What Hollywood Learned in 2017

Hollywood is all about strong women right now, and with good reason.

Looking back, what do all three of the top-grossing films in 2017 have in common? They starred fiercely independent, “don’t mess with me,” women.

Let’s start with “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” Unlike the male-centered original, this version put a woman, Daisy Ridley starring as Rey, in the lead role and it definitely didn’t hurt viewership. This iteration of the famed franchise topped the year with over $591 million domestically and more than $1.2 billion worldwide.

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Not far behind, however, was the live action remake of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” starring “Harry Potter”-famed Emma Watson, with just over $504 million domestically and just a hair under Star Wars in worldwide ticket sales. Being that Watson is an outspoken women’s rights activist, it’s no surprise that this iteration had Belle wearing boots instead of flats and had her as the inventor, not her father. The movie had the highest domestic opening gross of all time for a PG-rated film.

In third place was the hit everyone was talking about this year, “Wonder Woman.” In the highest grossing live-action movie ever directed by a woman (Patty Jenkins), Israeli actress Gal Gadot kicked butt both on and off the screen, bringing in over $412 million domestically and over $821 million worldwide.  

How common is it for women to sweep the box office? Well, the last time the three most popular films of the year were all woman-led was in 1958.

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With the black clothing and “Time’s Up” pins, this year’s Golden Globes awards were all about the ladies, and that didn’t stop when it came to handing out the statues. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” starring Frances McDormand beat out both “Dunkirk” and “The Post” — a Steven Spielberg movie starring Tom Hanks no less— for Best Motion Picture/Drama, with McDormand winning for best actress in the category.

For Best Musical/Comedy, a female coming-of-age story took home the gold and star Saoirse Ronan won best actress for her work.

Yes, the women dominated pretty much every category they could this year — except when it came to directing. As Natalie Portman notably pointed out while handing out this year’s award, all the nominees were men. In fact, there’s only been one woman who has ever won the big prize — an Academy Award for directing — and that was Kathryn Bigelow for “The Hurt Locker” in 2010. Only four women have ever even been nominated for the honor.

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On the television side, woman-power continued with the “Handmaid’s Tale” starring Elizabeth Moss winning for Best Drama and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” starring Rachel Brosnahan and created by Amy Sherman-Palladino, winning for Best Comedy/Musical.

The award for best Limited Series unsurprisingly went to the big hit “Big Little Lies,” with Nicole Kidman and Laura Dern both taking home the awards for their performances.

And then, of course, there was Oprah accepting the Cecil B. DeMille award — the first African-American woman to do so.

As I’m writing this, nominations for this year’s Academy Awards on March 4 have not yet been released, but some are calling “The Shape of Water,” starring Sally Hawkins and directed by Guillermo del Toro (who took home the Golden Globe this year) to be a strong Best Picture contender.

Looking into 2018, it’s clear Hollywood is getting the message that there’s a big market for strong female leads. Among some of the upcoming films this year are “Annihilation,” which has Natalie Portman leading an all-female group through the jungle; Jennifer Lawrence as a Russian spy in “Red Sparrow,” and a new Tomb Raider (minus Angelina Jolie).

Oprah is back too, this time starring with Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling in “A Wrinkle in Time,” but for the most female star power condensed into one film look to “Ocean’s 8,” with Sandra Bullock, Kate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Rihanna and Helena Bonham Carter. And for a little throwback action, Jamie Lee Curtis will reprise her role in a new “Halloween.”

Will 2018 be “The Year of the Woman,” as many news outlets are predicting? Could it be even more so in Hollywood than 2017 was? We shall see.

Kimberley Singletary is the managing editor of Biz New Orleans magazine. A 20-year Southern California veteran, she has been surrounded by the film industry for most of her life.

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