Back in the early 1980s, the late screenwriter Colin Welland said “the British are coming” when accepting an Oscar for ‘Chariots of Fire.’ Nowadays, the mantra in Hollywood might be “the action women are coming” as more females are taking the big roles in some of Hollywood’s latest films.
The Rise of the Super Heroine
Soon women will be seen in multiplexes around the world running mobs, commanding armies, wielding guns, swords and other weaponry and battling everything from zombies to corporate thievery.
Two top British actresses play high profile tough character roles in 2016: Kate Winslet plays a hard-bitten mafia moll in heist thriller ‘Triple 9’, and Helen Mirren stars as a military intelligence officer in ‘Eye in the Sky’. Even a usually genteel female role gets an injection of superhero as Lily James’s Elizabeth Bennett joins Mr Darcy on the battlefield as opposed to the ballroom in ‘Pride, Prejudice and Zombies’.
In 2015, the re-make of the Mel Gibson franchise ‘Mad Max’ featured Charlize Theron in a pivotal role, and Emily Blunt played a lead role as an FBI agent – although, tellingly, the makers did admit to coming under pressure to re-write the role for a male actor.
The ‘Ghostbusters’ name is being given a relaunch with a new release in 2016 with a key difference – the entire gang are female.
The common thread seems to be the rise of women playing heroic characters. One of the biggest of all will be when Wonder Woman appears in the huge DC Comics release ‘Batman v Superman’ before before featuring in her own titles as the franchise diversifies.
A Cultural Shift?
In the same way that debate and criticism about race rages when no black actors were nominated for ‘Best Actor’ in the Oscars, the lack of meaty roles for women is often blamed on the dominance of white males in Hollywood.
With the composition of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences – the body responsible for the yearly Oscar nominations – gradually becoming more diversified from its hitherto mainly white male bias, it’s acting as a bellwether for a cultural shift in film making attitudes to include more women in key roles.
Disney’s continued mainstream success, as illustrated by this run down by shares trading company IG, has featured a woman in a key role in a huge film recently with the release of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’. Daisy Ridley’s star – and role in the franchise – is only set to rise now.
Taking the Bullock by the Horns
Successful actress Sandra Bullock has taken things to another extreme in championing women in key roles, by persuading the producers of ‘Our Brand Is Crisis’ to change the gender of a character to let her play it.
Of course Bullock is operating from a position of extreme strength; from starring in the huge mid-1990s hit ‘Speed’ her career in the two decades following has been studded with huge box office hits. There again, it shows what can be achieved.
Franchises Offer Scope for Women
As with Wonder Woman in the forthcoming ‘Batman v Superman’ release, franchises could usher in more females as lead actors. The ‘Divergent’ and ‘Hunger Games’ franchises – both derived from young adult novels – feature young actresses in their mid-20s with the potential for the series to run and run.
Franchises could offer the key to more females in leading roles but in general terms the ‘softer’ female role may be declining but the feisty, all-action hard-as-nails roles are stacking up.