TIME movies

8 Lessons From a Summer Where Women Ruled the Box Office

Seven of this year's top 10 films star women

The success of last summer’s female-centric movies came as a surprise. Box office analysts were confused when Scarlett Johansson’s sci-fi thriller Lucy outsold Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson’s Hercules. They were downright dumbfounded when Shailene Woodley’s tearjerker The Fault in Our Stars edged out the Tom Cruise action film Edge of Tomorrow at the box office.

Perhaps it was the success of those films that led hopeful critics and audiences to have such great expectations for this summer’s leading ladies. There weren’t many surprises—unless you count the fact that Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, not Tom Hardy’s Max, was the star of Mad Max: Fury Road. This was to be the summer of women, what with Pitch Perfect getting a sequel and TV feminist sensation Amy Schumer making her big screen debut.

And it was. These films held their own among the macho men of Avengers and Jurassic Park. In fact, seven of this year’s top 10 films so far star women. Here’s what we ought to take away from an aca-awesome summer for women at the box office.

MORE: In Praise of This Summer’s ‘Complicated Women’

CINDERELLA
Jonathan Olley—Disney

Movies don’t need men

Young, white men are the most coveted demographic in the industry — hence the endless parade of pasty male superheroes. But a FiveThirtyEight study of the biggest blockbusters since 1970 found that films that passed the Bechdel Test—a simple yet somehow elusive bar that measures whether two women in a movie talk to one another about something other than a man—make more money than those that don’t.

That theory was borne out at this year’s box office. Of this year’s top 10 grossing domestic films, seven of them — Furious 7 (#3), Inside Out (#4), Minions (#5), Cinderella (#6), Pitch Perfect 2 (#7), Home (#8) and Fifty Shades of Grey (#9) — all had women in starring roles.

Fast & Furious
Universal

The most successful studio this year is catering to women and people of color

Diversifying your films on the whole is now a proven strategy for success. Universal Pictures, despite not owning the rights to any superheroes, is handily beating its competitors at the box office this year, thanks to its blatant disregard of the white teenage boy. The studio has five of the 10 highest-grossing movies of the year. Save Jurassic World, the rest of those movies “took risks” on non-male, non-white stories.

Straight Outta Compton and Furious 7 both feature diverse casts. Pitch Perfect 2 and Fifty Shades of Grey were each directed by a woman and told women’s stories (empowering or not). And Minions — which has grossed over $1 billion worldwide — had the biggest opening weekend of any of the Despicable Me films with Sandra Bullock — not Steve Carrell — as its featured villain.

disney, pixar, inside out, amy poehler, mindy kaling, lewis black, movies
Pixar/Disney

It’s okay to ditch the crown

Following the Frozen fervor, Disney doubled down on its peppy princess strategy, green-lighting a Frozen sequel and a new film called Moana. But in June, Inside Out set a record for the highest-grossing weekend of any original film — a movie not based on a book, comic book or previous movie. More importantly, the movie’s main character has nothing to do with royalty. Families, it seems, are willing to shell out big bucks to learn about what’s going on inside the mind of an ordinary, hockey-loving girl who hates broccoli on her pizza.

MORE: Why It Matters That Inside Out’s Protagonist Is a Girl — Not a Princess

Jurassic World
Universal

You can’t get away with lazy sexism anymore

When the Jurassic World trailer premiered back in April, Avengers director, Buffy creator and self-proclaimed feminist Joss Whedon tweeted, “I’m too busy wishing this clip wasn’t 70’s era sexist. She’s a stiff, he’s a life-force—really? Still?”

Once the movie hit theaters in June, critics largely agreed with Whedon. The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis wrote Bryce Dallas Howard’s character “mostly just schemes and screams, before Owen melts her like an ice cube on a hot griddle.” Plenty of fans piled on on social media, complaining that the female star was forced to run around in heels the whole movie.

Ironically, Whedon himself came under fire later that spring for writing in a sexist plot line for Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow in which being barren is equated with being a “monster.”

Of course, take this Twitter outrage with a grain of salt. Despite these atrocious, sexist plot points, Jurassic Park and Avengers: Age of Ultron were the two highest-grossing films of the summer. Still, even if misogyny won’t affect a movie’s bottom line (yet), it won’t help the filmmakers’ standing in the cultural conversation. I doubt, for example, Whedon will be making that same mistake again.

And writers who do take women into consideration are rewarded for doing so. The spy played by Rebecca Ferguson in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation removed her heels every time she had to fight, run or ride a motorcycle. It was a small touch, but one that was greatly appreciated by female moviegoers and lovers of realism alike.

cara-delevingne-nat-wolff-paper-towns
Michael Tackett— 20th Century Fox

Movies about women still have to be good to sell

Yes, Hot Pursuit and Paper Towns fell on their faces. It turns out that — just like with all other movies — the script, the director and the casting matters. Hot Pursuit tried to capture the same movie magic Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock had conjured with The Heat, but the unconvincing premise and lame jokes fell flat. The disappointing Paper Towns box office proved that not all young adult novels (even ones by John Green) are created equal — nor are leading ladies.

Universal Pictures

Feminism and blockbusters totally mix

Amy Schumer, who made her name writing sketches that smartly skewer sexism, is well on her way to becoming a bona fide movie star. Lame boyfriends were shunted to the side in Pitch Perfect 2 in favor of girl power. The writer of the famed Vagina Monologues was asked to consult on big budget action film Mad Max: Fury Road. Feminism had made its way into mainstream culture, and it’s making for better, more complex female characters.

trainwreck-amy-schumer-bill-hader
Universal Pictures

The women blazing the trail in Hollywood are under a lot of pressure

That being said, women characters in blockbusters are far from the Platonic feminist ideal — a fact that critics are pleased to inform the few female writers and directors who bring them to the screen. Amy Schumer came under the microscope this summer: was Trainwreck empowering enough? Does the entire premise of a rom-com undermine feminist ideals?

Of the top 250 grossing films in 2014, only 11% of writers were women and just 7% of directors were female. The few women who are afforded the opportunity to helm big budget films are under scrutiny for whether they are doing their job well and whether they’re advancing their gender in doing so.

FURY ROAD
Jasin Boland—Warner Bros.

Studios need to make more female action movies already

Director George Miller can now be declared the master of “sneaky feminism.” His film, which was (smartly) sold as a testosterone-filled, post-apocalyptic road rage extravaganza, was actually a feminist manifesto about a group of women escaping sex slavery, tearing down a patriarchal society and finding safety in a community of Amazons. Charlize Theron did more shooting, driving and talking in that movie than Tom Hardy (as evidenced by the honest trailer that mocks “Tom Hardly There”)—thanks, in part, to Ensler’s consultations.

Melissa McCarthy also did her part to convince audiences that women belong in shoot-outs as much as men do. Her latest movie with director Paul Feig, Spy, placed her in the role typically reserved for the James Bonds and Ethan Hunts of the world. To the surprise of anyone who watched the trailer, McCarthy wasn’t a bumbling spy but actually a kick-ass heroine who still managed to get laughs.

Neither of these films reached Mission Impossible level box office success, but their sequels just might. And not that studios care more about reviews than the bottom line, but Mad Max was heralded by most critics as the best film of the summer. If Charlize Theron can’t convince studio execs that women can rule the summer, nobody will.

MORE: Eve Ensler on How Mad Max: Fury Road Became a ‘Feminist Action Film’

TIME Basketball

Derrick Rose Denies Involvement in Gang Rape

Chicago Bulls v Cleveland Cavaliers - Game FIve
Nathaniel S. Butler—NBAE/Getty Images Derrick Rose #1 of the Chicago Bulls during the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the NBA Playoffs at The Quicken Loans Arena on May 12, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio.

An unidentified woman filed a suit against the Chicago Bulls player on Wednesday

A lawyer representing the Chicago Bulls and Derrick Rose called a lawsuit filed against the point guard accusing him of rape “outrageous.”

The suit, which can be read in full on the Chicago Tribune website, was filed Wednesday by an unidentified women who accuses Rose and two other men of drugging her and gang-raping her in Aug. 2013. The woman, who claims she dated Rose from 2011 to 2013, says the men slipped something into her drink while at the former MVP’s Beverly Hills home. According to her account, she was able to escape, but later that night Rose and his friends broke into her apartment and sexually assaulted her while she was incapacitated.

Rose’s lawyer Lisa Cohen wrote in a statement that the accusations were “completely false and without any factual basis.” Cohen acknowledged that Rose was involved in a relationship with the woman in question during that time period, but that it was both consensual and not exclusive.

“This is nothing more than a desperate attempt to shake down a highly respected and successful athlete,” the statement said. Cohen added that her legal team has “complete confidence that the case will be dismissed.”

The Bulls issued a statement Thursday: “We just learned about this matter and do not know all the facts. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”

The Chicago Bulls and a lawyer for Derrick Rose did not immediately respond to Time’s request for comment.

[Chicago Tribune]

 

TIME Books

George R.R. Martin Says This Character Is Still Alive in the Books

Helen Sloan—HBO Stephen Dillane as Stannis Baratheon in Game of Thrones

Spoilers for both A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones ahead

Long live King Stannis. According to George R.R. Martin, the supposedly slain Baratheon is still alive — at least in the books.

Taking a (hopefully short) break from writing The Winds of Winter, writer George R.R. Martin fielded fan questions on LiveJournal Wednesday. When one enthusiast asked the author to “cut the crap” and confirm whether Stannis was dead or alive, Martin wrote: “In my books? Alive beyond a doubt.”

Stannis is currently presumed dead in both the show Game of Thrones and the Song of Ice and Fire books upon which the HBO series is based. In the books, Ramsay Snow spread a rumor that Stannis met his demise. But in preview chapters for the upcoming Winds of Winter that Martin posted online way back in 2012, that rumor proved untrue. Stannis is very much alive.

What this means for the onscreen version of Stannis is unclear. The last time fans Game of Thrones saw him, he was about to be killed by Brienne of Tarth. Of course, audiences never actually saw Brienne finish the job.

That doesn’t mean showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss didn’t get rid of the would-be king. The series has diverged in many ways from the books, including killing off Stannis’ daughter, Shireen.

Still, the often-bloody drama rarely shies away from a gruesome death. Any time the camera turns away is cause for suspicion. Fans will eagerly comb the Internet for photos of Stannis actor Stephen Dillane on the Game of Thrones set, just as they search for clues of the survival of The Hound or revival of Jon Snow.

TIME celebrities

Melissa McCarthy Poses With the Many Women of the New Ghostbusters Movie

The actress fights for gender equality in Hollywood

At a time when too-few women are afforded opportunities both in front of and behind the camera in Hollywood, the Ghostbusters reboot has made a conscious effort to promote girl power.

Star Melissa McCarthy posted a photo to Twitter on Tuesday in which she posed with all the women of the Ghostbusters film—and there are a lot of them. Besides actresses Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones, rows of stunt doubles, producers, writers and other crew members also filled the shot. Each woman held up a sign indicating her role in the film.

McCarthy thanked Ellen host Ellen DeGeneres in the picture for her initiative to promote girl power through her Gap line of children’s clothing.

Even though the highly anticipated all-female Ghostbusters movie will hit theaters in 2016, Hollywood is far from reaching gender parity. Women made up just 14% of protagonists and 30% of all speaking characters featured in the top 100 grossing films last year, according to the yearly “Celluloid Ceiling” report released by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.

Things were even worse for women behind the camera. That same year, women comprised 17% of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers working on the top 250 movies.

If there’s anyone who can change that trend it’s Melissa McCarthy, who recently ranked number three on Forbes’ list of top earning actress last year and starred in several successful summer blockbusters including Bridesmaids, The Heat, and Spy. Director Paul Feig (who helmed all three of those films) is also responsible for the new Ghostbusters film.

Read Next: Dear Aaron Sorkin, If You Don’t Think There Are Enough Good Roles for Actresses, Write One Yourself

TIME animals

New Species of Crayfish Named After Edward Snowden

Cherax Snowden
Chris Lukhaup

Snowden has some big fans in the German science community

Scientists have named a new species of crayfish after NSA leaker Edward Snowden

German researcher Christian Lukhaup and two of his colleagues are apparently admirers of the former NSA contractor now living in Moscow. “The new species is named after the American freedom fighter Edward Joseph Snowden,” they wrote in their study, published Monday in the journal ZooKeys. “He is honored due to his extraordinary achievements in defense of justice, and freedom.”

The Cherax snowden had previously been misidentified as a very similar but different species of crustacean. It hails from West Papua in Indonesia and is often kept as a pet by crayfish enthusiasts in Europe, East Asia and North America because of its orange tipped claws.

 

TIME movies

J.J. Abrams Says Nazis Inspired the New Star Wars Villains

Kylo Ren is not a Sith. He's a part of the First Order.

Star Wars devotees are desperate for any new information about the Force Awakens bad guy, Kylo Ren. His mysterious crossbar lightsaber and the absence of the usual “Darth” title associated with Sith Lords have left fans wondering about his background.

Finally, director J.J. Abrams has offered a few (admittedly vague) details about the backstory of Adam Driver’s character. In an interview with Empire magazine, Abrams explained, “Kylo Ren is not a Sith. He works under Supreme Leader Snoke, who is a powerful figure on the Dark Side of the Force.”

Snoke is played via motion-capture by—who else?—Andy Serkis. Astute fans will remember that Serkis lent his voice to the first trailer for the film.

But how, exactly, are Snoke and Ren related to the fallen Empire? It seems that they are part of the First Order, which is not so much a remnant from the Empire as it is an imitator.

“That all came out of conversations about what would have happened if the Nazis all went to Argentina but then started working together again?’” Abrams said in the interview.

“What could be born of that? Could The First Order exist as a group that actually admired The Empire? Could the work of The Empire be seen as unfulfilled? And could Vader be a martyr? Could there be a need to see through what didn’t get done?”

[Empire]

Read next: The Funk Awakens When Daft Punk Meets Star Wars

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TIME celebrities

Avril Lavigne Defends Herself Against Taylor Swift Fans on Twitter

Avril Lavigne Celebrates 30th Birthday
Denise Truscello—WireImage Avril Lavigne arrives at her 30th birthday celebration at the Bank nightclub in the Bellagio Hotel and Casino on September 28, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Taylor Swift has yet to respond on social media

Another day, another celeb taking jabs at Taylor Swift on Twitter. This week, it’s “sk8er boi” singer Avril Lavigne.

It all started when a Taylor Swift fan compared the way the “Bad Blood” singer interacts with her fans to the way other pop stars do. The fan’s post on Tumblr juxtaposed pictures Katy Perry, Kanye West, Britney Spears and Avril Lavigne looking bored and awkward with fans to ones of Taylor hugging her devotees.

Taylor Swift favorited the post.

Lavigne defended herself Twitter with a collage of pictures of her and fans getting cozy.

Taylor Swift has yet to respond on social media.

TIME movies

The Highest-Paid Actress in 2015 Will Not Surprise You

Jennifer Lawrence
Jason Merritt—Getty Images Jennifer Lawrence during Comic-Con International 2015 at the Hilton Bayfront on Jul. 9, 2015 in San Diego, Calif.

Franchise work adds up for a significant payday

Jennifer Lawrence is the highest-paid female actor in Hollywood, according to Forbes. The 25-year-old Hunger Games star pulled in $52 million pre-tax in the last year.

At a time when few women have their own franchise, the top women on Forbes’ annual list have all established themselves as ladies who can carry their own films. The second highest-earning actress, Scarlett Johansson, is one of the most prolific actors in the industry. She earned $35.5 million in the last 12 months. Along with dramatic turns in Don Jon, Under the Skin, and Her, Johansson featured in blockbusters like The Avengers, Captain America, and, soon, The Jungle Book. She also proved she can carry her own action franchise in the surprise hit Lucy last summer.

Melissa McCarthy, who also stars in the network TV series Mike & Molly, clocked in at number three with $23 million. Since breaking out in Bridesmaids in 2011, McCarthy has churned out several big-budget comedies with director Paul Feig, including The Heat, Spy and the upcoming all-female reboot of Ghostbusters.

Read next: Robert Downey Jr., Jackie Chan and Vin Diesel Are the World’s Highest-Paid Actors

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