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Photo: LucasFilm via AP

With this weekend's release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, it's almost assured that the latest entry in the Skywalker saga will become the highest-grossing film of 2017 at the North American box office, jumping over Beauty and the Beast and Wonder Woman for the top spot. That will make the top three blockbusters of the year all female-led, even at a time when most starring roles still go to men.

Why it matters: With the #MeToo movement rocking Hollywood, and the opportunities provided to female actors and directors more generally, the overwhelming success of these films with strong women at their core can't be overlooked.

Where things stand:

  • The Last Jedi is tracking for an opening weekend in the neighborhood of $200 million, which would put it somewhere in the top five of all time. Its predecessor, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, is the highest grossing film ever in North America at $936.7 million.
  • The Last Jedi likely won't reach those heights, but it's expected to surpass the $532.2 million gross of last year's anthology Rogue One.
  • Beauty and the Beast currently sits at #1 for 2017 with $504 million and Wonder Woman is just behind at $412 million.

A big reason that women crushed the box office in 2017: they fronted films that were good. With movie ticket prices hitting record highs, it's hard to get people to fork over their hard-earned cash for just anything, especially as audiences get more discerning with the rise of review aggregators like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic.

  • Justice League was one of the most expensive films ever with a rumored production budget of around $300 million — and it prominently featured Wonder Woman, one of 2017's breakouts — but tepid reviews caused it to falter at the box office.
  • That reflects the same trend that the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film's head Martha Lauzen described to Variety last year: "We have now seen over and over and over that female characters, when done well, they're good box office…They're not being relegated to a single genre like romantic comedies. Their fate is not tied to the fortunes of a single genre, and that suggests a more stable pattern."

But there's a problem: An analysis of 2016's top-grossing films found that females hold just 29% of protagonist roles, according to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. And that very low number marked a historic high.

  • Worth noting: Opportunities weren't so great for women behind the camera either, as women held just 7% of the directorial roles in 2016's top grossers.
  • Check out Jennifer Lawrence's 2015 essay about her discovery — via the Sony hack — that her male American Hustle co-stars made more than she did.

But there's a more concerted effort in Hollywood to attempt to inject more overall diversity in its blockbuster offerings. Pixar's Coco, focused on Mexico's Day of the Dead traditions, is a recent box office and critical success — and Marvel's Black Panther, set for release in February, will feature the Marvel Cinematic Universe's first black superhero.

Go deeper

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
1 hour ago - Health

Schools face an uphill battle to reopen during the pandemic

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Biden's plan to accelerate the reopening of K-8 schools faces major challenges from a still out-of-control pandemic and more contagious coronavirus variants.

Why it matters: The longer American kids miss in-person schooling, the further they fall behind. But the uncertain state of the science on the role young children play in the pandemic continues to complicate efforts to reopen schools.

Focus group: Former Trump voters say he should never hold office again

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

"Relief" is the top emotion some swing voters who used to support Donald Trump say they felt as they watched President Biden's swearing-in, followed by "hope."

Why it matters: For voters on the bubble between parties, this moment is less about excitement for Biden or liberal politics than exhaustion and disgust with Trump and a craving for national healing. Most said Trump should be prohibited from ever holding office again.

Updated 15 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Health: Most vulnerable Americans aren't getting enough vaccine information — Fauci says Trump administration's lack of facts on COVID "very likely" cost lives.
  2. Politics: Biden unveils "wartime" COVID strategyBiden's COVID-19 bubble.
  3. Vaccine: Florida requiring proof of residency to get vaccine — CDC extends interval between vaccine doses for exceptional cases.
  4. World: Hong Kong to put tens of thousands on lockdown as cases surge.
  5. Sports: 2021 Tokyo Olympics hang in the balance.
  6. 🎧 Podcast: Carbon Health's CEO on unsticking the vaccine bottleneck.

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