LOS ANGELES - Though much has been made of Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games franchise and Daisey Ridley as Rey and Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso bringing the Star Wars franchise big bucks, the Resident Evil franchise, starring female action lead Milla Jovovich, seems to fly under the radar.
That's a shame, because as Jovovich's Alice prepares to hit the big screen for Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, it is worth noting that it will be the series' sixth installment, the most franchise films ever with a female lead.
"It's something I'm very proud of," writer-director-producer Paul W.S. Anderson told Philly.com/geek in an exclusive interview. And in addition to all the hyphens, Anderson is married to Jovovich.
"While there are more female-led films now, like Rogue One and Hunger Games, back in 2002 (when the first film, titled simply Resident Evil, hit screens) it was harder to do."
'There were many powerful people in Hollywood who were really against a woman leading a big -budget film," he said. "Thankfully, Sony and Screen Gems took a shot -- and I feel like we started opening doors for others."
Anderson said he feels the film made zombies cool again, too.
"Back when we made the first movie, people hadn't seen a good zombie film in about 15 years. Now, they're everywhere, but back then, that was a risk as well,' he said. "But the first time we put the original film in front of an audience, we could see we had made a film that connected with people. The rest is history. But that's why I still call that first film, 'The Little Movie That Could.' "
Though the history of films based on video games has been less than stellar, Anderson said his love of the property and of gaming in general made it a passion project for him when it became available.
"I'm a big gamer," Anderson said. "The reason I did the [1995 original] Mortal Kombat film was because I absolutely loved those games. Likewise, I played the first two games of Resident Evil and I basically stayed in my room.
"I emerged 10 days later, after worrying my roommates," he said and laughed. "I loved it, obviously -- and it was clear to me that the makers of the game had created something special. So I was drawn to it and its combination of a cool zombie setting and strong female lead."
That strong female lead came to life on the big screen in the form of Jovovich, whom Anderson met for the first time while shooting the first Resident Evil.
"I think Milla's Alice character has become an avatar for everyone else who enjoys the series," Anderson said.
Those who love the series are not limited to Americans, Anderson emphasizes. Indeed, though the Resident Evil franchise is a mid-range success as a franchise in the United States, it has fans all over the world.
"I've always seen myself as a global filmmaker," Anderson said. "A pleased audience member is a pleased audience member, whether they're in New York or Mumbai. In fact, it's the only film anywhere that beat Rogue One (during the holiday weekend of Dec. 23). It's nice that Milla can beat Star Wars! It happened in Japan and not anywhere else, but it's still nice!"
As for the film itself, Anderson said this will definitely be a worthy "Final Chapter."
"There are secrets that I've kept for 15 years -- even from Milla! This is a world that I've loved returning to and people who return to it will be rewarded with the truth and fate of Alice and the Red Queen and the true agenda of the Umbrella Corporation!"
With this being the last chapter, some fans were hoping some favorite characters, like Michelle Rodriguez's Rain Ocampo, would return. But only Ali Larter's Claire Redfield is back.
"I love Michelle and her character," Anderson said. "But Michelle was in the last movie [Resident Evil: Retribution in 2012] and I feel we've already played that card. Whereas I feel there is more to play with in bringing back Ali Larter's character."
Anderson said balancing the familiar that fans expect with the new is the trickiest part of shepherding a franchise.
"I've always felt that the franchise was built on familiarity, but you can't do everything the same or else people will get bored," he said. "For example, this film is much more kinetic, much more action-based than the last two movies have been."
Of course, there is one main ingredient that Anderson says does not -- and should not -- change.
"Alice is very much the center of the movie, which is, of course, fitting," he said. Then, responding to criticism that Alice did not always get the most memorable action scenes and that Jovovich herself eventually demanded her husband make sure she did, Anderson scoffed.
"I think the most memorable moments in the films have always been hers," he said. "
Anderson said he felt this film was the strongest in the franchise since the original, thanks to one very accidental event.
"Somebody got the lead actress pregnant," he said, laughing. "What that extra time enabled me to do was hone the script and dialogue, and I got time to rework the action scenes.
"I had always felt that the first was the strongest," he said. "Part of that is because back then, there were no expectations or pressure to make deadlines. It wasn't a franchise yet."
"So, with this film, even with the extra time, I didn't take any other work," he said. "I wanted this to be the absolute best it could be. The idea of being able to polish something for nine months. It's the perfect way to hone your film. Get your star pregnant during filming. I'll have to do that for all my future films. I don't think Milla would go for it, though."
As for future projects, Anderson says he is excited about Monster Hunter -- "It's about monsters and hunters, just like it says in the title!" -- and would be up for directing his wife and other female action stars in the long-in-limbo Female Expendables film.
"Beautiful girls with big machine guns! I'd love to do that!"
For now, he is very happy with what looks to be the end of a passion project spanning 15 years.