Point At Issue: Behind The Increase Of Women-led Remakes Of Originally Male-led FIlms?

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On Feb. 8, Paramount Pictures released their film What Men Want, a comedy directed by Adam Shankman that stars Taraji P. Henson and Tracy Morgan in leading roles. Henson plays Alison “Ali” Davis, a successful sports agent who develops the ability to hear men’s inner thoughts through a freak accident. The film is based on the film What Women Want, a Nancy Meyers directed film that starred Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt in lead roles. The films share the main premise, but other parts of the films are largely different.

The remake is part of a trend in films that have released recently. There have been movies that have tried to emulate the success of their male-led counterparts with female-led sequels, like American Psycho 2 (2002) that starred Mila Kunis in the lead role. Christian Bale had played the titular role in the film American Psycho (2000), and the status of the film as a cult hit was what had urged the makers to make a sequel.

Ocean’s Eight (2018) followed a trilogy of films collectively called the Ocean’s series, a trilogy of films directed by Steven Soderbergh. The movies in the series were heist films that had a star-studded cast of actors led by George Clooney in the role of Danny Ocean leading a gang of thieves. Ocean’s Eight had Sandra Bullock led a star-studded cast in the role of Debbie Ocean, the sister of Danny Ocean. The movie did not garner critical acclaim, but it beat its predecessor at the box office.

The films mentioned above had new storylines, although they were based in the same world. How What Men Want differs from these films is in the concept of gender-swapping i.e. a re-imagining of the same world as the original. They are closer to being remakes than they are to being sequels or prequels.

Take the case of Ghostbusters (2016). It was marketed as a reboot of the original Ghostbusters that was released in 1984. It was directed by Ivan Reitman and starred Bill Murray in the leading role. The success of the film had inspired a media franchise, with a sequel in 1989, two television animated series and video games that were released in subsequent years.

The Ghostbusters movie in 2016 seemed like it was doomed from the start. The first trailer of the film garnered 600,000 dislikes at the time, making it one of the most disliked videos on YouTube (It is currently at number 31 on the most disliked videos list) James Rolfe from the hugely popular Cinemassacre Productions refused to even watch the film, let alone review the film, adding to the growing discontent against the film.

The merits and demerits of the film weren’t weighed before people passed their judgments on it. The film received criticism from fans mainly on the basis of the trailer alone, which might have stemmed from the film having an all-female leading cast. Most publications pointed out that the reasons for the criticism were sexism alone.

Overboard (2018) is another film that did exactly what Ghostbusters tried to do. Starring Anna Faris and Mexican Actor Eugenio Derbez in lead roles, the movie was a remake of the original film Overboard (1987) that starred Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. The 1987 original wasn’t much of a commercial success, and it was criticized for having a sexist premise in the first place. In 2010, a remake of the film was announced, with Jennifer Lopez set to star in the film, and Will Smith was going to produce the film. The film somehow never got made then.

When Overboard released, it didn’t garner the critical acclaim, but it wasn’t meant to appease the critics in the first place. Also, unlike Ghostbusters, although Overboard had developed some sort of a cult following over the years, it did not have the massive nostalgia that was associated with the Ghostbusters.

The things that worked in favor of the Overboard remake were the stars of the film. It was sold more as a Eugenio Derbez vehicle than a film starring Anna Faris. Derbez is the most recognized actor in the Spanish-speaking population of the U.S., and although Latinos make up for only 18 percent of the population, they contribute 23 percent to the box office ticket sales. The result: the movie made $91 million at the box office. Although the movie didn’t exactly set the box office on fire, it was a success since it was made at a $12 million budget. In contrast, Ghostbusters reported a $70 million loss on its budget.

The films discussed above casts doubts on the entire trend of gender-swapping in films. Society has changed, and women’s causes are being championed. It isn’t a question of whether female-led films can succeed or not at the box office. The success of a sequel like The Incredibles 2, which was a much-awaited sequel, made close to $1.243 billion at the box office. The Incredibles 2 had the character of Elastigirl that took the central role within the film.

The main question arises about whether it is fair to reimagine an original and just replace it with a female lead. For a film to do well with critics and moviegoers alike, it is necessary for the movie to be well made, which requires good characters and a great script. Audiences want to see a good film, and they will turn up to watch a good film, regardless of gender. Hollywood needs to make good films starring women in lead roles, instead of using a gimmick like a gender-swap.