What happened to Whip It?

by Melissa Silverstein on October 5, 2009

in Box Office

whipI am seriously sad.

Whip-It didn’t do well at the box office this weekend.  The chatter has started about how the future of young women’s movies.

Here’s what Cinetic Media’s Matt Dentler asks on Twitter: “After the very poor starts for Whip It, Jennifer’s Body, and Bright Star, what does that mean for the future of young women’s movies?” (h/t Thompson on Hollywood)

So now we won’t have movies about older women and we won’t have movies about younger women.  Great.

But let’s be real.  While I might put Whip-It and Jennifer’s Body in the same category, I wouldn’t put Bright Star in there.  First, because it’s a smaller movie not released by a big studio and secondly, because even though Fanny drives the story at times, this film is an artistic triumph and draws a very different type of audience than both Whip-It and Jennifer’s Body.   I really don’t want these trend stories to start happening especially when we have An Education opening this weekend and Precious coming soon.  Both those films (as well as Bright Star) are Oscar contenders and need to get some sort of box office traction is order to have legs for awards season.

The bigger story to me, which I find disturbing, is that all three of this so-called underperforming films (and keep in mind their budgets were very low so they will probably make money) are directed by women.

I hear from people that they want to see Bright Star.  I hear from people that they are going to see Whip-It.  Maybe because we are out of summer they will have time to develop some word of mouth.  One can only hope.  BTW, Julie & Julia has quietly amassed almost $100 million at the box office, it is still playing in places and has been open since August 7th.

Here’s some more box office info:

Box Office Mojo: According to distributor 20th Century Fox, the audience was 70 percent female and 52 percent 25 years and older.

From Thompson on Hollywood: “Women aren’t showing up,” said one studio marketing exec. “Girls don’t get into roller derby.” Searchlight downplayed that aspect in favor of the movie’s girl power theme.

More thoughts: What I find interesting about the numbers is not the 70% women, it is the 52% over 25.  (I really wish they broke down those numbers better for us in the public)  What this says to me is that they didn’t figure out how to get the young girls who live the “girl power” lives.  Maybe they couldn’t get their guy friends/boy friends to go, so they just acquiesced and went to see Zombieland.  Maybe the girl power message is a turn off to guys?  Maybe some of it is about how women’s sports is treated in the culture?

So the people were adult women, ones who are comfortable saying I want to see women onscreen.  This shouldn’t be news.  We know that women over 25 go to see movies starring women, it’s just that not enough of them come out on opening weekends to make a dent in the box office except on the rare occasion.


{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

Annie October 5, 2009 at 9:15 AM

Did you see the this thoughtful article on NPR.org?


We went this weekend, and there were maybe 30 people in the theater, most of them senior citizens. I was shocked–where are the girls? I guess I was so psyched to see this film, I just assumed every other girl/woman would want to see it right away, too.

Chris Evans October 5, 2009 at 10:33 AM

““Girls don’t get into roller derby.” Searchlight downplayed that aspect in favor of the movie’s girl power theme.”


They did this in order to get men to see it. And look what happened.

Michelle October 5, 2009 at 10:45 AM

My theater was full and the majority of the crowd was over thirty, with roughly a quarter being seniors. My belief is that this is a film with legs, that its opening week will not taper too much. Young girls go to their boyfriend’s films first, theirs second. Also, this movie opened during school. Personally, I think it should have opened in the summer and been premiered at select cities in conjunction with roller derby leagues across the US and whatever there might be in Canada (We don’t have much roller derby). This film, in the hands of a really good grass roots summer marketing plan would have done fine. And it still can since its budget is quite small… it might just take some time.

Lastly, women are a divergent group and I don’t believe there is really such a thing as a women’s movie anymore. If you take into account regionalization, economic backgrounds (I do think the fact that women are hurt more in hard economic times has something to do with it too) and socio-political differences… well, I’m sorry, but we’re a pretty divergent group. Marketing to that group can be really hard.

Lastly, most of the marketing of the film was built around Drew Barrymore. The truth is, Drew isn’t that relevent to women under 25. She’s over 30 now. She isn’t the draw to get the younger market to the film, but she is for those of us who watched her grow up.

writer October 5, 2009 at 11:08 AM

The movie was not marketed to girls. Just because many of them went to see Juno, it doesn’t mean they will see Ellen Page in this movie.

Tammy October 5, 2009 at 11:38 AM

It’s the marketing. Hollywood is fantastic at marketing complete shit and indies can’t compete with the 30 million plus campaigns. They make some terrible Romantic Comedy, create a great poster and a punchy trailer that makes the movie look fun…then show the trailer every five minutes in primetime for a couple of weeks before the movie opens. Boom, the kids come opening weekend, you got a hit. Indies need flawless reviews to get people into the theater and the reviews on “Whip It” were mixed. I didn’t see it, but I’m sure it was much better than most.

Women have also gotten burned a bunch of times with bad films and have gotten out of the habit of going to the movies. They wait until someone they know tells them it’s good 2-3 weeks in, then make dates with their girlfriends to see a film. I see this with the housewives a lot.

“Bright Star” is doing fine with a $10,000 per theater average. In fact I was so moved by this incredibly beautiful and finely crafted film, I threw my TV in the trash when I got home. The contrast between what film and television could be and what it actually is, was just too much.

Scott Mendelson October 5, 2009 at 11:38 AM

As I wrote on Saturday morning (perhaps unfairly, as I was severely pissed that this terrific movie flopped), if feminist filmgoers at large cannot bother to support a purely mainstream and commercial entertainment that is also a good, genuinely feminist movie, then maybe they deserve to have nothing aimed at women except more variations of Jennifer Aniston or Katherine Heigl starring in “I’m Nothing Without A Man”. This is the same as parents complaining about quality family movies and then ignoring The Iron Giant. It’s the same as horror nerds complaining about remakes and reboots, yet ignoring Drag Me To Hell and Jennifer’s Body. You want to enjoy the trash, fine. Goodness knows I’ll be there for the A Nightmare On Elm Street remake on opening weekend despite my better judgment. And I’m more than willing to sit through G-Force or Alvin and the Chipmunks 2 if my daughter will enjoy them. But when you ignore the commercial, mainstream entertainment that is actually good or original, then you signal to execs that their laziness is actually a preferred strategy.

C.K. October 5, 2009 at 12:16 PM

The Toronto Star’s Peter Howell had a great article in the paper this weekend about how basically any movie about women that deals with emotions and empowerment but doesn’t feature explosions is lumped under the contemptuous term “chick flick.”


I agree that Bright Star doesn’t fall into the same category as Whip It or Jennifer’s Body. I saw Bright Star on Saturday night and there were many empty seats. I’m hoping it takes off via word of mouth because it’s a terrific film.

Michelle October 5, 2009 at 12:36 PM


You are absolutely right. I’m so tired of hearing friends complain about the quality of films being made but God forbid they get out of their couches and go to a theatre instead of renting the DVD. I keep telling them, they get what they “pay” for; meaning if you aren’t willing to vote at a movie theatre with your entertainment dollar then franchise action films are all you’re going to get. DVD rentals are not factored into the discussion of what makes a financially successful film. So, don’t let your friends get away with saying; “I’ll wait till it comes out on DVD”. Kick their sorry butts into a theatre to see “Whip It”.

HelenofPeel October 5, 2009 at 12:42 PM

It does seem to me that “Whip It”‘s marketing campaign played to the violence and physical factor to attract men.

I would have preferred they sell it like another Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants or some such.

It is always tough to sell a “women’s movie” in Hollywood and out there in the hinterlands. However, I am confident it will have a great life on DVD as people discover the film.

sally October 5, 2009 at 1:29 PM

I didn’t go and see it this weekend, but I think the movie-going young crowd went to the Zombie movie or the Toy Story double header. But overall, where I live, there were tons of events this past weekend, and I plan to see it this week. I think it will do fair this next week. They should have pumped up the advertising and taken a little different angle, but for some reason, when they released the same week as the Zombie movie, that would have been a big part of their demographic, I think. I see little internet promotion, although Drew says they built an awesome site, something more viral along the lines of True Blood’s promotion would have been nice.

There was also the Moore movie that I missed and wanted to see. As it happens, I was out with teenagers on Saturday, and most had not really heard of Whip It. Locally, there was little advertising compared to the Zombie movie. Also, Ms. Page didn’t seem to be out promoting in force on the talk shows. I saw Drew on two shows myself, which was awesome.

sally October 5, 2009 at 1:40 PM

I haven’t seen the movie, but I disagree that they should have sold it like Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. This looks like a coming of age movie more like Dazed and Confused or even a League of their Own, and in this case, promoting as a vaseline lensed Lifetime “chick” movie would have limited it’s potential.

I think they should have gone a little mysterious viral like True Blood and played up the rollerderby. And I think that promoting the characters as if they were comic book characters with their fake Roller names would have been enticing, including Jimmy Falon in a promotional deck of ads.

Kai Jones October 5, 2009 at 1:43 PM

My husband and I both saw Whip it! Saturday night, and loved it. We both came home and posted to Facebook, telling people to see it. (And we’re 50 and 48, respectively.) This morning I’ve been talking it up at the office.

The crowd in the theater was older (mostly over 30), about evenly split between m/f couples and f/f couples, and mixed race. This film appeals to a lot of different people!

R.K October 5, 2009 at 2:52 PM

I must admit that I have not seen the movie yet. I am definitely going to see it. Tammy, you are absolutely right, Hollywood is fantastic at marketing complete shit.

The girl power message is a trun off to most guys and young women often in the process of impressing young men, tend to dismiss such movies as “boring”.

Sarah October 5, 2009 at 4:47 PM

I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss Zombieland as a guy’s movie. It does have two female leads as well as two male leads in cast that basically rounds up to seven credited cast members, not counting one or two uncredited cameos. I know plenty of women who are zombie movie fans, including myself. I don’t care for vampire movies, but I love zombie movies. It just happened that between the two movies, and only having time for one this weekend, I wanted to see Zombieland a tad more, and I’ll probably go see Whip It next weekend.

I think what put it over the edge was the one Whip It commercial I saw, it made it seem like a romantic comedy, and I’m not into those. But I guess in the long run, if you have to choose between playing up the romantic comedy stuff and playing up the roller derby stuff, it’s probably the romantic comedy that’s going to draw more people in. Roller derbies are a pretty niche market.

Tanessa October 5, 2009 at 5:22 PM

I am with you on “Maybe they couldn’t get their guy friends/boy friends to go.” The only way I can get my hubby to see girl movies is if he’s in trouble. He enjoys them but prefers the big, explosive desert/airplane-type movies or the occasional bromance. I think it’s too much to expect only women to turn up to these movies. Somehow, they need to appeal to men as well.

sally October 5, 2009 at 5:56 PM

People are watching their money, and I expect it to do well next week. Truly, a lot of their demo went to Zombie. But in the sense of bargain, the double feature of Toy Story was a genius idea.

But Whip It was a cheap movie: it will make money, and as a part of her film brand, it’s the John Hughes part of her portfolio – then she has the Charlies Angels for a zippy action slice – Drew has a solidly profitable film company. If the Wonder Women producers had any sense, they’d like Wheldon direct and Drew’s company run.

Now. Let’s list all the “guy” movies that didn’t open in the one of the first three slots, shall we?

Chris Evans October 5, 2009 at 6:32 PM

“and in this case, promoting as a vaseline lensed Lifetime “chick” movie would have limited it’s potential.”

And promoting it like a sports movie didn’t do the same thing? I’ve talked to several guys who went to see this thinking it was more of a sports movie because that’s how it was marketed but were disappointed because, in their words, “it was more of a chick flick”.

AVB October 5, 2009 at 6:39 PM

I had a conversation about this movie with my 13 year old (female) neighbor this weekend. She had never heard of the movie. I told her what it was about, her reply, “oh, I want to see that. But I’d never heard of it before.” My neighbor does not really watch TV. If she does, it’s on Hulu or YouTube. She’s on Facebook, text messaging, sometimes Twittering, or playing guitar hero or rock band. She goes to the mall on weekends and, when she does see a movie, none of ones she’s seen have had the trailer for Whip It! in front of them.

Now, check out Whip It!’s online presence. Here’s the website: http://www.foxsearchlight.com/whipit/ I have no idea what the top part is supposed to be and, when you realize you have to scroll down, all the content looks like a news feed. There are some great features, but it’s hard to navigate and sort through the material. Their Twitter account is through Fox, so a bunch of other movies are being advertised as well. And, their Facebook page just posts reviews, etc. not very audience-friendly or interactive, as it could/should be.

I think this deficiency has a lot to do with why 13-year-old girls, like my neighbor, haven’t even heard of this movie. It’s simply not being marketed to them in the avenues of social networking and media that they frequent. Could it have made a huge difference come opening weekend? Maybe. Should they have at least tried? Absolutely.

HelenofPeel October 5, 2009 at 7:01 PM

Sallie, you are probably right that Whip It should not be sold as Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

All I was trying to say is that the film IS a chick flick. And what is wrong with that?! It’s a film of women, directed by a woman, about women. And it’s a great film!

There was no sleight of hand necessary on the marketing campaign.

As I tell my clients (and friends, and kids) “Play to your strengths!” That is what the advertising should have done.

sally October 5, 2009 at 7:02 PM

I think it would have benefited from a better online campaign. And as to it being a sports movie….let’s see what you think of this summary:

Young lead has parents that want him to do something else for a job than he wants or he is finding unsatisfying failure in life. He wants to be on a sports team (insert golf, football, skateboarding, surfing). He rebels secretly and goes to practice. He has a romance in the movie. Finds bonding with team and finds his own strength. Even Rocky sort of follows that curve. Because Rocky has a romance, does that make it a chick movie?

Now is that still a sports movie or a chick movie if you insert a female lead? If you do it 50 years in the future with zero G ball, is it sci fi, a sports movie, or still a chick movie if you have a female lead?

Elle Schneider October 5, 2009 at 7:15 PM

With both JB and WI, I didn’t even realize they had come out until the box office was announced for the weekend. Both movies, along with others out now, have suffered greatly from the overall trend of slashing PR & marketing budgets. These films also had tiny budgets to begin with, as you’ve mentioned.

The whole marketing package — including early TV teasers and follow up spots — are necessary to inform the audience of a release in the weeks leading up to the actual release dates. Now film ads are only running in the week before the film comes out and the week after. Many big trailer houses are drying up because of this.

I think both JB and WI suffered the fallout of Juno & Diablo Cody backlash as well. There was nothing wrong with the direction of JB, but the script was very amateurish and rough. (Luckily I knew that would be the case when I bought the ticket, otherwise I would have been pissed.) Whip It’s marketing focuses almost exclusively on Ellen Page, making it seem just like Juno.

I’m looking forward to seeing both Bright Star and Whip It, and am always hoping that we’ll see something other than quirky indies and genre filler films from the industry’s few working female directors in the near future.

lizriz October 5, 2009 at 9:03 PM

I do want to go see Whip It, but I was hoping it would be more of a sports movie. I want to see some kick-ass roller derby action! I want to see teams of women battling it out on the rink! Elbows! Blood! High speed skating!

From the trailer I saw, it seems like it’s more of a coming of age thing, and honestly, I’m usually not in the mood for sentimental stuff. Yeah, I think the marketing blew.

I do think that to look at “Whip It,” “Jennifer’s Body,” and “Bright Star,” and believe you can then say anything about “women’s movies” (whatever the heck that BS even means) is totally and completely ridiculous.

Eileen October 5, 2009 at 10:51 PM

The book is a young adult novel and they didn’t market it to teen girls. They marketed it to my husband instead. And fair enough, I didn’t have to fight to get him to see it, but he was not the natural audience for this film.

Karen October 5, 2009 at 10:56 PM

I haven’t seen Whip It yet but I will! I had a busy weekend and really only had time to check out one flick. As a fangirl I chose to see Zombieland first because I like zombie movies (and video games). I liked the way the female characters were portrayed in that film, they were as kick-butt cool as the guys. Emma Stone is an emerging actress, she’s great in comedy and action/horror. Hopefully she’ll get some starring roles.

As for Whip It, I’m sure I’ll be delighted by it when I see it later on this week.

e October 6, 2009 at 4:20 AM

I read a response to Anne Thompson’s blog that referred to women & social marketing in a way that made a lot of sense to me: “Interesting to note that the films that skewed to a female audience did not appear to have gotten a lift from the internet. The distributors of these films seem completely unaware that social networks of all types heavily skew female in the composition of their communities. This includes MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and every other social network you can name. See attached graph for details: http://tumblr.com/xtl3dtj6p.”

I also thinks that lots of women get their primary entertainment from the internet & games now; I go to the movies often several times a week (no TV) but am just as happy noodling about on YouTube, watching Charlie Rose interviews etc etc as well as telling my own stories and reading my friends’ stories via txt/blog/email/Facebook/Twitter when I have time.

Chris Evans October 6, 2009 at 8:00 AM

“The book is a young adult novel and they didn’t market it to teen girls. They marketed it to my husband instead. And fair enough, I didn’t have to fight to get him to see it, but he was not the natural audience for this film.”

Thank you, Eileen, you’re EXACTLY right.

Jodi Harrison October 6, 2009 at 12:14 PM

I can tell you one reason why box office is so poor for women. Most female oriented films (other than a few such as “Julie and Julia”) are not aggressively marketed like their counterparts, the male themed and generated films. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a trailer on Zombieland (just like the recent very unfunny “Funny people”). But I did not see a trailer on “Whip It”, not once. I think that’s ultimately the fate of movies, which ones are deemed important enough, or box office enough, to get the necessary marketing investments.

And let’s call it what it is: It is pervasive and insidious bias and discrimination. We need to find a way to change this. Maybe women of all color and ages should start a class action suit with the backing of the ACLU as a racially, gendered and age challenged group. And although we women are NOT a minority, we are treated like we are in all aspects of careers and life. Perceptions. We need to tackle this huge problem.

Thanks for all you do Melissa, I love reading your blog,
Jodi Harrison

1909 or 2009?…. It all depends on who you ask!

Chris Evans October 6, 2009 at 12:55 PM

I don’t think you’d be able to file a class action suit for poor marketing of a film.

And while I think the arts and diverse representation are incredibly important, frankly the ACLU has much more urgent matters filling up their plate.

Sarah October 6, 2009 at 1:52 PM

I saw a bit of marketing for Whip It on Facebook. Not much, but it popped up on my page. I’m not sure if I pass for the demographic completely at age 28, but I dunno, maybe I got the marketing due to “aging punk rock girl who probably remembers when Drew was a quasi-riot grrrl in the 90s” vibe from my page and friends list.

I saw one commercial for it during the end of Supernatural last week, which is the show to go to. It has a lot of female fans, even if it’s partially based on the physical attractiveness of the 3 male leads (it does have a good story though). But on the other hand, those are the same people who are likely to go see Zombieland first as well. And last week’s episode of Supernatural was partially zombie-themed.

Jodi Harrison October 6, 2009 at 2:55 PM

Not a class action suit for the movie “Whip It” itself, but a class action suit for minority discrimination.

I don’t know what the answer is, all I know is, it is 2009, why are women still dealing with the backlash, constant labeling (the new one being ‘puma’, an even younger predator than the negative ‘cougar’ bash. While only ‘few’ older men are called Playboys, (which is a ‘high-five’ label), and how often do you hear that term in media as opposed to ‘Cougar’, especially as a negative? Discrimination is rampant as a female filmmaker and the dismissiveness towards women by the film industry in general (in)directly serves to develop perceptions of the moviegoers and on a larger scope society in general. The ‘Kumbaya’ “let’s just all get along and ignore what’s really going on”, time is over. Some assertive tactic needs to be organized to level the ‘playing'(ha) field.

Sally October 6, 2009 at 6:57 PM

On the comment about “puma,” I know this is off topic, but have you noticed that in all the discussion of David Letterman, you never hear the term, “randy old goat?” Where if it were a woman hitting on interns – that gets you an automatic “cougar.”

Nomie October 6, 2009 at 10:43 PM

lizriz, there is plenty of skating and plenty of rough stuff. The coming-of-age is pretty prevalent, yeah, but I didn’t find it tiresome.

My theater was about two-thirds full, but this was a Saturday matinee in Boston where it was pouring rain most of the day. I didn’t get a great look at the composition of the crowd. At 25 I guess I am right on the cusp, but I loved this movie and my two friends that I went with enjoyed it as well.

Kate October 8, 2009 at 3:41 PM

The movie wasn’t a huge hit opening weekend, but that’s because the hype of seeing a movie opening day/weekend is more of a teenage boy thrill. People WILL see this, in time. I saw it Wednesday with my boyfriend (who had never heard of it), and we both loved it so are recommending it to our friends and family.

Look at all those dumb action flicks that had huge openers, then the word of mouth was so terrible that nobody sees them again and they die quick theater deaths. I’d much rather have a movie start slow and steadily build than one which blows its load in 2 days.

Thomai in L.A. (it rhymes) October 9, 2009 at 12:05 PM

If they wanted a younger “girl” audience, they could have added a very hot, cute, sexy male interest to the film.

To get the 18-25 audience, Drew could have focused more on the “finding your tribe” aspect of the film.

In all of her interviews, she focused on the relationship between mother and daughter, from her adult, over 30 perspective.

Her junkets, her major TV network interviews, the articles,etc. all contributed to the audience she got.

If you want to make a blockbuster with women in sports in it, choose soccer, gymnastics, dance and cheerleading, and make sure the cute boys in the film are in every trailer shown.

Did drew want to make a blockbuster though? We know she is capable of producing blockbusters. Maybe she just wanted to make a great film with a story she is passionate about. In that case, the film was a success and reached a fairly wide audience.

Thomai in L.A. (it rhymes) October 9, 2009 at 12:07 PM

p.s. there are plenty of films directed by men out last week that did not make it into the top 10 in the box office.

lizriz October 11, 2009 at 4:59 PM

Just got back from “Whip It,” and it totally rocked. I thought it looked good, with lots of hip-checking roller derby action. And I thought the coming-of-age stuff was well done, too, and I appreciated how each of the relationships were explored, including the parents’. The whole film was totally enjoyable.

Sam Kaufman October 14, 2009 at 2:43 AM

Under normal circumstances I would have thought that Ellen Page has a really annoying way about her, but she actually did a great job in this movie; all around Whip It rocked.

cougarandproud October 26, 2009 at 3:59 PM

I’m old and a roller derby fanatic. I boycotted the film because the portrayal of my generation in the book on which the film is based made me puke. Its interesting that an audience consisting of many seniors is such a turnoff for y’all, I guess we are just as impotent and irrelevant in the theater seats as on the screen. Too bad. Check out the NY marathon one of these days. About 700 of us run it.

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