Melissa McCarthy in Tammy; Scarlett Johansson in Lucy; and Angelina Jolie in Maleficent.
Last summer, the following movies focusing on a predominantly female cast were released in over 1,000 theaters by a major studio: The Heat. And that’s it.
This summer, at least six movies should fit that description — seven if you count The Other Woman, which opens at the end of April.
This is, if anything else, a good thing. It remains standard operating procedure in Hollywood to release droves of male-dominated films into the multiplex — at least 15 are due from studios this summer, including the third Expendables movie and the fourth Transformers movie. But a studio movie focusing on women continues to be such a rare occurrence, especially during the summer, that it is usually burdened with representing the success or failure of all potential studio movies about women. The more films with female casts that open nationwide — no matter how difficult it may be for those films to match the box-office heft of movies dominated by men — the less any one of those films needs to be responsible for the future of female-driven cinema. Instead of finding “the next Bridesmaids,” we can focus on seeking out “the next great movies with women.”
When factoring in independent cinema — a friendlier place for human-scaled movies about complex women, even if those films don’t reach nearly as wide an audience — there are at least 14 women-centric movies opening over the course of this summer. To be sure, the state of women in cinema is far from perfect: With just one exception, all of these films focus on white women. But they also demonstrate a refreshing diversity of film genre, from contemporary comedies to period dramas and grand biopics to sci-fi thrillers to Disney fantasy blockbusters. Some of these movies may not end up being very good, and some may be totally brilliant — just like the glut of movies featuring overwhelmingly male casts. There still aren’t enough of them, but it remains vital that these movies exist, and that audiences get to see them.
1. The Other Woman
Opening: April 25 (wide)
Directed by: Nick Cassavetes
Written by: Melissa K. Stack
Starring: Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann, Kate Upton, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Nicki Minaj
After the unwitting mistress (Diaz) of a slick married man (Coster-Waldau) ends up befriending his wife (Mann) and other mistress (Upton), the three vow revenge upon the man who done them wrong. Expect cocktails, great frocks, and even some winking subversion of the patriarchy.
Opening: May 2 (limited)
Directed by: Amma Asante
Written by: Misan Sagay
Starring: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Tom Wilkinson, Miranda Richardson, Penelope Wilton, Matthew Goode, Emily Watson
Inspired by the life of an actual 18th-century Englishwoman, this film follows Dido Elizabeth Belle (Mbatha-Raw), the illegitimate mixed-race daughter of a Royal Navy officer (Goode), who is raised as an aristocrat by her great uncle (Wilkinson) and his wife (Watson). It is the rare film this year to focus on the story of a woman of color, let alone also be directed by a woman of color (Asante, who directed 2004’s A Way Of Life).
3. Decoding Annie Parker
Opening: May 2 (in select theaters, on VOD, and DVD)
Directed by: Steven Bernstein
Written by: Adam Bernstein, Steven Bernstein, Michael Moss
Starring: Samantha Morton, Helen Hunt, Aaron Paul, Rashida Jones, Maggie Grace
Another movie based on true story! This one is about the effort in the 1970s and ’80s by cancer researcher Mary-Claire King (Hunt) to discover a genetic predisposition to breast cancer, and the titular, tragedy-stricken patient Annie Parker (Morton) who helps lead her there. In the trailer, the characters standing in the way of King’s and Parker’s efforts are all played by men — as are almost all the filmmakers behind the independent movie.
4. Walk of Shame
Opening: May 2 (in select theaters and on VOD)
Directed by: Steven Brill
Written by: Steven Brill
Starring: Elizabeth Banks, James Marsden, Gillian Jacobs, Sarah Wright Olsen
It’s about damn time the fabulous Elizabeth Banks was the solo star of her own comedy. Although this one — about an aspiring newscaster (Banks) stuck in Los Angeles after a one-night stand without her keys, wallet, or phone, just as she lands a potentially life-changing job interview across town — has taken a disconcertingly twisting road to make it to theaters. First it was going to open in September, then it was pushed to the spring, and after the film’s original distributor FilmDistrict merged with Focus Features, the film was moved under the Focus World banner and given a “day-and-date” release in select theaters and on demand. That’s rarely a promising sign for a movie, but Banks is always so winning, so hopefully this is an exception.
5. Moms’ Night Out
Opening: May 9 (wide)
Directed by: Andrew Erwin, Jon Erwin
Written by: Jon Erwin, Andrea Nasfell
Starring: Sarah Drew, Patricia Heaton, Sean Astin, Trace Adkins, Andrea Logan White
A trio of suburban moms (Drew, Heaton, and White) head out for a night on the town while their husbands (including Astin) deal with their kids at home. Although things do not go as planned, the ensuing antics are geared specifically for a family-friendly, faith-based audience, the forte of filmmakers Andrew and Jon Erwin (October Baby).
Opening: May 23 (limited)
Directed by: John Curran
Written by: Marion Nelson, based on the book by Robyn Davidson
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Adam Driver
In 1977, Robyn Davidson embarked on a nine-month solo journey across the Australian Outback with just four camels and a dog, a true story (sensing a theme?) that filmmakers have been attempting to adapt into a feature film for decades. Alice in Wonderland star Mia Wasikowska finally did land the role, with Girls’ Adam Driver playing the National Geographic photographer who documents her journey.
Opening: May 30 (wide)
Directed by: Robert Stromberg
Written by: Linda Woolverton, John Lee Hancock
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Sharlto Copley, Elle Fanning, Juno Temple, Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville
It’s rare enough for a big-budget summer movie to feature a woman as its solo star, and rarer still for that film to focus on making one of the most memorable family-film villains into a sympathetic figure — especially one from the Disney canon. But if there is anyone who can transform this highly unlikely set of circumstances into a blockbuster hit, it’s Angelina Jolie. The film’s inciting incident — Jolie’s Maleficent is betrayed by a king (District 9’s Copley) and loses her regal wings — is sure to spark dozens of feminist think pieces across the internet.
8. We Are the Best!
Opening: May 30 (in select theaters and on VOD)
Directed by: Lukas Moodysson
Written by: Lukas Moodysson, based on the graphic novel by Coco Moodysson
Starring: Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin, Liv Lemoyne
Three 13-year-old girls living in 1980s Sweden buck the conventional wisdom that punk rock has died by forming their own punk rock band. It played like gangbusters at the Toronto Film Festival, and the trailer looks adorable.
9. Obvious Child
Opening: June 6 (limited)
Directed by: Gillian Robespierre
Written by: Gillian Robespierre, with a story by Karen Maine and Elisabeth Holm
Starring: Jenny Slate, Jake Lacy, Gaby Hoffmann
A stand-up comedian (Saturday Night Live alum Slate) gets dumped, gets drunk, and gets pregnant after a one-night stand — at which point, this romantic comedy approaches the complicated subject of abortion, and based on how well it screened at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, it manages to provoke laughter as well as discussion.
10. Happy Christmas
Opening: June 26 (On Demand), July 25 (in theaters, limited release)
Directed by: Joe Swanberg
Written by: Joe Swanberg
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey, Lena Dunham, Joe Swanberg, Mark Webber
More twentysomething women with messed up lives in movies that premiered at Sundance! This time, it’s a 27-year-old (Kendrick) who crashes with her older brother (Swanberg, who also directed this mostly improvised film) and his wife (Lynskey), shaking up both of their lives in the process. Lena Dunham shows up as Kendrick’s best friend. My colleague and friend Kate Aurthur loved it at Sundance!
Opening: July 2 (wide)
Directed by: Ben Falcone
Written by: Ben Falcone, Melissa McCarthy
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, Alison Janney, Toni Collette, Sandra Oh, Kathy Bates, Dan Aykroyd, Ben Falcone
After rocketing onto the A-list last year with two hit comedies (Identity Thief and The Heat), Melissa McCarthy is already testing the strength of her movie stardom with this comedy she co-wrote with her husband Ben Falcone (who’s also making his feature directing debut), about a newly unemployed fast food worker (McCarthy) who goes on a road trip with her alcoholic grandmother (Sarandon). It is opening on the July 4 holiday. Right after Transformers: Age of Extinction. This could get interesting.
12. The Hundred-Foot Journey
Opening: Aug. 8 (wide)
Directed by: Lasse Hallström
Written by: Steven Knight, based on the book by Richard C. Morais
Starring: Helen Mirren, Manish Dayal, Om Puri, Charlotte Le Bon
No less than Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey have lent their considerable clout as producers of this story of a French chef (Mirren) who balks when an Indian family opens up a restaurant in a building across the street from her Michelin-starred restaurant. Expect mouthwatering food porn and cross-cultural understanding.
Opening: Aug. 8 (wide)
Directed by: Luc Besson
Written by: Luc Besson
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman
Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita, Léon: The Professional, The Fifth Element, The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc) adds to his considerable portfolio of kick-ass women with this tale of an involuntary drug mule (Johansson) whose exposure to experimental pharmaceuticals transforms her, essentially, into a transcendental superhero — who can seriously kick ass. If this movie does huge business, perhaps we can expect a solo Black Widow movie in our future, hmm Marvel?
14. If I Stay
Opening: Aug. 22 (wide)
Directed by: R.J. Cutler
Written by: Shauna Cross, based on the book by Gayle Forman
Starring: Chloë Grace Moretz, Mireille Enos, Jamie Blackley
A 17-year-old (Moretz) with a promising career ahead of her as a classical cellist and a happy relationship with her boyfriend (Blackley) finds herself trapped in a coma after a catastrophic car accident, looking back at her life as she tries to decide whether to fight to live — or not. Documentary filmmaker R.J. Cutler (The World According to Dick Cheney, The September Issue) makes his narrative feature debut with the film.
This post has been updated to reflect all the release information for Decoding Annie Parker.