Erasing the Female Audience: Marketing to Men in McCarthy/Feig Movies

Curator's Note

After the success of Bridesmaids (2011) actress Melissa McCarthy and director Paul Feig had a partnership for several film projects. Though the budgets for their projects grew over time, they also moved away from the bi-modal marketing style we saw for bridesmaids and leaned more heavily on genre tropes for the subsequent movies which include The Heat (2013), Spy (2015) and Ghostbusters (2016).

To avoid being perceived as “just a chick flick”, Bridesmaids was seemingly marketed separately to male and female audiences . This can easily be seen in the two poster styles for the movie. The brick background gives the poster a tougher more urban edge. The other poster is a more traditional color appeal to the romantic comedy genre. Additionally, the choice to include the mention of Superbad and quotes such as, “Chick flicks don’t have to suck!”, on the brick background posters speaks to an audience that would believe that women’s films, or “chick flicks” would not be worth the time to consume. The apparent effectiveness of this marketing campaign may have resulted from its bi-modal audience-targeting strategy that highlighted, and even helped to constitute, the hybrid genre (bromance and chick flick) of the film.

In McCarthy and Feig’s subsequent movies, The Heat, Spy, and Ghostbusters there is no longer clear separation of targeted audiences. Instead, the marketing leans heavily on genre tropes and homages. The action and spy genres were previously (and still) dominated by men and in the case of Ghostbusters, it is a remake of a movie that originally had an all-male cast. Despite any feminist content in the films themselves, the marketing, particularly the posters, promote the movies as comedies of gender reversal.

These movies ultimately play to the male audience. None of them did quite as well as Bridesmaids and the studios began to think Bridesmaids was an anomaly (Fallon, 2013). Producer, Linda Obst said, “You sell a movie to men because women will go anyway—you won’t lose a single female viewer” (Fallon, 2013, para. 16). Ignoring the female audience and their motivations for seeing a film, marketing instead to men, symbolically erases the female audience.

Works Cited
Fallon, K. (2013). ‘The heat’ will be a hit, but not a game-changer. Retrieved from




CateB, your insightful reading of the Feig/McCarthy films’ promotional campaigns reminds me of the rationale that shaped Brokeback Mountain’s campaign to appeal to straight women (with a one-sheet modeled on that of Titanic) rather than gay men, who were assumed to already be lining up to buy tickets so not in need of courting. Whereas, a few years later, the makers of Magic Mike found their traction with the gay male audience slacken considerably after the Magic Mike XXL campaign prioritized the female audience. So it seems in these cases that the “bi-modal marketing style” prioritizes the male audience at the expense of the female audience, and the female audience at the expense of the gay male audience.

As you note, Bridesmaids’ cross-quadrant success seemed to pivot on self-promotion as not “just a chick flick”. Whereas in the later Feig/McCarthy team-ups, genre tropes and homages remain a successful marketing strategy, that romcom is so distinctly gendered feminine (hence the need for its disavowal by rebranding it a “bromance” or associating it with male auteurs like Apatow) seems to have precipitated if not the “death” of the genre as is widely proclaimed – for I’d argue that romcom is alive and well, just in more diverse and dispersed forms – but rather its decline as a marketing label for theatrical wide releases. But on streaming sites where more individualized marketing has taken hold, female audience-targeting categories like Netflix’s “Featuring a Strong Female Lead” are used (or abused, depending on your mindset).

I’m glad our posts are on adjoining days, since your referencing the Ghostbusters reboot nicely leads into my discussion of Kate McKinnon’s star marketing, specifically how Feig’s promotional discourse strongly hinted at its being necessary to keep McKinnon’s character’s sexuality unspecified to keep the film (wide) audience-friendly.  

Thank you for your comment Maria, I think the marginalized gay male audience is a great comparison. To assume they would go to these films and not address them in advertising ignores their experience. It's particularly an issue when a marginalized audience doesn't have media specifically directed toward them. Ignoring their participation in what media is available, then does not provide opportunities for new content specific to that group. 

I would agree that the approach to marketing romcoms or chick flicks has morphed into something else. While some movies with the tag of “strong female lead” are great, I feel that the term itself leaves much to be desired. I fear that the treatment of the female audience by Hollywood is the same though. Just by a different name. I hope that the small nods to women and feminism in some marketing will eventually help to build into something else. It would be nice to see audience recognition for this and other groups. And eventually more content in the main texts as well.

I look forward to reading your post about Kate McKinnon, she was my favorite character in Ghostbusters!

Add new comment

Log in or register to add a comment.