I’ve always loved going to the movies, and since I own my own business, I’ll sneak out midday sometimes. In between meetings, with a large popcorn in lieu of lunch (“one scant pump of the buttery topping, please”), alone in the second row, transported to another person’s story in some other place or time. It’s the most satisfying workday break I can imagine.

In 2010, I gave myself permission to go to the movies often. But sadly, very often there was nothing I wanted to see. Superheroes, horror sequels, animated features, and those “Ocean insert-next-number-here” action thrillers with the lineup of leading men and a token woman. And I’m one of the lucky ones. I live within driving distance of a major city and college town with art houses and independent cinemas. The pickings must be even slimmer for women who live farther afield and are at the mercy of mass-market multiplexes.

All right, I get it. Movies are a business. If seats aren’t filled, producers lose tens of millions of dollars. Quality doesn’t equate to box office. Sadly, neither do feminist subjects or strong leading ladies.

Take a look at the top grossing films of 2010. Toy Story 3 leads with more than $415 million in gross box office. Who’s its leading lady? Barbie! Or maybe it’s Mrs. Potato Head – hard to say. Next on the list: Alice in Wonderland. There may be a young woman in the title, but anyone who saw the movie will agree that it was really more about the Mad Hatter and just the latest in Tim Burton’s tributes to his muse, Johnny Depp.  Coming in at Number 4, we have The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, featuring perpetual damsel in distress Kristen Stewart. And at Number 6, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, with bookish young witch Emma Watson rounding out an otherwise boy-heavy team of good wizards.

Why does the list look like it does? Because Hollywood pushes movies that sell tickets, lots and lots of tickets. These are titles with mass appeal that audiences take families to, and teens return to see again and again. Girls will go see boys in movies, but boys won’t watch girls. The economy’s still bad, the news is distressing. So we escape to tales of talking toys, rabbit holes, vampires, trolls, dragons, and karate kids.

I would describe 2010 women in movies as a ‘good news/bad news’ story. The good news? There were powerful performances by a really diverse group of women. But you had to hunt for them. Movies like Winter’s Bone, Please Give, I Am Love, and the more recent Tiny Furniture were worth the drive and the price of admission. These films were small, independent, or foreign. They were low-budget, thoughtful, well-acted and well-directed.

The bad news … How many people actually had the opportunity to see them?

 Even bigger-budget, more mainstream features like Eat Pray Love, The Kids Are All Right, and Morning Glory didn’t make the Top 10 or even the Top 20. Granted, Sex and the City 2 came in at number 25. Now there’s a thoughtful, realistic portrait of women.

How does 2011 look?  Let’s see … we have The Green Hornet in Q1 and The Green Lantern in Q2. Another Harry Potter, another Pirates of the Caribbean, another X-Men, another Twilight. We’ll also have chick flicks with titles like From Prada to Nada, Something Borrowed, Shoe Addicts Anonymous, and Bridesmaids.

But, let’s look on the bright side. In 2011, there will be some 4,000 film festivals around the world.  If only 1 percent  of these festivals produces a sleeper woman-centric hit, we’ll have 40 titles to choose from.

Pass the popcorn, please.

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  • Kris December 30, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    Did you see True Grit? It’s true that the leading female character is the only female main character, but she absolutely steals the show. She’s by far the strongest character in the movie. As a feminist, I was very pleased.