Hollywood has always loved a disaster story. Lately, our heroes aren’t saving the world by drilling to the center of the Earth or engaging in robotic boxing matches with monsters from another universe. Instead, the world goes to hell by means of alien invasion, totalitarian government or radical income inequality.
The remedies for these post-apocalypses are often similar. They feature plucky teenage girls, such as archer Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games books and films; Tris Prior from Veronica Roth’s Divergent franchise; and Melanie, who acquires an alien parasite in The Host, the other hit from Twilight scribe Stephenie Meyer. These characters are often marginalized by their class status, but after they discover the truth about the governments or alien invaders that rule their worlds, and fight for social change, they become symbols of resistance. Also, there is smooching.
This trend has given audiences a welcome and overdue crop of young female heroines and has helped establish young actresses, such as Jennifer Lawrence and Shailene Woodley, as action stars.
But post-apocalypse stories get repetitive awfully fast. There’s always another dictator, and another radically stratified or sorted society, on the next page or the next movie poster. Now, these stories tell us less about how we might respond to the loss of technology, what kind of government we really crave in a crisis and the ways women lead – and more about what sells.
Instead of letting young women come to the forefront once the world has gone to pieces, a real test for Hollywood would be to see if it can make a hit out of a story in which a young woman staves off disaster.