What’s next for Sony Pictures, “Women in Black” or “Bad Girls?”
As Sony talks to “Bridesmaids” director Paul Feig about writing an all-female “Ghostbusters” reboot, the studio has doubled down on its progressive development efforts by hiring Lisa Joy Nolan to write a female superhero movie set in the “Amazing Spider-Man” universe, an individual familiar with the project has told TheWrap.
Even before Amy Pascal took its creative reins, Sony has long been an equal-opportunity studio — producing “A League of Their Own” in the early-90s amidst male-driven baseball movies such as “Field of Dreams” and “Major League,” as well as casting Hilary Swank as “The Next Karate Kid” — but its biggest hits have flaunted their maleness proudly in their titles, a la “Spider-Man,” “Men in Black” and “Bad Boys.”
However, with “Twilight,” “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent” among Hollywood’s hottest franchises and female-led vehicles such as “Maleficent,” “Lucy” and “Gravity” proving they can top the box office, Sony has started putting its next tentpole eggs in a pink basket rather than a blue one.
In addition to “Ghostbusters” and this new superheroine movie, Sony is developing a “Barbie” movie, a YA movie starring Chloe Moretz titled “The Fifth Wave” and three true stories about strong women — Angelina Jolie‘s “Cleopatra,” Reese Witherspoon’s “The Pioneer Woman” and Tate Taylor’s “Brownie Wise,” starring Sandra Bullock.
It comes as no surprise that Sony’s plans for an estrogen-soaked CGI-fueled comic book movie “leaked” online Monday morning in the wake of a $94 million domestic haul for “Guardians of the Galaxy,” a little-known Marvel property that the company leveraged into a global hit with its unparalleled brand power.
Once seen as a risky movie, the success of “Guardians” proves that audiences are willing to take a chance on characters that feel new and exciting. That approach seems to have emboldened Sony, which banished its sole A-list superhero Spider-Man to the cinematic sidelines until 2018 due to franchise fatigue, leaving it no choice but to embrace its library of lesser-known comic book characters, regardless of their gender.
Between the female superhero movie, Drew Goddard’s “Sinister Six” and Alex Kurtzman‘s “Venom,” Sony continues to be plumb the deepest depths of its limited superhero catalog in an effort to mimic the success of Disney/Marvel, Warner Bros/DC and 20th Century Fox’s ever-expanding “X-Men” franchise, rather than forge its own path to success.
The question is whether those relatively fringe comic book properties are worth the enormous time, energy and money Sony will inevitably sink into them rather than original material.
Sony appeared to be aware of the threat of superhero fatigue when it bumped “The Amazing Spider-Man 3” from 2016 to 2018, replacing it with “Sinister Six,” which will take the comic book franchise in a new, villainous direction. The studio now plans to fill its 2017 superhero slot with a female-driven film that may follow characters such as Spider-Woman, Black Cat and Silver Sable.
What Sony may not understand, however, is that just because there is interest in a female-led superhero movie doesn’t mean there’s interest in the female superheroes that Sony owns. After all, Angelina Jolie and Scarlett Johansson aren’t coming through the Culver City studio’s gates anytime soon.
Hollywood knows full well that Marvel is developing a female superhero movie it has been reluctant to officially announce for some strange reason, while Warner Bros. plans to give Wonder Woman her own movie if the character is well-received in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Justice League.”
While Sony deserves credit for being the first studio to even acknowledge its own development plans, its female superhero feels like a desperate attempt to steer the “Amazing Spider-Man” Universe in a new direction for the sake of taking advantage of a trend and deflecting attention from the big-picture problems at the studio. Just as a handful of male-focused tentpoles flop each year (see: “Transcendence”), some of these female-driven blockbusters are bound to fail, and this latest one seems like as good a suspect as any.
Though it had no comment for this story, Sony has spent the last few days basking in the glow of positive reaction to its female-driven “Ghostbusters” movie and the good press couldn’t come at a better time for the studio, which has been playing a game of Musical Chairs in its executive suites ever since activist investor Daniel Loeb attacked the studio for its disappointing performance at the box office.
Sony’s longtime chairman of worldwide marketing and distribution Jeff Blake recently left the studio after 22 years. His exit followed the departures of marketing chief Marc Weinstock, PR vet Steve Elzer, home entertainment head Dave Bishop and creative advertising chief Tommy Gargotta — all of whom helped shoulder the blame when Sony’s slate, which Pascal greenlit, failed to meet expectations.
Avi Arad and Matt Tolmach will produce Sony’s female superhero movie and while it’s heartening to see that Sony is entrusting the project to a female writer (Nolan, who is Christopher Nolan’s sister-in-law, sold her sci-fi spec “Reminiscence” to Legendary for $1.5 million last year), it also smacks of playing to the cameras in the wake of bad publicity stemming from several high-profile executive exits. We’ll see if they hire Patty Jenkins, Lexi Alexander or Michelle MacLaren next.
There’s nothing Hollywood loves more than milking cultural trends, so regardless of how this Sony project comes together, TheWrap is thankful that the business is still cyclical. Hopefully…