In the post-feminist society of the XXIst century, gender roles are
Some of this change is constructive, some benign or its effects unclear for
now, and some is negative.
The purpose of this list is not to make judgments about what's good or bad,
but just to point out that some roles and characters portrayed by boys
in film and television history could not be re-written as female
characters, at least not without complete changes in the scripts and/or
in the widely-accepted images that society still associates with females
To understand what I mean, consider some remakes that have been attempted,
some successful, some not.
[There is a more extensive and detailed
list of such films elsewhere on this Web site.]
After three Karate Kid films beginning in 1984 that featured
boys (young men), those controlling the franchise decided that the fourth
in the series should feature a girl (young woman) instead.
The result was
The Next Karate Kid
(aka The Karate Kid Part IV, 1994),
with the same Japanese mentor (Noriyuki 'Pat' Morita as Mr Miyagi) and a
troubled teenage girl (Hilary Swank as Julie Pierce) in the position,
as it were, originally created by Ralph Macchio as Miyagi's protégé
The filmmakers were not oblivious to the implications of this change,
as one of the taglines marketed along with the film was,
"Who says the good guy has to be a guy?"
Fair enough. The premise works, because girls can learn and perform
karate, and the relationship with the mentor does not require same-sex
identification or hero worship for her to be successful.
The same switch, namely boy-to-girl in the central role, happened in
Air Bud: Seventh-Inning Fetch
(2002, the fourth in the Air Bud series, this one starring Caitlin Wachs as Andrea),
Free Willy: Escape from Pirate's Cove
(2004, the fourth in the Free Willy series, this installment featuring
Bindi Irwin as Kirra); and
Omen IV: The Awakening
(1991, in which Asia Vieira as Delia gets to perpetrate the evil, after being
adopted by two attorneys [!]).
In each case, the premise works without major changes in the original
It's remarkable, really, that many of the switches happen in the fourth
(4th) installment of the series, though not all.
It is also worth mentioning that in a number of such sequelae, the
franchise returns to a boy as central character sometime later, as in
The Karate Kid
(2010, Jaden Smith as karate student Dre Parker, or
(2006, with Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick as Damien).
So much for Hollywood trend-following.
Now, back to the point of this list: there are certain important
stories in film and television history that, in my opinion, could not
conceivably be re-made, without major script changes or shifts in
social conventions, simply by changing the central boy character to
Why is this important to consider?
Because the rise of women's status in society, in general a positive
and constructive development, unfortunately sometimes is accompanied
by the marginalization of the importance of men and boys.
Instead of establishing a desirable equality with healthy support for
both, the lazy society permits an either-or approach, and for the moment,
women are winning that unnecessary battle.
One result can be a faulty sense of self-esteem as boys develop into men;
occasionally a lack of identity differentiation in a society which
still recognises gender differences between females and males (and likely
will for the forseeable future); and even instances of revisionist
history in which misguided or manipulative social engineers claim
that significant elements of the past which may not be current never
existed at all.
This list simply presents those titles from the past that probably
have central boy characters that could not be otherwise, and should
not be forgotten as the spotlight shifts to women and girls.
Naturally, the reverse is also true, namely that there are films
and television shows featuring girls that could not be re-made with
boys -- though the risk of forgetting these is not as significant
in the context of today's emphasis on girls' roles in society.
For example, imagine trying to make
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (film, 1938)
work as, say, Tyrone of Sunnybrook Farm. Or what about
Sleeping Beauty (film, 1959 [animated] and many other versions)
as, oh, I don't know, Napping Ned.
Yes, the list of must-be-girls films seems much smaller than the
(As an example, of the films in the www.sundancechannel.com
"Top Ten Coming-of-Age Films"
list, six are about boys, three about a mix of boys and girls,
and only one completely about girls.)
The solution to this imbalance, if that's what it is,
can be to create new, significant stories for and about girls,
and not rely on remakes to try and re-exploit old material.
- A.I. - Artificial Intelligence (film, 2001),
In part because of its explicit references to the story of Pinocchio as the
robot protagonist David's (Haley Joel Osment) template for becoming a "real boy"
(Could a film about a girl robot who wanted to become human be made, as long
as the story of Pinocchio was not used as the template for her story? Probably.
Parenthetically, it is worth noting that Pinocchio's adult mentor was
changed for the A.I. script to a woman [adoptive mother]. Could
the same film be made today with the more traditional male mentor
[Geppetto was a father-surrogate] as the object of the boy-robot's quest?
- Billy Elliot (film, 2000, and subsequent stage productions)
The plot elements revolving around Margaret Thatcher's abominable treatment of
miners in Durham easily could be re-imagined to feature any number of women's mistreatment issues,
but the central story of Billy's struggle to overcome his father's homophobia and society's
suppression of diversity would not work as a girl's difficulty, partly because girls' empowerment
is (thankfully) such a common theme of recent decades, and partly because the social pressures on
boys' conformity are so much more powerful. Girls can wear pants. Boys cannot wear dresses.
- Boys Town (film, 1938)
and its variations, including
La ciudad de los niños
(film, México, 1957)
- Captains Courageous
and the subsequent TV films in 1977
- The Cay (TV film, 1974)
This is essentially the desert-island version of The Earthling (see below).
James Earl Jones is Timothy, the old man, Alfred Lutter III is Phillip.
- Down to the Sea in Ships (film, 1949)
- The Earthling (film, 1980)
Shawn Daley (Ricky Schroder) is the only survivor of a horrible accident on his family
vacation. As he wanders the mountainous wilderness, he encounters Patrick Foley (William
Holden), a hermit who feels his days are numbered and has no time for the boy, except for
his feeling of duty to take care of him until he can get back to civilization. His condition
is that the boy learn the skills necessary to take care of himself. The story is similar in
essence to The Cay [see above].
- [The Adventures of] Huckleberry Finn
1978, released 1981 [TV],
1993, among [many] others, past and, no doubt, future.)
- The Jungle Book (1942,
1995 [animated, straight-to-video],
1998 [Mowgli's Story],
2010 [3D, CGI-animated TV series],
and another remake scheduled for
with pseudo-sequels and other variations appearing along the way)
Boy (film, 1998) -- This genre of film story is really
an amalgam of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan tales and Kipling's
Jungle Book, among other literary works.
For a possible real-life account (or at least an account based on somewhat
reliable reports and legends), see Truffaut's
sauvage [The Wild Child](film, 1970).
Other examples of this story-line include
Tarzan and the
Jungle Boy (film, 1968),
and even an episode of Gilligan's Island (TV series)
the Jungle Boy " [also known as "Gilligan Meets Jungle
Boy"](1964). These are just a few of many, many more examples.
There are real-life accounts of both girls and boys being raised by
animals in the wild, so-called "feral children".
For some reason, however, romanticised film versions seem to separate the
tales along gender lines, into the "Jungle Boy" and
"Amazon Woman" categories.
There is a comic-book genre (referred to as a "stock character")
involving females -- virtually always adult women -- who live in the jungle,
but the emphasis on adult strength and scanty costumes mark this as a genre
significantly different from "Jungle Boy". See the
Girl" Wikipedia page for more information.
(If any reader knows of examples I have missed in this quick overview,
I would be most grateful for details sent to the eMail address below.)
- Kim (film, 1950)
- Lord of the Flies (film, 1963 and 1990)
In 2017, two (male) writer/directors announced they would be making an all-female
version of William Golding's 1954 novel, Lord of the Flies. Most of the reaction
was negative, and mostly from women (or so it seemed in the BBC online reporting).
See the BBC article for details.
Think about it: the script would have to be centered around body-shaming, and would be hard-pressed
to find voice for one of the central features of today's womanhood: romantic back-stabbing.
Women flexing masculine muscle in superhero epics is one thing, but the emotional intricacies
of day-to-day survival simply wouldn't rise to great literature.
At this point in cultural history, the leap to routine lesbianism would be a script-writer's
nightmare. Maybe in 100 years.
- The Reivers [Yellow Winton Flyer] (film, 1969)
- Stand By Me (film, 1986)
- Tarzan Finds a Son! (film, 1939)
Aside from the obvious need for a male child implied in the title -- i.e., to
re-make this story with a girl would require the very title to be changed:
Tarzan [or Jane] Finds a Daughter! -- the idea of Tarzan's heir
in the jungle being a girl is inconceivable. Of course it is not inconceivable
that the whole story be changed -- instead of Tarzan, the "jungle person"
might be Sheena, who finds an orphan girl and raises her as heir to the leafy kingdom.
But the subject in this list is re-makes with switches. Tarzan swinging from
tree to tree and swimming through crocodile-infested rivers with a girl of any
age who isn't a love interest would simply not work. Nor, by the way, would it
work for Sheena to be running around killing snakes or protecting lost treasure
with a boy or adolescent man.
- Time Bandits (film, 1981)
- [The Adventures of] Tom Sawyer [see Huckleberry Finn above; same deal]
- Voyagers! (NBC, 1982)
As always, I welcome discussion on these points.
I realise the proposition is clearly in the realm of my opinion,
which may or may not be defensible when challenged by
thoughtful people with differing views.
Let's look into these ideas further, please.