As in most years, if you glance at the list of 2016’s top grossing movies, it’s pretty clear what demographic the major studios think we want to see stories about. Not counting animated films— and let’s not fully discount them, because the #1 top grossing movie of the year starred a protagonist voiced by a 58-year-old lesbian and that’s fucking cool— you have to go pretty far down the list to find a movie with a non-white male lead.
In the rankings of top domestic box office returns this year, the first non-animated movie to center around a woman’s story is Ghostbuster’s, at #14. Bad Moms comes in at 18. From there, movies about women or protagonists of color are few and far between.
But there are a few bright spots here that deserve to be acknowledged. First of all, the children’s movies that top the list prove that kids don’t give a crap if their movie stars a 58-year-old lesbian, and that casting The Jungle Book’s Mowgli as a white kid wouldn’t make the movie more “accessible.” Kids are just awesome.
Second, if you separate out the big studio films from the independents, things look pretty different. Looking at the year’s top indie movies (meaning they opened in fewer than 600 theaters or were acquired by a larger studio via a festival premiere, including foreign and “specialty” movies), you only have to get past #1 to find a movie about women. And it doesn’t even matter that I personally hated the #2 movie, because when a fair number of movies released in a year are about different demographics, we’re allowed to love or hate whatever we damn please without feeling beholden to the responsibility of representation. I should be able to hate a movie about a female protagonist as much as I really, really didn’t like Doctor Strange or Age of Ultron.
Here are the top independent movies of 2016 and their domestic grosses (so far):
1. Hell or High Water (Current Gross: $26,973,524)
2. The Witch (Current Gross: $25,138,292)
3. Eye in the Sky ($18,704,595)
4. The Birth of a Nation ($15,764,927)
5. Hello, My Name is Doris ($14,444,999)
6. Love & Friendship ($14,016,568)
7. Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party ($13,099,931)
8. No Manches Frida ($11,528,613)
9. Cafe Society ($11,103,205)
10. The Lady in the Van ($10,021,175)
11. Hardcore Henry ($9,252,038)
12. The Lobster ($8,700,374)
13. A Beautiful Planet ($7,300,436)
14. Southside With You ($6,304,223)
15. Sultan ($6,200,000)
16. Captain Fantastic ($5,879,736)
17. Hunt for the Wilderpeople ($5,205,468)
18. Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie ($4,761,241)
19. Hands of Stone ($4,712,792)
20. Moonlight ($4,682,889)
Looking at that list of independent movies, a few things come off as striking. First, it’s good to know the only reason Woody Allen is still relevant is still relevant is because he opens in limited release. Second, how the crap do that many people actually spend their time and money on these fucking Dinesh D’Souza movies?
But most importantly, that list has the kind of diversity that we want from major studios. Sure, we have to dip down to number 80 on the main list to find The Witch, but that movie’s number two on the indies! After that, we have more movies about women, about American slavery, and about the Earth itself, and not even as portrayed by Christopher Nolan or whatever.
So sure, representation in mainstream media is lacking. But apparently people are still willing to spend a couple million dollars on stories about different types of heroes. And that’s pretty okay.