What we might also see thanks to Twilight and a string of female-focused hits is Hollywood beginning to treat women like a demographic that matters at all in blockbuster films. As an example of how this can work, you might have noticed in the past few years that more and more blockbusters are globe-trotting to China or Russia (for example: Battleship, The Dark Knight, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, The Karate Kid, The Darkest Hour and Transformers: Dark Of The Moon all feature scenes in one of the two) because China and Russia are now important markets for Hollywood blockbusters. Following that logic, if women become a valuable demographic for the studios, maybe we'll see women in male-targeted action movies or thrillers not simply defined as Wife, Girlfriend or Mother. Maybe the character composition of these films will change from a statistically unrepresentative 25% female (or so) to a more-like-it 50%.It is premature to declare that Hollywood has pivoted to women. In 2012 we have seen a handful of major Hollywood films led by female characters: Breaking Dawn, Snow White and the Huntsman, Brave, and The Hunger Games. But within Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking, women are largely absent from lead roles. Consider the biggest hits of this year: The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, The Amazing Spider-Man, Skyfall, Ted, Madagascar 3, and The Lorax. The women of these films are generally limited to thin supporting parts and their roles are generally marginalized in the drama of the story.
It is also important to keep in mind that the arrival of women on Hollywood’s radar has been declared before. In 2008 it was noted—and celebrated—that four of the top twenty grossing films were female led. Interestingly, this came a year after Warner Bros president of production Jeff Robinov decreed that “We are no longer doing movies with women in the lead” because of the financial failure of female led films in 2007. In the four years since 2008, the number of female-led motion pictures in the top twenty slots of the yearly box office has remained steady, with about three films per year. Looking at four years before 2008 that number ranges from one to three pictures. Clearly there has been an improvement but it’s nothing worth bragging about.
It is also important to remember that, although the quantity of female-led films may increase, the quality of those roles matters as much if not more. As pointed out in the hoopla over the 2008 box office, most of the female-led movies of that year were about women trying to get men to like them. In that regard, not much has changed since 2008. And for every picture like The Hunger Games, there are many more films like Project X, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, and Bachelorette. The Hollywood marketplace as a whole is stacked against quality female roles.
But as O’Hara points out, Hollywood may be forced to consider female viewers for the same reason they are being forced to think about audiences in international markets. Hollywood has always followed the money and studios will produce whatever they believe will make viewers show up on opening weekend. That’s reason enough to be cautiously optimistic even if it does not give me back the ten hours of my life that I wasted watching the Twilight series.