Jan 21, 2021
10 female-led action movies that prove Elizabeth Banks is wrong
A couple of Fridays ago, the latest reboot of Charlie’s Angels was released, and to no one’s surprise, including director/writer/supporting actor Elizabeth Banks, it bombed. Hard. No one was asking for another Charlie’s Angels and I have no clue how Banks got the greenlight to get the project off the ground in the first place.
Oh, wait, I think I can imagine how. Based on recent interviews, she probably threatened to tell the world that male Hollywood producers were sexist if she didn’t get her way. This seems to be Banks’ MO; if you don’t like her movies, it can’t be because they’re bad—it must be because you hate women. It feels like a typical response to any criticism against a product these days, in that if you aren’t down with it then instantly you’re sexist, or racist, or some other -ist. But the fact is, ticket prices are high and these days people have so many more entertainment options at their disposal that if it comes down between spending ten bucks to see three actors with zero star-power in a franchise which premise feels just a touch, you know, dated, and sitting at home to watch The Mandalorian, which one do you think most people in your supposed target demographic are going to do? Oh, and as of this writing some critics are calling The Mandalorian—wait for it—sexist. Color me surprised.
So Liz… can I call her Liz? Yeah, definitely calling her Liz. Liz ironically said “women are allowed to have one or two action franchises every 17 years”, as if females haven’t appeared in several action flicks in all that time. Movies have evolved over the past couple of decades, and sensibilities have adapted to public demand. More and more we’ve seen women grow from mere love interests to kick-ass partners, and movies like Terminator 2 (remember that one, Liz?) have become less exceptions to the rule and more the norm. Some of the films that have shown women kicking ass alongside men are: the second and third Matrix films, the Fast and Furious films four through eight, the X-Men movies, the Avengers films, the Captain America franchise, the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, Harry Potter, the Incredibles, the Twilight series, the Alien franchise, the new Star Wars movies, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Serenity, Monsters vs. Aliens, The Brothers Bloom, Pacific Rim, Planet Terror, Kick-Ass, The Losers, The Expendables 2 and 3, the Red movies, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Big Hero Six, Mad Max: Fury Road, Ant Man & the Wasp, The Man from UNCLE, Suicide Squad, Thor: Ragnarok, Hotel Artemis, and Men in Black: International.
Wow, that’s a lot of movies where women were largely treated as equals, and oftentimes portrayed as bad-asses. And while not all these movies were successful, they were most definitely part of a push to give females a legitimate shot at fair representation. But hey, you might ask, what about action movies where women were the lead and/or sole focus of the film? Well, there were a fair share of those as well, and to be honest, they often (please note I said “often”, and not “always”) bombed. But let’s also be honest: a lot of them (note that I said “a lot of them”, and not “all”) sucked. Among those were Catwoman, Elektra, Aeon Flux, Bloodrayne, Ultraviolet, Death Proof, The Golden Compass, Doomsday, B*tch Slap, Alice in Wonderland, Haywire, Sucker Punch, Hanna, Colombiana, Snow White and the Huntsman, Proud Mary, The Heat, Veronica Mars, Jane’s Got a Gun, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Ghost in the Shell, Annihilation, Ghostbusters (2016), Brave, Peppermint, Ocean’s 8, Widows, Moana, and Alita: Battle Angel. Were they all bad? Oh, by no means. But to assume people didn’t go to see these films simply because women were at the forefront is frankly bullshit. You can blame bad writing, bad direction, weak leads, and poor marketing for the failure of many of the films that tank. You know, just like a lot of movies where men were at the forefront.
Recycling an old franchise is never a guarantee of success: nobody went to go see the RoboCop or Total Recall remakes either. Having a bona-fide male action star in a film doesn’t always work either. Baywatch should have been a hit; you had Dwayne Johnson in a rated R movie with sexy women at the beach. By any measure, this movie should have grossed eleventy billion dollars, but it failed. And yet was anyone involved with these films claiming the fault was with a bunch of women who didn’t go see their movie? Grow up, Liz.
But setting aside ensemble films and female-oriented action movies that didn’t do well, were there any successful women-centric action pictures in the past 17 years? Why, yes, there were. And that’s even setting aside the Underworld, Resident Evil, and Hunger Games franchises. And I’m not going to look at animated films that would have had the benefit of a younger audience swelling its gross. Here now are ten movies Elizabeth Banks either forgot existed or dismissed out of hand that proved women in kick-ass roles can dominate the box office.
1. Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003) and Volume 2 (2004)
I won’t lie; at this point, Quentin Tarantino was a nerd darling at this point. Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown… he had produced some great films that while employing classic actors like Pam Grier and Robert Forester and using tons of classic music still felt fresh. But part of what really sold me and a lot of others was this teaser trailer.
Holy shit, I thought. This movie looked so stunningly kick-ass that I had to see it. And yeah, it was a touch misleading, but was I disappointed with the end result? Not a bit. And the sequel was just as good. Both films were rated R and both were successful, with both costing $30 million apiece and making $180 and 150 million, respectively. To this day, I anxiously await the third movie Kill Beatrix. Uma is an attractive woman, but at no point was there an attempt to base this movie solely around sex appeal; I and millions of others went mainly to see her murder lots of people in the most gratuitously violent manner possible.
2. Wonder Woman (2017)
According to Liz, people only went to see this Gal Gadot starring film because it’s tied into the DC Cinematic Universe. I won’t totally deny it; I can imagine there was a big faction of people out there who saw the movie for that very reason. Personally, I never saw Batman vs Superman, because I hated Man of Steel and I was indifferent to the prospect of a Wonder Woman film, especially after the sheer disaster that was Suicide Squad. Nope, I thought. Not again. Then two things happened: first, someone posted the Wonder Woman fight scene from Batman vs Superman to YouTube, and second, I saw the Wonder Woman trailer. And Gal Gadot’s presence sold me; I was going to give this movie a chance.
Wonder Woman is action-packed and has a charismatic lead, unlike Charlie’s Angels. It also had an effective ad campaign and it was a franchise that had yet to continue on long past its shelf life. Merely assuming people went to see it because of its place in the DCEU is a simplistic fallacy, because Suicide Squad and Justice League both bombed, and yet Wonder Woman’s numbers were stunning, earning over $800 million world wide on a $150 million dollar budget.
3. Atomic Blonde (2017)
Another movie released in 2017, Atomic Blonde had an uphill battle because it was rated R. Fortunately for viewers, the R rating meant that there was going to be some utterly epic and brutal violence on display. Charlize Theron’s heroine, MI-6 agent Lorraine Broughton, is sent into East Berlin days prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall on a dangerous assignment that’s already cost the life of another spy. There she has to contend with Stasi and KGB agents and has no clue who to trust. Broughton is intelligent, talented, and dangerous as hell, and yet she isn’t written like she’s James Bond in a skirt; she avoids fights with men when possible because 1) it ain’t her job, and 2) her opponents are trained killers and generally outweigh her by a hundred pounds. An action movie that attempts to deliver realistic fight scenes between men and women? Gasp!
The movie grossed $100 million, more than three times its $30 million budget, which was good enough for the studio to greenlight Atomic Blonde 2. I can hardly wait.
4. Captain Marvel (2019)
By all accounts, this movie should have bombed. Hard. Captain Marvel is an unpopular Marvel Comics character (seriously, her comic has been rebooted some seven times due to low sales) played by Brie Larson, a credible actor but not exactly a big name, and someone who made a lot of controversial statements even prior to the film coming out. YouTube “critics” predicted the film would fail in truly stunning fashion. And yet, Captain Marvel soared high and blew away expectations, raking in over a billion dollars worldwide. Yes, some claimed Disney had inflated numbers and pulled shenanigans like buying tons of theater seats, but until I see some actual proof, to me those figures still stand. Again, Liz would have you believe people just went to go see it because of the lead-up to Avengers: Endgame, but if that were the case, why didn’t Ant Man & the Wasp, which already had a built-in audience and was also a lead-in to Endgame, crack a billion? We can possibly chalk this up to an effective ad campaign and ’90s nostalgia, but whatever the case, this movie was one of Disney’s biggest successes of 2019.
5. Lucy (2014)
I’ll confess that I’m not a fan of this film. At all. Don’t get me wrong, I like Scarlett Johansson, but that doesn’t mean I like every project she takes on. For example, I thought she was wholly miscast in Ghost in the Shell. As a matter of fact, I don’t think the live-action film should exist at all, or if it had to exist, it should have been made by a Japanese studio, starring a Japanese actress. But I digress, perhaps because I don’t have a great deal to say about Lucy other than the fact that critics were generally middle of the road on it, but that didn’t stop it from making $460 million on a $40 million budget.
There are those who might be sick of Melissa McCarthy’s shtick, and I can’t say I blame them. That, and the fact that she’s done a whole lot of movies over the past few years. But comedic actors generally have a short shelf life, and it’s only smart of her to make bank while she can. And McCarthy seems to be pretty damn smart, as in recent years she’s branched out into more serious roles in movies like Can You Ever Forgive Me? and The Kitchen. Will she succeed as a serious actor? Based on the critical response, it’s hit or miss, but I wish her luck.
As for Spy, I’ll be damned if I didn’t think this film was funny as hell. With Spectre leaving a bad taste in my mouth, I was willing to give McCarthy’s film a chance and I laughed a lot. And judging by the way it made $235 million on a $65 million budget, maybe people felt the spy genre needed to have a little fun poked at it as well.
7. The Descent (2005)
Here’s the thing that Elizabeth Banks might not understand, which is that maybe women and men excel in different things. For example, a male cast generally might make for a better action film, while a female cast might make for better romantic comedies and horror films. I won’t deny that this might be due to public perception and outdated sensibilities, but that doesn’t mean we have to see the same old tropes applied to horror films. For example, take The Descent, a horror movie involving six female characters. Gone are the tired clichés of the knife-wielding slasher or the virgin being the only survivor. This horror film is a different animal altogether, and one that proved successful with an estimated $7 million budget and making $57 million worldwide.
8. Halloween (2018)
And speaking of horror films, here we have one where Jamie Lee Curtis, pushing 60 years old, manages to help resurrect what to many was a dead franchise, with numerous cinematic corpses in its wake. People didn’t go to see Halloween because Curtis was sexy; they came because the premise was intriguing and it had an effective ad campaign. And it worked; Halloween not only made $255 million on a $10 million budget, the sequel Halloween Kills has been greenlighted as a result.
9. You’re Next (2011)
I won’t deny this one might be a movie most people have never heard of, but if you haven’t seen You’re Next, then your life is just a touch less awesome. A well-to-do family has a get-together at their country estate, and during dinner, three strangers wearing animal masks start killing them off one by one. It seems that it’s going to be a slaughter. Only, one of the dinner guests starts fighting back, and it turns out her dad was a whack job survivalist who taught her how to kill. Sharni Vinson is a tremendous lead in this film and the movie made $26 million from a one [!] million dollar budget. Not too shabby. Now give me my sequel, dammit. With the way the movie ended, I need to know what happens next.
10. Gravity (2013)
There was a time when Sandra Bullock was considered one of the sexiest women in Hollywood. I remember her in Speed, for example, where she had this girl-next-door vibe that made her somehow accessible in a way that sexier women weren’t. And in an industry that often tosses women aside when they hit 30 in favor of younger talent (e.g. watch the Jason Bourne films and see how Julia Stiles’ character is killed off to make way for Alicia Vikander. God, how I hate that film), Bullock has thrived. Gravity is a movie where she has to largely carry the whole movie on her own, portraying a stranded astronaut who must somehow survive the harshest environment known to humanity and somehow make it back to Earth, in a role that could have just as easily been played by a man. The movie scored over $700 million on a $130 million budget.
Elizabeth Banks should have realized that the Charlie’s Angels franchise was dead before she ever touched the project. But even after that, when it looked like the film wasn’t going to do well, she should have remained positive instead of looking for a scapegoat. And when the film finally did bomb, instead of doubling down, she should have accepted responsibility for her project’s failure. Instead, Banks proved to be petty, mean-spirited, and dare I say, sexist in her attack on male audiences. My advice to Liz is to stick to Pitch Perfect films.