“Wanted,” based on a graphic novel has surpassed expectations. Originally thought to be doing about $35 million in box office this weekend, Nikki Finke at Deadline Hollywood Daily thinks the movie will do about $52 million this weekend. One thing stands out, women are going to see this movie, and young men are not.
This is precisely WHY “Wanted” will tank next week. As a movie, it’s no more formulaic or mechanical or nihilistic than much of anything Hollywood puts out, from “the Fast and the Furious” to “Hostel II.” The problem is that men and women are different, want different things from entertainment, and are supplied by entertainment companies in different ways.
This is why “Wanted” will tank like Ang Lee’s “Hulk” did about five years ago, with around 75% drop-off after the first week.
Commenters at Nikki Finke’s site, many of them Hollywood insiders, completely miss the point. Men and young men in particular are under served in entertainment. About the only entertainment that caters to their preferences are big summer blockbusters. TV is a female and gay ghetto. There are a few places where men find things of interest: ESPN, History and Discovery Channel, and so on. “Ice Road Truckers” and “Deadliest Catch,” but these places skew older, as does CBS’s lineup of “Crime Time” men in their forties and fifties leading teams to fight crime and such. No one would confuse William Peterson or Mark Harmon with a young man’s hero.
Moreover, most Hollywood insiders lack one crucial appreciation of how average boys and young men differ from themselves. Which is how they relate to women. The average young man did not, as a general rule, look like Ashton Kutcher nor have the power and influence of Michael Bay. Getting women and girls to simply consider going out with them, in the face of repeated rejection, was a major triumph. No wonder then, that the types of movies that young men like, and will see, again and again and yes, again, have in some form the guy (often like them) demonstrating courage, endurance, and worthiness that lands them the girl. Who must indeed be worth having.
Movies that don’t deliver that set of story elements, and suggest, ever so slightly, that the young man sitting next to his date just might, maybe be somewhat akin to the hero onscreen, won’t do well. Certainly movies that feature lots of action, but women in the lead, with the man a disposable or forgettable figure, don’t do well. Why? Because the guys pay for and suggest the movie. They’re not taking their dates to a movie that suggests, well they need not be with the guy who brought them there in the first place. Quite the reverse, they’ll avoid it like the plague.
The Summer Blockbusters that do well do so by delivering that element, with an approachable and likable female character who is no one’s cardboard cutout. This would include movies like “Spider-Man,” where Kirsten Dunst was strong and independent, but well, needed the hero. Or perhaps even “Iron Man,” where the main character is flustered and unsure around his love interest, who is presented as his equal in intelligence and bravery if not super-hero-dom, needs saving, and is grateful for it. Note as well, “Iron Man’s” Tony Stark is happiest just building things on his own, a super-hero version of the garage tinkerer.
Angeline Jolie has a problem, in that guys don’t find her an appealing romantic fantasy. She’s too old for the teens and mid twenties set, has a tabloid image that is not flattering. She’s of course an attractive woman, but not one most young men would imagine as their fantasy girlfriend. Worse, in “Wanted” she’s the one who is often the lead, not James MacAvoy’s character. Who in turn lacks any appeal to young men. That Jolie is older, heavily (for the movie) tattooed, and the leader of MacAvoy not the follower is a huge problem when it comes to next Saturday Night. Will young men plunk down $24 for themselves and their date that practically suggests, well the young ladies could do better? I think not. Particularly with word of mouth likely to be negative.
Summer Blockbusters of course take advantage that young men, unlike young women, have little substitutes for entertainment. No TV series, for free, oriented towards them. Little in the Emo crowd, pop tartlets, and American Idol rejects to draw them to pop music. They need some activity to take their dates to, that will put them in a good light. Traditionally, Hollywood has filled that need and it’s been profitable.
Can Angelina Jolie use the success of “Wanted” to break out into lead roles that women will pay to see? It’s quite possible, but, the field there is crowded. Entertainment, from “serious” Hollywood movies to free TV, is awash with stories aimed squarely at women. There are too many alternatives to allow actresses and female-oriented projects to break out to the level of profitability equaled by the original “Star Wars” or “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Even reaching the levels of their successor movies, “Spider-Man” or “National Treasure” or “Lord of the Rings” is going to be very tough. It’s all due to the competition. Every movie oriented towards women is in competition with free night time soap operas, Lifetime movies, and so on.
To be a lead actress who can consistently pack female audiences in, for movies with little to no appeal to men, is possibly Hollywood’s toughest job. There’s no evidence that Jolie is up to the task, despite her tabloid celebrity.