The 2020s have featured a number of intentionally genderflipped films, such as the reboot of Ghostbusters, with mixed (and admittedly largely negative) receptions by audiences and male-dominated online review sites like IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes. We can reasonably guess that films with all-female casts, especially in media properties with nearly-all-male casts, are likely to continue prompting such negative audience reactions, for any number of reasons including simple misogyny, but this writeup is not about that. We are not here to recast The Lord of the Rings with a female Fellowship, even if the plot would be functionally unchanged.

No doubt the reader's mileage will vary on this subject, but here is a list of the top films which I think would have had a far more negative reception, or a functional change to the genre of the film, if the genders of just the lead character (or / and their romantic interest or antagonist) had been flipped to the opposite side of the binary, leaving the remaining cast unchanged. For the purposes of the exercise, I am omitting films which involve famous wars and specific real historical figures, such as Spartacus and Lawrence of Arabia, because they would simply fail on the grounds that they are sufficiently historically inaccurate as to incite audience outrage about the disrespect for history (even though audiences forgive plenty of artistic liberties being taken, which would require more academic rigour to notice in the first place). The goal here is to identify films which would have the implications of their plot broadly changed in a negative way by applying a genderflip to the lead(s). Feel free to message me with more to add!

  • Titanic - A wealthy man hogs the entire door and allows his impoverished girlfriend to drown in the icy Atlantic Ocean. Where Jack's death in the original might have felt romantic and chivalrous, though tragic, in the original, a genderflipped remake would cast Rose's character as a complete monster, especially in light of the fact that women and children were explicitly directed to be the first rescued in lifeboats.
  • Misery - Part of the horror of this film is that the protagonist starts out as a reasonably healthy able-bodied man dealing with a woman in her late middle age, who might be expected to be fragile physically compared to him. Her mutilation and overpowering of him is taking from him an assumed general safety that he originally possessed by being physically more powerful than her. If the antagonist was an older man and the protagonist a younger woman, the audience's fear for her safety starts much earlier in the plot, and there is no point in which the audience assumes the protagonist has a reasonable chance of rescuing herself from the situation. A film that already reads as graphic torture porn at many points, would come through as violently misogynistic on top of that, and would inspire audience revulsion.
  • Forrest Gump - For starters, Forrest would not have been drafted into the Vietnam War, so the plot would need to find a workaround for that segment of his life. The subplot in which Forrest becomes a parent would probably take audiences from discomfort to horror, however, because whether or not we choose to intepret Forrest's intimate relationship with Jenny as consensual, having Forrest become pregnant under such dubious consent would likely be the point at which audiences emotionally felt the need to check out of the film. Forrest probably would not have been forced to carry to term, however: Alabama in 1976 allowed abortions in a variety of circumstances including mental infirmity of the mother.
  • Fight Club - Considering how the film is largely making a statement about masculinity, replacing the protagonist(s) with women would fail pretty badly at getting that point across. Even in its current state, Fight Club is overly subject to viewers taking from it completely the opposite message from the author's intent.
  • Whiplash - The abusive music teacher dynamic instantly becomes much darker when either the teacher or the student is gender-swapped (but not both), due to the obvious implications to the audience that the abuse could have a sexual element, and not just a goal of psychologically breaking the student. It isn't as though the two current male characters cannot be gay, of course, but that is not a conclusion the audience would leap to nearly as easily, as if either of them was a woman. We can actually see a real example of this, in dance instead of music, with Black Swan, and the result is deeply sinister.
  • Hard Candy and American Beauty - Both films featuring an older man having inappropriate desires for an underage girl, if you genderflip them you initiate a more intensive conversation about paedophilia and sexual assault against men, committed by women: all things western society is less than eager to discuss.
  • Mean Girls - A film entirely about the petty politicking and passive-aggression of high school girls, the nature of the narrative changes when it is about high school boys, because of how differently boys are socialised to express their negative emotions and social tensions. In all likelihood it would wind up being a sports movie involving a basketball or hockey team, and not a movie about a clique whose main qualities in common are wealth and popularity.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are numerous movies which would not be phenomenally altered by flipping the genders of the leads, in my opinion.
  • The Matrix - Considering Trinity's prominent role in the story, and considering how little overt emotional characterisation either Trinity or Neo gets in the film, they could swap places without it affecting the plot meaningfully. On the internet, nobody knows you're not a man unless you tell them, and Neo could be anyone at all. In the Matrix, his physical appearance and capabilities are manifestations of his will, by the time his powers are at their peak, so a woman version of Neo could appear any way at all.
  • West Side Story - As with any adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, it doesn't actually matter too much which of them is a teenage boy, and which is a teenage girl. They both meet a tragic end, by more or less the same means, and the plot isn't too hard to rearrange to accomplish this.
  • Inception - For much the same reasons as with The Matrix, in the dream world it doesn't really matter that Cobb is a man, or that Ariadne is a young woman. Their dynamic and social roles work out much the same either way.
  • How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days - The two leads are virtually interchangeable with each other, both being basically reprehensible people, both using the same tactics on each other. Many rom coms would work out this way.
  • Moana - There is no reason within the narrative that Moana cannot be a boy instead of a girl; Disney's media model just prioritises girls as protagonists, because the long tradition of Disney Princesses sells so well.
  • Interstellar and Contact - Astronauts can be men or women. Men and women both can have fathers who they might want to speak with again, beyond the boundary of death. Men and women can both have children who might receive messages sent across spacetime. A great deal of spacefaring science fiction cinema has a similar flexibility.
  • Kill Bill - Yes, the protagonist is known as "The Bride" for most of the duology; yes, she's on a rampage for revenge because of being attacked at her own wedding and losing her unborn baby. The plot would still work if Kiddo was a man avenging the wife and baby he lost that way, and audiences would still find the film's choreography awesome, even if it was a man wearing Bruce Lee's yellow jumpsuit and wielding a katana, instead of Uma Thurman.

Iron Noder 2022, 30/30