Why Scarlett Johansson’s ‘Lucy’ Strikes Blow for Women With Kick-Butt Box Office

Universal thriller joins similarly female-driven “Maleficent” and “The Fault in Our Stars” as summer success stories

At what point are we going to stop being shocked when a movie aimed at women with a female lead breaks out at the box office?

Scarlett Johansson and the sci-fi thriller “Lucy” is the latest to do it, after a butt-kicking $44 million box-office opening this weekend that was bigger than just about anyone expected.

“Having a woman in the lead definitely helped,” said Nikki Rocco, distribution chief at Universal, the studio behind the Luc Besson-directed thriller that topped its production budget in its first weekend. “Scarlett was terrific and that, along with the fact that the film was an original concept, made it seem fresh, and audiences responded.”

Also read: Scarlett Johansson’s ‘Lucy’ Hammers ‘Hercules’ and The Rock at Box Office

The size of the opening — about $10 million over most analysts’ projections — was stunning, but the fact that “Lucy” connected wasn’t.

Angelina Jolie‘s “Maleficent” is going to make more money this summer than “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” “Amazing Spider-Man 2” and “Godzilla.” Disney’s live-action update of its classic fairy tales has taken in more than $700 million worldwide, and with $232 million trails only “Transformers: Age of Extinction” as the season’s biggest domestic hit.

The financial success of Fox’s “The Fault in Our Stars” is even more amazing. Made for about $12 million, the adaptation of John Green’s teary tale of teens with cancer starring Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort has taken in $122 million domestically and $133 million overseas for a staggering $256 million global total. That’s quite the return on investment.

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Even “Tammy,” the raunchy Melissa McCarthy comedy that underwhelmed in its opening, is up to $84 million globally for Warner Bros., or four times its budget.

Should we be shocked? Not hardly

Last year’s highest-grossing film domestically was “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” with Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss. And Anna and Elsa, the ice princesses of “Frozen,” skated to $1.27 billion globally — more than “Iron Man 3.” Sandra Bullock in “Gravity” ($716 million) out-earned “Man of Steel” ($668 million) at the worldwide box office.

Also read: Hispanic Women Are This Summer’s Most Avid Moviegoers (Exclusive Study)

“Moviegoers are sending Hollywood a message, and it couldn’t be more clear: they want more movies with women at the center of them,” BoxOffice.com vice-president and senior analyst Phil Contrino told TheWrap.

It’s worth noting that when assessing movies made with and for women, we’re not talking about audiences made up of just females. You don’t see the sort of blockbuster grosses that “Catching Fire” and “Maleficent” have rung up without drawing plenty of males. This weekend’s audiences for “Lucy” were split 50-50 between men and women, for example.

Contrino believes that Hollywood’s tin ear when it comes to female-driven projects is in part because of its largely male leadership. There are powerful women in key studio posts like Donna Langley at Universal, Sue Kroll at Warner Bros. and Amy Pascal at Sony, but they remain a minority in the meeting rooms.

Also read: Women Directors and Writers Lose Ground in Indie Film as Numbers Decline

“It has to stop being a boys club when it comes to producing and deciding what gets made,” Contrino said. “If you have a bunch of guys in decision-making roles, that’s the direction it’s going. There has to be more diversity in leadership.”

But Contrino is convinced that the recent success of projects featuring and aimed at women is making a difference.

“It’s changing, and last year and this year are evidence of that. Nothing speaks louder than the bottom line, so things should get better.”

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So are you listening, Hollywood?

“People have been mystified as to why there hasn’t been an announcement of a Black Widow movie,” Contrino said, referring to the Johansson’s superhero character in “Marvel’s The Avengers,” “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and “Iron Man 2.” “Maybe it’s one of those untitled projects that are scheduled for 2018. It should be.”