Do angry lesbians do better at the box office?

In a new blog post for Variety, writer Anne Thompson asserts that “angry women make potent box office.”

The success of a film at the box office is usually based on a combination of factors that only partially has to do with the actual content of the movie. These include the star power of the names attached, what kind of reviews and awards the film gets, and — most importantly — how much money and effort the studio/distributor puts into promoting the movie.

Drew Barrymore’s Whip It is getting made, according to Thompson, “because of its potential appeal to several niches. It’s an action movie with babes attached (think Charlie’s Angels, Blue Crush). Some men might even show up.”

But mainly, “it’s an angry woman movie … and Hollywood is often taken aback by how well angry women movies can do” and she lists Thelma & Louise, Nine to Five, Waiting to Exhale and the upcoming Megan Fox vehicle Jennifer’s Body as examples. Another recent “angry woman movie” that comes to my mind is The Brave One (2007) — although it only did OK at the box office, grossing $36 million domestically.

But Thompson’s statements got me wondering: do angry lesbians and bi women do better at the box office, too?

So I did a quick, back-of-the-envelope calculation of the domestic box-office gross of most of the high-profile theatrical releases starring “angry” leading lesbian/bi characters in the last decade or so, and compared them to theatrical releases starring “happy” lesbian characters in lead roles. They’re listed below in order of their U.S. box office gross. And I added photos, just for fun.

(Films released only on DVD or in film festivals are not included — just high-profile films that have received a theatrical release in more than one theater.)

I Shot Andy Warhol (1996)

Angry enough to: form the Society for Cutting Up Men (SCUM).
U.S. box office gross: $1.8 million

Bound (1996)

Angry enough to: steal from the Mob.
U.S. box office gross: $3.8 million

Wild Things (1998)

Angry enough to: lie, kill, and seduce Denise Richards
U.S. box office gross: $9.6 million

Femme Fatale (2006)

Angry enough to: lie and steal
U.S. box-office: $6.5 million

The Black Dahlia (2006)

Angry enough to: kill
U.S. box-office: $22 million

Set It Off (1996)

Angry enough to: rob a bank
U.S. box office gross: $36 million

Monster (2003)

Angry enough to: kill. A lot.
U.S. box office gross: $34 million

The Hours (2002)

Angry enough to: get really, really depressed — and we all know depression is just anger turned inward
U.S. box office gross: $41 million

And the biggest-grossing movie ever starring an angry lesbian or bisexual woman is…

Basic Instinct (1992)

Angry enough to: use her sexuality (and an ice-pick) as a weapon
U.S. box office gross: $117 million

Now here’s a list of recent theatrical releases with leading lesbian/bi characters that don’t fall into the “angry lesbian movie” category, also in order of their U.S. box office results.

It’s a shorter list, because most movies revolving around lesbian and bi women who aren’t killers never make it to the theater in the first place they play at film festivals and then go straight to DVD. This is for a variety of reasons, including that they often don’t have big names as leads, they aren’t made by big-name directors, and/or they don’t get much studio backing because they don’t (or aren’t perceived to) appeal to more than one niche, especially young straight men. Plus, like movies of any kind, some of them just aren’t very good.

Puccini for Beginners (2006)

Happy enough to: date a variety of people until she found true love
U.S. box office gross: $90k

D.E.B.S. (2004)

Happy enough to: fall in love with the enemy and ride off into the sunset together
U.S. box office gross: $96k

Imagine Me and You (2005)

Happy enough to: follow her heart and leave her husband for her florist
U.S. box office gross: $671k

Saving Face (2004)

Happy enough to: come out to her mother and kiss her girlfriend on the dance floor
U.S. box office gross: $1.2 million

Frida (2002)

Happy enough to: channel her pain into groundbreaking art, and live her life to the fullest
U.S. box office gross: $25 million

So here’s the final tally:

Angry lesbian movies = $250+ million
Happy lesbian movies = $27 million

Hmmm, it’s pretty close, but I’m afraid I have to say… it’s Angry Queer Women FTW!

Not all of the movies starring angry queer women I listed above were financially successful, and I’m sure I’ve left films off both lists, but overall, angry queer women definitely beat out happy queer women at the box office by a healthy margin.

But before you all head to the nearest gun store to fulfill your cinematic destiny, there’s hope on the horizon: For the first time in awhile, there are a handful of theatrical releases in the works starring leading lesbians/bi characters who don’t kill anyone, steal millions of dollars, or stare sullenly out the window for hours at a time — like The Kids are Alright, Cloudburst, and Cherry Bomb.

There are some big names attached to these films, too. If the studios put some effort into promoting them, and they get good reviews and worth-of-mouth, they might achieve the kind of financial success that encourages studios to make and release more “happy” lesbian movies. Or at least movies where no one gets killed.

Let me know what you think about these results — and Thompson’s theory about angry women movies in general — in the comments.