You probably haven’t heard of Legend of the Red Reaper. The passion product of Tara Cardinal, who also stars, it’s about a Reaper, or guardian of humanity, who goes on a quest for vengeance against those who betrayed her kind. It’s the sort of high-fantasy action story that’s gotten more popular since Game of Thrones hit it big. But you probably won’t be seeing it in a theater, since Legendary Pictures passed on it. Why? They don’t think people want to see action movies with female leads. Because Sucker Punch failed. Yeah.
To start off, let me quote the e-mail sent by the Legendary representative, bolded for emphasis:
“Thank you for letting me take a look at your script this weekend. While I did enjoy the mythology behind the story, I found myself a little confused with regards to the ‘Red Reaper’ world as a whole. While I was not closely familiar with the world before reading, certain aspects felt either unexplained or redundant — most specifically, illuminating Aella’s past, demonic powers, etc. I feel that it would be difficult to bring on another project with our currently saturated slate of epic fantasy fare, especially without any significant cast/director attachments or large-scale brand recognition. Also, while I am personally drawn to the presence of a female action hero, it is currently a tough sell with the less than stellar way Sucker Punch was received. Ultimately, while I don’t think this is for Legendary, I think the property has potential.”
The first three points—a confusing backstory, an oversaturation of fantasy, and a lack of a big-name star or director—are completely valid. Or could be: The President of DC thinks Wonder Woman’s story is “tricky,” after all. But since I haven’t read the script, I’m willing to give the anonymous e-mail writer the benefit of the doubt and say Legendary had three legitimate reasons for passing on Red Reaper.
But, of course, it’s that last reason that gets me. People don’t want to see movies with a female action hero? Oh, sure. Because it’s not like the female leads of The Hunger Games, Prometheus, and Snow White and the Huntsman took their respective studios to the bank or anything. Even Brave and the Twilight series, which are a bit more far-flung from the action genre, show that a female lead is no barrier to a movie making a ton of money.
It’s not that this person doesn’t like female action heroes; it’s that other people don’t! Not that whoever wrote the e-mail has anything to back that claim up save the financial failure of one movie, but hey, we’re talking millions of dollars here. Who wants to take chances?
Except Legendary does take chances when it’s not a female-led film. It’s perfectly reasonable to assume that they would want to avoid a repeat of Sucker Punch, which they produced. But let’s take a look at some of the other films Legendary has made in the last five years.
Jack the Giant Slayer
Wrath of the Titans
Jonah Hex. Jonah flipping Hex.
So when Sucker Punch performs poorly it’s because audiences don’t like female-led films, not because of of any of the actual faults highlighted in its generally negative reviews. (A few tidbits from Rotten Tomatoes: “Pointless,” “repellent,” “a particularly ambitious exercise in tedium,” “it kind of sucks out your soul while you’re watching it.”) But when Jonah Hex crashes and burns, it’s not because it starrs a guy! And its failure doesn’t make Legendary shy away from comic book movies, either, since they’ve done three since it came out.
Legendary’s Superman Returns flopped in 2006, but they kept giving comic book movies another shot. Of course they did, because there’s more to the success or failure of a film than a basic thing like what genre it is. But apparently Legendary sees “gender” as a totally valid thing to reject a movie based on… as long as that gender is female.
According to Heidi Honeycutt, who first wrote about Legendary’s rejection of Red Reaper on Planet Etheria, the film was allegedly rejected by another production company, Bad Hat Harry (which produced Jack the Giant Slayer with Legendary along with the X-Men movies). According to Honeycutt, they also “[cited] that they don’t feel female action leads are bankable.”
Because people clearly don’t want to see movies where ladies kick butt.
Even though, y’know, that’s demonstratively not the case.
Do you feel like screaming? I feel like screaming.
Cardinal went ahead and made Red Reaper without a major studio; you can see the trailer at the source link. Regardless of anything else about the movie, I hope you’ll agree with how completely bogus it is that a studio would say “but audiences don’t like female leads!” A) as an explanation for the financial failures of some movies, when the failure of male-starring movies never gets tied to gender, and B) as an excuse not to make more female-starring films.
OK. That’s it. I’m done. Time for a calming circle, readers, ’cause I need it. OMMMMMM.