For the third time this year, following strong openings from The Hunger Games and Snow White and the Huntsman, a movie with a tough female protagonist topped the box office in a major way.
The reason why this matters is because all three are big budget movies. In action/superhero boy film range. Both Snow White and the Huntsman and Brave have budgets in the range of $150 million plus, and The Hunger Games was just a hair under $100 million.
In general, there are very few movies that have female leads that are in that budget range. If you don't have a big budget, you don't open on a lot of screens and then you have a hard time making serious cash. It's a vicious cycle. Of the top grossing women centric films in 2011 --the ones that made over $100 million -- the only female centric film that had over a $100 million budget was Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1 at $110 million. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was budgeted at $90 million. Both The Help and Bridesmaids had relatively low budgets at $25 million and $32 million respectively. And Bad Teacher had an even lower budget of $20 million. Cameron Diaz is laughing her ass all the way to the bank on this film. We all know that people were surprised at the successes of The Help and Bridesmaids and there has not been much conversation about the success of Bad Teacher (which there shoudl be.)
There was a lot of pressure placed on this film on the box office side and the content side. All the previous Pixar films opened at number 1 at the box office. What would it have looked like had the first Pixar film with a female lead not to have scored a number 1 debut. But we don't need to worry about that since Brave hit the number 1 spot with $66 million. Awards Daily had the gender and age breakdown 57% under 25; 43% over 25. And 43% male and 57% female.
I have a sneaking suspicion that this film will have some good legs over the July 4th holiday. As we know women are a bit slower to the box office and are big responders to word of mouth so I'm gonna guess that this film will hold up and not lose as much of its audience on the 2nd and 3rd weekend like a typical wide release.
As for the content. Expectations were very high. People were waiting a long time for a female film from Pixar -- too long. And this year we got The Hunger Games so our bar for female characters on film is getting higher. That's a good thing.
There is still the bad taste in all our mouths that director Brenda Chapman who came up with the idea of this film was replaced by Mark Andrews. And as Mary Pols aptly says in Time, she's the character is still a princess. "She’s a rebellious tomboy, but her concerns are still limited to those of a princess, the biggest of which remains, as ever, marriage."
I totally agree. While I encourage all little girls and boys to go and see this film, I know my sister is going to cringe when she sees that Merida is a princess because all her five year old daughter talks about is princesses. It's not that she is a shrinking violet, she's so active and swims like a fish and climbs trees, but she sees princesses everywhere so she wants to be one.
I wish we could put a moratorium on princesses, which by the way is also the lead character in Snow White and the Huntsman. Sometimes I think that the culture will only let girls go just so far...and then has to reign them in with all the princess crap.
So while it is important to support this film so that Pixar will make other films with a female lead, we need to encourage the good folks at Pixar to next time, leave the princess at home and give girls something else to aspire to.
Brave proves skeptics wrong to the tune of $66M (Awards Daily)