So, for the past well, forever, Hollywood and it’s counterparts have been operating under a few misconceptions (and probably will continue to do so. Oh well). The first of these is that media with females leads won’t make money because only women will watch it. The second of these is that women clearly don’t like action, space, or other typically “masculine” genres, so they don’t have to do anything at all to make women feel included in that environment. Wrong wrong wrong.
We all know that Hunger Games has made a ludicrous amount of money, and while Divergent may have been Hunger Game’s lackluster little sis, it still had the second-largest opening of the year at the time of its release. But I don’t want to talk about those today. I want to talk about Guardians of the Galaxy some more, and I also want to talk about Starz’s new series Outlander.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Guys, I know I have spoken ad nauseum about the problems I had with Gamora in GotG, but dang. I loved this movie, and I wasn’t the only one. According to BoxOfficeMojo, in addition to garnering 94.3 million during it’s opening weekend,
“Guardians of the Galaxy wound up having a ton of appeal with women: exit polling indicated that the audience was 44 percent female, which is the biggest share ever for a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie (the previous high was 40 percent for The Avengers). Meanwhile, the audience was 55 percent over the age of 25.”
It’s surprising a movie about a rag-tap group of space losers featuring a raccoon and a tree was ever made, let alone that it appealed to so many women. However, i09’s Charlie Jane Anders explains two aspects of the movie’s success that most likely made it appealing to such a large number of women.
First of all, Ander’s points out that it’s easy to appeal to men and women! The movie did so well with men between the ages of 17-34 and women, “Because they both want the same thing, more or less — fun adventures in which both the male and female characters are fully realized.” What a novel idea! Movies with solid, well-developed characters will appeal to men and women, because they appreciate fully realized nature of the characters and the solid narratives which those characters create.
While that probably got women to return to the movie for a second or third helping (I’m planning my 4th visit this weekend) it doesn’t quite explain how the movie got so many women into the theaters in the first place. And don’t give me the “They’re boyfriends took them” excuse. I’m sure men have been taking their girlfriends to Marvel movies for quite some time, but that alone doesn’t explain why GotG nabbed the highest percentage of ladies for a Marvel movie yet. Ander’s again has a solution to this, pointing out the marketing that focused primarily on cuteness and personality.
Between the talking raccoon and the walking tree and the sad-sack merc attitude of Peter Quill, the trailers for this movie were just full of personality and adorable, identifiable characters…The visuals were there in the trailers, but the personalities were front and center, and you wanted to know more about these ridiculous underdogs and just how many people Rocket Raccoon was going to get to shoot.
Rocket Raccoon did not shoot enough people, nor did he ever utter his catchphrase, “Blam, MURDERED YOU” but enough of his adorable (yet dark) personality came through the trailers to make us all (men and women) curious enough to see what happens next. Between the smart marketing and a movie with solid characters with real psychological problems, it’s no wonder that this goofy space epic appealed to so many people.
Men, women, and people who prefer not do identify in a sex binary like characters. Besides the dragons, why else would you watch something like Game of Thrones? You watch every week to see what Tyrion, Cersei, Jon Snow, Brandon, Sansa, and Arya will do next (sorry if I didn’t name your favorite character). Sure, the actions of these characters have greater significance in the world George R.R. Martin has created, but the foundation of the series is the great characters that Martin has given us.
And yes, women like Game of Thrones. In an article for Wired, writer Angela Watercutter provides us with this graph of Game of Thrones viewership based off of statistics provided by Nielsen statistics:
Would that statistic go up further if there was less female nudity in object in the series? Perhaps, but such high numbers of female viewership indicates that women are just as interested in gore, sex, and damn solid characters as the rest of the human race. The show is basically a soap-opera with weapons, dragons and nudity. Why wouldn’t that appeal to women?
Similarly, Guardians of the Galaxy capitalizes on our (men, women, and non-binary peeps) adoration of complex characters. Case in point: Groot.
It’s characters, not always genres (although genres are a useful tool) that appeal to humans. If you write a movie or show with a cast of well-written characters, and happen to have at least one prominent female character in the mix, women will watch it. They might just even enjoy the explosions too.
Conversely, Starz new series Outlander based on a series of books by Diana Galbadon (am I a bad feminist if I haven’t read these? Don’t answer that) has been dubbed “The Feminist Answer to Game of Thrones” by Buzzfeed writer Anne Helen Peterson, and still managed to win over an audience that was 45% male.
For any other people like myself who aren’t as familiar with Outlander as you should be, the eight book series follows 20th century nurse Claire Randall who time travels to 18th century Scotland and finds adventure and romance with the dashing James Fras. If someone had told me that premise would win Starz an aggregate total of 3.7 million viewers of the first episode, I might have said something rude (I did say something rude about the GotG announcement, but that’s neither here nor there).
Granted, Outlander already has a dedicated fan base. Over 25 millions copies of the books have sold worldwide. Divide that number by eight (making a gross assumption that everyone who bought one book bought all the book) and you get 3.125 million – a number that closely matches the 3.7 million viewers of the first tv episode. While that may explain the the high number of people watching a first episode of a Starz show (What other shows do they make? Serious question) it still doesn’t explain why so many men tuned in to watch a show with a female lead.
Oh wait. We already talked about this! People like good characters and strong narratives. While there is a lack of well-written self-actualized female characters on the large and small screens, it doesn’t mean that men won’t respond to those characters when they do see them.
Hunger Games wouldn’t have made so much money, so so much money, if men hadn’t enjoyed Katniss Everdeen just as much as women. Frozen wouldn’t have been such a success if the emotional turmoil of Anna and Elsa didn’t strike a chord with men in the way it did with many women. Just watch this video of Marines singing along to “Let it go”.
Together, the success of Guardians of the Galaxy and Outlander in bringing both sexes into their respective viewerships demonstrates that putting genres in gender categories and assuming that men won’t watch female leads are erroneous beliefs… assuming the product features well-developed characters of both sexes. There are some movies I still feel bad for making my husband watch (Aliens: Resurrection).