The red carpets of the awards shows have been rolled up, which can mean only one thing: summer blockbuster season is here. Until August it’s going to be wall-to-wall explosions, with a dash of human drama (time permitting). Maybe it’s spectacle over substance – OK, it’s definitely spectacle over substance – but these box-office behemoths are key to Hollywood’s business and their success or failure shapes the films we see. For decades, after Jaws and Star Wars revolutionised Hollywood, summer films were aimed primarily at teenage boys. Just this week, Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2 won huge box-office by aiming its humour squarely at that demographic. But this summer also has something to offer grown-up women, and hints that the model might be changing.
The heaviest hitter, out on June 1, is the big-screen debut of Wonder Woman. This is the first major superhero movie directed by a woman, Monster’s Patty Jenkins, and a lot rides on it. If Wonder Woman can knock it out of the park, commercially and critically, that success will help women in Hollywood – both behind the camera and in front – and it’s tempting to suggest that it’s every feminist’s duty to go along on the opening weekend just to prove that women can make, and lead, giant action movies.
But that’s a terrible reason to go see anything; a much better reason is that this looks like loads of fun. Wonder Woman, played by Israeli actress Gal Gadot, was easily the best thing in last year’s gloomy Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice, and this tells her origin story among the all-female Amazon civilisation (led by the formidable and beautiful Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen), as well as giving her a love interest in the handsome shape of Chris Pine, a best friend in The Office’s Lucy Davis and a righteous fight against the horrors of World War I. All this and she gets cool, bullet-deflecting jewellery and a lasso of truth. Talk about a role model.
It’s tempting to suggest that it’s every feminist’s duty to go along on the opening weekend of Wonder Woman just to prove that women can make, and lead, giant action movies
Also offering a strong female lead is Alien: Covenant (May 19), with Katherine Waterston (Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them) stepping into Sigourney Weaver’s spaceboots to fight acid-blooded monsters. She looks tough, the aliens look terrifying and Michael Fassbender is an android caught in the middle. Not for the faint-hearted, but definitely good news for horror fans. And if you enjoyed the action of February's John Wick but wish that Keanu Reeves was bleached platinum, you’re in luck. Charlize Theron plays a 1980s spy in Cold War Berlin in Atomic Blonde (July 28), when she will be kicking ass and not bothering to take names. James Bond wishes he looked this cool.
Pleasingly, Jenkins is not the only big-name female director with a new film this summer. On July 14 Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled arrives, featuring Colin Farrell as an American Civil War soldier hiding out in a girls’ school headed by Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst. Expect intense, sexy drama and a darker tone than we’ve seen from Coppola before, judging by the nervy, creepy trailer. And director Kathryn Bigelow also has a new film, a breathless tale of the 1967 riots in Detroit starring John Boyega, out in the US on August 4. It deals with politically charged race issues, though it's been criticised for its lack of roles for black women.
But that’s about your lot. Many of the other summer films are nearly pure sausage fest: they may prove to be fun, but don’t go expecting much for women. King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword (May 19) is Guy Ritchie’s wizards and geezers take on British legend; it looks epic but also epically blokey. Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk (July 21) and Matt Reeves’ War For The Planet Of The Apes (July 14) both focus on male soldiers and it looks like Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (May 26) relies entirely on Kaya Scodelario’s doggedly scientific Carina for female input. We can hope that Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 7) will be more balanced, thanks to Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May and Zendaya’s love interest Michelle.
Both Baywatch (June 1) and The Mummy (June 9) have female villains (Sofia Boutella and Priyanka Chopra respectively), though the chances of them getting a word in past The Rock and Tom Cruise remain to be seen. And if anyone can explain why Transformers: The Last Knight (June 23) involves King Arthur and (reportedly) Nazis as well as planet-sized robots and Mark Wahlberg, please do share. Still, teen Isabela Moner features heavily in the trailers so maybe there’s one decent female role.
All in all, we’re not at the point where women get an equal share of the blockbuster pie just yet. But this summer shows a willingness to look beyond spotty boys for an audience. We vote with our wallets for the movies that get made, and if these female-led films are a success Hollywood will, eventually, make more for us. Spectacle over substance may still be the reason for the season, but it could be spectacle designed for us.