How does a studio attract male audiences to an event movie centered on a strong female lead, an audience that would happily fork over money to see the next Michael Bay transformers movie, Toilet Transformers? This is the great riddle currently vexing marketing analysts.
According to movie oracles everywhere, The Hunger Games is going to rake in a truckload of money, beginning with an opening-weekend gross that some have already estimated will exceed $100 million, and final domestic tally of $275 million, which is on par with with the most recent Twilight iteration. Rachel Dodes, however, writing Thursday for the Wall Street Journal, points out that these giddy predictions have only increased the pressure on Lionsgate to deliver a monster hit, which means attracting male audiences dispersed recently by competing forms of media, such as video games (which is why, as part of the marketing campaign for the first Hunger Games installation, the book's publisher released an online game aimed at guys because that's how much confidence publishers have that young men will pick up a book all on their own).
But wait — isn't the dystopian, bloodthirsty world of The Hunger Games just the kind of thing that guys would flock to? I mean, people killing each other with sundry weapons sounds like a traditional guy-pleaser, with one glaring exception: the movie features a strong, female protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, a feature in a would-be blockbuster that's so notable it's distressing. Lionsgate Vice Chairman Michael Burns explains that the studio has always viewed the film as a "four-quadrant movie," appealling to boys and men, girls and women. And despite a mall tour that reeks of Twilight — and therefore young lady — marketing tactics, Burns says that nobody at Lionsgate "thought this was going to be Twilight."
Some are afraid that the mall tour, even as it endears sparkling Hunger Games stars Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, and Josh Hutcherson to young women all over America, will alienate young men, who aren't yet self-possessed enough to enter theater full of screaming girls so that they can enjoy two-hours of implied PG-13 gore. After a Hunger Games trailer hit YouTube, one skittish, avowedly male commenter wrote,
Please I beg you don't turn this into another 'Twilight.' It will be very hard, as a male fan, to walk into a theater without getting embarrassed if there are 13-year-old girls yelling 'Team Peeta!' or 'Team Gale!'
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Early tracking numbers put "definite interest" among girls at 73 percent, and though male interest is significantly lower with about 48% of young guys expressing the same fervid desire to flock to the theater on March 23, Lionsgate says that dude interest is encouraging and could lift box-office figures beyond records set by previous hits. To capitalize on that male interest, the studio aired a buzzed-about Super Bowl spot and will show the movie on 300 IMAX screens (because apparently only guys are gullible enough to shell out 20 bucks for the privilege of having their eyes water and/or getting violently motion sick). In one trailer, Katniss even shoots an arrow at a human-shaped target, implied violence that market researcher Vincent Bruzzese thinks is just the way to pander to adolescent boys. He says,
They've taken away the love story and focused on the hero, who, by virtue of her altruism and fire, is going to stand up against this situation. What they are doing is marketing the archetypal themes that are gender-neutral.
"Altruism and fire" is innocuous movie-marketing speak for characterizing Katniss as a cold-blooded badass, a trait young male readers have already sussed out. The problem, as producer Nina Jacobson sees it, isn't attracting the young men, — one of whom actually recommended that book to Jacobson in the first place — rather, it's attracting the "last wave" of older men, those out-of-the-loop guys who'd rather see something like Taken and fantasize about all the things they wouldn't be physically capable of doing should insidious sex traffickers ever kidnap their daughters.
But who cares if a bunch of old squares don't see The Hunger Games and, for that matter, other than legions of disappointed fans who'll probably turn out on opening day anyway, what difference does it make to the studio's bottom line if The Hunger Games is even a little reminiscent of any of the 4 Twilight movies (all of them Lionsgate movies), which have grossed in order, $408.9 million, $709 million, $698.4 million, and $701 million worldwide? How much more market share does Lionsgate think it can capture? The Hunger Games is probably already a huge hit and capturing the older guy segment isn't going to anything for the studio except make sure that its overstuffed pockets are made of imported silk. Maybe, though, it'd be encouraging to see a movie with a dominant female lead transcend the demographic corrals studio analysts have split us all into. What better vehicle than a movie about kids competing in a ruthless bloodsport?
Gender Games [WSJ]