Movies don't have to be about the male experience to make money. Maleficent is only the latest nail in that coffin. $70 million might not be the biggest opening weekend of the year, but it's pretty consistent for Disney, which - alone amongst its studio competitors - has been gambling on strong female protagonists for years now and mostly reaping enormous profits and good will. Maleficent joins Alice in Wonderland, Frozen and Brave as uniquely female-driven motion pictures that have connected with audiences worldwide. The question now is, when will the rest of Hollywood take notice?
It's hard to believe that Maleficent is Angelina Jolie's first live-action performance in four years, since the release of The Tourist in 2010. She's directed a movie since then (2011's In the Land of Blood and Honey), and of course she's been ubiquitous in the tabloids, but Maleficent was her first big starring role since a rather notorious bomb and she was an enormous part of the film's appeal. She's officially back, which is pretty ironic since she never technically left.
Maleficent was plagued with production difficulties. Director Robert Stromberg detailed a lot of the last-minute rewrites and re-shoots in a CraveOnline interview last week. Rumors even abounded that he was replaced at some point on the shoot by another director altogether. But the movie came together, opened to mixed but not terrible reviews, and made a ton of money anyway. A troubled production doesn't necessarily mean a box office bomb is immiment, or even that the finished product will be terrible. The pundits are too quick to judge a movie sight unseen, and get too wrapped up in controversy to let the actual movie get made and impress audiences on its own merits.
Not all the news about Maleficent is good. The story of Maleficent isn't just the untold story of the villain from Sleeping Beauty, it flat out tells the audience that the original Disney animated classic is full of crap. Between Maleficent and Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, Disney seems perversely eager to not just update their old animated library to live-action, but to say that those timeless movies aren't "real." Well, Disney, they ARE real, and in the long run they will probably matter a lot more than these blockbuster reimaginings will. Just wait and see.
Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent look suspiciously similar, from a visual perspective, don't they? If Disney keeps this up with Kenneth Branagh's live-action Cinderella and Jon Favreau's The Jungle Book, they could very well have a cross-over franchise a la The Avengers if they wanted to. Heck, the framework already exists in the hit video game series Kingdom Hearts, so why not make a few more live-action updates of the old animated classics and then put them together in a multi-dimensional, universe-spanning adventure? The time has come, Disney. Make the announcement.