Has This Been the Best Summer for Women in Film Ever?

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There’s no denying that cinema hasn’t always done the best job at depicting women, especially when it comes to summer movies. Throughout the 80’s, 90’s, and the early 2000’s, women in summer blockbusters were typically the love interests, the damsels in distress, or the emotional support. Even today, the Internet is overloaded with studies and statistics that demonstrate how the portrayal of women in media hasn’t changed at all. While the representation of females is still far from ideal, we can take some comfort in that 2015 has possibly brought us the best summer for women in film ever.

One notable comedy that tears down gender barriers is Paul Feig’s Spy, starring Melissa McCarthy as a desk worker who becomes an unlikely secret agent. Years ago, this film would have been tailor-made for a comedian like John Belushi, Chris Farley, or John Candy. In this day and age, however, only somebody as daring, versatile, and funny as McCarthy could pull this role off. McCarthy isn’t the only funny woman on screen, as the film has wonderful supporting work from Rose Byrne, Miranda Hart, and Allison Janney.

The fact that this ensemble is largely female hasn’t alienated the male demographic, though. If anything, it gives us all further hope that Director Feig’s Ghostbusters reboot headlined by McCarthy will be a laugh riot. While there’s been some concern that a female Ghostbusters cast won’t work, keep in mind that Dan Aykroyd has applauded the idea, commenting, “this one with the four girls is going to be massive. Oh man, it’s funny. It’s intelligent. It hits the right notes, and I’m really excited about it!” If it’s as funny as Aykroyd promises, maybe people will stop asking about the all-male reboot.

Pitch Perfect 2 is another obvious example of this summer’s strong female presence. This sequel to the 2012 breakout success has made over $175 million at the US box office and is currently the highest-grossing comedy of the year. In addition to having a cast primarily composed of actresses, the film was directed by female co-star Elizabeth Banks. What’s interesting is that neither of the Pitch Perfect films became hits solely based on popularity among women. Numerous men love them just as much, if not more. Oh sure, some guys might pretend that their girlfriends dragged them to Pitch Perfect 2, but deep down they really wanted more of the hilarious comedy, energetic music, and likeable characters from its predecessor.

While female-centric summer movies are having more crossover appeal with men, many male-centric-summer movies are having crossover appeal with women too. Avengers: Age of Ultron is a very male-dominate movie. The female characters are by no means token hot chicks, however. Black Widow and Scarlet Witch are just as strong, cool, and funny as their fellow Avengers. Granted, we’re still in need of a Marvel feature that focuses on a heroine, but the notion that fans are pining for a Black Widow movie at least says something positive about this franchise’s gender-neutral following.

Although the title character of Mad Max: Fury Road might be a more straightforward, male action hero, we all know that its Charlize Theron’s Furiosa that steals the show. Deplorably, some misogynists have actually boycotted Mad Max: Fury Road on the basis that an empowering feminist takes center stage. It goes to show that there will always be sexist bigots out there afraid of change, but they’re fortunately in the minority as Mad Max: Fury Road has been a huge hit with critics and audiences alike. Anybody that saw the film would know that Furiosa is by far the most charismatic, empathetic, interesting, and badass individual on screen. A man who is intimated and threatened by her dominating presence isn’t a true man at all.

The closest we’ve gotten to a conventional damsel this whole summer is Bryce Dallas Howard’s character in Jurassic World. Yet, even she proved to be a smart, classy, resourceful, and determined woman with her fair share of kickass moments. Plus, it’s not like she’s the sole damsel as every person in the movie is in constant peril, male or female. That’s the common link all of these summer movies share: Equality between males and females.

There’s a classic assumption that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. While men and women do have their differences, the middle ground separating them isn’t as vast as some think. More and more filmmakers seem to be recognizing this, making leeway for much more intriguing, well rounded, and diverse ladies in film.

Perhaps the absolute best showcase for women that we’ve seen this summer so far is Pixar’s Inside Out. Although this animated feature includes great performances from Bill Hader, Lewis Black, and Richard King, the focal characters are voiced by women: Amy Poehler as Joy and Phyllis Smith as Sadness. Both embody contrasting emotions inside the mind of an eleven-year-old girl named Riley. Watching Pete Docter’s wonderful film, though, you completely forget that our protagonists are female. The drama and comedy going on inside Riley’s head is so relatable that any human being could step into her shoes. Riley’s emotions aren’t governed by gender stereotypes, contributing to one of the most universally appealing movies of the year.

Admittedly, not every female-driven summer movie has been satisfactory in 2015. Hot Pursuit with Reese Witherspoon and Sofia Vergara was rightfully despised by virtually everybody. Even if Witherspoon and Vergara had been replaced with two male co-stars, however, it still would have sucked big time. In that sense, there will always be bad roles out there for women, but there will be plenty of bad roles out there for men too. That’s just Hollywood for ya.

Then you have something like the Entourage movie, where the guys are all basically living male fantasy life-styles and the women are all just sex objects deprived of personalities. Although you could argue that Entourage is a step backwards for women in film, it’s encouraging that audiences didn’t flock to the picture. Instead, they decided to see the infinitely superior comedy, Spy, which opened the following Friday.

Despite these setbacks, most of these recent summer movies exhibit that filmmakers are getting much better at representing women in mainstream entertainment. Not only can women be the stars of major moneymakers, but they can also be humorous, powerful, and identifiable to everybody in the audience. A majority of the movies listed above understand that characters don’t need to be written as men or women. They can all just be written as people. Comprehending this is the first step forward to not only seeing better-developed characters on screen, but better-developed individuals in society too, not to mention a potentially incredible Ghostbusters reboot.

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About Nick Spake

Nick Spake has been working as an entertainment writer for the past ten years, but he's been a lover of film ever since seeing the opening sequence of The Lion King. Movies are more than just escapism to Nick, they're a crucial part of our society that shape who we are. He now serves as the Features Editor at Flickreel and author of its regular column, 'Nick Flicks'.

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