FANGIRL INVASION: Hollywood Takes Notice


Geeks may rule at the box office, but fandom isn't an exclusively male club anymore. And Hollywood is taking note.

"There's no doubt that Hollywood has been courting the genre fan -- the 'fanboys' who go to Comic-Con every year -- because they want to tap into that power of fandom," said Jeff Katz, the former Fox movie executive who recently started the comics/film production house, American Original. "What I think has surprised a lot of people is that girls are fans too. The female acceptance of fandom, be it comics, be it genre fiction, be it movies, be it, frankly, football, there's a larger appreciation, understanding and willingness now to embrace it."

Because of the success of geek-appealing film franchises like "X-Men", "The Lord of the Rings", and "Transformers", the media has been reporting for the last few years that Hollywood's core audience for blockbusters was nerdy 13- to 24-year-old male -- and the nerdier, the better. As the Washington Post put it in 2007, "not just teen boys, but teen boys at their pimpliest, stutteringest and downright geekiest."

But now Hollywood has noticed that among those geeks is a growing audience of fangirls. With the success of last year's vampire romance/thriller "Twilight", which exit polls showed had an audience of about 75 percent females, Hollywood is suddenly noticing that fans of comics and sci-fi-genre television, movies and books aren't always guys.

"Hollywood is finally waking up to the fact that girls like a wide variety of things beyond Barbie and Sex and the City," said actor Mike McMillian, who plays the Rev. Steve Newlin on the HBO television series "True Blood", a sexed-up vampire show that has proven itself popular with both male and female fans. "The universal success and appeal of 'Harry Potter' probably kicked this off in some ways. There are obviously concepts out there that are more appealing to boys than girls, and vice versa, but things don’t always have to be organized into 'pink' and 'blue' categories."

McMillian counts himself among the fanboy culture and is writing next year's comic book series "Lucid" from publisher Archaia. But the actor said he thinks there have always been fangirls -- Hollywood just never courted to them before now. "There are legions of women out there who love this stuff, but I think they’ve been largely disregarded up to this point," he said.

According to Katz, the female audience -- and young girls in particular -- have been recognized as an important segment of the film audience for the last five years, particularly in the horror genre, where scary movies stick to a PG-13 model specifically designed for teen girls. But now that fandom is being recognized as including women, genre movies may start to cater more to girls than boys because they're a little easier to attract to the theater.

"There are a lot of studies on this, and you'll see conflicting numbers, but there are a lot of studies that say teenage boys' entertainment time and entertainment dollar are being lost to video games and entertainment via the Internet more so than teenage girls," Katz said. "Teenage boys go to the movies, but a lot of the movies they would have gone to a few years ago, they're going to in less numbers. They're going to go to 'Wolverine', they're going to go to 'Spider-Man', they're going to go to 'Batman', but that more generic action movie? They may not go to anymore. They're more likely, if they're even interested, to, say, wait three months and own it on DVD."

That loyalty and freely spending enthusiasm from female fans is something the publishing business is feeling in a major way, as the mostly female fans of Stephenie Meyer's vampire-filled "Twilight" series are not only driving sales of that and other "paranormal romances," but fangirls are even reading classic literature mentioned in Meyer's stories, like "Wuthering Heights", which has suddenly topped classics charts since its "Twilight" mention.

Comic book publishers haven't tapped into the audience as much as books, but when they do, the females find their way into the stores, evidenced by the success of Marvel's "Anita Blake" comics and Dark Horse's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer". And publisher Th3rd World Studios is hoping that loyalty follows their comic book adaptation of "The Mortal Instruments," a book series endorsed by Meyer and read by many female genre fiction fans.

"This series adaptation has the potential to bring a whole new crowd of readers to our titles and possibly comics in general," said Th3rd World publisher Michael DeVito. "I think unlike a lot of what is available in the comic format, it appeals to both male and female readers pretty equally."

The power of female fandom is something that excites Lori Joffs, co-owner of The Twilight Lexicon website for fans of the movie and book series, which draws mostly women ages 18 to 35. But she said Hollywood hasn't really taken notice of a female-centric story having the power to become a blockbuster, despite the fact that several have.

"When you think of the top-grossing films of all time, you've got 'Titanic' at the top of the list," Joffs said. "Now, I know some guys who went to that film for the effects, but it was the plot and the romance that brought females back to see the film over and over again. It's the same thing with "Twilight". The plot and the romance drives us all to run out and get that next book, to be the first in line to see the film at midnight, to check the web for the newest trailer.

"Great characters and a sweeping plot are really something that Hollywood has been turning away from, instead focusing on effects and production and big named stars. And keep in mind that Rob Pattinson wasn't a big star when he was cast in 'Twilight'," she said. "So I think that maybe, just maybe films like "Twilight" will help Hollywood take notice that the women are very willing to spend money over and over again at the theatre if the film is done with the right mix of romance and drama and suspense."

But the fervor among female fans could also be a problem for the audience, McMillian pointed out. After all, if Hollywood really does think they're more willing to spend money on movies than male fans, they may not try as hard to appease them with quality filmmaking.

"'Twilight' is huge and can only lead to more genre movies aimed towards women, and may shake up those statistics, which is exciting for everyone, because that means a wider variety of product," he said. "But you know what? I’m not sure they are taking note of their voice, and women should be prepared to feel ripped-off.

"The trend that I see coming is studios spending as little on 'female' movies as possible to take advantage of the huge profit. I guess it’s within Hollywood’s right to do so, but I think it reveals a condescending attitude towards female viewers," McMillian said. "Meanwhile Hollywood is tripping over itself at Comic-Con to make sure the tiniest details meet male-fan approval. 'Is this Iron-Man suit okay? You like?? Please don’t trash us online!!' So Iron Man’s suit is going to look amazing, but I don’t think the studio behind "Twilight" is working as hard to make the werewolves look cool in "New Moon". And I think it’s because they believe girls only care about how Taylor Lautner looks without his shirt on. Decent CGI is 'guy stuff.' Maybe I’m wrong though. I hope I am. We’ll see."

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