By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
2 women reign over the usual suspects at the 2017 summer box office
Emma Watson stars in "Beauty and the Beast," the live-action remake of Disney's classic animated feature and 2017's biggest hit so far. - photo by Chris Hicks
In the 1930s, 40s and 50s, women held their own as top-tier movie stars, with their names over the titles of their own films and equal billing when they co-starred with their male counterparts.

And their movies were among each years biggest hits all over the world.

Where the biggest films land in the top 10 for many of those earliest years vary from source to source (including websites Box Office Mojo and The Numbers, as well as show-biz trade papers Variety and the Hollywood Reporter). But the same titles tend to crop up, and many of them star women.

Greta Garbo sat atop the cinematic world in the 1930s, with a string of top-10 movies: Anna Christie and Romance in 1930, Mata Hari and Susan Lenox in 1931; Grand Hotel, Emma and As You Desire Me in 1932; Queen Christina in 1933; Anna Karenina in 1935; Camille in 1936, and Ninotchka in 1939.

Thats a remarkable run by any standard but she wasnt alone. Other women who starred in top-10 movies during the 30s, and were often billed above their leading men, include Marlene Dietrich, Mae West, Miriam Hopkins, Jean Harlow, Katharine Hepburn, Claudette Colbert, Myrna Loy, Bette Davis, Jeanette MacDonald, Barbara Stanwyck and child actress Shirley Temple, among others.

If thats not enough, the decade was capped by Gone With the Wind, which, by ticket count, remains the biggest box office hit of all time. Sure, Clark Gable was a big draw for that one, but theres no question that Vivien Leigh had the lead as Scarlett OHara, and it earned her a well-deserved Oscar.

Some of the 1940s biggest hits starred the same women, along with Joan Crawford, Joan Fontaine, Ginger Rogers, Lauren Bacall, Greer Garson, Jennifer Jones, Gene Tierney, Betty Grable and Ingrid Bergman, while the 1950s saw the rise of Audrey Hepburn, Doris Day, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor and all of this only scratches the surface.

So when did movie studios decide that women cant open a picture, or, in other words, bring in an audience?

Havent they seen anything with Sandra Bullock or Meryl Streep or Scarlett Johansson or Jennifer Lawrence? Are they unaware of the box office earnings of the four Hunger Games movies? Or the Pitch Perfect franchise? Or Mad Max: Fury Road, which actually starred, not Max, but Furiosa (vividly portrayed by Charlize Theron). Or last years No. 1 box-office hit, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, in which Felicity Jones had the lead role?

They may have been oblivious to those films being led by women, but no studio will be able to turn a blind eye to Beauty and the Beast, starring Emma Watson, or Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman, which are firmly entrenched in the respective No. 1 and No. 2 spots on this years box office hit list.

And their earnings are far enough ahead of the pack to keep them there at least until Star Wars: The Last Jedi opens on Dec. 15 and which, if it follows the pattern set by Star Wars: The Force Awakens, will also have a female protagonist, Daisy Ridley reprising her lead role as Rey, the heir apparent to the Force.

Beauty and the Beast (which actually opened well before summer) and Wonder Woman are big enough blockbusters that Hollywood movers and shakers will have to take notice and, hopefully, might feel compelled to greenlight more female-centric pictures.

As for the rest of the 2017 box office list (so far), the usual suspects fill out slots three through 10 Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Despicable Me 3, Logan, The Fate of the Furious, The Lego Batman movie, Get Out and The Boss Baby.

The only anomaly is Get Out, a low-budget horror film and one of the summers few real surprises. Maybe Beauty and the Beast qualifies too not the first live-action Disney adaptation of one of its own animated classics, but certainly the most successful.

The rest are the same old superheroes, sequels, cartoons and sometimes amalgams of all three (Lego Batman, anyone?).

So, thats the domestic list, with box office earnings by theaters in North America.

And the top 10 worldwide list isnt all that different: Beauty and the Beast, The Fate of the Furious, Despicable Me 3, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Wonder Woman, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Logan, Transformers: The Last Knight and Kong: Skull Island.

All of this is, of course, a major sea change from films of old. Back in the 1930s to 1950s and well beyond movies were not all about fantasy.

Yes, I know, The Wizard of Oz was a big hit in 1939, but superheroes and horror and space operas and animation were only a part of the movie ephemera for decades. They didnt dominate every screen in town.

Movies used to be about people, the human condition and situations with which we could readily identify.

But I digress. Thats a subject for another column.
Sign up for our E-Newsletters