Everyone who's anyone is talking about the 'Guardians of the Galaxy' lately, and for good reason. Starting as early as last Thursday's midnight previews, 'Guardians' has been breaking records and setting new movie premiere standards all over the place! Along with destroying the previous record for an opening weekend in August, 'Guardians' also broke the record for the most women movie goers for a Marvel film. According to exit polls, 44% of the audience this weekend was female. That beat out 'The Avengers' by 4%; not much, but still a significant number. The question is, what is it about this movie that attracted so many more women than the other Marvel films (and 'Avengers' for that matter, but since the Guardians are often considered to be the Cosmic equivalent to the Avengers I'll focus on them)? I've seen it, of course. Hell, I've seen it twice already (yes, it's that good), but I've also seen every other Marvel film out there more than once. That's to be expected; I'm a geek. I suspect, however, that since the numbers of the other Marvel movies are so much lower than 'Guardians', it's safe to assume that we can't attribute its record breaking numbers exclusively to She-Geeks. So, what's so special about 'Guardians of the Galaxy'? Let's visit some of the most likely theories:
Theory One - The "Strong Female Character":
Given the success of kids' movies like 'Brave' and 'Frozen', it's easy to see that more and more parents are chomping at the bit to expose their daughters to actual female role models. I also think more parents are looking to expose their sons to strong, intelligent women. It is, after all, just as important for young boys to see women as actual, well-rounded human beings rather than just eye candy and Hero Treats (you know, the prize the male hero gets for doing good that helps teach boys that if they're "good guys" they're entitled to "win the girl"). *SPOILERS* Taking this into account, I'm more than a little annoyed that the classic rescue scene was in the movie. I appreciated that the science was relatively accurate, but there were other ways they could have moved the plot along that didn't involve Quill getting to gallantly risk his own life to save the helpless woman. The only saving grace was that the personal interaction between the two ended at flirting - the hero didn't technically "win the girl". I would have preferred if she hadn't been presented as a love interest at all, but I guess I'll have to be content with baby steps. *END SPOILERS*
All in all, having a female lead in an action movie, even in an ensemble, is likely to be a draw for more female viewers. Be it Black Widow in 'The Avengers' or Gamora in 'Guardians of the Galaxy', girls enjoy watching other girls being badasses on the big screen just as much as anyone else would. We all want to see a little of ourselves in the characters we're watching, so having more female heroes (as well as more heroes of color or LGBT heroes) is bound to be a good thing when it comes to box office numbers and merchandise sales. Which reminds me, the lack of Gamora merch has not gone unnoticed. In fact, Amy Ratcliffe of the 'geek with curves' blog wrote a fantastic post pinpointing exactly how absent Gamora is from all the massive marketing surrounding this movie. I highly recommend giving it a read because, seriously, it's insulting.
Theory Two - If Not for This Woman, 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Wouldn't Exist:
Despite the fact that the only name you're likely to see in most publications associated with writing and directing 'Guardians' is James Gunn, if Nicole Perlman had not spent upwards of two years immersing herself in the comics and writing the first script, 'Guardians of the Galaxy' would never have been made. At least, not the 'Guardians' we've collectively fallen in love with. Perlman is a fan of both sci-fi and science itself, along with being a damn fine writer. She was hired by Marvel in 2009 for the Marvel Writing Program where she (and the other budding screenwriters) were allowed to chose a more obscure Marvel title and try to turn it into movie gold. She chose 'Guardians of the Galaxy' because of her love of sci-fi. When her script was chosen to become the next Marvel film, she became the first woman to ever be credited with writing a Marvel Studios film. Now, I'm not trying to take anything away from Gunn. When he was brought on, it was as a co-writer and director, and he certainly added a lot to the script. I do, however, want to make sure that Perlman gets recognition for her years of hard work as well.
Considering the original script was written entirely by a woman, and that the final script was co-written by that same woman, I think it's very likely that her involvement may be attracting more female viewers. It's widely believed that female characters are generally found to be more realistic and less stereotypical when written by a woman. That's certainly not true 100% of the time (coughcough, Joss Whedon, coughcough), but we do tend to write what we know so the idea is not completely without merit. Unfortunately, it has also been widely believed that fast-paced action movies cannot be written by a woman. The concept is silly, of course, but has persisted all the same. So, those who are aware that 'Guardians' was largely written by a woman may very well be tempted to go see it out of sheer curiosity. I, for one, was interested to see how it turned out; and, I think she did a damn fine job. Apparently, moviegoers of all genders agree with me.
Theory Three - Name Recognition:
With names like Zoe Saldana, Chris Pratt, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Karen Gillian, etc. it's very likely a lot of people would go see the film without any info at all. Karen Gillian alone probably pulled in a ridiculous number of 'Doctor Who' fans, for instance. I have to imagine this cast was very carefully put together. Especially considering Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel lent their very distinct and popular voices to roles that could easily have been given to voice actors who would have cost the studio significantly less money (full discloser: this is pure speculation; I have no clue how much either actor made, and considering how much of a geek Vin Diesel is, I wouldn't be surprised if he did it for free). It's pretty common for people to choose to watch a movie based solely on someone involved in it, so it's certainly not out of the question that some women are going to see 'Guardians' exclusively for the cast. If we're lucky, they'll enjoy it so much that we'll have bagged ourselves another geek convert or two.
So, which one is it?
All of them. They're all factors that have led to more and more women taking notice of superhero movies. Women who have been geeks all their lives. Women who have been introduced to one or another facet of geekdom by a friend or loved one. Women who are introducing their friends and loved ones to geekdom. Women who have never even picked up a comic book, but will watch all the movies and tv shows because they're exciting and fun. It doesn't matter who these women are, or what brought them to 'Guardians' or 'The Avengers' or 'Doctor Who' or 'Arrow' or anything else. All that matters is that they are here, and it's high time more executives at places like Marvel and DC take notice and start marketing to us for a change. Don't you think?