Why Woke Gender Swap Remakes Are a Bad Bet
What the world needs now … is a female-driven remake of Sylvester Stallone’s “Cliffhanger.”
Yes, the 1993 actioner is being rebooted but with an as-yet-unknown actress taking Sly’s place. Here’s the headline on the press release announcing the project:
ROCKET SCIENCE AND ORIGINAL FILM UNITE FOR LONG AWAITED [emphasis added] FEMALE-LED “CLIFFHANGER” REBOOT
Director Ana Lily Amirpour, responsible for the intriguing vampire film “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” and the unwatchable thriller “The Bad Batch,” will helm the project.
Will it succeed? That’s always a tough question when it comes to movies. Just remember what the late, great screenwriter William Goldman said about Tinsel Town?
He’s right, and it humbled studios then … and now. Complicating matters is the female reboot component. In short, we may be in the middle of a gender swap revolution, but the films’ box office fortunes are mixed at best. To be blunt, the misses outweigh the hits.
That isn’t stopping Hollywood, though.
The industry’s virtue signaling instincts won’t be denied. Studios, enamored of brand recognition, think the remake part of the gender swap equation offers a better chance at success.
Let’s look at the initial numbers. They don’t exactly support that thesis.
The biggest gender swap remake remains 2016’s “Ghostbusters.” That film jettisoned the original’s all-male cast for four funny female leads.
The ballyhooed remake/reboot/reimagining made $128 million at the U.S. box office. That’s far below the studio’s expectations and more than $100 million less than the original made in 1984 dollars. Modern blockbusters typically earn double that amount. The film’s bloated budget complicated matters, with box office gurus estimating the film soaked Sony for $70 million.
That’s a big gender swap fail.
The “Oceans 11” gender swap remake fared better. The Sandra Bullock/Cate Blanchett vehicle, “Ocean’s 8,” hauled in $140 million last year. Given the lower budget, that qualified as a hit. That figure also bested “Oceans 12” and “Ocean’s 13.” The 2001 “Ocean’s 11,” itself a remake of the Frank Sinatra caper, earned $183 million.
That’s good enough to put “Ocean’s 8” firmly in the win column.
From there, though, the news isn’t as kind. The original 2000 comedy “What Women Want” earned a spectacular $182 million. The gender swap remake, starring Taraji P. Henson in the Mel Gibson role, generated just $54 million earlier this year.
Last year’s “Overboard” remake, which gave Anna Faris the Kurt Russell role from the chipper 1987 comedy, scored $50 million domestically. It helped that the film’s budget came in at a trim $12 million. It’s still far from a smash. Some of its box office might likely came from popular Mexican star Eugenio Derbez.
This past weekend, the ghost of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” did little to stop the “Avengers: Endgame” juggernaut. “The Hustle,” a very faithful remake of the 1988 Frank Oz comedy, cast Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson in place of Michael Caine and Steve Martin.
The results? A modest $13 million for its opening weekend. The original only made $42 million, but it’s become a beloved con caper. The remake mostly played down the feminist angle, but that didn’t save it from some scathing reviews.
Here’s a sample:
If watching Anne Hathaway feed Rebel Wilson a french fry dipped in toilet water is your idea of a good time, The Hustle just might be for you. – Flickering Myth
An embarrassment to the heist genre, an insult to all existing comedies, a disgrace to feminism. Empire Online
That’s another reason why the gender swap remakes fail. On some level, the creative teams behind them think they’ve got a hit on their hands. The elbow grease required to craft a hit film isn’t engaged, perhaps.
Recent gender swap remakes wisely didn’t antagonize their potential audiences. The “Ghostbusters” film did just that, angering a large swath of movie goers in the process. Subsequent projects, from “Ocean’s 8” to the recent “Hustle” project, let the films’ qualities speak instead. That’s a smart move … unless the films aren’t worth the bother.
Another box office obstacle?
Conservatives often cry, “get woke, go broke.” There’s some good data behind the claim. Chains like Dicks Sporting Goods saw its sales droop after bowing to progressive demands on gun sales.
Audiences may be keen to see a gender swap remake if the trailer thrills or the stars shine brightly. If the same audiences sense a woke lecture in progress, their enthusiasm may dim. That likely factored into the “Ghostbusters” reception.
Either way, two things are clear. Hollywood isn’t nearly done with gender swap remakes – witness “The Hustle” and the upcoming “Splash” reimagining. Studio suits, in turn should prepare for potential losses along the way.