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Old October 1 2009, 08:41 AM   #1
Gaith
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Would Tomb Raider-type movies work better with lesbian protagonists?

As an expert on the Tomb Raider films (as in, I've read their Wikipedia plot summaries), I think I've identified their problem, as well as those of other action movies with women protagonists.

(Please note: I'm not talking about women co-protagonists, as in The Terminator, or members of a team, a la X-Men, but flat-out primary characters, as in Elektra or Bloodrayne.)

Consider for a moment action movies with female protagonists. I can think of three good ones: Terminator 2 (if we consider Sarah Connor a flat-out protagonist, which is, frankly, iffy), Alien and Kill Bill (really only - Vol. 2, but I digress). But I can think of a number of bad ones: not just those mentioned above but Supergirl, Cutthroat Island, Aeon Flux, Ultraviolet, Resident Evil (all of them), Underworld (ditto), Charlie's Angels (ditto).

So far as I know, all of the above bad female protagonist movies suffer from a dearth of emotional appeal. In none of the movies do you really give a darn about the heroine, or identify with her in her journey. And I also note that none of the three good ones give their heroines a romantic plot arc.

Perhaps one reason that the heroines-with-romances action films tend not to connect with audiences is that such love plots are a lose-lose-lose proposition. Horny teen boys don't want to see Lara Croft make out with a guy who isn't them, and when action heroines are physically stronger than their male partners, emotional credibility problems generally ensue. (Example: Matthew Modine on his Cutthroat Island role.) Far more people, in short, enjoy seeing a hunk rescue a damsel in distress than seeing the damsel rescue the hunk.

I'm not saying that's right or wrong, good or bad, it's just the reality of a high-risk market enterprise as I see it. Case in point: in Star Wars, before the sequels, did anyone really think Luke and Leia might end up together? No, because she's much stronger than she is. Leia and Han, though, maybe.

So, what's the upshot? Are big-budget heroine-centered action movies doomed?

Maybe not... if the heroine rescues a damsel of her own. The horny boys would be fine, I suspect, with Lara Croft flirting with and getting romantic with another beautiful woman. And if it were understood that the heroine were a lesbian, audiences would accept their being attracted to partners that are just as smart and good-hearted but not quite as badass as themselves. The films' backers make their money, audiences have a good time, the culture becomes a touch more accepting of diversity, everybody wins.

Thoughts?
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Old October 1 2009, 09:34 AM   #2
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Re: Would Tomb Raider-type movies work better with lesbian protagonist

Good question. Personally, I oppose viewing lesbians on film if the lesbians shown look like Rosie O'Donnell (or are otherwise fat, butch and ugly).

On the other hand, a lesbian Tomb Raider with "lipstick lesbians" would definitely be more pleasing to the eye. But then it would have to overcome some marketing problems. First of all, it would be immediately perceived to be a "special interest" film and not for the mass audience. I can't imagine a major studio spending a lot of money on such a film. The lesbian angle (sorry) would overshadow the action-adventure element. Maybe a lesbian Tomb Raider is an idea better left to the porn companies.
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Old October 1 2009, 11:42 AM   #3
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Re: Would Tomb Raider-type movies work better with lesbian protagonist

It's an idea I've wondered about myself. Certainly there are problems with action movies where the woman rescues the man. The male audience members are uninterested and the female audience members find the rescued man weak & unattractive. Having a sexy lesbian love interest would certainly be a... satisfying solution for certain audience members (myself included). I don't think the marketing problem would be appealing the film beyond the specialty lesbian market. The problem would be marketing the film in more conservative markets, and avoiding charges of indulging in puerile sexist titilation. (But then, the kinds of people who make those accusations don't typically see these kinds of action movies anyway.)

I think the Tomb Raider movies came up with an effective, less controversial solution to the problem. The love interests, rather than being the victim to be saved, are the antagonists as well. You have a strong, powerful woman fighting against an equally strong, powerful man, who happens to be fighting on the wrong side. Sexual tension ensues.

Gaith wrote: View Post
As an expert on the Tomb Raider films (as in, I've read their Wikipedia plot summaries), I think I've identified their problem, as well as those of other action movies with women protagonists.

(Please note: I'm not talking about women co-protagonists, as in The Terminator, or members of a team, a la X-Men, but flat-out primary characters, as in Elektra or Bloodrayne.)

Consider for a moment action movies with female protagonists. I can think of three good ones: Terminator 2 (if we consider Sarah Connor a flat-out protagonist, which is, frankly, iffy), Alien and Kill Bill (really only - Vol. 2, but I digress). But I can think of a number of bad ones: not just those mentioned above but Supergirl, Cutthroat Island, Aeon Flux, Ultraviolet, Resident Evil (all of them), Underworld (ditto), Charlie's Angels (ditto).
A few corrections about the Underworld franchise:
First, Underworld was awesome!
Second, Underworld: Evolution, while weaker than the 1st film, was still pretty cool.
Third, Sonja was not the central protagonist in Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. Lucian was. Therefore, it's a male-centric action film.

I would say Sarah Connor was moreso the central protagonist in The Terminator than she was in Terminator 2 (where she fought for plot dominance with the T-800 & John Connor). However, in The Terminator, she's not an action heroine. She conforms more to the slasher movie protagonist; more Laurie Strode than Elektra Natchios here.
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Old October 1 2009, 01:16 PM   #4
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Re: Would Tomb Raider-type movies work better with lesbian protagonist

I always thought it'd be interesting if a sexy female action star was romantically involved with someone who physically was her total opposite--a slightly overweight everyman. A number of U.S. television sitcoms (like Still Standing, for example) have actually done this in recent years with an average slob married to an attractive wife...
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Old October 1 2009, 01:42 PM   #5
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Re: Would Tomb Raider-type movies work better with lesbian protagonist

This is a stupid question: everything is better with lesbian protagonists.
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Old October 1 2009, 02:14 PM   #6
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Re: Would Tomb Raider-type movies work better with lesbian protagonist

The Mirrorball Man wrote: View Post
everything is better with lesbian protagonists.
+1
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Old October 1 2009, 02:19 PM   #7
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Re: Would Tomb Raider-type movies work better with lesbian protagonist

In addition to Alien, there's also Aliens, which is a great action film with a female protagonist, and that has a quasi-romance between Ripley and Hicks. So maybe another solution is to have the female lead have a male love interest who's a likable badass who can hold his own.
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Old October 1 2009, 02:35 PM   #8
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Re: Would Tomb Raider-type movies work better with lesbian protagonist

The problem is not that most action movies with female protagonists are bad. The problem is that most action movies (full stop) are bad, but when the ones with female protagonists fail, we blame it on the fact that they featured women in the lead.

There are also far, far fewer action films with female leads, so when they do end up sucking (as is the case with most action films) it's that much more noticeable. You get an entire blockbuster season filled with action films, and about every other year (every year, when you're on a good streak) you get one with a woman in the lead, and that's only been for the past fifteen - twenty years or so.
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Old October 1 2009, 03:00 PM   #9
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Re: Would Tomb Raider-type movies work better with lesbian protagonist

No, lesbian prtagomists wouldn't help.
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Old October 1 2009, 03:19 PM   #10
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Re: Would Tomb Raider-type movies work better with lesbian protagonist

It could certainly work if it was intended for the character and not just tacked on as a cheap exploitation trick. Sadly, it's very hard to create a character with those leanings, put them in a mainstream setting and not rely on those kinds of tricks.
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Old October 1 2009, 03:28 PM   #11
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Re: Would Tomb Raider-type movies work better with lesbian protagonist

I don't really agree with the premise: the movies you mentioned are not bad due to the fact they are action movie with a female protagonist, but they are bad movie. Case in point, Underworld was very good, Kill Bill was awesome, and I enjoyed Ultraviolet and Charlie's Angels in a silly, campy kind of way.

Maybe doing an action movie with a female protagonist is more difficult, but it can be done, and done well.

As for hot lesbian protagonist: well, as other have said, the more, the merrier.
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Old October 1 2009, 04:37 PM   #12
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Re: Would Tomb Raider-type movies work better with lesbian protagonist

I just don't get the lesbian appeal from a man's perspective... What is so appealing about that? If she is lesbian, she's hardly interested in you, right?
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Old October 1 2009, 05:00 PM   #13
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Re: Would Tomb Raider-type movies work better with lesbian protagonist

Hyperspace05 wrote: View Post
I just don't get the lesbian appeal from a man's perspective... What is so appealing about that? If she is lesbian, she's hardly interested in you, right?
Apparently, from a psychological perspective, what makes lipstick lesbians appealing to males is that it's a fantasy in which a woman has an unquenchable thirst for sex and sensuality, so unquenchable in fact, that she'd be willing to sleep with another woman. Note that in most fantasies involving lesbians, the women involved get seduced by other women, fall head over heels for their best friends, in other words they just can't resist their carnal desire.

In other words: what men like about the usual lesbian scenario is that it features women who have a typically male sexuality: they're always willing and they don't get too complicated about it. The lesbian fantasy is a subset of the "what if women liked sex in the same way as men" fantasy.

Plus it's pleasing to the eye.
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Old October 1 2009, 06:58 PM   #14
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Re: Would Tomb Raider-type movies work better with lesbian protagonist

^^ Not only that, but in the fantasy realm, as Dan Savage argues, men believe that lesbians can titillate but never fully satisfy each other, and that it's therefore only logical for them to invite a man (i.e., them) along.

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It could certainly work if it was intended for the character and not just tacked on as a cheap exploitation trick. Sadly, it's very hard to create a character with those leanings, put them in a mainstream setting and not rely on those kinds of tricks.
(Also @ The Borgified Corpse) That's a legitimate concern, but one could also argue that most action movies are just as cheaply exploitative of heterosexuality, especially male heterosexuality. Without bringing political grievances into consideration, for the sake of this SF&F discussion, would an arguably-exploitative lesbian action movie be so harmful?

@ Out Of My Vulcan Mind: Haven't seen any of the Aliens; I've been waiting to catch them on a big screen somewhere. But "quasi romance" seems to fit into my core premise.

@ C.E. Evans: Sitcoms do that all the time, and it's often disingenuous. And I doubt that audiences would be all that impressed with an action heroine who gets weak-kneed for a "slightly overweight everyman".

The Borgified Corpse wrote: View Post
I think the Tomb Raider movies came up with an effective, less controversial solution to the problem. The love interests, rather than being the victim to be saved, are the antagonists as well. You have a strong, powerful woman fighting against an equally strong, powerful man, who happens to be fighting on the wrong side. Sexual tension ensues.
Sexual tension, sure. But while audiences enjoy seeing sexual tension, they only really become invested in heroes when they get emotionally involved.

And no, folks, Underworld was not a good movie. Moving on...
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Old October 1 2009, 07:06 PM   #15
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Re: Would Tomb Raider-type movies work better with lesbian protagonist

The problem (if you want to call it a problem) is that women like men who are confident/assertive/aggressive, etc etc. So if the woman, as the LEAD, is the "saver", the "hero", as someone else said, the guy doesn't appeal much to the women viewers.

And if you flip the dynamics, then the women lead isn't strong enough to hold the "lead role" in an action movie.

Other sorts of movies, romantic comedies, dramas, etc, don't suffer from this, because having a woman fawn over a guy more confident/assertive than her doesn't 'defang' her as a lead, because its not an action movie. In fact, it creates a more realistic character.
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