Remember when I said they teach you not to write screenplays with women as leads?

(Update to this article can be found here.)

Here’s proof reported by Nikke Finke.

Warner Bros president of production Jeff Robinov has made a new decree that “We are no longer doing movies with women in the lead”.

Because a few recent movies with female leads haven’t done well at the box office. One of the producers who reported this to Finke wondered, ha ha, what would happen when Gloria Allred heard about this (that remark reveals the mentality here all by itself), so Finke called Allred and got the following insightful remark:

If that’s what he said, when movies with men as the lead fail, no one says we’ll stop making movies with men in the lead.

She’s right. If Brad Pitt’s movies flop, they cool off on making movies with Brad Pitt, not all men. (I’m leaving aside for now the debate of how insane it is to credit/blame actors for the success of a project that involves multiple writers, a director, producers and studio execs shaping the final product. I can only deal with so much stupid in one post.)

I’m not sure I can adequately express how angry I am without getting this site flagged by the FBI for possible terrorist activity. Even if Robinov sincerely believes a few flops comprise evidence that audiences just don’t dig women leads, he needs to pull his head out of his ass and question the rationale. Most film students do. We make points like the one Allred made. We point out that a lot of female-led flops are feeble shrugs compromised by behind the scenes disagreements about what they’re supposed to be and who will be targeted as an audience. We (and Baz Lurhman) point out that a lot of female stars are so compromised by appearance expectations they can only meet through Botox and cosmetic surgery that they can barely form facial expressions anymore, and this just might plausibly have something to do with audiences not buying their performances. We point out that the lead roles delegated to women are the leads they don’t think are good enough for men, and wonder aloud how the same movies would have performed with men as leads.

But we’re just making excuses, aren’t we? Truth is, the chicks just can’t cut it and we need to face that and “go with the dollar”. This business ain’t about bein’ politically correct, ya know. /parody of what I was told in film school

Boycotting Warner won’t suffice. This is an undeclared war against women, and it’s time we recognize it as such. It’s not ignorance. It’s not a misinterpretation of data. It’s misogyny with every rationalization in the book backing it. It’s the industry showing once again that it is actually more resentful of women than a rabidly conservative Capitol Hill.

I wish I was surprised. I’m not, because I already heard all of this in film school. If anything, I’m sort of hopeful – maybe now that it’s been said right out in public where everyone can hear, more people will get pissed at this blatant bullshit.


  1. says


    “Boycotting Warner won’t suffice.”

    No, it won’t, for lots of reasons. Starting with the fact that, sadly, it won’t get enough support to work (partly because they will deny, deny, deny; partly bc Batman is due out relatively soon) and ending with the fact that, as you pointed out, they are hardly the only problem.

    But! There is one silver lining in all this, and that’s (assuming they do deny, deny deny) we have them on record as saying this isn’t their policy, and yet their actual record shows that it may as well be. So we now have a better way to criticize them.

    Usually studios get out of such criticism by claiming that their decisions are purely profit based and/or pointing fingers at their peers. This lets them sidestep the accusation of prejudice completely without ever really addressing it. But now they’ve addressed it. (Or will.) And they’ve addressed it. Not some industry organization or huge megaconglomerate, but the film division of one company.

    So, step #1 is getting them to deny the statement. Rabinov may or may not have actually said this, it doesn’t really matter. We just need to make enough to noise to get WB on record as saying loudly, publicly, and vehemently that this isn’t what they do.

    Step #2 is to keep track of what kinds of movies they do make. How many WB movies in the past year, coming year, etc. have female leads? How much screen time do women get in their movies? How many pass the Mo Movie Measure? How many would pass the reverse? Since we all already know that the stats will be appalling….

    Step #3 is to zing them on it. You say that this isn’t your policy? Well, then, what is your policy? Because, whatever it is, it sure doesn’t look all that much better than that really awful idea you spent so much time denying. And so what that Paramount is worse,? They aren’t the ones who claimed that this isn’t what they do.

    It won’t magically change everything, but it might help change some things.

    (Now we just hope they are stupid enough to claim that they don’t do something they so obviously do.)

  2. SunlessNick says

    But we’re just making excuses, aren’t we? Truth is, the chicks just can’t cut it and we need to face that and “go with the dollar”.

    Except in the case of Firefly, where the dollar wasn’t a good enough reason to keep the chicks.

  3. Jennifer Kesler says


    There is one silver lining in all this, and that’s (assuming they do deny, deny deny) we have them on record as saying this isn’t their policy, and yet their actual record shows that it may as well be. So we now have a better way to criticize them.

    Brilliant! I know Ragnell is posting addresses and phone numbers – maybe we can ourselves get that denial. Maybe multiple bloggers can get it on record.

    We need to organize about this somehow.

    Nick: Exactly. It’s mind-boggling how they switch tracks to a whole different set of arguments when women viewers make something successful. Titanic undoubtedly got so huge because of female viewers, so they must rationalize that it was a “date movie” and “all the women went to see Leo”. Did they cite polls? Nah, they just turned to stereotypes for speculative answers.

  4. says

    “We need to organize about this somehow.”

    Once I get breakfast, get some laundry done, and make some progress on the application I need to do, :) I’ll try to come up with some ideas. And write that damn letter.

  5. MaggieCat says

    I saw that article right before I went to bed. I should have known it would be here three seconds later. :-)

    What makes it all the more entertaining (…I have a twisted sense of humour) is that the people saying these dumbass things are from Warner Bros. The company that was, in part, responsible for The Postman and Battlefield Earth, two of the movies which are synonymous with “catastrophic flop” these days. I can’t help but think they’re using movies starring women as a scapegoat for the fact that they only have two Harry Potter movies left to fund their generally bad decision making.

  6. says

    This really is frustrating– but not at all shocking. I used to read (and write coverage of) scripts for a distributor in New York, and there were all sorts of “rules” about which scripts would most likely be moneymakers.

    It’s funny now that I think of it… most (and I mean 99%) of the scripts I read had males in the lead. One of my favorites was about a female lion tamer, and it still hasn’t been produced.

    I love this site. Thanks for visiting us on crucialminutiae — otherwise I might not have found you!

  7. Nialla says

    I read about this elsewhere, and they listed half a dozen “women’s movies” that failed recently for WB. I hadn’t seen any of them and have no interest in seeing any of, despite the fact that I’m female.

    I have, however, seen two out of the three successful “men’s movies” they listed.

  8. Jennifer Kesler says

    Christina, thanks for adding your experience there. :)

    Mickle – that’s very cool! We’ll see what actually happens this year.

    Nialla, any analysis on why you didn’t want to see the female lead movies but did see the male lead ones? Also, your update link didn’t work, so I fixed it.

  9. Nialla says

    Nialla, any analysis on why you didn’t want to see the female lead movies but did see the male lead ones?

    I am a sci fi/fantasy geek, and I’m especially into f/x, not just for the “cool” factor, but more of an “art appreciation” thing. Most of that type of movie tends to be male-oriented.

    One of the movies in the “male” list was “300” and I was reminded of articles at the time that were so surprised by the number of women who went to see it. At first the reaction was, “Oh, the men must be dragging their wife/girlfriend/significant other to go see it,” then later on it was, “The women must be going to see the hot men.”

    Hot men are definitely a plus, but I went to see the movie for what it was — an action movie with interesting f/x.

    I see the same sort of thing in the library all the time. Men will not read “women’s fiction” or check out “women’s movies” but most women will read and watch just about anything, no matter the genre.

    Sometimes, if I don’t tell men the vampire romance they have in their hand has romance in it, they’ll check it out, read it and enjoy it, none the wiser they’ve just read a romance.

    Some women have “genre prejudice” too. One older woman picked up a hardcover “romantic suspense” book and loved it, but realized there’s more in the series. When I pointed her to the paperback romances for the earlier books in the series, she was in shock. I was amused. *g*

  10. Gategrrl says

    Nialla said: Some women have “genre prejudice” too. One older woman picked up a hardcover “romantic suspense” book and loved it, but realized there’s more in the series. When I pointed her to the paperback romances for the earlier books in the series, she was in shock. I was amused. *g*

    I admit, I’m one of them. (you know that already, though) My perception is that with a women’s movie, as opposed to a movie with a woman in the lead (frex, The Long Kiss Goodnight) follows a set pattern so rutted in convention that it’s hardly worth bothering to watch.

    Inevitably, one of the main women characters dies, usually from cancer, sometimes from another disease (diabetes) and the other woman/women end up taking care of the dead woman’s children out of pure love and remembrance of the dead woman.

    Movies featuring women in the lead are a different animal, though (which goes for books as well): they tend to have a wider range for what the women do, and the conventions for those pictures are expanded to include male conventions for lead roles – but even there, you have to take the roll of the dice to see if the woman character lead actually *leads* the film (or the book). It’s difficult for a writer, let alone a filmmaker heaped with the layers of suits Hollywood production requires to sell a film, to break out of stereotypes of What Women Do.

  11. says

    Here’s a list of all Warner Brothers films by year.

    They made 22 films in 2009

    The Blind Side gives Sandra Bullock top billing.

    The Box and Orphan star mixed-gender couples. One has a son; the other, a daughter.

    He’s Just Not That into You is a series of interconnected stories with an ensemble cast, with the closest thing to the lead being Gigi.

    Whiteout was optioned in the late 90s and bounced around before being produced by Dark Castle and distributed by WB. It was based on a comic book with two female leads, one of whom received textual reassignment surgery during writing and is a dude in the film.

    So that’s two female leads (one with the supporting character edited into a boy), two heterogendered couples, and one ensemble with a woman at the centre. The other seventeen films: boys.

    Considering that films take awhile to make it from idea to script to screen, the effects of this policy, assumming it exits (or taht it’s that much of a change from how they normally cast films) may take awhile to have a demonstrable effect.

    2010? With the exception of Sex and the City 2 and Valentines Day (which might feature a female lead and a romance between two lads), the bulk of the 22 scheduled films look unusually male. The sequel to Hairspray will be short three of the female characters.

    A company that assembles a world-spanning anti-piracy operation, yet seems intent on pissing off about half of its audience….

  12. William says

    But…I like having women in the lead. What about Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds? What about To Die For and Manchurian Candidate (the 60s version with Angela Lansbury and Frank Sinatra)? Well, maybe you could argue that,as the primary villain, Ms. Lansbury’s character couldn’t be the lead…Except that she set the plot in motion, provided motivation for all the other characters in the film, and…something else. This post is already a bit long.

  13. says

    OMG, Angela Lansbury *steals* that movie. I can’t recall her billing, but it probably was high – since MC came before the blockbuster era which decided that putting anyone but white men in the lead wasn’t profitable. In any case, when I think of that movie, I think, “OMG, Angela Lansbury being creepier than Hannibal Lechter! I must watch it! …oh, and Frank Sinatra was good, too.” (He really was, and so was the other dude… but it’s Lansbury I remember.)

    We’ve discussed somewhere around here the fact that there ARE a number of very successful movies with female leads, but instead of the people in charge thinking, “Hmm, I guess you *can* make money on non-chick-flick films starring women” they rationalize it away: i.e., the Alien franchise succeeded despite Ripley, because the aliens were so cool!

    Interestingly, lots of boys I grew up with, who could be very sexist, loved Ripley in much the same way they admired male action heroes.

  14. Charles RB says

    Recently, comic site The Beat’s chief columnist claimed if Alien was made today, Ripley wouldn’t be female. I saw someone dismiss this as “ultrafeminist cant”, but one of the counter-examples used was The Descent – and that craps on his argument, as The Descent got comments on its all-female cast because it was abnormal.

  15. Heather says

    What’s very disheartening about this is that I never heard about it…. 6 years later, what has been done? I haven’t even seen a petition. You think enough women could give some shits.

    Though I LOVED The Descent and I think while yes, men tuned out during the Cabin scene, they could not help but pay attention the rest of the film. It’s when that film came out and the guys I saw it with admitted that they tuned out during the cabin scene that I realized that it is so rare to see a film with an almost all female cast.

    Though looking at a list of Warner Bros films, it seems they didn’t keep to this statement exactly, though almost. I’d assume Sucker Punch past the test. But I am not sure beyond that…. maybe The Conjuring, and sadly I can’t come up with another.


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