by Michael S. Palmer
In modern studio filmmaking, there's a general rule that the more expensive the motion picture, the wider the general audience will need to be. These films, which include everything Pixar has ever made, are what we call "four quadrant" (imagine the four quadrants as a box that has two rows for children and adults, and two columns for men and women). During a film's marketing campaign, there is a testing process that alerts a studio when a film isn't "tracking" well with a particular demographic. The studio will then adjust the campaign in order to steer their tent-pole towards the coveted four quadrants. A famous example of this is 'Spider-Man', which was tracking heavily male, until the TV spots started to feature the infamous "upside down kiss." That imagery, as the marketing legend goes, propelled the film to a stunning $114.8 Million Dollar opening weekend. Anyone else feel manipulated?
But what about films with a more limited appeal? It goes without saying that men and women have different, some would say very different, tastes in movies. For example, I'm not biggest fan of Nora Ephron and Nancy Meyers, but then again, my Mom gets cross-eyed when I start talking about Christopher Nolan's dreams or Peter Jackson's wizards and hobbits.
So where does that leave us, Dear Readers? Are XYs destined never to watch films with XXs? Of course not. We here at HDD aim for cinematic compromise. And, after exploring films which "generally lean towards female audiences but boys will enjoy too", I thought it might be fun to flip the coin in the other direction. A list of Blu-rays which lean towards the male demographic on the surface but should work just as well on date night as screening 'Titanic' for the twentieth time (which, by the way, I can't wait to do, should it ever come out on Blu-ray).
But first, a word of caution to our male readers. When trying to cross genre expectations, there are some movies you should never ever, ever, ever, ever, watch with your girlfriends and wives. And those, Dear Readers, feature one terrible world: rape. 'Straw Dogs', 'I Spit on Your Grave', and 'Leaving Las Vegas' may be good-to-great movies, but in mixed settings, these movies are uncomfortable at best. Also, it should go without saying, but I'll say it anyway: this light-hearted list is designed to initiate some discussion in the forum by you, Dear Readers. The generalities, of course, do not speak to all men and all women.
And now, heretofore, the Top Ten "Man" Blu-rays She Secretly Loves (a.k.a. the Top Ten "Man" Blu-ray's She Never Thought She'd Love):
"I've crossed oceans of time to be with you."
Long before Stephanie Meyer ruined vampires, there was Bram Stoker who introduced a character so terrifying, it launched an entire genre of horror films. This gothic, atmospheric chill fest is, perhaps, the classiest adaptation of the creature, and attempts to be faithful to the novel (though I don't remember any beds filled with naked women and Keanu Reeves in the book). At its core, though, what makes this film so female friendly is the Vampire's broken heart. The above quote may just be the gosh-darned most romantic notions ever uttered on the silver screen. Take that Rhett Buttler!
In most hands, a bloody, period picture about the French and Indian War where the hero runs through a forest for seven hours would send many of the female persuasion running for dear life. In truth, Michael Mann is, name puns aside, a very masculine filmmaker. But 'The Last of the Mohicans' is, like many of the films on this list, a great example of a story where Love is the prize. Through his promise to Cora, Hawkeye (Daniel Day Lewis) turns every ounce of blood and sweat shed to get her back, into a grand devotional oathe.
8) 'Con Air'
To some women, there's nothing sexier than a strong family man. Enter Cameron Poe (Nicholas Cage), an Army Ranger who is punished by the system for a crime committed in self-defense. Seven years later, Poe is finally set to be released on parole and is looking forward to seeing his wife and daughter, but his plane ride home is hijacked by the roughest gang of criminals to ever team up. Poe is a man of honor, who risks his life to save his friend and a female guard trapped on the plane because he wants to be a great father and a husband. He is a man who will earn the right to kiss his wife and hold his little girl for the first time. 'Con Air' is another a super-macho exercise in action, but the over-the-top acting from the scores of great character actors make the silliness all the more enjoyable.
For whatever reasons and variables, most of the women I know aren't really in to zombie-horror films. Perhaps it's the uber-gore and the hordes of rotting flesh. But the answer to any girl who doesn't love the living-challenged, is 'Shaun of the Dead'. A brilliant filmmaking debut by Edgar Wright, it stars the lovable doofus-pairing of Nick Frost and Simon Pegg. The odd thing about 'Shaun' is how it works equally as a pitch-perfect comedy, a bloody zombie picture, and a "loser trying to win back his girlfriend" love story. There's almost nothing more fun to do than have a laugh with your lady, and 'Shaun' delivers in spades.
6) 'Die Hard'
'Die Hard' is so good it can pretty much go on any movie list; The action picture against which all others are judged. And while boys love guns and helicopters and explosions, there's a lot of great character and thematics for girls as well. Like 'Mohicans' and 'Con Air', this is a classic structure where the hero, John McClane, spends the whole movie doing whatever it takes to save the woman he loves. But more importantly, McClane's wife, Holly Gennero, is a titan of industry, running a multinational corporation. She is also a brave leader, who stands up to the terrorists to protect her coworkers. Second, McClane's entire character arc is about realizing, through the process of literally saving his wife, that he's a douchebag and should have listened to Holly when she wanted to move to Los Angeles in the first place. It's a shame John and Holly's relationship went the way of the dodo later in the series, but nothing says "I love you" like killing terrorists.
Despite its masculine overtones, James Cameron's 'Terminator' franchise features an all-time great love story (in the first film, where Kyle Reese falls for the soon-to-be legendary Sarah Conner), and an almost unrivaled ass-kicking female lead (in the second, where Linda Hamilton reprises her roll as Sarah Conner, a mother trapped in a mental institution). Viewed together as one story, we can see how Sarah morphs from an every-woman with a simple life into the woman charged with bringing the future savior of mankind into being. It's a daunting task to say the least, one which reaps so many physical and physiological tolls on the character and what it means to be a good mother. Should she coddle the future-legend, or ruin his childhood to prepare him for his own challenges and responsibilities? These are two great movies for boys where the best character is a girl.
A gross-out comedy where nothing is sacred and human secretions end up just about everywhere is not on every woman's shelf. But, what surprised me most about re-visting 'Mary' last year to review the Blu-ray, is how well the romance elements in the story work. Sure, they're not traditional (and borderline criminal, in that stalker sense), but Mary is such a strong woman, it's no wonder every man on the East Coast has fallen so deeply in love with her. Ben Stiller does a great job of playing Ted, the sweetest guy in the world, who, like so many, never gave up hope on the girl he's always loved.
There is no grand, thematic reason as to why 'Step Brothers' appears on this list. At its surface, this film is another crude comedy with virtually no real female characters. It's everything a modern woman should hate. Yet, for some, perhaps unexplainable, reason, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly have created one of the funniest movies ever. I can spend all day quoting this film with my wife, watching it over and over again. So much so that watching the movie with us is super annoying, because we say all the lines over the actors. Rent this immediately; your wife or girlfriend might not know she loves incredibly stupid (yet very clever) movies. "G-damn Catalina wine mixer!"
James Cameron is great with female leads. Say what you will about him, but he directed the two most successful movies ever made back to back (albeit, ten years apart), because he respects the female audience. It was not a fluke. It was not an accident. It was not marketing. He's that good.
He's also the man who took the 'Alien' franchise, and swapped it from a horror film, which often features a female protagonist, and upped the stakes into an action film. But what's extra impressive is how 'Aliens' may be the most feminine action movie off all time. Looking at the story and the themes, we have the Ripley character become a surrogate "mother" to protect Newt, an orphaned little girl, from the aliens. This is also Ripley's redemption because she missed her biological daughter's entire life while she was floating around space in cryo. And then we have the climactic battle, which is Ripley versus the Queen (the aliens' mother) where the Queen is trying to seek revenge on Ripley because Ripley killed all of the Queen's offspring. When they are old enough to handle the violence, every little girl should see this movie, and know Hero isn't just a boy's title.
And now, the number one "Man" Blu-ray She Secretly Loves:
Most horror flicks with covers like these are exploitative efforts featuring doe-eyed, nubile twenty-somethings who take off all their clothes and are punished for having sex. One will invariably escape, not because she is smart, but rather because the filmmakers make it so. 'The Descent' is decidedly NOT that type of horror film. It features an ensemble cast of fantastic actresses (no men allowed!) who portray a range of believable, well-crafted and complex characters. They are the reason 'The Descent' is one of the scariest horror films I've ever seen after the original 'Alien'; we desperately want these people to survive, so they can lead us out of the claustrophobic darkness. This film is a stunner because it manages to subtlety thread the characters' backstory into the present-day action without slowing everything down with cruddy exposition.
Well, there we have it, Dear Readers, another day, another list. As always, there are certainly more films to mention than what's considered on this list of favorites -- yet remember, we're only considering currently available Blu-ray Discs -- so I encourage readers to hit up the forums to add titles and/or arrange your own list.
To our Female Readers, I hope you enjoyed the list (though, I would imagine if you prowl the pages of HDD with any frequency, you probably already like many of these listed titles) What are your favorite Man Movies you never admit to liking?
To our Male Readers, what Manly Movies have you been most surprised to enjoy with a wife or girlfriend? What movies need to be on your version of this list?