We’ve known for years that diversity is good business. It pays dividends to appeal to more than just one demographic. And some groups are so starved for decent content, if you make something halfway good targeted at the overlooked and underserved, you can earn a nice little profit. Make something actually good and you get Black Panther’s world-stomping success. This is not new information. We’ve been seeing movies made for women succeed at the box office for the better part of a decade and EVERY TIME there is the inevitable box office post mortem that amounts to: Who knew women liked movies, too?!
The latest success-autopsy is for Ocean’s 8, which opened with $41.5 million, taking the #1 spot at the box office, defeating Solo, and marking the biggest opening weekend in the Ocean’s franchise, not adjusted for inflation. This is shocking! A stylish and fun movie made about and for women, with an aggressive worldwide marketing campaign behind it, and starring some of the most popular and famous women in the world did well! How? What can possibly account for this surprise success? Is it some kind of blood magic? Does it…have something to do with their periods?
It shouldn’t be a surprise when a competently made movie with a studio marketing push does well, especially when that movie is targeted at an audience that likes going to movies yet is not equitably served by popular theatrical fare. The 2016 MPAA report found that 52% of all movie-goers are women. And yet, despite being 51% of the population and 52% of the theatrical audience, in the same year women had only 32% of speaking roles. Given these statistics, given actual data science that shows that women over-represent as an audience, why are we bothering poring over the reasons a movie like Ocean’s 8 is successful? We don’t question it when male-driven entertainment succeeds.
We know women make up the most significant audience at the movies, why be surprised when female-oriented projects do well? It’s more interesting to examine the misfires, like Ghostbusters, than ponder why something made specifically for the biggest audience succeeds. (Can’t wait for the post mortem on Crazy Rich Asians, wondering why a movie targeting a historically underrepresented yet enthusiastic audience—14% of ticket buyers—is successful.) We keep marveling that movies aimed at women do well, when we have years of research showing women are a driving force of the box office. Time to replace surprise with acceptance. Women like going to the movies, and good movies made for women are probably going to do well, more often than not, as a result (see also: the sleeper success of Book Club).
At some point, the repeated surprise starts to feel disingenuous. Like it’s a trap. Like they’re just waiting for us to slip up and mention and the blood sacrifice conducted under the harvest moon. Like the repeated success of female-oriented entertainment can have only one possible explanation: Witchcraft. And not, you know, that women are 51% of the population and like going to movies and also like seeing themselves as the hero.