Back at the beginning of summer, I noted that there were fewer hard action films aimed square at the young-adult male demographic this year, the traditional audience for the summer blockbuster season. Instead, we were seeing a more even spread of films aimed at women and families, which is a nice change of pace from the heavily testosterone-laden landscape of previous years. Female-friendly franchises like "Twilight" are bringing in big profits, and female viewers have played a substantial role in making hits out of films like "The Blind Side" and "Alice in Wonderland." Suddenly the fanboy audience, which has long been the most desired segment of the movie-going population, is finding its position of dominance challenged by screaming "Twilight" fangirls and "Sex and the City" devotees. And some of them are not happy about it.
This summer has not been a good one for the explosion-loving male demographic. "The A-Team" and "Predators" have only pulled in so-so numbers so far. The only big superhero film, "Iron Man 2," made a lot of money, but only made a mediocre impression. Guy-friendly comedies like "Get Him to the Greek," "MacGruber," and "Hot Tub Time Machine" all fell flat. The last hope for box office glory may be "The Expendables," an old-fashioned 80s style action picture about a team of tough guys on a mission. These tough guys include Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke, Randy Couture, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and Terry Crews. Also pitching in cameos will be Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis, who will share a scene with Stallone, marking the first and perhaps the only time the three great action stars of yesteryear will ever be onscreen together in a major motion picture. It opens August 13th, nationwide.
Alas, horrors! Also opening on the same day will be "Eat, Pray, Love," the film version of the Elizabeth Gilbert memoir that made a splash with readers in 2006. Aimed at the same audience of female viewers who regularly turn out for life-affirming Meryl Streep movies, it could be a late summer sleeper hit. Oprah Winfrey has already given her endorsement to the book, and will almost certainly help promote the film. And if that weren't enough, "Eat, Pray, Love," will feature Julia Roberts in a rare starring role, returning to the romantic comedy genre she once dominated after an absence of nearly ten years (she was part of the ensemble cast of "Valentine's Day" earlier this year, but so briefly it could hardly count as a Julia Roberts picture). You can just hear male moviegoers collectively groaning in dismay at the thought of being roped into attendance by girlfriends and female relations.
Thus, the stage has been set for an old fashioned battle of the sexes. One disgruntled fan has issued a call to arms with this unofficial trailer for "The Expendables," demanding that men get themselves to the theaters on August 13th to help boost the film to box office triumph and defeat the dastardly forces of Julia Roberts and Oprah. Full of passionate exhortations for male solidarity and bitter disdain for sparkly vampires, the fan trailer is an enjoyable watch, but it also leaves a bit of a bad aftertaste like the similarly macho Superbowl ads that raised a few eyebrows earlier this year. The trailer works by drawing on a lot of old gender stereotypes that should have been left behind in the 80s, and it also provides a glimpse into the psyche of an all-too-common fanboy moviegoer - a little misogynistic, deeply threatened, highly competitive, entitled, narrow, insular, and reliant on a model of a segregated cinemascape that is completely outdated - if it ever existed at all.
I find it so strange that it's entirely escaped the trailer creator's notice that a large portion of the potential audience of "The Expendables" is female. In fact, a good portion of all action film audiences are female. And back when Julia Roberts ruled romantic comedies, she used to draw pretty gender-balanced crowds, often with the help of Richard Gere, and she has plenty of male fans. The fact of the matter is that there are very few films that can succeed by playing to one audience alone. As much as marketing executives like demarcating territory, the truth is that women watch films made for men, men watch films made for women, adults watch films made for kids, and the ones that make the most money are the movies that appeal to everybody. The real gargantuans at the theaters this year have been family films, mostly animated, which have learned to straddle that fine line between kid-appropriate and grown-up-friendly to lucrative success.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with being part of a niche audience - movies primarily aimed at women have long been relegated to alternative programming choices and their fans have gotten used to smaller budget productions and a certain amount of neglect from the Hollywood hype machines. And consequently nobody is concerned when they premiere in second or third place at the box office or fail to break any records. A few deluded guys may moan and fret, but a movie aimed solely at men is just as niche as a movie aimed only at women. But I don't think either "The Expendables" or "Eat, Pray, Love," fits those narrow categories. So instead of asking the manly men to simply show up to "The Expendables," the better message would have been to encourage them to bring the wives and girlfriends along to relive the glory days of the action film genre that all of us loved. I went to "Predators" over the weekend with a male compatriot in tow, looking for my summer action fix that "The A-Team " and "Iron Man 2" hadn't delivered. I was not disappointed.
As for "Eat, Pray, Love," I wonder if the male lead, Javier Bardem, can be counted among the "only men that [men] are allowed to love." He won serious badass credentials along with the Oscar after playing Anton Chigurh in "No Country For Old Men." Or are actors only "men" when they're playing parts that involve causing copious mayhem and bloodshed? I don't understand why it seems to be harder for guys to enjoy a good romantic comedy than it is for women to enjoy a good action film, but it's an awful shame. I'll be looking forward to two films on August 13th, but male pride and machismo means the guys only get one.
In that sense, the women are already the winners.