About six months ago, I went to see the new Ghostbusters film. I came out of the cinema feeling cheery and looked forward to reading a few think pieces on how there were no jokes about the Ghostbusters breaking a nail while they were fighting the undead. Instead, I spent the next few months in what felt like my own personal reboot of a different Bill Murray film as I saw the same headline again and again and again and again and aga…
“Ghostbusters 2016 a box-office flop,” data confirms. “What Busted the Ghostbusters?” “Ghostbusters 2016: Reasons It Failed.” Every morning, there would be a new story about how badly Ghostbusters had done, and how Sony were regretting ever making it, and how Paul Feig’s career was in tatters after the film. And every article would mention that one of the reasons it was failing was that many male nerds were boycotting the film because they were taking a stand against what they saw as feminism going too far.
Fast-forward to now. Passengers, the new film with Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, has been out for a few weeks and it has not done well. Once again, the headlines are coming out – “What went wrong with Passengers?”, “Box office report: Passengers stumbles”, “Jennifer Lawrence & Chris Pratt Tank In Passengers” – but things feel different this time.
Firstly, there are far fewer gloating stories about Passengers than there were for Ghostbusters and, secondly, as Abigail Nussbaum pointed out on Twitter, there is a huge difference in the reporting of the failures for the two films. While the media was quick to point out that Ghostbusters was being avoided by men, they aren’t as keen to point out that Passengers is being avoided by huge chunks of women.
Without going into too much detail, the premise of Passengers rests on Pratt’s Jim doing something really horrible and creepy. The marketing didn’t make this clear. They kept the fact that Aurora wakes up because of Jim’s stalkery selfishness a secret, talking about it as a fun secret “twist” that you weren’t supposed to reveal. Reviewers quite rightly thought “Fuck that” and have been almost unanimous in their dismay, and many women reading these reviews – women who were previously excited about seeing the film – have decided to avoid it instead because they’ve got absolutely no interest in watching a film with such a horrific premise.
While the media was quick to point out that Ghostbusters was being avoided by men, they aren’t as keen to point out that Passengers is being avoided by huge chunks of women
Why aren’t people talking about this? They did with Ghostbusters. In fact, they revelled in it. Despite multiple articles talking about how the creepy plot of Passengers is putting audiences off, I haven’t seen one talking about how the audiences being put off are specifically female. Why?
Is it because these are women being put off, rather than men, and women aren’t as important as men? If Ghostbusters can’t attract men, then it’s fundamentally failed at something, whereas if Passengers can’t attract women then, well, who cares? Perhaps, but I can’t help but think it’s something to do with how, despite the fact Lawrence is on the poster as well as Pratt, Passengers is a male-led film and Ghostbusters was female-led.
Maybe it’s just easier and more fun to kick women than men – especially when these are women who have somehow taken something away from men in the way they apparently “took” the film from the original cast. Or, maybe, it’s because we still make women work twice as hard for half the success, such as Melissa McCarthy consistently making films that cost less to make and take more money than those of her male peers, while still being routinely kicked for being unfunny, stale and a one-trick pony.
It’s fine to report on the fact that Ghostbusters didn’t do as well as expected and that part of the reason is because there was a boycott by angry men. Those are all facts. It’s not fine, however, to ignore the same facts for a different film that’s led by men, rather than women, and ignored by women. Time and time again, we are shown that there aren’t enough women in the film industry and, by kicking them when they’re down, or gloating in their failures, we aren’t going to change that. Without more women to say, “Er, this is a bit gross, isn’t it?” we’ll just end up with more creepy films like Passengers, but if we don’t change things soon then, quite frankly, we’ll deserve them.