2020, I think I’m safe in saying, has collectively been the weirdest year of our lives. And not just here in the United States, but all over the world. Here in the U.S., however, we’ve experienced a decade’s worth of historical events in the first half of the year alone: a presidential impeachment trial, almost going to war with Iran, losing Kobe and Gigi, Harvey Weinstein found guilty, the coronavirus pandemic, social lives unfolding over Zoom, disastrous voting experiences in a number of states, the worst economy since the Great Depression, the Pentagon casually releasing previously classified UFO tapes, and now massive and ongoing peaceful protests against police brutality. It’s been a lot. Not all of it bad. Much of it necessary. Still: a lot.
The hardest part is that so much of it has unfolded during a time in which we haven’t been able to gather together as we normally would thanks to necessary social-distancing protocols. That includes not being able to escape into the cathartic, communal experience of watching movies together in a theater.
But slowly, it appears that the country is reopening and returning to…well, if not normal, then whatever passes for normal in this weirdest of years. Still, theaters have a long road ahead of themselves to get back to fully normal, as does the entertainment industry at large. Much of that hinges upon how soon theaters will reopen, and, more importantly, whether or not moviegoers will feel comfortable returning to theaters once they do. It also depends upon what movies will be available in theaters once they do reopen. Repertory films and indie movies are valuable and vital, but they’re not going to bring audiences back in droves. Only tentpoles can do that.
It’s exactly why women are gonna save Hollywood. Specifically, fictional women.
In a survey we conducted of over 1,500 Atom Tickets users, female-fronted movies led the pack of the movies people were most excited to see once theaters reopen. And it wasn’t even close. Consider the following breakdowns of the top five films our survey respondents are most excited to see in the second half of 2020. First, the coveted 18-44 age range, i.e. millennials and Gen Zers starting on the path to independence – you know, the groups who spend the most money and go to the movies most often.
- Black Widow
- Wonder Woman 1984
- A Quiet Place Part II
- No Time to Die
But the younger Gen Z audience was equally interested in female-led movies. And kids largely dictate what their parents see.
Under 18 years:
- Black Widow
- Wonder Woman 1985
- No Time To Die
- (3-way tie) Pixar’s Soul/Tom & Jerry/The SpongeBob Movie
No matter how you slice it, it’s three woman-fronted films that the majority of moviegoers are most looking forward to when theaters reopen. It’s also worth noting that on average between those two age groups, well over half of moviegoers want to see each of those three movies. Roughly 65% of people surveyed up to age 54 want to see Black Widow; a whopping 71% of the <18 crowd wants to see Mulan.
That’s important. It shows that audiences aren’t just picking the best choice out of an unexciting spread of movies, but are genuinely excited to see and are invested in the movies coming out. And they’re most excited to see women leading on screen.
It’s not a surprise. Two of the top 3 movies are from Marvel and Disney, two studio brands that are all but bulletproof. The third is currently the strongest individual franchise brand in Warner Bros.’ DCEU. As for A Quiet Place Part II, the first movie was a smash hit and audiences are eager to see what happens to the Abbott family, now led by Evelyn. But lead actress Emily Blunt is also forging a reputation for her on-screen work that draws audiences to theaters solely for her alone.
Beyond brand recognition, however, there’s also the growing sense that audiences are just tired of seeing the same stories and faces on screen. They’re ready for diverse casts and inclusive stories to be the norm. They’re ready for women to lead, to dominate our screens the way men do. And moviegoers have felt this way for a while. Multiple studies have shown female-led movies have well outperformed male-led movies for years. Clearly, audiences are on board and have been on board with seeing more women of all kinds in movies. It’s just that Hollywood is finally catching up.
This year and beyond bode well for movie fans. From July on, at least one major wide-release led by a woman is hitting theaters every month:
- July – Mulan
- August – Wonder Woman 1984, Antebellum
- September – A Quiet Place Part II, Monster Hunter
- October – The Witches, Halloween Kills
- November – Black Widow
- December – West Side Story
Is it enough? No. Not nearly enough. But that list is led by a diverse array of women – Black, Chinese, Jewish, white, Latina, and older age range, each fronting a movie that will almost certainly be a huge hit or that has the potential to be one. That matters. It’s not that audiences aren’t also looking forward to the male-led movies, but those male-led movies, many of which are leaning into the nostalgia of franchises past, are not the films driving audience anticipation. It’s the women, whose movies by and large either offer a fresh take on an old story or who look to the future with something completely new.
I can’t help but feel that what moviegoers want to see coming out on the other side of this shutdown is a reflection of the larger movement happening in our country right now. With the tumult of the year exposing the inherent weaknesses of so many systems and the respectful but intense nature of the mass protests, it’s clear that most are no longer content to support the status quo in our country. And that extends to movies, to the stories being told about our world.
If we get one thing out of this interrupted year at the movies, hopefully, it’s that Hollywood needs to put an increased focus on telling the diverse and powerful stories of women. The world is more than ready.