Well, consider this two years of disconcerting rumor and conjecture confirmed. The Hollywood Reporter uh… reported that Frank Darabont is in talks to direct a spin-off to Snow White and the Huntsman HUN +0.5% for Universal (a division of Comcast CMCSA +0.85% Corp.). The film will be titled The Huntsman. The spin-off will allegedly feature Chris Hemsworth reprising his role as the “huntsman” from Snow White and the Huntsman and Charlize Theron will apparently reprise her role as the wicked queen despite her character suffering from a slight case of death in the first film. What is now official (according to the trade) is that Kristen Stewart will not be back as Snow White. Sadly this was the plan all along.
There was conjecture in late summer 2012 that Universal might go forward with a sequel to Snow White and the Huntsman sans Snow White after pictures surfaced featuring Ms. Stewart and the film’s director (Rupert Sanders) committing romantic indiscretions (Sanders was married while Stewart was in a relationship with her Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson). In truth, Universal had talked about a Chris Hemsworth spin-off before the first film even opened. Universal successfully sold Snow White and the Huntsman as a female-empowerment action fantasy partially on the drawing power of Kristen Stewart all-the-while plotting to toss her out of the franchise in favor of a male-centric spin-off.
Snow White and the Huntsman is not a very good movie and Kristen Stewart is not very good in it (she’s better in The Runaways or Adventureland). But the film opened to $56 million on opening weekend in June 2012 very much on the strength of the notion that it was A) It was a “dark-and-gritty” Snow White re-imagining that had a great trailer. B) It was a “dark-and-gritty” Snow White re-imagining that starred Kristen Stewart. The too-expensive picture ($170m) ended its domestic run with a solid $155m and a pretty decent $396m worldwide.
Without discounting Chris Hemsworth fresh off The Avengers and Charlize Theron as added value elements, the film wouldn’t have made as much money as it did without an actress with Stewart’s mainstream drawing power. Love or hate Twilight, but the series created a large and rabid fan base for the once-and-future indie film actress, and that was the fan base that helped propel the action fantasy to $56m on opening weekend when “official tracking” said something closer to $35m. Kristen Stewart delivered but basically lost her job to a man anyway.
Had the film bombed, she would have taken the brunt of the blame, and the failure would have fueled the notion that female-centric would-be blockbusters can’t be counted on to deliver at the box office. It was a hit, and they are still gender-swapping the franchise. In an industry where the success of The Hunger Games means that Liam Hemsworth gets his own star vehicles, where Transformers: Age of Extinction‘s Jack Reynor will surely get more opportunities for leading roles or meaty supporting roles than Nicola Peltz, and where the initial reaction to the success of The Twilight Saga was I Am Number Four (‘It’s Twilight, but told from the guy’s point-of-view!”), it is worth noting when a hit Snow White film results in a sequel sans Snow White.
We all complain about the lack of female-centric franchises in Hollywood. We got a pretty successful one two summers ago. Yet said franchise is being re-tooled so that Hemsworth’s (male) warrior can have the center stage for the second go-around. Kristen Stewart was a big part, if not the main part, of why Snow White and the Huntsman opened so well. The notion that a spin-off starring Chris Hemsworth (a fine and charismatic actor but sadly not “face on the poster box office” outside of the Marvel universe) playing reprising his role as “that guy with the axe” will gross anywhere near the amount of money as a film featuring Kristen Stewart as an iconic fairy tale character (star+concept) is indicative of well, undue optimism at best.
Even with Kristen Stewart reprising her role (as she apparently wanted to do), a sequel to a not-terribly-beloved original was a risk, a contender for the Tomb Raider Trap. Absent its three key selling points (Snow White, Kristen Stewart, female empowerment fantasy), The Huntsman amounts (from a marketing point-of-view) to Chris Hemsworth as generic fantasy action man. Universal successfully sold Snow White and the Huntsman on the strength of its iconic character, its leading actress with an obsessive fan-base that came out for her first post-Twilight mainstream role, and its female action = female empowerment themes. Good luck with a sequel that removes all three of those elements.
Without ascribing any intentionally ill intent to the respective parties, it’s a chilling lesson to actresses everywhere. It’s bad enough that female leads are often switched out like disposable diapers in male-centric franchises (Ted, Mission: Impossible, the original Batman franchise, Indiana Jones, 22 Jump Street, etc.). But now even a top-billed star of a successful female-centric franchise is not even safe from being removed from her own franchise to make room for the guy.
Eaux at Universal. Feel free to turn this into a sexism in Hollywood wank post...