Disney, Angelina Jolie and the new, more activist, "princess brand" all got a big boost last weekend when "Maleficent" opened with $70 million sales in the United States and $100 million internationally.
In fact, "Maleficent" was thought to be a risky project. Its dark script created a backstory for the bad-woman magical character who played second billing to the beautiful princess in Disney's evergreen smash hit, "Sleeping Beauty," released in 1959.
Critics were mixed at best about the movie. All praised Angelina Jolie's command of the screen as the title character, but many found the psychological underpinnings of her character insufficiently developed. A good number were skeptical about the selection of first-time director Robert Stromberg for the project, even while lauding his production design of "Alice in Wonderland," "Oz the Great and Powerful" and "Avatar." The whole thingt was seen as a big risk for Disney.
(Interestingly, "X-Men: Days of Future Past," released the week earlier, did not receive receive reviews that probed plot and character motivation so deeply. Its opening weekend draw, $95.6 million, dropped to $32.6 million in the US last weekend. "Maleficent" is more concerned with character development than the average blockbuster slugfest, but it is possible we will learn over time that the "Maleficent" female audience is not.)
Where "Maleficent" goes from here is anyone's guess, of course, but there have been many signs in recent years that there is a growing audience of girls and women who are eager for action stories with female leads who do more than fall into the arms of a handsome prince.
One came last year, when "Frozen" grossed $1.2 billion worldwide. The lead character in that movie was a beautiful princess with magical powers who overcame many obstacles to save a kingdom.
It should be noted that the "Frozen" target audience was several years younger than that for "Maleficent," which has a considerably darker story and is probably not suitable for young children. Still, active female lead character.
In the world of theater, "Wicked," a musical based on a backstory of the witches in "The Wizard of Oz," has sold 35 million tickets worldwide. Just about every teenage girl I've met in the last 10 years has seen and enjoyed "Wicked," which was savaged by critics when it opened in 2003.
And, finally, let us not forget "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider," a highly successful series of video games that was credited with attracting girls to the genre in large numbers for the first time, starting with its initial release in 1993. Two Lara Croft movies, in 2001 and 2003, also got very good box office.
The star of the early Lara Croft movies also was Angelina Jolie, a very good-looking actress who no doubt appeals to male moviegoers as well.