Women don’t go see movies

There’s a long-held assumption in Hollywood that women just don’t go to movies as often as men, so why bother trying to figure out what they want and make movies that fit? They won’t pay to see them anyway!

And they believe it like zealots. I once spent ninety minutes trying to explain to a guy (screenwriter/producer) why I disagreed, and he cut me off at every sentence to repeat that numbers don’t lie, and numbers show that women only really go to movies with their kids or the men in their lives, so Hollywood is perfectly justified in not bothering to find out what women want to see so they can make films for them.

Part of his argument was that “chick flicks” earn so much less than genres targeting men and kids. I suggested this might be because the majority of chick flicks suck even more than Independence Day, but I was mistaken, of course: it was because women don’t go to movies. There are various theories as to why women are less ardent about movie attendance than men: that they’re too cheap or poor, that they lack the time, that they find things like the run on the Death Star overwhelming and confusing, poor little fluffs (sadly, I have to admit I’ve known women who say that last one – and they’re also the ones who go to chick flicks).

I thought he was just refusing to acknowledge the possibility I was raising. But then something weird happened. For the last and final time, I shrugged and said, “My problem with both chick flicks and action/sci-fi is that both tend to substitute falling in love for character development. Hell, Luke Skywalker’s personal investment in destroying his daddy’s Empire was a lot more interesting to me than Julia Robert’s need for Richard Gere to give her some real lovin’. I could relate better, too.”

Suddenly, it was like a light bulb went off over the guy’s head. It had never ever occurred to him that if a woman saw Star Wars she might relate to one of the male characters on a quest instead of the female one getting her man. And that meant… holy crap! Maybe everything the experts thought they knew about why women did or didn’t go to movies was… questionable?

Dah dah DAAAAAAAH! (cue the terrifying realization music)

In contrast, I’ve had five-minute conversations with religious zealots who completely understood why I considered some point or another of their religion to be questionable. Scary, isn’t it?

The assumption that chick flicks score low at the box office because of women’s viewing habits rather than the quality of the films continues to this day. But around 2002-2003, there was a glimmer of a chink in the armor. Women had faithfully attended the first episodes of Star Wars and The Matrix in 1999. For the second installments of the big sagas, Attack of the Clones and The Matrix Reloaded, you may have noticed the trailers changed a bit: all sorts of genres were included, rather than the usual “if you like this shoot ‘em up, you’ll love this one” list. As a result, women also went to see a lot of what played in those trailers: Charlie’s Angels and Austin Powers, some horror films, some romantic comedies, and some wacky indie stuff. It was like the blockbuster sci-fi movies had lured them into the theater, and the trailers they saw there lured them into the next movie, and the next.

Someone was paying attention the first time around: they realized women were actually watching the trailers and the movies, rather than just watching their kids or trying to keep their eyes open until the end of a date. And lo and behold, it turned out trailers work on women just like they do on men.

Golly! Next, they’ll be saying we’re the same species!

Of course, you can imagine why an entire industry might invest so much in believing there are only two segments of society that drive box office ticket purchases. Makes your market research a lot easier. Shortens the list of stuff you have to learn to write or direct or produce properly.

Or maybe there are just too many totally non-creative stuffed shirt MBA’s in the film industry who would die in seconds if their lives ever depended on their ability to develop a character or write a story free from plotholes. Maybe some of these guys need to get the hell out of film and go become potato chip manufacturers or something. And until they do, they’re going to keep searching for ways to “prove” the audience dislikes anything that requires talent, money, or hard work.

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