Feminist Writing. Fourth Wave. For Women.

The Scream Movie Franchise Has an Extreme Misogyny Problem

Women are called degrading names, threatened, silenced and butchered in all Scream sequels.

The Scream Movie Franchise Has an Extreme Misogyny Problem

This article contains spoilers.

I would love to hear someone make the case for women giving their hard-earned money to the filmmakers behind the Scream franchise. What do these movies have to offer female viewers? The fifth installment of the franchise was released in mid-January, and it has just been announced that there will be a sixth one, with filming beginning this summer. What I would like to share with you is the case against women financially supporting this misogynist celebration of gynocides and terrorizing women and girls.

The first four movies made over US$600 million at the worldwide box office (WBO). The latest installment has already made over US$107 million (WBO), including US$30 million on its opening weekend. Given that the production budget was roughly US$24 million, you can see why those behind the franchise would be keen to keep churning out these slasher flicks.

Wes Craven directed the first four movies. Because he died in 2015, Scream (2022) was directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, who will also direct the sixth installment. It is not insignificant that Harvey Weinstein—now a convicted sex offender, sentenced in 2020 to 23 years in prison—was one of the executive producers of the first four movies. Also significant are Wes Craven’s early filmmaking days in the pornography industry. According to The Guardian, he directed a number of pornographic movies pseudonymously. As just one example, it appears he directed the pornographic film The Fireworks Woman (1975), which features incestuous siblings.

The aspects of the first four installments I would like to shine a spotlight on here are language, violence against women and girls (VAWG) and antagonism between the female characters.

Each story revolves around one or more serial killers terrorizing an American teenager—and later adult—named Sidney (Neve Campbell) and various other people connected to her, beginning with Courteney Cox and David Arquette. In each movie Campbell and others are hunted and most of the victims are women and girls.

Slurs against women

In each of the first four installments a female is called a bitch. This isn’t the only insult thrown at females. In Scream (1996) they are also called "slut, slut-bag whore, tramp, tease, little bitch and superbitch." In Scream 3 (2000) a female is also called psycho bitch, and in Scream 4 (2011) a stupid bitch. Who can say what degrading names women will be called in the sixth installment? (I’m not paying to see the fifth movie in a theatre.)

Disturbing threats

Over and above the degrading name-calling are the truly disturbing things said to females. For instance, in Scream (1996) a male threatens Drew Barrymore on the phone: “Don’t hang up on me! […] You hang up on me again I’ll gut you like a fish, understand?!” and tells her he wants to see what her insides look like. Also, a male says to Campbell, about her mother, “That woman was a slut-bag whore who flashed her shit all over town like she was Sharon Stone or somethin’. […] Your slut mother was fucking my father […]” and “I’m gonna rip you up, bitch, just like your fuckin’ mother!” In Scream 2 (1997) a man asks Sarah Michelle Gellar, “Do you wanna die tonight, Cici?” In Scream 4 (2011) a man threatens Lucy Hale: “You hang up on me and I’ll cut through your neck until I feel bone!”

Silencing women

Moreover, language, as well as violence, is used to silence the female characters. In Scream 2, Scream 3 and Scream 4 a female character is told to “shut up.” In Scream 4 two women are told to “shut the fuck up.” In Scream 2 Liev Schreiber tells Campbell to shut up, in Scream 3 Courteney Cox tells Parker Posey to shut up and in Scream 4 Kristen Bell says to her friend, Anna Paquin, “Now shut the fuck up, and watch the movie” (after stabbing her in the belly) and Nico Tortorella says to Hayden Panettiere, “Shut the fuck up” (after asking her a question and despite getting no reply). This is just one of several ways women and girls are silenced in this franchise. Another way involves clamping a hand over their mouth (Scream, 1996, and Scream 3).

Pitting women against each other

This franchise is also full of antagonism between female characters and each movie pits at least two females against each other. Female viewers are not only shown women/girls insulting each. Here is a list of things the females do to one another in at least one of the movies: push/shove, threaten, punch, shoot, threaten with knives, choke, stab and murder their friends. An escalation in VAW perpetrated by women occurred in Scream 4. Over and above the violence listed above, Emma Roberts throws Campbell against a wall more than once and Campbell presses her thumb into Roberts’ eye, bangs her head on a bar and uses defibrillator pads on her head before shooting her dead.

Extreme male violence against women

If that wasn’t disheartening enough, there is also all the VAWG committed by male characters. In each movie women and/or girls are terrorized, hunted and murdered. In Scream (1996), four females are terrorized and hunted by males—their boyfriends/ex-boyfriend. They disembowel Drew Barrymore and hang her from a tree, bang Campbell’s head against a floor, trap Rose McGowan in a garage and raise the garage door when she tries to escape through a cat door, thereby breaking her neck.

In Scream 2 five females are murdered, and there are disturbing lingering shots of dead women. Jada Pinkett Smith is repeatedly stabbed in a movie theatre in front of hundreds of people who do nothing to help her; Sarah Michelle Gellar is pushed through a window, stabbed twice and thrown off a third-floor balcony; and Elise Neal is repeatedly stabbed in the chest. In Scream 3, four females are murdered, and there is a close-up of a dead woman’s face. Also, a man stabs Campbell, strikes her twice, bangs her head against a counter, trips her, kicks her in the face, kicks her three more times, punches her, chokes her and shoots her twice. Scream 4 contains the most VAWG, and 10 female characters are murdered.

These movies are seeping with misogyny, leading one to wonder why any woman would willingly give the filmmakers her money to see them. Here, violence against women, particularly hunting and murdering them, is trivialized and normalized, thereby desensitizing viewers to VAWG. Given the escalation of VAWG in the fourth installment, one can’t be blamed for presuming the fifth and sixth installments will offer more of the same.

In sum, the franchise’s filmmakers repeatedly convey harmful, regressive messages about women and girls. Through their narratives about and depictions of men and women, they are teaching us to have less regard for women.

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