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With 'Barbie' leading the way, 2023 was a big year for women in film

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

It was a hot pink summer at the movies.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BARBIE")

RYAN GOSLING: (As Ken) Hi, Barbie.

MARGOT ROBBIE: (As Barbie) Hi, Ken.

CHANG: And critic Bob Mondello says you're not imagining things if you sense that Hollywood's fall has also been led by women.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Nuns, pop singers, superheroes. There have been 11 weekends so far since Labor Day, and in more than half of them, the No. 1 film in cinemas not only starred a woman but, for all practical purposes, had no significant male role.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE NUN II")

KATELYN ROSE DOWNEY: (As Sophie) Something doesn't feel right.

MONDELLO: A demonic nun terrorized a Catholic girls school through most of September in "The Nun II."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE NUN II")

TAISSA FARMIGA: (As Irene) It's OK to be scared. I'm scared, too.

MONDELLO: Pop star Taylor Swift then revived everyone's spirits in October with her "Eras Tour" concert film.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "TAYLOR SWIFT: THE ERAS TOUR")

TAYLOR SWIFT: Are you ready for it?

MONDELLO: And now November is being rescued by not one, not two, but three female superheroes in "The Marvels."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE MARVELS")

IMAN VELLANI: (As Kamala Khan) We're a team.

TEYONAH PARRIS: (As Monica Rambeau) No, no, no, no, no, we're not a team.

BRIE LARSON: (As Carol Danvers) We're not a team.

MONDELLO: Team or not, they and their fellow movie heroines have easily out-distanced the male-led No. 1 fall films at the box office. In fact, they've had an impact on ticket sales this year that, if not quite unprecedented, is at least noteworthy. "Barbie," all by herself, contributed $1.4 billion to Hollywood's bottom line worldwide.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BARBIE")

HARI NEF: (As Barbie) This is the best day ever.

ROBBIE: (As Barbie) It is the best day ever, and so was yesterday, and so is tomorrow, and every day from now until forever.

MONDELLO: Disney's "Little Mermaid" remake brought in another half-billion plus.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE LITTLE MERMAID")

HALLE BAILEY: (As Ariel, singing) Something's starting right now.

MONDELLO: Taylor Swift and "Nun II" each contributed roughly a quarter-billion dollars. And though "The Marvels" is busting fewer blocks than hoped, it's still bringing in enough that those five films alone will have made close to $3 billion this year, making them decisively...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE LITTLE MERMAID")

BAILEY: (As Ariel, singing) Part of your world.

MONDELLO: Now, it's possible to read too much into this. In each of the weeks that a woman-centered film led the pack, most of the other films in the top 10 were centered on males. And with Hollywood's still-recovering-from-the-pandemic box office revenues totaling $25 billion last year, 3 billion is still a fraction of the industry's business. Still, it says something that the top moneymakers more than half the time this fall have been women.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BARBIE")

ROBBIE: (As Barbie) Some things have been happening that might be related.

MONDELLO: They are, you might argue, the result of something best actress winner Frances McDormand set in motion five years ago in her 2018 acceptance speech at the Oscars.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRANCES MCDORMAND: If I may be so honored to have all the female nominees in every category stand with me in this room tonight, the actors - Meryl, if you do it, everybody else will. Come on. The filmmakers, the producers, the directors.

MONDELLO: Dozens of women stood, and it has changed the landscape a bit. "The Marvels" is directed by a woman, as was "Barbie," directed by Greta Gerwig, who may well get her second directing nomination from the Academy, so was "Saltburn," opening this week, which might get a second nomination for Emerald Fennell - all of whom took heed, as did many others, of the way McDormand closed out her speech, urging everyone to insist on more diversity behind the camera by adding a clause to their contracts.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MCDORMAND: I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen - inclusion rider.

MONDELLO: Drawing direct lines of cause and effect can be tricky, but the Motion Picture Academy subsequently introduced inclusion standards for awards consideration. And while some have wondered whether these strategies are effective, to take just one measure, according to the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, women had substantially more leading or co-leading roles than usual in last year's biggest box office hits - 44%, a historic high. Might that have happened anyway? Sure. It might have, as Hollywood's Kens would probably argue.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BARBIE")

SCOTT EVANS: (As Ken) Here. Let me show you.

KINGSLEY BEN-ADIR: (As Ken) Here. Let me show you.

SIMU LIU: (As Ken) Here. Let me show you.

MONDELLO: But do we really want to give them the last word?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BARBIE")

KATE MCKINNON: (As Barbie) Don't blame me. Blame Mattel. They make the rules.

MONDELLO: I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEYONCE SONG, "CUFF IT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.
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