The top three films of 2017 were all female led — and all genre movies

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Jan 3, 2018

When Star Wars: The Last Jedi became the top-grossing movie of 2017 over the weekend, the film also contributed to another remarkable milestone. Moving into the top spot on Sunday (December 31) with $517 million at the North American box office, The Last Jedi led a year-end tally that also featured Beauty and the Beast at Number 2 with $504 million and Wonder Woman in third place with $412 million.

What do those have in common? All three films feature women in their lead roles -- The Last Jedi's Rey (Daisy Ridley), Beauty and the Beast's Belle (Emma Watson) and Wonder Woman's Diana (Gal Gadot) -- marking the first time that the top three highest grossing films at the domestic box office have featured female leads since 1958. According to The Wrap, the data was tabulated by Box Office Madness, which tracks charts before 1980, and Box Office Mojo, which tracks charts after 1980 (the first two also helped put Disney over the top as domestic box office champ for the second year in a row). 

Fifty-nine years ago, the trio of movies were South Pacific starring Mitzi Gaynor, Auntie Mame featuring Rosalind Russell and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof featuring Elizabeth Taylor. In 2017, all three of the films happened to be genre-related. The trend of female-led genre properties arguably started with the Twilight and Hunger Games franchises a few years back but is now hopefully in full swing.

This year looks to continue the pattern of high-profile genre titles led by women, including Annihilation (Natalie Portman), Red Sparrow (Jennifer Lawrence), Tomb Raider (Alicia Vikander), Alita: Battle Angel (Rosa Salazar) and A Wrinkle in Time (Reese Witherspoon, Oprah Winfrey), while 2019 will bring us Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and Star Wars: Episode IX, among others.

All this can only be seen as good news, and long overdue, in an industry where male protagonists have dominated nearly every genre of film — especially the more imagination-based ones — for decades. There is always more work to be done — not just for female characters, but characters of color and gender fluidity — but let's remember, it wasn't that long ago that a Wonder Woman movie couldn't get made because no studio wanted to produce an action/adventure film starring a female hero.

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