Debbie Ocean would be happy to learn that Ocean’s 8 is officially the all-star of the Ocean’s movie franchise, but likely not at all surprised. After all, Debbie — she who orchestrated a team of women criminals in a heist to rob the Met Gala — is intimately acquainted with the power of women working together to accrue vast finances. Earning $41.6 million opening weekend, Ocean’s 8 broke the box office opening weekend record for all Ocean’s movies, and nudged Solo: A Star Wars Story from the number-one spot. The vast box office success of Ocean’s 8 delivers the same message that similar hits like Wonder Woman, Girls Trip, and Bridesmaids did: Not only do women want to see movies about women — they’ll turn up in droves to do so. Nearly 70% of the ticket-buyers for Ocean’s 8 were women.
In a sense, studios are actively responding to the cold, hard data a box office a success like Ocean’s 8 displays so clearly. Unfortunately, they might be listening too carefully. The women-led, gender-swapped spin-off like Ocean’s 8 is to the current movie industry what the cronut was to the year 2014: ubiquitous. Multiple gender-swapped reboots are in the works, and their trickle into theaters has already begun. Playing alongside Ocean’s 8 is Overboard, a movie which tries to right the slightly creepy, sexist ills of the 1987 Goldie Hawn/Kurt Russell version by flipping the lead couple. Eugenio Derbez is the amnesiac millionaire and Anna Faris the poor woman who convinces him they’re married.
The upcoming projects carve openings for women in genres where previously, there hadn’t been ample (read: any) opportunity. Through these reboots, women will have access to roles once reserved for men. They’ll be cast as con artists (The Hustle, based on Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), crime fighters (The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen reboot), martial arts pros (Kung Fu). If done properly, the remakes would be a chance to subvert expectations about the kind of roles that can and should be available to women.
But while Ocean’s 8 and the upcoming League of Extraordinary Gentlemen remake provide essential opportunities for big-budget ensemble movies starring women, they shouldn’t be the only big-budget ensemble movies starring women. Like the Ghostbusters remake of 2016, these gender-swapped reboots are “safe” bets — they’re women-led movies sheltered by the umbrella of a pre-existing, male-dominated series, whose premises have been previously vetted by audiences.
Instead of continuing to perpetuate familiar stories, I’d like to see studios take a risk and pour resources into creating new women-led franchises across all genres. Women deserve to see themselves in wholly original, exciting roles that don’t have the aura (and expectation) of Danny Ocean clinging to them like persistent cologne — because, no matter how dazzling and spectacular and full of gorgeous gowns the reboot is, the scent of Danny Ocean will cling.
Ultimately, the reboot game is rigged. In order to succeed critically, the women in these reboots must perform the demeaning task of proving themselves to be “as good as” the guys that came before them. We all went into the cinema for Ocean’s 8 with the bar already set at Ocean’s Eleven.
In the reviews, the most obvious pangs of disappointment come when Ocean’s 8 is compared to the original Ocean’s, and critics asserted that it doesn’t quite measure up.“The energy of Steven Soderbergh’s 2001 Eleven — all that Rat Pack visual jazz and ring-a-ding-ding dialogue — is mostly set aside here for glossy scene-setting and the mechanics of plot,” wrote Leah Greenblatt of Entertainment Weekly. Emily Yoshida of Vulture had a similar takeaway: “Ocean’s 8, directed with workaday flatness by Gary Ross, never revs up an equivalent sort of confidence among its seemingly bountiful ensemble of personalities.” While critics enjoyed the movie, they couldn’t quell disappointment that it wasn’t as fast, as crackling, or as narratively pyrotechnic as Ocean’s Eleven.
These reboots operate under the faulty premise that character is a blank slot that women can fill just as adequately as a man. Under that logic, we might as well substitute every high-performing, man-dominated franchise with a woman character, and call it a box office success in advance. But that’s not how character works — or, at least, that’s not how character should work. We don’t need women versions of James Bonds and Indiana Jones. These are wholly unique and memorable cultural icons.
What we need is more Lenas of Annihilation, Lorraine Broughtons of Atomic Blonde, and Dianas of Wonder Women — more women characters who crackle with originality and specificity. Women whose individual histories, passions, and decisions carve out an idiosyncratic plot — not ones whose destinies are predetermined by a premise made musky by time and overuse. Even if I enjoy reboots thoroughly, as I did with Ocean’s 8, I’ll be waiting for more women characters who are incomparable — just as male heroes have been for so long.