Girls on Film is a weekly column that tackles anything and everything pertaining to women and cinema. It can be found here every Thursday night, and be sure to follow the Girls on Film Twitter Feed for additional femme-con.
Forget June 20. Summer is now upon us, as far as Hollywood’s concerned – the season of cinematic grandeur where studios whip up the biggest, loudest, most dazzling worlds to whet our visual hunger with pricey, gorgeous fun. Memorial Day has come and gone, tentpole releases litter screens far and wide, and even climate change is lending a hand, raising May temperatures and sending us straight to the air conditioned respite of the movie theater.
This year, we’ve also gotten a little sentimental with the Alamo Drafthouse, time-traveling back to 1982 for the best summer movies of the year (co-hosted by Movies.com and a slew of fellow movie blogs). Thirty years ago, we were treated to vengeful, sweet, and body-morphing aliens, to strange computer worlds, post-apocalyptic fights for oil, not to mention barbarians and boxers. It was that magical time when the summer blockbuster was beginning to gain steam, right after Indiana Jones found the Lost Ark, right on the eve of Return of the Jedi.
Looking back over the men who made these pictures classics, the likes of Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Gibson, and Russell, it’s easy to wonder what these films would be like today. I’m not talking about the dreaded remake, where we eternally compare, contrast, and snark about the modernized changes to a beloved film, but rather, how these films might’ve looked if they didn’t first hit us in 1982, but right now in 2012. And since we’re currently in a rather potent year of the woman, where kickass heroines like Katniss Everdeen and Natasha Romanov are dominating the screen and pulling in big cash, I can’t help but wonder: what if these films had female leads?
It’s a great scenario for playing fantasy arm-chair casting agent. We know what these characters inside and out, and we know how well women have commanded the screen this year. Chances are, if these films were released today, they wouldn’t be quite so testosterone-laden. So, let’s indulge in a little femme-fantasy.
Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan
Tilda Swinton for Ricardo Montalban
Star Trek makes things a little tricky. The Wrath of Khan isn’t merely a cinematic creation, but a continuation of a 1967 episode called “Space Seed.” If we include the previous television episode in the recasting, Helen Mirren would be the obvious choice – a woman who could embody Khan’s cerebral and physical edge, battling Kirk whilst reciting Moby Dick. That being said, there’s something irresistible about the thought of Tilda Swinton taking on Montalban’s iconic role.
Swinton would be the “Snow Queen” of Ceti Alpha V, bringing a mix of ethereal, androgynous creepiness to Khan (while also looking right at home in Khan’s mulleted ‘do). The actress embodies a mixture of otherworldly regality and strength that would suit Kirk’s nemesis. She has the type of presence that makes it all believable – commanding hordes of modified people on a dust-ridden planet, sending pet worms into the ears of the men she wants to control, or becoming wildly incensed and vengeful when bested by the sneaky Captain Kirk.
Jennifer Lawrence for Kurt Russell
Only one year after Russell completely flipped his Disney image to become the irresistibly smarmy Snake Plissken in Escape from New York, he re-teamed with John Carpenter, eschewing the camp for a straight-up human hero against all alien odds. The Thing boasts an engagingly gritty realism (rather than surreal flashiness) Lawrence would fit right into, evolving from her tough, family savior roles into the helicopter pilot who refuses to let an alien wipe out the Antarctic crew.
Having skinned a squirrel and faced drug dealers, vicious Panem killers, and even bad-guy mutants, Lawrence has the skill and presence to be believable as a formidable, snow-covered opponent, rather than a slow-stripping shower girl a la Whiteout. With icicles covering her hair, she could believably survive her line being cut, setting off on a determined quest to test blood and kill the alien scourge. A role like this would also pull Lawrence into a more active role, forcing her to actively command the screen and her character, rather than acting as a passive yet formidable protagonist.
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior
Abbie Cornish for Mel Gibson
Abbie Cornish needs an apocalypse back home to reinvigorate her career. After wowing audiences with Bright Star and earning a cover spot on one of Vanity Fair’s Hollywood issues, Cornish’s star power has been squashed, flattened by the stinking likes of Sucker Punch and W.E. But if the world were to end, with no room for idle, inane wanderings through auction houses and violent playtime in fetish gear, Cornish could easily get back on track.
Like Gibson at the time, Cornish is a 29-year-old hailing from New South Wales, and while her forays with Zack Snyder weren’t the most engaging enterprises, they proved Cornish’s ability to handle action. Her physique suits the idea of a cop-turned-desert renegade, and it’s easy to imagine her decked out in leather, scavenging Australia’s dusty roads for some all-too-precious gasoline. She also has the acting skills that bring a closed-off antihero some subtle depth, like Gibson did back in ’82.
Michelle Rodriguez for Sylvester Stallone
This choice is so easy that it almost seems pointless – or it would if Michelle Rodriguez ever had the chance to gain physical and critical mainstream success. She knows how to box; she was a force to be reckoned with in her first Rocky-like film, Girlfight, training hard and fighting the odds as the underdog. The movie earned her the opportunity to be willingly typecast as a strong, ass-kicking woman, where she’s excelled for the last twelve years.
That said, the roles for that type of character are almost always campy – not the dramatic flair that allows an actress to stretch her acting muscles as well as her fighting muscles. It’s nice to imagine her commanding a critically acclaimed sports series where she’s not a supporting player – where she gets the opportunity to bite into meaty fare center-stage. It’s also been said that Rodriguez is keen on being a writer and director, which also gives her the passion-project angle. You wouldn't even have to lose "Yo, Adrian!"
Conan the Barbarian
Gina Carano for Arnold Schwarzenegger
Some critics have questioned Gina Carano’s acting talents, but with one film, she’s already well beyond Arnold Schwarzenegger’s early days of well-oiled muscles and laughably stilted delivery. Though she’s not a body-builder, Carano has the impressive physique and real muscles that suit tales of physical prowess and gladiators, which are topped with a cinematic presence Arnie didn’t have at the start of his career. She has talent that could elevate a simply ridiculous cult movie into an at least slightly more engaging cult movie. She could be a believable barbarian, rather than just playing one.
And maybe if she rose, throwing the sword into the air, Channing Tatum would be kneeling at her feet in a wildly revealing costume?
Lauren Ambrose for Jeff Bridges and Zoe Saldana for Bruce Boxleitner
It might be impossible to find another Jeff Bridges, but in the realm of TRON, Lauren Ambrose would make a good Kevin Flynn. Though it’s a sci-fi action movie, the character’s requirements are simply to seem wise and charismatically laid back, whilst being clever enough to bring down a bossy Master Control Program without any overly challenging stunts. Ambrose has the right mix of presence and devilishness that she’d seem right at home in an arcade or coding A.I. worlds as Flynn. She has that spark in her eye that suggests plans are brewing well beyond what’s immediately visible, that give smart-ass banter a little extra power.
Zoe Saldana, meanwhile, is the natural choice for TRON. The character would be the perfect merging of her established talents. Her straight-laced smarts from Star Trek cover the Alan Bradley side of the equation while her mo-capping prowess from Avatar would mix well with her stoic power from Colombiana in the bright computer world.
Willow Smith for Henry Thomas
Long ago, Steven Spielberg wanted to make a movie about aliens, and after John Sayles wrote a dark script for him, the director flipped his approach and opted for a family film where an alien’s bony finger wouldn’t mean certain death, but rather, certain life. It’s not exactly easy to recast children in breakout roles, but considering the success her brother Jaden had with The Karate Kid, and her dad’s influence in the movie biz, Willow would be a shoo-in for a child hero eager to befriend and save a stranded alien.
Though Spielberg wanted to go in a different direction for his alien feature, he didn’t forget the family-in-terror spin that Sayles’ script detailed, and used the concept to craft Poltergeist. The undeniable face of the film, Heather O’Rourke, is a girl, so no recasting is needed. Though, to be honest, there’s no young actress in Hollywood right now who could pull off O’Rourke’s mixture of sweetness and chilling fear. (Not to say Hollywood isn't already trying...)
Thus ends our arm-chair casting. Do you have choices that beat them? Weigh in below. And if you’re lucky enough to be in the Drafthouse area, stop by on June 8 for our co-hosted pick, The Thing.