When a hot script with several terrific roles for women recently circulated throughout Hollywood, it was received with the breathless enthusiasm of a rare-bird sighting. Nicole Kidman and Cameron Diaz circled two of the leads. Directors lined up. With that kind of reception, it was easy to assume the project was some sort of dramatic juggernaut, the kind of Oscar bait not seen since The English Patient.
Turned out it was an action movie called X-Girls, the story of three Playboy Playmates who take on the Eco-Challenge.
Clearly, these are tough times for actresses not to mention female moviegoers. Not long ago, leading ladies could find great roles in all sorts of genres witness the free-ranging careers of Michelle Pfeiffer, Susan Sarandon, and Jessica Lange but these days even Oscar winners and megastars consider themselves lucky when they get to pin bunny tails on their bottoms. Women make up half the population, yet the studios continue to make movies and spend billions as if they didn't exist, focusing virtually all their attention on luring men to the multiplex.
The indie world still offers opportunities (yielding statuettes for Charlize Theron in Monster, Rachel Weisz in The Constant Gardener, and Halle Berry in Monster's Ball), but here's the embarrassing bottom line: In 2006, the major studios will release barely a dozen women-driven films.
Of course, it shouldn't be this way. To put it in terms even Hollywood executives might understand, there are more than 3 billion potential ticket buyers out there with two X chromosomes. Women aren't a special-interest group or a ''niche'' market; they're half the audience. Making movies that appeal to them (and maybe even to their husbands, fathers, and sons) is what we call good business sense. So, herewith, Entertainment Weekly offers six simple suggestions for how Hollywood can start giving women their due.