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The Tricky Predicament of ‘Ocean’s 8’

For better or worse, it'll probably affect the future of female-driven comedies.

On Wednesday, Warner Bros. announced that the studio is close to locking in the majority of the central cast for its Sandra Bullock-led, female-centric Ocean's Eleven spinoff, titled Ocean's Eight. It's a pretty great list, including Mindy Kaling, Helena Bonham Carter, and Rihanna. But within hours of this particular bit of news came another, equally fascinating report: July's Ghostbusters reboot is on track to lose $70 million, and analysts say the sequel teased after the movie's credits is looking unlikely.

Both movies share a common thread. They are new iterations of established franchises, with a simple twist: They now star women.

The New <em>Ghostbusters</em> Trailer Isn't Afraid of Angry Dudes on the InternetEntertainmentThe New Ghostbusters Trailer Isn't Afraid of Angry Dudes on the Internet

This really should not matter; Ghostbusters is about busting ghosts, Ocean's Eleven is about talking fast and robbing Andy Garcia with people you shouldn't be hanging out with, and whether these premises make for good or bad movies has very little to do with whether its starring performers have a penis. But Hollywood studio execs have a reputation for being a skittish, bandwagon-y bunch—which is why you know the words "cinematic universe" and what they mean, as every studio rushes to make one of their own (out of classic movie monsters, or '80s action figures) because The Avengers made a billion dollars. The inverse also applies: They will, should a project bomb at the box office, avoid anything remotely resembling said bomb. Do you remember The Fantastic Four? There were a lot of plans for that movie. Those plans got canceled, and quick.

So following the Ghostbusters news, the stereotypical Hollywood response would be for executives to say, Shit, maybe we should stop doing this thing where we take old movies starring dudes and remake them starring ladies, because people clearly don't like them. Or worse, Hmm, maybe we should make fewer big-budget ensemble comedies starring women. These would, of course, be the wrong conclusions to jump to. There are a litany of reasons audiences might not flock to a movie. But unfortunately, some Ghostbusters fans who are alleged adults have done a pretty convincing job of making it look like the box-office potential of a movie rests on the gender of its stars.

It's hard to imagine 'Ocean's 8' won't have implications for the future of female-driven movies like it.

In the era of the mega-franchise, practically every summer blockbuster is under pressure to come within spitting distance of a billion dollars and/or have potential for three sequels. (According to The Hollywood Reporter's article on Ghostbusters' box-office trouble, the movie needed to make $300 million to break even.) But the depressing truth is that there are only so many consistently bankable brands in Hollywood, and sadly, a lot of them consist of mostly white guys. Often, movies need these bankable (straight, white) guys involved with them if they are to succeed.

Which is why Ocean's 8 is in such a tricky position. In an ideal landscape, we wouldn't really be clamoring for a spinoff of a franchise we've already gotten plenty of mileage from. We'd want a great, original caper about women pulling off a slick heist. At this juncture, though, it's not productive to just argue for more original films starring women, because studios' goals are clear: Big tentpole features are the game, and the easiest way to big tentpole success is by making movies attached to names everyone already knows. Instead, perhaps it's more worthwhile for filmmakers to petition for this continued practice of diversifying established franchises—a practice which, if done smartly, can breathe new life into something old and familiar. This is the great promise of Ocean's 8, and it's also the great pressure Ocean's 8 is now burdened with.

And yes, the prospects of female-led blockbusters are improving in Hollywood. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the third-highest grossing movie of all time and effectively placed the future of the biggest franchise in the world on the shoulders of a young woman and black man. There is a hunger for diversity and representation on screen, and some studios are responding. But not everything is Star Wars.

Ocean's 8 is produced by Warner Bros., which will subsequently be the second studio to attempt to reboot a familiar franchise with a cast of women, following Sony and Ghostbusters. It might be good, and it might be bad. But it's hard to imagine its success or failure won't have implications for the future of female-driven movies like it; if it doesn't do well, it could be a step forward that's only followed by multiple steps backward.

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