare

23rd November 2019 at 3:38 am

How can anybody persuade investors to fund a $48 million product without first ascertaining whether a market for that product exists? This is Business Management 101.

Jerome Hunter

23rd November 2019 at 1:48 pm

That would apply to every bomb at the box office.

Ven Oods

25th November 2019 at 11:56 pm

According to Wiiliam Goldman’s ‘Adventures in the Screen Trade’, nobody in movies has any idea what works. Which is why we have recycled dross like ‘Rocky 57’.

Stan Lepeak

22nd November 2019 at 9:12 pm

It bombed because it was a bad movie. As far as man bias, 99% of Charlie’s Angels fans are men. No woman I knew had a Charle’s Angels poster on their bedroom wall when I was in high school. That men don’t like women movies is a lame excuse.

Steve Anders

22nd November 2019 at 2:04 pm

Nailed it on the head.

It’s the replacement of good writing and storytelling with the “agenda” that makes these films dreadful. They don’t work even if you swap in male leads because the framework is broken. You haven’t taken the time to make compelling characters and situations, you’ve just hoped your “message” will get bums in seats.

Newsflash — it won’t.

Joseph Brown

22nd November 2019 at 1:35 pm

Just as with Ghostbusters feminism has become a useful tool with which to batter away any negative criticism from Charlie’s Angels. The same with the new, and quite terrible, Batwoman TV series. But the simple reality is they’re just poor slices of “entertainment”. Nothing more, nothing less.

That Banks had pulled out the misogyny card even before the film’s release speaks volumes about how little faith she had in her own movie to begin with.

Jim Lawrie

22nd November 2019 at 12:23 pm

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Rewriting someone’s else’s creation stuff does not alter the fact that you cannot come up with anything original yourself.

It is only in comic strips that stick thin, insect women ragdoll 14st men. Sporting blemish free, teenage complexions. 6 hours in makeup is no substitute for plot and dialogue.

When we pay to be entertained they expect to see something that we ourselves are not capable of. That is why we applaud skill at a football match and boo thuggery. The script of this film could have been done by a six year old.

The utter predictability of films like this means that the audience can finish the characters’ sentences for them.

Blaming the absent audience for your flop stems from an approach that is as fatal in show business as any other – looking down your nose at people. The Ratner effect.

If the criteria for a part is ethnicity, then ability and talent are automatically limited.

Lord Anubis

22nd November 2019 at 10:47 am

People go to the flicks to be entertained, not be subjected to a couple of hours of right on propaganda. It isn’t about misogyny. It is simply that the movies are boring.

Michael Lynch

22nd November 2019 at 12:04 pm

Spot on. I wouldn’t mind, but they’ve been teaching this principle in Film studies for decades. Hollywood is in the business of making money and not in the promotion of ideology or art. I love sci fi for example and have watched, and loved, some pretty dire ‘B’ movies in my time, but fell fast asleep during a performance of Ad Astra. My wife was shocked as it’s usually her that nods off. It was endless close ups of Brad Pitt’s mug and improbable scenarios. Including a scene of him jumping up through the flames of a rocket exhaust to get on board! The whole film was a vehicle to promote the main character’s inner struggle about his relationship with his Father. It was an emotional study, a sci-fi film made for chicks and it was appalling. Only the greats can get away with artfulness and character studies like this. The likes of Lean, Kubrick, Cameron and Spielberg for example. With regards to the Alien franchise, it worked brilliantly for the first two simply because they explored the natural tensions that exist between men and women in the workplace. This rang true and the audience totally bought into the films as a consequence. However, it all went off track, and rather silly, with Alien 3 when they started to push the ‘women create their own monsters’ theme. Presumably, the monsters were a metaphor for men! Don’t lecture the audience is fundamental to the success of a film. This applies equally to all forms of art.

Ed Turnbull

22nd November 2019 at 9:55 am

It’s fairly obvious why overtly feminist films flop: they’re shite. Po-faced lecturing has primacy over actual storytelling. This kind of film will win no converts to the cause (no one will have walked out of the Ghostbusters reboot thinking “Wow! Now I’m a feminist”), it’ll only garner the approval of those who’ve already imbibed the Kool Aid.

Several folk have mentioned the character of Ripley as a fine example of a strong female character, without the Alien films needing to resort to preachiness. And yes, I won’t disagree, I’d simply say that if you look at some of James Cameron’s other output you find similar strong female characters: Sarah Connor (Terminator franchise), Lynsey (The Abyss), Rose (Titanic), and even the female Na’vi (name escapes me for the moment) in Avatar. Maybe Cameron’s the greatest feminist film maker (certainly the most financially successful) since the dawn of cinema. Just a thought.

Michael Lynch

22nd November 2019 at 9:21 am

Hollywood has been going South for years. Too much competition from the Internet and the Computer Games world. Their target audience was teenage boys for decades and now these have gone they have started to target the female audience. It doesn’t appear to be working for them though. However, with the way our Police are going they need not worry. It’ll probably be deemed a thought crime if men fail to attend a film with a female lead in future.

Philip Humphrey

22nd November 2019 at 9:05 am

I think this is merely a symptom of a much bigger problem with film and the arts generally. Listen to any BBC arts or film programme, and what becomes clear after a while is that they are totally obsessed with the politics of identity (sex, race, sexuality etc.) to the exclusion of all else. And you can see it in much of the output of new films. If you look at the world through such a narrow prism, it’s hardly surprising you have little of interest or relevance to say and little to stir the imagination of others. “Feminist” films are an example of that, but the problem of lack of imagination and lack of creativity is much broader than that.

steve moxon

28th November 2019 at 9:09 am

Yes, BBC drama is now unwatchable. If the Boob makes stuff that does not reflect life and ham-fistedly pushes a totalitarian, anti-scientific, outdated, malicious pile of political hooey, then it will continue to lose audience.
High Grant got it right in that film where he plays a screenplay writer on hard times, and complains that the last thing the world needs is a film with a ‘kick-ass’ female lead, and films without such would be a welcome novelty.

Geoff Cox

22nd November 2019 at 8:37 am

What I don’t understand is why or how feminists think that moving on to male turf and going toe to toe with men is going to do them any good? Females will lose that battle everytime. From comic book stuff to sports – these are males worlds where strength and size matter and everyone knows it.

Films like Kickass 1 were good (though most of our heroine’s action shots were actually performed by a man) but it’s time we stopped indulging all these remakes with women shoehorned in to a man’s role. James Bond is ridiculous enough, but when a woman Bond is substituted, suspension of disbelief will really be working overtime. Boycott the female Bond films if they ever come out.

H McLean

22nd November 2019 at 8:16 am

In the film Wonder Woman, when Diana (the title character) saw the terrible suffering of men on the front lines of World War One, she was horrified and full of empathy for them. It made her a sympathetic character, and, surprise surprise, the polar opposite from the sneering contempt that feminist commentary typically directs at men.

Cinema history is dotted with female leads who were strong, heroic, and inspirational without resorting to preaching or crow-barring reductive ideology into the story line. The archetype that is Ellen Riply from the Alien films – particularly Aliens from 1986 – is the gold standard when it comes to combining first class story-telling with fantastic, well-written female leads. Riply is not a male character written as a female, her vulnerabilities and determination in the face of stark terror make her a much-loved and enduring heroine. This feminist-inspired guff just doesn’t compare.

Elizabeth Banks’ cringey excuses really are a disgrace and on this showing she should not be allowed to direct another studio film. Feminism really is cancer – it ruins everything.

Lord Anubis

22nd November 2019 at 12:46 pm

Re Riply, Uma Thurmans “The Bride” in the Kill Bill movies was much the same. There was a combination of vulnerability and strength and determination against apparently overwhelming odds that gave her character a similar appeal.

The Bride was eventually victorious in her quest, but it wasn’t easy, on several occasions she was beaten badly (To the extent that one might have wondered whether the movie might end up with a fatal twist to the tale) before achieving her final objective.

It is perfectly possible to have a Movie with a strong female lead without it becoming a tedious right-on preach-fest.

Dominic Straiton

22nd November 2019 at 8:05 am

The original Charlies Angels was aimed at young men. The Original ghost busters was a war film where a platoon saved the world. Hollywood had been making super hero films since it started,they were called Westerns. These are basic human stories that go back into the mists of time. An audience can see the ridiculousness of women with bird bones being badass beating up the once target audience. And bums on seats is, in the end the only thing that matters when your selling entertainment.30 years of social engineering has failed to change basic human instinct. What a surprise.

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