Skip to main content

The Force Awakens breaks the record

2979968-star-wars-bb-8-force-awakens

On Wednesday, The Force Awakens passed Avatar as the highest grossing movie in the North American box office, just twenty days after its release.

For comparison, Avatar set its record of $760.5 million after being in theaters for seven months and then later re-released. And Star Wars is probably going to take a whole lot more money before it’s done.

Obviously, The Force Awakens set this record because it’s a Star Wars movie. An excellent Star Wars movie, after a very long break. First people didn’t expect it to ever exist, then people didn’t expect it to ever be good, and now Star Wars fever has taken over, and most people are seeing it at least twice.

But that doesn’t change the fact that this is a Star Wars movie with a female protagonist. An awesome female protagonist. And a lead trio of one white girl, a black guy, and a Hispanic guy. And a low-key brewing interracial romance between that girl and the black guy (or between the two guys, depending on who you ask).

Since we don’t have access to alternate universes, it’s impossible to say for certain whether these factors helped it to make more money, if it made no difference, or if, as conventional Hollywood wisdom would suggest, it made less money as a result. But Disney distribution president Dave Hollis did attribute the speed of its earnings to “the audience broadening out” and “extraordinary repeat business.” Exit surveys showed that audiences shifted from 68% male on the opening weekend to 62% the following weekend, suggesting either that a lot more women decided to see it after waiting and hearing good things about it, or that significantly more women than men are returning for repeat viewings. Or both. And although we can’t know why that’s the case, the presence of a great female character like Rey seems like a good guess.

The same surveys suggest that the audience has also grown more diverse, changing from 63% Caucasian, 12% Hispanic and 10% African American on the first weekend to 57% Caucasian, 15% Hispanic and 11% African American the following week, a shift that might again be due to its more diverse cast.

It should be noted that these viewing figures still skew more male and more white than the average, at least as it was in 2014, possibly because of the way Star Wars is perceived and has been advertised in the past. But Disney designed a lot of their marketing to appeal to female viewers and to families, on the assumption that they were a valuable untapped audience, and that male viewers would come either way. And although it hasn’t created a 50/50 split, the marketing efforts seem to have worked.

There’s no doubt that female viewers will attend genre movies. Looking at the figures from 2014 again, women made up 41% of the audience for Guardians of the Galaxy, 42% of the audience for The Winter Soldier, and 57% of the audience for Mockingjay — interestingly, a number that rises in relation to the importance of the main female character in the story. The Mockingjay figures may suggest that guys see a female protagonist and think the movie isn’t for them, but if that’s the case, movies like The Force Awakens can only help to break that unconscious bias — after all, it was about Rey, and it was still enjoyable for everybody, wasn’t it?

Of course, not all “fans” would agree. In possibly the most hilarious news ever, an MRA group declared their boycott of The Force Awakens for being “SJW propaganda” a success, calculating (through rather faulty math, but let’s just go with it) that they denied the movie $4.2 million in box office revenue. I’m sure Disney is off crying in a corner.

So, despite this (kind of hilarious) organized effort to boycott it, The Force Awakens still became the biggest box office hit of all time in the US, in just twenty days, and continues to steamroll on to greater heights. And it did so with a diverse cast, with a woman at the center, because more diverse people are seeing it, and people are seeing it again and again and again.

Of course, this’ll all be quickly forgotten. If toy sets and Monopoly games are managing to leave Rey out now, when she’s the protagonist of a movie that’s still in theaters, then I have no doubt that she’ll be forgotten later too. That this will be dismissed as a fluke, because it’s Star Wars, because no other female-led genre movie have EVER been successful, because women don’t really like sci-fi and fantasy, because because because.

But still. It’s pretty cool. And it adds even more arsenal to the argument that, yes, actually, movies can have non-straight white male protagonists and still have mass appeal.

Over $760 million of appeal, in fact.

Rhiannon

Rhiannon Thomas is the author of A WICKED THING and KINGDOM OF ASHES. She lives in York, England.

6 thoughts on “The Force Awakens breaks the record

  1. It is funny How they are more Good movies with main female characters than bad ones. I am glad this movie and mad max and the hunger games have success so hollywood has no excuse to refuse women films.
    By the Way, Oscar Isaac is caucasian even if he is from Guatemala.

  2. I’m a bit hesitant to talk about the audience “broadening out” since I never thought of Star Wars as a boys’ only club in the first place. Female representation isn’t great in the original trilogy and the prequels, but this was never reflected among the fan base, and many women have been dedicated fans for a long time.

    Very informative stats. As they are based on North American exit surveys, I thought I should mention some local experience – I’ve seen the movie 3 times so far, and since in the past month I relocated and then travelled for the winter holidays, it happened so that my first viewing was in the UK, the second in Germany, and the third in Bulgaria. In all three of them the male/female split in the audience was about 50/50, and one time the women in the audience were a bit more. Another interesting thing I noticed in my last viewing was that there were several women buying single tickets, and each of them was seeing the movie by herself. Usually, if you go to the cinema by yourself, it means you really want to see this movie. If you go in a group, you could be seeing it because of a friend, or perhaps you met with a group of friends and randomly decided to go to the movies and see whatever is on. If you are by yourself, you are obviously there for the movie, and for the movie alone, and you are determined to see it even though you have no one to see it with. I saw several women seeing the movie by themselves and not a single man being there alone.

    I’m not sure what’s the cause and what’s the effect here. Did Star Wars get more female fans because of Rey? Or did Star Wars always have lots of female fans and Rey was a natural progression, a way to acknowledge that, and a way to make us all feel happier, more welcome and included? Or is it a bit of both? In any case, I think women never had much trouble identifying with male characters. How could we? So many amazing books and movies feature male protagonists. Refusing to identify with them would make us miss so many opportunities. Yet, there was the persistent belief that 1) men can’t identify with female characters and as a result 2) only women would see female-led movies, and since women are not fantasy / sci-fi fans, female-led sci-fi movies would not be profitable. Star Wars disproved those. It showed clearly that 1) Men are perfectly capable of identifying with someone different from them and have no trouble caring about Rey’s journey and 2) Women make up a large part of the fantasy / sci-fi audience and are a demographic worth catering to.

    1. Oh, I definitely think it’s a bit of both. I think the new release is reaching new fans who’ve never really bothered with Star Wars before, but I also think the existence of a character like Rey encourages existing fans to be even more enthusiastic about it while also making it more clear than ever that it’s a fictional universe for everybody. Sure, female viewers can easily identify with a male protagonist, but there’s something about that rush of seeing a female character like Rey that I think really ups the potential obsession level, at least for me.

      I was surprised the initial weekend numbers were so skewed towards a male audience, though. I would have expected it to be much closer to 50/50.

  3. Hello! This isn’t particularly related to the article, but I’ve been an avid reader of your blog for some time, and I have to say, I mostly just find myself nodding in agreement to your views. I particularly like how you seem to enjoy both scifi/action AND unabashedly girly stuff like Disney Princesses AND and everything in between – so do I. And thank you for pointing out more than once that a romantic subplot does NOT diminish a female character’s worth (but that it CAN end up eclipsing the rest of her character….)

    Something related to the movie that I do want to share – I went to see it with my dad and his friend, both what you would call “original” SW fans (silly term, but yeah). First thing my dad said when we came out of the theater? “I really liked the new girl, she was so cool.” Best thing about the way he said it? I don’t think he gave a single thought to her gender, he just said “girl” as a neutral fact. He wasn’t trying to impress me, either, he didn’t really address the comment to either of us. Somehow, it not only made me super proud of him, but gave me hope that there’s lots of great guys like him all over the world, who love Rey for her character and all but forget her gender.

  4. Well, I am only one person, but I can tell you that I ‘d never seen anything Star Wars and because I heard that the protagonist was a great female character AND there were people of colour in important roles, I watched the old movies last week and went to see the new film yesterday, and I loved it! I’m definitely a new fan.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *