With the recent release of the female-led Ghostbusters remake, film critics and movie-goers alike have been subjected to the age-old debate concerning comedy blockbusters: ‘Can female-led comedies be commercially successful on the same scale as their male counterparts?’ Simply put: ‘Are women funny?’
The statistics would argue that they are, and have made lots of funny movies in modern times. Legally Blonde impressed 2001 audiences with its blatant feminist message and made $96.5 million in the American box office. Similarly the 1995 film Clueless and the 2004 cult classic Mean Girls made $56 million and $86 million in America respectively.
While these films are respectable pieces of evidence in the argument that female-led comedies are socially and commercially successful, the real turning point for females invested in this industry came with the release and unmitigated success of Bridesmaids in 2011. Not only did the film turn into an instant box office victory, generating $169 million in America alone, it transformed the future for women in comedy. Bridesmaids perhaps differed from its predecessors by breaking away from “chick flick” conventions. The film presents six droll women who are not defined by Hollywood’s inscribed female stereotypes. In terms of character, physical appearance and even language, they steer away from rom-com clichés. Indeed this film kick-started Melissa McCarthy’s career, and five years later in 2016, Forbes named her the second highest paid actress in the world behind Jennifer Lawrence. Her foul-mouthed and wacky character Megan left us laughing, not at her, for fear we would be wrestled down by her impenetrable confidence, but with her.
Bridesmaids was considered a comic success by both men and women and successfully earned two Academy Award nominations, the first (and so far only) for a Judd Apatow-produced movie. Bridesmaids has since spawned a new genre of female-centric comedies that aren’t limited by the “chick flick” genre.
Perhaps the most socially impactful of these comedies and by far the most financially successful came in the following year with Pitch Perfect which made $116 million in the American box office. This unprecedented success generated a sequel which perhaps lost the charm of the original film, indicated by a mixed critical reception, however it generated an even more impressive $184 million in the American box office which proved enough to secure a third instalment in the franchise. In 2017, at the very least we will be offered more of the uproarious “Fat Amy”, played by Rebel Wilson, and we can only hope her zingy one-liners won’t prove tiresome the third time round. For me, the Pitch Perfect films seem to have fast run out of ideas and yet, to their credit, they have maintained a safe distance from the “chick flick” tropes associated with female casts of this size. I have no doubt that Pitch Perfect will be entertaining both teenage boys and girls for many years to come.
Following the consecutive successes of Bridesmaids and Pitch Perfect, movies such as The Heat and Spy, (both starring the aforementioned McCarthy) were also praised for their fiercely funny female leads. The films are fast-paced, unpredictable and undoubtedly safe from ever being considered “chick flicks”.
The most recent introduction into this continuously-evolving genre comes in the form of Ghostbusters, a 2016 remake of the 1984 classic. The original Ghostbusters was an undeniable financial success, generating a whopping $229 million in the American box office. Since then the movie has earned its place as a beloved Hollywood treasure. In an age of mindless sequels and endless remakes it seemed inevitable that one of the most successful comedies of the 1980s would be remade, however the announcement of a female Ghostbusters led to cries of outrage across social media. Indeed, the film’s trailer is the most disliked film trailer on YouTube and inspired countless misogynistic comments like “Female cast…better have some nude scenes”, or the frighteningly terse, “why women[?]”. It’s unclear why this reboot was met with so many shades of sexist idiocy; perhaps Ghostbusters is truly just an untouchable masterpiece, or maybe society’s attitude towards female comedies have not developed as much as I argue they have. Regardless of these musings, Hollywood has chosen to ignore the expert opinions of Youtube commenters, announcing an all-female Ocean’s Eleven reboot last October.
A few years ago many in Hollywood would have rejected the concept of an all-female blockbuster comedy as lacking reliability, but hopefully that is no longer the case. Comedies are showcasing quick-witted, sharp women in a way that is accessible to both genders. Ghostbusters is the continuation of a post-Bridesmaids world. Despite Ghostbusters disheartening reception, I believe we are in store for some more comedy films dedicated to funny women simply being funny.