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February 12, 2024

Top 10 Female-Centric Films of 2023

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Photo courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Back in the semester of Spring 2023, in the celebration of International Women’s Day, you probably recall an article of mine listing the ten upcoming female-centric films of the year. Thanks to the enormously popularity of the Barbie movie, the article grew lots of attention from viewers on our Compass News website back in July, as I rated it number one, just above the Little Mermaid live-action remake and The Marvels. Of course, that previous list was for anticipation for all movie-goers; a chance for us to mark our calendars or pre-order our tickets to give us something to look forward to for the rest of the year. But now that 2023 is drawing to a close, it’s time we finally list this year’s top ten female-centric films.

10. Missing

The first entry on our list is a screenlife thriller we thought we’d already seen countless times— until we watched it ourselves and realized it has more to offer than we expected. Missing is a standalone sequel to the 2018 mystery thriller Searching, both of which take place entirely on the protagonist’s computer and follow the premise of them trying to find their beloved family member who mysteriously disappeared. Though the story was developed by Sev Ohanian and Aneesh Chaganty, who wrote and directed their feature debut Searching, this film is written and directed by Will Merrick and Nick Johnson in their feature debut.

Missing follows 18-year-old June Allen (played by Storm Reid) trying to find her single mother (Nia Long) after she disappeared on vacation in Cartagena, Colombia with her new boyfriend (Ken Leung). With only her Macbook, she creatively uses all the latest technology at her fingertips to take matters into her own hands. But as she digs deeper and deeper, her digital sleuthing raises more questions than answers as she soon unravels secrets about her mom and her past.

Released on January 20th, the day after its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, Missing received generally positive reviews from critics, with a certified fresh score of 88% on Rotten Tomatoes. It also grossed a total of $48.8 million at the box office against a $7 million budget.

9. Reality

There’s always discourse when it comes to telling the truth when discussing politics, even here in America. And it’s not surprising if the American government has some dirty laundry that they tried to sweep under the rug. Turns out, if someone ever revealed it, there’d be unfortunate consequences. This story is about Reality Winner (yes, that’s her real name), an American U.S. Air Force veteran and former NSA translator. In 2018, after she leaked an intelligence report about Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections, she was sentenced to five years and three months in federal prison. This is the longest sentence ever imposed for an unauthorized release of government information to the media. On June 2, 2021, she was released to a transitional facility at San Antonio, Texas.

In 2019, playwright and theater director Tina Satter staged the verbatim theater production titled Is This a Room, based on the FBI interrogation transcript of Winner. It ran on Broadway at the Lyceum Theater. Despite being unable to attend the production due to being under house arrest, Winner spoke extensively with the creative team following her prison release and video-called into the opening night performance’s curtain call.

The play was later adapted into a film titled Reality, with Satter as director and co-writer and the screenplay also written by James Paul Dallas. It stars two-time Primetime Emmy Award-nominated actress Sydney Sweeney casted as Winner, and Josh Hamilton and Marchánt Davis as the FBI agents Garrick and Taylor. Much like the play, Reality is based on the transcript, including the censored parts of it remaining censored. After the entire interrogation sequence and exterior filming was done over the course of sixteen days, the film premiered at the 73rd Berlin International Film Festival on February 18th, then released on HBO on May 29th after HBO films acquired the U.S. distribution rights. Reality received critical acclaim, praising Sattler’s direction and Sweeney’s performance. It rightfully earned a fresh score of 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and an 83 on Metacritic. Sadly, despite her involvement and support for the film, Winner claims she will never watch it, as reliving the day of her arrest is too traumatic for her.

8. Evil Dead Rise

The infamous Book of the Dead resurfaces once again to terrorize the cinema with its new and fifth theatrical installment of the Evil Dead franchise. This supernatural horror film was preceded after plans for direct sequels to Army of Darkness and the 2013 soft reboot were scrapped and the widely acclaimed television series Ash vs Evil Dead was canceled after only three seasons. The executive producers of this film are the franchise’s original creator Sam Raimi and its star Bruce Campbell, best known as main protagonist and scream king Ash Williams. Irish filmmaker Lee Cronin was handpicked by Raimi as writer and director, who first achieved recognition for his 2013 short horror film Ghost Train and then made his feature directorial debut with the critically acclaimed 2019 supernatural horror film The Hole in the Ground. Though this film doesn’t star the chainsaw-wielding demon slayer himself. Instead, Evil Dead Rise is a standalone film starring a new cast of characters that will soon be victims of the demonic entities known as Deadites.

The film centers on guitar technician Beth and her sister, Ellie, a tattoo artist and single mother, played by Australian actresses Lily Sullivan and Alyssa Sutherland. Upon their estranged reunion, Beth must try to survive and save her family from deadites after Ellie becomes possessed. Released on April 21st, Evil Dead Rise received generally positive reviews from critics and was praised by fans. It earned a certified fresh score of 84% on Rotten Tomatoes and grossed over $146 million worldwide against a $15-19 million budget, making it the highest grossing film in the series. Due to its success, it’s a possibility for future sequels. However, as of now, there’s no official confirmation on production or any release dates.

7. Nimona

It’s fair to say that animation in the movie industry has been soaring with worldwide praise from critics and audiences. It should never be dismissed as “kid’s films,” and it is not an entire genre. It’s a medium that explores multiple genres, many of which have done so in their own unique way. Nimona is definitely one of the great examples.

Based on the 2015 webcomic by ND Stevenson, Nimona was originally a Blue Sky Studios production, with Patrick Osborne hired as director. But after Walt Disney Company’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox resulted in the studio’s closure in April 2021, the film was delayed multiple times until it eventually got canceled. Luckily, Annapurna Pictures, an independent media company founded by Megan Ellison, revived the project. With Nick Bruno and Troy Quane hired as directors, DNEG Animation providing the animation, and Netflix acquiring worldwide distribution, Nimona was finally released on June 30th and became the wacky, creative, and adventurous film we know and love today.

The film takes place in a sci-fi fantasy world influenced by the Middle Ages. It stars Chloë Grace Moretz as the titular character, who is a mischievous teen shapeshifter, and Riz Ahmed as Ballister Boldheart, a former knight who was kicked out after being accused of murdering Queen Valerin. With Nimona insisting on being Ballister’s sidekick, the duo go on a quest to prove his innocence while realizing that the teen is also a monster he’s sworn to kill.

The film received praise for its animation, musical score, characters, LGBTQ+ themes, tone, humor, writing, and vocal performances (particularly that of Moretz and Ahmed). It rightfully earned its certified fresh score of 94% on Rotten Tomatoes.

6. Joy Ride

Another entry in our previous Female-Centric Movies list, Joy Ride is an R-rated comedy film featuring memorable characters in an unforgettable journey through Asia and the hilarious and raunchy moments along the way. Co-produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, Joy Ride is Adele Lim’s feature directorial debut after writing the 2018 rom-com Crazy Rich Asians. The screenplay was written by author/screenwriter and comedian Cherry Chevapravatdumrong (aka Cherry Cheva) and television writer/producer Teresa Hsiao— both who had worked on Family Guy.

The film follows the journey of four Asian-American women: Audrey Sullivan (Ashley Park), a lawyer raised by adoptive white parents, Lolo Chen (Sherry Cola), an aspiring sex-positive artist and Audrey’s best friend, Kat Huang (Stephanie Hsu), Audrey’s former college roommate and a famous Chinese actress, and Vanessa nicknamed “Deadeye” (Sabrina Wu), Lolo’s socially awkward cousin and K-pop fan. They take part in a business trip led by Audrey and travel through China in the hopes of searching for her birth mother.

Released on June 23rd, the film received positive reviews from critics, praising it for the lead performances and its unapologetically raunchy humor. It earned a certified fresh score of 91% on Rotten Tomatoes and 74 on Metacritic. Joy Ride is an epic journey of friendship, bonding, belonging, and wild debauchery that reveals the universal truth of what it means to know and love who you are.

5. M3GAN

It’s been proven time after time again that January is considered the worst month for movies. It is when Hollywood usually dumps some of the year’s worst movies for critics to sit through and give an exhaustive review for viewers to skip over, stay at home, and wait for something good to come out later. Horror films are some that suffer from poor reviews and disappointing box office returns. However, there are some exceptions that stood the test of time: the 1991 Academy Award-winning psychological horror thriller The Silence of the Lambs, and this.

M3GAN is a sci-fi horror film following a child-sized humanoid robot doll powered by artificial intelligence. Imagine HAL-9000 in the form of a Barbie doll.

Designed to be the ultimate companion for children, she soon develops self-awareness and becomes dangerously hostile towards anyone who comes between her and her human companion, who is an eight-year-old girl— the niece of M3GAN’s inventor. The film is directed by Gerald Johnstone, who previously directed, wrote, and edited the 2014 New Zealand horror comedy Housebound. The screenplay is written by Akela Cooper, who also wrote the screenplay for the James Wan horror film Malignant and worked on a number of episodes of TV shows such as The 100 and Marvel’s Luke Cage. Alongside Allison Williams as roboticist Gemma and Violet McGraw as her niece Cady, M3GAN is physically portrayed by New Zealand child actress and dancer Amie Donald, while actress, singer/songwriter, and social media influencer Jenna Davis voices her.

Released on January 6th, M3GAN received praise from critics and audiences, with a fresh score of 93% on Rotten Tomatoes and a weighted average score of 72 out of 100 on Metacritic. In addition, it became a financial success, having grossed $181 million worldwide against a $12 million budget. Everyone loved its campy blend of horror and humor, even with its PG-13 rating. Not to mention that M3GAN herself became a meme with her iconic dance moves, thus going viral on TikTok. Lastly, the film was nominated for Best Villain at this year’s MTV Movie & TV Awards, but lost to Elizabeth Olsen for her role as the Scarlet Witch in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Due to its success, there are already plans for a sequel wittily titled M3GAN 2.0. With Cooper considered for the screenplay, Williams and McGraw looking to reprise their roles, and Johnstone in talks to return as director, it is set to be released on January 17, 2025. Wonder what the title of the possible third movie would be if that also thrives.

4. Bottoms

 In this all-girls high school fight club, the first two rules are not “we DO NOT talk about fight club,” but instead one of them is “arrive on time.” Describing itself as “a movie about empowering women (the hot ones),” this satirical teen sex comedy is unlike any other. It is described by the director herself as “a campy queer high school comedy in the vein of Wet Hot American Summer but more for a Gen-Z queer audience.”

 Bottoms is directed and co-written by Emma Seligman, who previously worked on the critically acclaimed comedy Shiva Baby released three years earlier. It stars Rachel Sennott (who also co-wrote the screenplay) as PJ and Ayo Edebiri as Josie, two unpopular queer high school seniors. Hoping to hook up with their cheerleader crushes before they graduate, they arrange a feminist self-defense/fight club with their teacher Mr. G (Marshawn Lynch) as their advisor. Ironically, as humorous as this situation is, a female-centric self-defense club is something we definitely need in our high schools. Even here at SCCC, we only have one self-defense course at our Ammerman and Grant campuses— for one semester only. There’s also a karate course, but same thing.

 Released on August 25th, Bottoms received positive reviews from critics, with a certified fresh score of 90% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 77 on Metacritic. The U.S.-based service PostTrak gave the film a 93% positive score from audiences, with women under the age of 25 giving it a higher 98% score and 96% of them recommending it.

3. Talk to Me

 Who would’ve thought a duo of Australian twin brothers who progress from running a successful YouTube channel to writing and directing a widely praised A24 supernatural horror film? Not to mention the fact that this is a full-feature film made by YouTubers and it’s genuinely good. No, seriously. Look back at the 2010s. Talk to Me is written and directed by Danny and Michael Philippou, best known for their YouTube channel RackaRacka. With over 6 million subscribers and a total of over 1 billion views, their videos consist of featuring a myriad of recognizable characters and portraying them as comically psychotic and violent with the use of dangerous stunts and impressive visual effects. Their most popular video “Ronald McDonald Tastes Burger King” reaches over 87 million views. However, Talk to Me is unlike any of their largely energetic videos. This is more personal and vulnerable, with the twins being able to express themselves more than they ever did throughout their YouTube career.

 The film follows a group of teenagers who made a party game by using a mysterious severed and embalmed hand to be able to contact spirits. They soon realize that the more they play the game, the further it goes too far. Talk to Me stars relatively unknown Australian actors. Their main lead, Sophie Wilde, made her feature film debut in this film after making her television debut two years earlier in the Australian streaming drama series Eden. The most well-known and experienced of the cast would be Miranda Otto, who rose to fame for playing Éowyn in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

 Talk to Me premiered at the Adelaide Film Festival on October 30th, 2022, then the 2023 Sundance Film Festival before A24 Studios acquired the distributing rights for it to be released theatrically in other countries, including the U.S. With the film being given a certified fresh score of 94% on Rotten Tomatoes, critics and audiences praised Talk to Me for its story, direction, horror sequences, practical effects, sound design, and performances (particularly Wilde and Joe Bird). The film’s success became widely respected in the YouTube community. YouTube veteran and co-founder of Smosh, Anthony Padilla, commended the film while interviewing RackaRacka on his channel, calling it “the best horror film of the year,” and might be the best horror film he’s seen in five years. Dead Meat not only complimented the film while reviewing it on a Kill Count video, but also went into more detail on their podcast. Lastly, Corridor Crew analyzed the making of the film with RackaRacka, alongside some of their most popular videos.

 Talk to Me became a box office success, grossing $91 million against a $4.5 million budget, thus becoming A24’s highest grossing horror film and its second highest grossing film overall, just below Everything, Everywhere, All At Once. As of now, a sequel is currently in development, titled Talk 2 Me. Not only that, but there has already been completed principal photography on a prequel. There, the story would explore the backstory of a deceased character that was introduced in the beginning of the first film.

2. Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour

 To quote our staff writer (and Swiftie), Giselle Castro in our October issue, it was “a truly magical night that I will never forget,” and that she was “amazed by the energy of the teenagers and the power of Swift’s music.” Never underestimate the power of Taylor Swift. It’s simply impossible.

 It’s absolutely no doubt that the Eras Tour was the ultimate cultural event of the year, as it made an enormous impact on the music industry, entertainment, and beyond. There hasn’t been a phenomenon in the 21st century that was this prominent since Beatlemania way back in the 60s. The millions of dollars worth of ticket sales broke records and elevated the economy, despite a certain controversy with Ticketmaster. With rave reviews from critics, humongous praise from Swifties, and over 150 shows across five continents, it not only became Swift’s most expansive tour yet, but also the highest grossing tour ever by a female artist.

 The Eras Tour is, as Swift described it, a journey through all her musical “eras,” as it is an homage to her albums. With the show being over three hours long (the longest in her career), it consists of forty-four songs grouped into ten acts. Each act is characterized by a specific color scheme with Swift wearing a matching outfit. For example, Fearless, her second act, begins with the screen showing gold electric sparks raining down and Swift wearing a metallic fringed dress and country boots that characterized her early style as a country singer/songwriter. Some of the songs that were playing in this act were “Fearless,” “You Belong to Me,” and “Love Story.”

The film, released on October 13th, is a “cinematic rendering” of the Eras Tour. Although it doesn’t exactly present the entire show, as it had to cut down some songs from the tour’s set list for a runtime of two hours and forty-five minutes. Regardless, like the tour itself, the film received universal acclaim from critics and audiences, especially Swifties. With a near-perfect score of 99% on Rotten Tomatoes and an 83 on Metacritic, it was widely praised for its direction, spectacle, energy, and Swift’s artistry and showmanship. And much like the tour earning an uproaring financial success, the film grossed over $246 million against a $10-20 million budget, thus becoming the highest grossing concert film of all time, surpassing Justin Bieber: Never Say Never after twelve years. It’s fair to agree that this may be Taylor Swift’s best movie in her career since she sadly doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to selecting movies to be in as supporting roles. Some of her more recent examples would be the film adaptation of Cats and the period mystery Amsterdam, both of which were crucially panned by critics and bombed at the box office.

What’s most important is how much cultural significance it has for Swifties, especially those that never got the chance to go to the concert themselves. As described by Castro’s article, the teenage audience were singing and dancing along with the music, as it was proudly encouraged by AMC theaters. For me, it presents a similar vibe to a showing of a The Rocky Horror Picture Show, where it’s allowed for guests to sing and dance along to the musical numbers, yell out derogatory names at specific characters, and even throw rolls of toilet paper at the front of the room. But in this case, you live a concert-like experience. And that’s part of the fun. Granted, I’m not the most avid Swiftie (Joan Jett and Evanescence fan here), but I do highly respect the artist for how much of an impact she continues to have in pop culture after all these years. Even here at SCCC, we have the Ultimate Tribute event dedicated to her at the Sagtikos Van Nostrand Theater in the Grant Campus. It might even encourage me to start listening to her music every once in a while.

1. Barbie 

Why, yes. It is a coincidence for this film to be in the exact same spot as it was on the Top 10 Upcoming Female-Centric Films list. Could you say we predicted that months before the film’s release? I’d like to think so because… why not? It’s Barbie! It’s enough to be incredibly excited for a live-action adaptation of Mattel’s most fabulous fashion doll, especially since it’s the first after countless straight-to-video animated films. However, most surprising for all of us, some of its success is due to its hilarious and unintentional connection with the epic biological thriller Oppenheimer. With both films being released the exact same day (July 21st), despite being as polar opposite as you can get, this led to an enormous phenomenon of the summer: Barbenheimer. The massive amount of media attention, including memes and online merchandise, encouraged audiences to see both films as a double feature, resulting in both of them achieving outstanding financial success on opening weekend and beyond, each earning over $1 billion at the box office, as well as breaking records. In addition, they both were widely praised by critics and audiences, making a standout in their own unique way.

Of course, it was Barbie that stood out the most, especially with its marketing. Even in the theaters, everyone wore pink; whether it’s a casual t-shirt with matching shorts or a chic dress with high heels, big earrings and sunglasses, and their hair stylized and makeup applied on. All of this just to watch a nearly two hour-long movie about a girls’ fashion doll— and/or the double feature. This may have been the first for us to witness and become a part of this spectacular level of marketing for a film that isn’t related to a comic book franchise— and that’s saying a lot!

Directed and co-written by Greta Gerwig, Barbie stars (and is co-produced by) Margot Robbie as the titular character, and Ryan Gosling is just Ken. It follows the characters on a journey of self-discovery following an existential crisis, with Barbie searching for the child playing with her in the real world while Ken learns a thing or two about the patriarchy— and horses. The film has a large ensemble cast of actors, many of them are the variations of Barbies and Kens living in the matriarchal utopia known as Barbieland. For example, there’s Issa Rae as President Barbie, Dua Lipa as Mermaid Barbie, and Kate McKinnon as Weird Barbie (the kind of Barbie doll kids played with too hard). When entering the real world, Barbie would come across the CEO of Mattel (Will Ferrell) and an employee (America Ferrera) that ends up helping her.

Barbie received widespread critical acclaim and massive praise from audiences of all ages. It earned a certified fresh score of 88% on Rotten Tomatoes (sadly lower than the other films on this list, I know) and an 80 on Metacritic. Again, much thanks to Barbenheimer, the film grossed $1.442 billion worldwide (or “reaching a ‘Barbillion’,” as Warner Bros. described it), replacing The Super Mario Bros. Movie as the highest grossing movie of the year. Additionally, it became the highest grossing film made by a solo female director, and beat the record for the fastest billion-dollar film released by Warner Bros., surpassing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2 after twelve years. On top of all that, it is currently the fourteenth highest grossing film of all time, sitting above other films such as Avengers: Age of Ultron, Black Panther, and Star Wars: The Last Ledi. Lastly, it’s no doubt we’ll be seeing the film earn some nominations at the Oscars and Golden Globes— alongside Oppenheimer, of course. But as of now, all we have are the predictions, so nothing has been officially confirmed yet. On the plus side, there’s been so much critical praise for its soundtrack. It not only won Top Soundtrack at the Billboard Music Awards, but it has been nominated for eleven Grammy Awards. “What Was I Made For?” by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell has earned the most with five nominations: Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Pop Solo Performance, Best Song Written for Visual Media (along with “I’m Just Ken”), and Best Music Video. Guess that means we’ll be wearing pink again for awards season next February.

While it’s no doubt that the SAG-AFTRA Writers and Actors strikes definitely did a number on Hollywood and the movie industry, we’re thankful that there are some films that were able to make a splash financially and critically. Of course, the Barbenheimer and Taylor Swift phenomenons undoubtedly saved that industry this summer, proving how much of an impact women and girls have as movie goers. To be perfectly clear, this isn’t to completely ignore or dismiss any films with male leads, but to give a broader awareness to female-centric films in a variety of genres that can be viewed and enjoyed by audiences, regardless of gender. As evidenced by all these films’ critical acclaim, general praise, and box office success, it’s fair to say we definitely made that impact this year, even with some misses in between. Now all we do is look forward to those releasing in 2024 and see which ones will make it to the next list.

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About the Contributor
Emma Christiansen, Media Critic
Emma Lee Christiansen, contributing writer, liberal arts major, from West Sayville. Christiansen will graduate from SCCC in the spring semester, plans on continuing her higher education at Stony Brook University, and would like to major in creative writing and minor in film making/film studies. Christensen enjoys drawing, watching movies, and playing video games in her spare time.

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