In a week filled with wild stories, from Supreme Court rulings to spontaneous heroic filibusters and the collapse of Paula Deen’s career, this may be the craziest gosh darn newsflash yet: women are funny and the public likes it!
Sure, you may find it hard to believe, since movie studios are filling our theaters with aliens and superheroes and car crashes and mega explosions, but comedy is still alive, and it’s not just men who can make jokes. This weekend, moviegoers are flocking to see Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock star as buddy cops in The Heat, a romp of a comedy written by Katie Dippold and directed by Paul Feig. Box office experts predicted that it would take in a very solid $30 million, but it looks like it’ll soar past that — all the way up to $40+ million.
It’s an R-rated movie, too, which means that only people who are 17 and up can see it (legally, anyway). The movie that’ll win the box office with $50 million, Monsters University, is rated G and fun for the whole family.
This is the second time in three years that a female-focused McCarthy-Feig production has surpassed expectations. In 2011, Bridesmaids way over-performed and became a mega-hit, scoring $288 million worldwide. Its opening weekend was $26 million, way less than The Heat, so right now, the sky’s the limit.
That movie, with all its fanfare and think pieces, was supposed to open up the movie development floodgates to talented female writers and actresses; instead, it mostly just meant that Feig and McCarthy got to collaborate again.
“We’re the only studio release this summer with women in leading roles. It’s kind of like, wow, really? That’s the advance we made? That I got to make another one? I was hoping there would be a better outcome than that,” Feig told BuzzFeed last week. “I really do kind of go, like, no, no that wasn’t supposed to be the end result — there are female directors, other directors. I’m just concerned because there are so many funny women who should be working, and I can only work with so many of them at the time.”
The Heat’s big weekend isn’t a matter of poor competition, either. Sony released its heavily-marketed terrorist epic, White House Down, which stars everyone’s favorite slab of charming manhood, Channing Tatum, and a Jamie Foxx rejuvenated by Django Unchained, and it’s only the second weekend for Brad Pitt’s zombie holocaust flick, World War Z. McCarthy and Bullock blew ‘em away; Tatum and President Foxx have disappointed, and will earn $25 million.
What’s even more heartening is the fact that there is hardly a speck of romance in The Heat, which shows that the demand for women-driven comedy doesn’t just have an easy rom-com solution.
“I get frustrated when that’s all there is,” Dippold, The Heat writer, told BuzzFeed last week. “Whenever I would watch buddy-cop movies and the two guys are super funny and just living it up and being badass and cool, I thought, I want to do that. It’s not just that I want to date those guys, I want to be one of those guys taking down a druglord and being funny and wisecracking, so I feel like that’s another kind of wish-fulfillment movie that women don’t get.”
So, now what? Well, maybe this second box office success will finally kick off the great Funny Lady Movie Revolution. The landscape is way different than it was even two years ago, thanks to television.
In 2011, Tina Fey had won Emmys for 30 Rock and Amy Poehler had transitioned from SNL to Parks and Recreation. Chelsea Handler’s talk show was a hit, too. But for the most part, that was it for super mainstream women in comedy; Wiig was beloved by SNL fans, but certainly not a household name.
In the fall of 2011, Zooey Deschanel became everyone’s favorite adorkable ball of quirks with the launch of New Girl. It earned her an Emmy nomination, in its second season was an even bigger hit. The following spring saw the launch of Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s Veep on HBO, for which she won an Emmy and re-established herself as a top star.
Oh, HBO also put on another female-starring comedy: Lena Dunham’s Girls. Dunham not only acts as the centerpiece of the four lady-focused show, but also serves as head-writer and co-showrunner (a title she shares with Jenni Konner).
Last fall, Mindy Kaling joined Deschanel on Fox with The Mindy Project, which she not only stars in but also writes. And this spring, Amy Schumer scored a major hit with her Comedy Central series, Inside Amy Schumer, which has set ratings records for that network and has already been renewed.
In an age of studio franchises and blockbusters — we’ve still got The Lone Ranger, Despicable Me 2, Pacific Rim, Grown Ups 2, RIPD, Red 2, The Wolverine, The Smurfs 2, Percy Jackson 2, Kick-Ass 2 and The Mortal Instruments on the way — it’s hard to predict that this will change everything. That much is clear.
But there is hope. More movies are already coming this summer:
Greta Gerwig won critical acclaim for her turn in Frances Hal, which she co-wrote.
Kristen Wiig has Girl Most Likely, a dramedy that she co-wrote, coming out in mid-July. Then, in August, Aubrey Plaza — who has become a breakout star from Parks and Recreation and last summer’s Safety Not Guaranteed — will star in the raunchy The To-Do List, playing a high school grad who works all summer to lose her virginity.
The picture will be much more clear by the end of August; if audiences show up for Wiig and Plaza, studios might not have a choice but to given women more opportunities to lead comedy flicks. And given all the talent currently making it big on TV, there’s no shortage of women that could be movie stars, if they’re just given even half a chance.
1. Monsters University — $44.5 million
2. The Heat* — $40 million
3. World War Z — $29.2 million
4. White House Down* — $26 million
5. Man of Steel — $20.5 million
6. This Is The End — $8.3 million
7. Now You See Me — $5.5 million
8. Fast & Furious 6 — $2.3 million
9. Star Trek Into Darkness — $1.9 million
10. The Internship — $1.3 million