As you probably heard, Charlie’s Angels bombed last weekend. Like seriously tanked. Franchise-killer flopped. Even with a sub-$100 million budget, an $8 million opening weekend is bad news. But, the movie is still rolling out overseas, including a premiere in London yesterday. I am always curious about press tours for movies that have just flopped. You have to keep selling, you’re supposed to keep putting a good face on it, hopefully entice a few more people to see it. But Elizabeth Banks, the writer-producer-director of Charlie’s Angels—and also one of its stars—had some choice words this week about why her movie failed. The interview is behind a paywall, but here’s the money quote:
“This movie has to make money. If this movie doesn’t make money it reinforces a stereotype in Hollywood that men don’t go see women do action movies. They’ll go and see a comic book movie with Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel 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, so it’s all about, yes, you’re watching a Wonder Woman movie but we’re setting up three other characters or we’re setting up Justice League.”
Of course, people are all up in arms over Banks suggesting that the only reason people go see Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel is because they’re part of a “male genre”. But look, she’s not wrong that being part of a larger, ongoing franchise helps. It’s name recognition, it’s increased visibility. In the case of Marvel, it’s audience trust in a certain level of quality—you know what you’re getting when you buy the ticket. But that’s certainly not the only reason people go to Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel. Both those movies attracted enthusiastic female audiences that are not brand-loyal to Marvel or DC. And in both cases, but especially in Captain Marvel’s case, both movies overcame particular resistance from (some) male fans.
And she’s not wrong that these movies have to make money to keep garnering support for female-led projects in Hollywood. Even in an ostensibly more woke industry, there is still a disconnect over women in action films. For instance, look at Atomic Blonde. That movie made $100 million, compared to John Wick’s $86 million. John Wick is considered a sleeper hit which has gone on to spawn a cinematic universe, complete with three sequels and an upcoming television show. Atomic Blonde has never announced a sequel. Or there is Angelina Jolie’s spy thriller Salt, a movie that earned $293 million—no sequel. Mad Max: Fury Road, hailed as one of the action masterpieces of the decade, made $375 million and won six Oscars—no sequel. Ocean’s Eight: $297 million and, you guessed it, no sequel.
Even when action movies fronted by women do well, there is no guarantee of a franchise. It is always treated as a one-off, a fluke. Unless, of course, it comes packaged with a larger superhero universe. Then it’s just one plate on a full table. So maybe Banks didn’t say exactly what anyone wants to hear, but she’s definitely onto something. Although, in the case of Charlie’s Angels, what is missing from this conversation is another reason no one showed up for this movie—not even women, not with that paltry opening weekend—and that’s marketing. I don’t think Charlie’s Angels made a good case for itself. The trailers didn’t communicate how fun and funny the movie is, and they didn’t make it clear enough that Banks’ take on the material skews away from the male gaze-y party girls in tight clothes of the television show. Banks’ Angels is almost subversive in the way it twists the gaze and uses aesthetics to advantage the spies. None of that comes across in the marketing.
It’s also a movie without three huge stars. Charlie’s Angels 2000 had two legit huge stars, Cameron Diaz and Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu breaking out in Ally McBeal. Banks’ Angels, on the other hand, boasts Kristen Stewart and two unknowns. Maybe part of the Charlie’s Angels recipe is brand-name talent. Undoubtedly some dudes skipped Charlie’s Angels because some dudes suck. But there are other reasons this movie struggled, too, which largely involve a marketing campaign that just didn’t get the job done. Charlie’s Angels won’t make money, but it will find its fans. Maybe it will even become a cult favorite. I won’t be shocked if this ends up being the MacGruber of lady action movies. And Banks, while obviously disappointed, is standing by her work, which is really all she can do.
Well, if you’re going to have a flop, make sure your name is on it at least 4x. I’m proud of #CharliesAngels and happy it’s in the world.— Elizabeth Banks (@ElizabethBanks) November 18, 2019