To paraphrase Spencer Tracy, there ain’t much meat on this story, but what’s there is cherce.
Though Nikki Finke pretty much reports everything like it’s the Normandy Invasion, the idea of Warner Brothers’ President of Production, Jeff Robinov*, literally declaring "We are no longer doing movies with women in the lead" in response to the double detonation of The Brave One and The Invasion – which Nikki mis-refers to as The Vanishing; and it is amusing to consider Robinov arbitrarily getting out of the skirt business due to the underperformance of a fourteen-year-old thriller – might actually be worthy of her inflamed rhetoric. It’s a pretty startling mandate that, as Finke points out, won’t go down with high-profile feminists like Gloria Allred.
And I say it’s too bad he didn’t see the light soon enough to shut down production on Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2: Mo’ Hoin’!
In all seriousness, I think Finke might be getting incomplete information (and if I’m wrong, I’ll freely admit it). For starters, if Robinov (the little guy on Zack Snyder’s arm in the above photo) has truly issued a fatwa outlawing female leads across the board, he’ll be rescinding this order come December 21st, when Hilary Swank’s P.S. I Love You starts its march to $100 million. While this is far from an inevitability (Swank’s top grossing picture as a lead is Freedom Writers at $36 million), all it takes is the right woman in the right romantic comedy on the right release date to launch a $20 million lead. Judging from the trailer, P.S. I Love You contains all of these elements and then some.
On a purely business level, though, if Robinov’s declaration is more along the lines of "We are no longer doing action movies with women in the lead"… I’m afraid he’s entirely justified. This isn’t because a woman can’t carry an action movie, but a acknowledgment of the deeply shitty reality that there isn’t a single filmmaker or producer in town who knows how to develop an femme-led action movie that plays to the male quadrant (television is a completely different ballgame).
And it’s a failure of imagination, really. In a way, I’d much rather see Jessica Biel as a former Navy SEAL assigned to track down terrorists threatening to blow up the Anheuser-Busch brewery. But no studio would ever greenlight Biel in a role developed for, say, Mark Wahlberg because they’d first call up the respectable grosses Underworld, Kill Bill and the Resident Evil movies, and, then, contrast those numbers with the not-so-good returns for Elektra, Aeon Flux, Domino, Catwoman, Ultraviolet, Point of No Return and, for the hell of it, V.I. Warshawski. And then they’d conclude that the risk is too high for the modest-at-best reward.
The exceptions to this are Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Charlie’s Angels, but those films had killer pedigrees.
As does Wonder Woman, which Warner Brothers recently backburnered for the time being in favor of slapping together the superhero stew that might be Justice League of America – recently turned down by Jessica Biel (not to worry; sinewy broads are all the rage now; they’ll find their Diana). This was smart. The development of the stand-alone Wonder Woman by Joel Silver and a cadre of writers has been, to put it mildly, disastrous. And the last time it took Warner Brothers several years to piece together a chick-skewing superhero flick, they ended up with Catwoman. So unless Alan Horn and Robinov and all the other muckety-mucks at WB are giddy to blow, say, $80 million, they’ve absolutely no incentive to fast-track a big screen Wonder Woman movie any time soon.
I do believe there is a market for female action films that appeal to both genders, ‘cuz guys do like chicks kicking ass if it’s not too cartoonish (all my friends who’ve seen The Kingdom have singled out Jennifer Garner’s big fight scene as their favorite thing in the movie). But these movies will continue to fail so long as they’re developed by men and/or the current (and very shallow) pool of… I’ll be nice and say "uninspired" female writers making the studio rounds. Clearly, there needs to be an infusion of new talent, but there will be no incentive for this unless we get another Tomb Raider (i.e. a woman-led action film that tops $100 million). Until that day, the status quo of comedies and thrillers will hold.
Except for the He-Man Woman Haters Club that is Warner Brothers. If they ain’t doffin’ the threads or makin’ whoopee, the dames can hit the bricks! And you can tell ’em Robinov said so!
EDIT 2:05 PM PST: Before I get a flood of emails saying "What about James Cameron?" (actually just got one from a certain red-headed webmaster)… he’s the exception. But he’s yet to do it outside of a sequel for a pre-sold franchise (unless you want to go with Jamie Lee Curtis in True Lies, but that wasn’t exactly her film, was it?).
*Why is it when I did an image search for "Jeff Robinov", I got nothin’ but Emma Watson photos?