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The Decline Of The Girl Boss

Madame Web, Sony/Marvel’s newest girl boss on the silver screen is the latest cinematic disaster to warrant discussion. The film’s failure is bad on a laughable scale. It has been over two weeks and the film still hasn’t matched the opening box office numbers of Sony’s previous answer to Fredo Corleone, Morbius. People are taking bets as to whether or not the film will be able to hit that number.

This has made current writers feel uneasy. Madame Web is such a colossal failure, studios are questioning the viability of the girl boss trope.

Madame Web Is On Track To Be One Of The Lowest Grossing Comic Book Movies Of All-Time.

If girl bosses aren’t the focus of every single film, how is Hollywood ever going to expect to win the hearts and minds of “modern audiences”?

Let me be clear. This is not going to be a chauvinistic hit piece on the concept of a girl boss. This is a criticism of the girl boss as she is written today.

With that being said, let us begin.


The Girl Boss Isn’t Unique To Storytelling

In film and television, we have had girl bosses since cameras started rolling. This is something lost on both sides of the aisle. This current generation has an unhealthy obsession with wanting to be the “first” everything.¬† Previous generations and more old fashioned fans seem to think that the female protagonist is new and “taking over” Hollywood.

You can’t blame misogynists for your failures, or cry about your movies being taken from you by feminists. Throughout film and television history well written female characters have always had a place. Played by Judy Garland; Dorothy Gale Is an independent young woman who overcomes fear and naivete. Defeating the witch, leading her friends to their destiny, Dorothy realizes that she’s stronger than she thought she was.

The legendary Audrey Hepburn brings the iconic Holly Golightly to life. Going to the beat of her own drum, Holly is unapologetic and just wants to find a rich beau to take her to Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Her iconic “I belong to no one.” line is fierce and sassy. Golightly is a feminist icon.

Nichelle Nichols portrays flagship Star Trek character Nyota Uhara. Uhara is fluent in multiple languages, ran the hundred-meter dash in record time and is a mathematical genius.

The New Era

The 1970 and 80s also gave us prime examples of capable women in leading roles. Pam Grier was no nonsense and dominated any screen she was on in blaxploitation films such as¬†Coffy¬†and¬†Foxy Brown. When the need for the blaxploitation genre waned as black actors started to get lead roles in mainstream cinema; Grier’s career was somewhat stalled. She would play supporting roles and small characters. However, in the nineties she had major roles in Mars Attacks and¬†Foxie Brown.¬†She proved to all of us that she still had it and there would never be anyone else like her.

Pam Grier’s Presence Is Second To None When She Takes The Screen.

Carrie Fischer runs the show in the original¬†Star Wars trilogy. Leia Organa is a Senator and the undisputed leader of the rebels. She’s a good shot too. Furthermore, she didn’t take too kindly to Jabba the Hutt’s treatment of women.

Then there is the boss of girl bosses; Sigourney Weaver. Her and Linda Hamilton dominated the science fiction genre in 1984. While Hamilton’s career had a lower trajectory; Weaver was the go to for a dominant female lead. After the critical acclaim she received as Ellen Ripley; she would double down on her specialty; playing Dana Barrett in the Ghostbusters¬†franchise.

Weaver, Hamilton and Fischer would not have had any of this success without Jennifer Lawrence. When she made hunger games; it created a rift in time that opened doors for women of all eras. She filmed a comedy recently so look out, 1977! Because Diane Keaton is about to make Annie Hall.

Blaming The Male Audience Is Disingenuous.

Hollywood runs like clockwork. If a movie succeeds, you pop the cork off the champagne bottle. If the movie fails; the sludge slides downward. It does go much further down than the people that you rely on for your success. A recent phenomenon has taken place that absolves Hollywood of any wrongdoing or blame for poor decisions.

Just blame the fans. It worked for a while. A movie isn’t expected to do well so your friends in the media start to stir the pot. Inflammatory things will be said. The fans will be accused of being bigots or some variation of a phobe if they don’t go see the movie in theaters and support the movie on social media.

We all know the drill. This tactic did initially get results. However, people eventually stop caring when they get accused of being a misogynist for the thousandth time because you didn’t want to watch Don Johnson’s kid walk through a movie with the charisma of a plank of scrap wood.

This does not deter Hollywood from insisting that fans; specifically the male audience are to blame for what simply is just a really bad movie. Actress Isabella Merced is going for the trifecta when she says that¬†Birds of¬†Prey, Madame Web and The Marvels all failed because the “male audience has a contempt for everything starring a strong independent woman.” I don’t know if this is a hill that Ms. Merced would particularly like to die on.

When All Else Fails: Blame The Audience For Your Shortcomings. Source: The Comic Menu

There Have Been many Successful Female Led Movies.

Put aside the aforementioned female protagonists for a second. Focus on the 21st century, where we are being led to believe that men aren’t buying tickets to movies led by female characters. Since 2000, box office Juggernauts featuring prominent female leads and directors include:

  • Charlie’s Angels
  • Charlie’s Angels Full Throttle
  • The Hurt Locker (Directed by Katherine Bigelow)
  • Wednesday
  • Captain Marvel
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

One of the most successful films in the DCEU is directed by and stars women. Wonder Woman earned a staggering $824,000,000.00 at the box office. The Gal Gadot led project has a better return than Man Of Steel.

This is due to Patty Jenkin’s skillset. Jenkins is keen on evaluating talent. She recognizes a star’s weaknesses and tailor around them. This tactic was employed by Jenkins with Gal Gadot. Jenkins masterfully camouflages the star’s inexperience while still moving forward with the plot. It is a really effective technique.

On the other hand; and proving my point; Jenkins has a misfire to explain with Wonder Woman 1984. Critiquing the box office for Wonder Women 1984 isn’t fair because it was released during a pandemic involving an unknown disease with an unspecified origin. On every other level the movie is offensively bad. Pedro Pascal couldn’t even save Wonder Woman 84¬†and everyone loves that guy!

Wonder Woman is well made and it did well. This leads us to critical acclaim and box office success.

Wonder Woman 1984 is not well made. This leads to negative criticism and poor financial results.

Is anyone else sensing a pattern here?

You’re Blaming The Majority Of Attending To Your Movies… For Not Going To Your Movies

Blaming the male audience is a losing battle when statistics are readily available. I don’t have the statistics on hand for¬†Madame Web,¬†Or¬†Birds of¬†Prey¬†on hand. However, if you take a look at my previous article on Marvel, you can take note when you see that even though¬†The Marvels was a financial disaster; 65-70 percent of the theatrical movie goers for the movie are men.

If that statistic was flipped around and only thirty percent of the audience was male, this argument holds water. When it is women that are struggling to justify as to whether or not your movie is worth ten dollars per hour to them your argument becomes fanciful.

Hollywood Is To Blame For The Girl Boss Implosion

Common sense should tell us that high quality breeds good results. With that being said, who can Hollywood can only blame themselves for this predicament.

Producers greenlight a project. It is catastrophically written, poorly executed and marketed terribly. They sign off on all these things. Brie Larsen being a rude and condescending person is not my fault. Wht ia more; Dakota Johnson going on her press tour for Madame Web and being openly dismissive and disinterested in her own project is not the work of a hostile male audience.¬†Birds of Prey was an unintelligible mess with no direction. Did the male audience edit it? Is that why you’re blaming us?

You Can’t Blame Brie Larsen’s Off Putting Demeanor And Contentious Relationship With The Fans On The Audience.

Dakota Johnson can’t name a single Tom Holland¬†Spider-Man movie. The writers told us that they could pretty much do what they want with the movie since Madame Web has no backstory. This YouTube short debunks that claim in hilarious fashion. They also set the movie in 2003 because they specifically wanted to have a fight scene set to the song Toxic by professional Instagram dancer Britney Spears.

Do we not have ears here in 2024? Did we lose the ability to transmit music through a speaker? This train of thought doesn’t make sense.

Regardless Of Gender, Smug Characters Are Unappealing.

Ellen Ripley was an overly competent woman who stereotypically had a pet cat. Ripley is however; an extremely well written character. Man or woman, the viewer relates to her throughout the movie. You ask yourself: “Would I have followed protocol?” “How would I have handled any of these situations that she faced throughout this film?”¬†

You relate to Ellen Ripley when you watch Alien. It’s the same principle with Linda Hamilton in Terminator.¬†These are human characters. You connect with them. Their feelings are relatable. Viewers empathize and sympathize.

Now let’s sum up what would happen if someone like Phoebe Waller-Bridge wrote either of these movies.

If Phoebe Waller-Bridge Were To Update “Alien” For “Modern Audiences”, The Movie Would Be A Giant Self Insert Full Of Smug Put Downs Of Her Male Co-Stars.

The main character would be played by Ms. Waller-Bridge because she doesn’t have the ability to write a story sans self insert. She would be the smartest person on screen at all times. Girl Boss would strut past all of the stupid, inept men with a cocky swagger and an annoying smirk.

Classic one-liners would take the place of actual dialogue. At key plot points, we will hear: “Never send a man to do a woman’s job.” and that one line that appears in almost every modern female driven film, the cringeworthy: “I’m not about let a man take gredit for a woman’s work.” Everybody is obliged to call the role powerful, or stunning.¬†

Nobody wants to sit through that for two hours

The Writers Are Out Of Touch And Seem To Want Revenge On Men.

Looking at the history of media subjectively; the girl boss has always been here. Even in the old sitcoms. Alice Kramden and June Cleaver have their houses on lockdown. Florida Evans is one of the all-time greatest matriarchs in television history.

Problems eventually get solved, sometimes they don’t. Arguments occur. We are still seeing the household depicted as a loving one. I am still inclined to care about these characters. Of course, its only television. However; at the same time, these are human characters with human flaws written by real people who had life experience. Nobody in Hollywood has legitimate life experience anymore.

Charismatic Relationships Don’t Matter.

Positive female characters are better received when their male counterparts are qual to them in skill.

The movie Copycat¬†(1995) has Holly Hunter plays Detective MJ Monahan She works the San Francisco streets with her partner; Ruben Goetz (played by Dermot Mulroney). Both are great detectives and compliment each other. Goetz isn’t dismissive and misogynistic in the manner that he would be portrayed had the film been written today.

Monahan is the better detective in the movie. She ends up solving the case. The focus is always definitely on her. Yet, Goetz is there and his presence doesn’t negate the achievements of the female character. He is an intelligent male character who compliments his counterpart well. That is not how contemporary writers view men anymore.

Holly Hunter Depicted A Classic Girl Boss In 1995 When She Made “Copycat.”

In Ghostbusters (1984) Janine is highly intelligent and organized. Meanwhile; when you look at Ghostbusters (2016) the male secretary that they hire is almost intellectually dysfunctional. This is not by chance.

Such a character trait one of the only male main roles looks to be a calculated decision. Revenge with the pen by a jaded writer crusading against the patriarchy and sticking it to whatever man made them feel this way towards the rest of us. 

With every project, they let out a war cry at the top of their lungs into the face of “toxic masculinity”. All the while, conveniently forgetting that toxic femininity is a problem too.

Final Takeaway

Throughout the annals of history, female characters have been essential to storytelling. A witty, empowering female is essential to any good story. With that being said, when you empower one demographic at the expense of the other; your work starts to become problematic. I wouldn’t argue that it is women who are being written differently than they have been throughout history. It is the way that men have gradually been degraded into knuckle dragging, incompetent accessories to their stunning and brave female overlords that is detrimental towards viewership.

I watched Barbie. The movie is well made, the jokes land. Greta Gerwig is very good at her job. She put together a very good comedy. The message of the film is a sinister one though. We are told that the film is a cry for equality. Yet, the Kens spend the whole movie being criticized and dunked on.

I know the movie is a parable. It’s supposed to convey how women were treated in the past. However, looking at the movie objectively; the story isn’t saying that the past treatment of women was wrong. They are saying that the treatment was only wrong because it happened to THEM. Now it is their turn to do it to YOU. That isn’t equality. That is revenge.

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Thank You for reading! When I am not writing I enjoy spending time with my wife Barbara, my four year old daughter Frances, and my loyal hound Marbles.  For more hot takes, follow me here and on our brand new YouTube channel.  You can also check out more of my content on my author’s page.

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