Feminist Narratives Blamed for Decline of Female-Led Action Films


Female-led action movies are experiencing a decline, as evidenced by the recent box office failure of “Furiosa.” Despite significant anticipation for this prequel to “Mad Max: Fury Road,” its opening weekend was disappointing, and its box office performance worsened over subsequent weeks.

This trend is not isolated. While “Captain Marvel” grossed $1 billion, other female-led action films like “Charlie’s Angels” (2019), “Black Widow,” “Birds of Prey,” “The Marvels,” and now “Furiosa” have underperformed. In contrast, male-led action movies like “Bad Boys 4,” despite lower critic scores, have seen better box office returns.

Historically, female-led action films have been successful. Classics like “Terminator,” “Alien,” “Aliens,” “Tomb Raider,” the original “Charlie’s Angels,” “Wonder Woman,” and “The Hunger Games” were well-received. The issue isn’t an inherent lack of interest but rather a shift in how these films are presented.

Traditionally, men have been the primary audience for female-led action movies. Films like “Alien” and “Terminator” evolved their female leads in sequels, which remained popular among male viewers. While men typically prefer male-led action films, they have shown considerable interest in female-led ones.

Action movies, similar to superhero, sports, and Western genres, focus on overcoming personal flaws to conquer external threats. This appeals more to men, whereas women generally favor genres emphasizing relationships and unity. Dr. Jonathan Haidt’s book The Anxious Generation highlights this distinction, attributing it to “agency” versus “communion” values.

However, recent female-led action films have adopted anti-male and feminist narratives. These films often replace established male characters with female ones, sometimes in a demeaning manner. “Ghostbusters” replaced its original cast with women; “Star Wars” introduced new female leads, sidelining the original male heroes. Captain Marvel overshadowed established characters like Nick Fury. These changes, often framed as feminist empowerment, have alienated male audiences.

The feminist messaging in these films coincides with growing anti-feminist sentiments among men, who feel increasingly marginalized. Men now face challenges in education and employment, areas where women are making significant strides. This perceived bias against men is reflected in their reaction to media that they see as similarly biased.

Female-led action films continue to attract a primarily male audience, even as their interest wanes. Women, on the other hand, don’t seem as engaged with these films, despite their feminist themes. Successful movies like “Barbie” show that women are not averse to feminist messages but prefer genres that cater more to their tastes.

To revive the genre, Hollywood needs to balance its approach. Female-led action movies should feature strong male co-leads and avoid anti-male rhetoric. Relationships should play a central role in the story, focusing on reconciliation and love.

Successful male-led action films have historically included strong female characters without denigrating them. This model can work in reverse, with female-led films respecting their male counterparts. Examples include Princess Leia, Pepper Potts, Mikaela from “Transformers,” and Nakia from “Black Panther.” By adopting a more inclusive approach, Hollywood can reinvigorate female-led action movies and appeal to a broader audience.

Joseph Holmes
Joseph Holmes
Joseph Holmes is an NYC-based culture critic and overthinker. He is the co-host of The Overthinkers podcast and has been published in the New York Times, Forbes, Relevant, Christianity Today, Acton Institute, Religion Unplugged, and An Unexpected Journal.

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