5 Ways to Prep: Red Sparrow
By George Rose
March 2, 2018
There is a lot going on this weekend. March 2 brings the release of Jennifer Lawrence’s latest attempt at taking over the box office, while March 4 brings us the concluding chapter of the #TimesUp awards season with the Academy Awards. Though I would love to do an article on how to prepare for the Oscars, I have a feeling there will be plenty of coverage surrounding that event. After last years Best Picture mishap, I imagine all eyes will be focused on this years contenders instead of Miss Lawrence’s sexy spy thriller. I’m not entirely sure why because, as some of you know, I’m obsessed with J.Law and all of her movies. She’s just the best.
In knowing that Oscars will be all that anyone is talking about - and there are much better hands at BOP handling that situation - I want to instead use my space here to help with the #TimesUp movement by showcasing some of the strong women in Hollywood. More specifically, I want to talk about Jennifer Lawrence’s amazing career and some of the other kick-ass lady spies that have tried to leave their mark on the genre. It may not surprise you and it will definitely disappoint you, but success for females in the spy game has been minimal. There haven’t been enough attempts and audience support has never been very strong, but now may be the time for the ladies to strike. J.Law is definitely the kind of weapon that can deal a box office blow.
Well, she used to be. After skyrocketing to superstardom with her Oscar-nominated turn in Winter’s Bone, she leveraged that into a lead role in the latest X-Men trilogy and headlined the Hunger Games mega-series. Then she paired up with David O. Russell, who directed her to Best Actress glory in Silver Linings Playbook. He then directed her towards two more nominations with American Hustle and Joy, though the latter was labeled a disappointment. Considering it “only” made $56 million, that may have been a slightly fair assessment. That’s not the case when looking back at Passengers, which made $100 million. Then again, that film came with a much larger price tag and higher expectations with Chris Pratt as co-star.
From there we have the recently released Mother!, which had mixed reviews and bombed in theaters. A few tiny missteps and suddenly the world has given up on J.Law. Some people just tire easily with their fandom while others are simply unforgiving jerks. Some people loved her for being such a fun person in real life and in the media, while others grew tired of the “act” and resented this young person for having the success they never could. I, on the other hand, remember her wonderful and diverse career. I remember that it’s practically impossible for cool people to stay that way once famous. And I remember that such a coolness is almost unattainable for a person after battling the Hollywood wars that J.Law has charged through.
After the Sony email hack a few years ago, she was one of the most outspoken stars that voiced disappointment over the pay gap between men and women. She quickly learned that Sony paid all males in American Hustle more than she and Amy Adams were paid. This inequality is what led to her $20 million demand for Sony’s Passengers (Pratt got $12 million), which is what helped inflate the budget, which is why some considered the $110 million film to be a “disappointment” after it “only” earned $300 million worldwide. That doesn’t make it J.Law’s fault, though. It makes it the media’s fault for spinning the wrong story.
After Passengers stumbled with $15 million on opening weekend, it was called a disaster. A true disaster would have ended with $30 million. An average bomb would have then ended with maybe $45 million. A bomb, even by the inflated Christmas revenue standards, would have maybe then made $60 million. No, it eventually crossed $100 million and nobody said sorry to J.Law. Word of mouth (meaning the audience that saw it did actually like it) took it to the $100 million milestone. Somehow the world then decided Mother!’s truly disastrous $20 million earnings is Lawrence’s fault and not the insane writer/director’s fault. With any luck, the world has moved on and is ready for her return. I know I am!
Enter her latest film, Red Sparrow. Lawrence reunites with her three-time Hunger Games director to help usher women back into the spy business. I’d expect a little more fan anticipation, what with J.Law actually being an award winning superstar and female spies destined to breakout (Black Widow, anyone?!), but that doesn’t seem to be the case. I’m sure the studio is hoping for a Get Out type of box office run ($30+ million opening against the Oscars, $175 million total) and I will do my part to help in that, but the writing seems to be on the wall already. Early reviews are mixed and the weather forecast is predicting a $20 million opening shower with a chance of $60 million when the storm settles. Unfortunately, this will be spun as a sign of Lawrence’s downfall. This is ultimately unfair because that still would make it one of the biggest female spy movies ever.
Come with me as I take you on a journey through a subgenre that has not been as fairly supported as it’s male-dominated counterpart. I’ll have thoughts on the Oscars after the show and will share them with you then but, for now, here are the 5 Ways to Prep for Red Sparrow!
#1) CHARLIE’S ANGELS (2000)
There are a lot of familiar faces when you look at the spy genre. Though there are two animated films on the list that don’t necessarily belong (Despicable Me 2 and Cars 2), the top of the crop belong to James Bond, Jason Bourne, Austin Powers and Mission Impossible. Bond’s Skyfall reins with $304 million and rounds the group out again at #15 with Die Another Day’s $160 million. #16 through #23 include a few more jacked-up jocks like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Vin Diesel and The Rock. It’s not until #24 that we get to a spy film headlined by a woman and it took THREE of them. Three women, an existing brand and a man’s name in the title.
What’s more shocking is that it’s actually a great movie and it deserved even more success than it got. Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu star as the fearsome threesome that work for an unknown employer named Charlie. Together they must help recover stolen technology and save their boss from imminent death. It’s funny, action packed and a blast to watch. Each of these women deserve their own spy spin-off series but, instead, the “only $100 million” earnings of its sequel doomed the fate of the franchise. However, now that I think about it, the first film actually co-starred Sam Rockwell. Although it pains me to turn the attention over to a man, Charlie’s Angels also makes a good recommendation to help you prep for the Oscars.
#2) SALT (2010)
It would be a decade before another female spy would come close to earning what the Angels did and it took the already established action heroine credentials of Angelina Jolie. She had proved her bankability and physical prowess with Tomb Raider, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and Wanted before going solo. By solo, I mean without a man or a known brand. Salt was also about an experienced spy and was packed with action, whereas Red Sparrow seems more like the torture of the training program and the reliance on seduction through her early missions. Salt opened with $36 million, earned $118 million domestically and $293.5 million worldwide on a $110 million budget. I don’t expect these number for Red Sparrow but we also don’t know exactly what the budget is. Salt was considered a success. I hope Red Sparrow is too. Then again, Passengers had the same budget, earned more worldwide, but still “failed.”
#3) SPY (2015)
Half a decade later and the next closes female spy to take down the Angels’ $125 million total is… um… Spy. Yup, that’s the name. Lead actress Melissa McCarthy and director Paul Feig reunited again after the success of Bridesmaids and The Heat, but ultimately earned less than both of those as well. $110 million is nothing to scoff at, especially when you consider the $235 worldwide total against a modest $65 million budget. However, the problem isn’t that it only earned $110 million; it’s that it did so as an intended summer blockbuster with great reviews and a the genius pairing of McCarthy/Feig. Sure, J.Law is reuniting with her Hunger Games director but toning back the action in favor of deception isn’t going to help Red Sparrow. If comedy and explosions barely brought out the male audience for Spy, Red Sparrow might be in danger.
#4) ATOMIC BLONDE (2017) & PROUD MARY (2018)
So at #4 on my list (not the spy genre list) is a tie. Although Charlize Theron proved her action abilities in several movies (Mad Max, the Huntsman movies, Fate of the Furious), she was not alone. All were existing brands with co-stars in the lead beside her. Alone as a spy, Theron took Atomic Blonde to $51 million domestically. Because of the $30 million budget and $95 million worldwide, it was considered a success. Will Red Sparrow be so lucky? Probably not. Two months after Atomic Blonde, I expected Proud Mary to be the Black Panther of the female spy genre. Instead, it ended with $20 million. Where are the Angels when you need them?!
#5) SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012)
Let’s be honest, Red Sparrow is a female spy movie without comedy, explosions or a known brand. Regardless of Lawrence, Red Sparrow is doomed. There isn’t support for the genre and, lately, there isn’t support for Lawrence. The only other way I can try to convince you to see this movie on Academy Award weekend is to turn your attention to Silver Linings Playbook. It got Lawrence the Oscar gold medal and gave us the true star that we have taken for granted ever since. I pray that Lawrence and female spies finally get the spotlight they deserve.