From left, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig and Leslie Jones in a scene from the movie Ghostbusters.
From left, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig and Leslie Jones in a scene from the movie Ghostbusters. Hopper Stone

What’s the sequel to a watershed year for women in film?

2015 was the year everyone called "a benchmark" for women in film.

From the mysterious Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens to Mad Max's Imperator Furiosa and Katniss Everdeen, heroine of The Hunger Games, there was no shortage of strong women on the big screen last year.

Cate Blanchett's dazzling performance in the 1950s lesbian drama Carol, which finally gets its release in Australia next week, has already made her an early Oscars favourite.

There was triumph behind the camera too: Elizabeth Banks steered Pitch Perfect 2 to blockbuster success. Amy Schumer fired up the comedy world with one sharp-as-hell Trainwreck script. Mad Max: Fury Road received its inspired, adrenaline-pumping editing from Margaret Sixel.

Sure, the industry is still far from gender equality; but there was so much to celebrate over the past year. For 2015, we could believe that equality was an achievable future, and not something left to the hopeful dreamers. But what of 2016?

Was it naive to hope the past year had set a new image for things to come? Or will Hollywood fail to uphold its promises and reduce genuine, sustainable gender equality into another flippant trend?

Paul Feig's Ghostbusters remake is the female-fronted movie for this year and the hinge all conversations surrounding women in film will inevitably hang on.

Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones play the supernatural removalists originally made famous by Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson.

A film drowned under vast oceans of misogynistic bile before even a single cast member was announced, Ghostbusters is likely to spend the coming months fighting an uphill battle just to be recognised among all the other standard reboots and remakes heading to screen this year.

Yes, remakes are largely annoying. But why haven't other reboots, such as Antoine Fuqua's upcoming remake of that all-time classic The Magnificent Seven, received even a fraction of the abuse Ghostbusters has received?

It seems Feig's film has an absurd burden of not only equalling the 1984 original, but somehow transcending it.

For some detractors, it has to achieve such ethereal perfection that even looking upon a single frame of its glory will make your entire face melt in Raiders of the Lost Ark style.

There are reasons to be optimistic, though. Ghostbusters has always felt like the spiritual child of those early days at the TV sketch show Saturday Night Live, most apparently in the use of cast members Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd.

Feig's Ghostbusters does exactly the same. Regardless of gender, these four women sublimely represent the SNL comedy of today. Kristen Wiig is resolutely the best performer to have graced its stage in recent years, and Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones are highlights of the current cast.

Melissa McCarthy was Emmy-nominated for three consecutive years for her SNL hosting duties. Men or women, this is the best shot at Ghostbusters we've got.

There's another major, female-fronted film getting hyped - Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

It's intriguing to see Felicity Jones, star of The Theory of Everything, take front and centre in the first promotional image released for the standalone film due for release in December.

As with current box office juggernaut The Force Awakens, Disney has remained incredibly tight-lipped on Rogue One, the first of a planned series of Star Wars anthology films, leaving us with absolutely nothing in terms of specific character roles.

Considering it wasn't apparent Rey (Daisy Ridley) was the protagonist of The Force Awakens until most people had actually watched the film, who knows when we'll get clarity on the relative prominence of Jones's role?

For now, it's exhilarating just to imagine Disney could prove Rey wasn't just an obligated gesture towards equality, but that the entire franchise is shifting towards balance by offering (at least) two female leads in its upcoming slate. Are we about to get a badass female X-wing pilot with skills to rival Poe Dameron?

This year's offerings will sorely miss the presence of Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games, with no obvious successors to her title aside from perhaps Shailene Woodley's return in the third Divergent series film Allegiant.

Our best hope for kickass warrior women this year may lie with The Huntsman: Winter's War and its triple whammy of mighty actresses. Sure, the trailer comes off deeply uninspired, but you never know what the combined powers of Charlize Theron, Emily Blunt and Jessica Chastain could achieve.

This year's female superheroes and anti-heroes come in the form of Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman and Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn (pictured right) in Suicide Squad.

Gadot's debut as Wonder Woman in a supporting role in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in March will be an early indicator of what's to come when she stars in her own standalone film next year.

For Robbie, her portrayal of a DC Comics favourite comes with heavy expectations. At her best, Quinn is gloriously unhinged; she has the kind of gleeful, chaotic villainry so rarely granted to female characters.

Yet, she's long had to fight against her origins as, essentially, an extension of The Joker; a victim of his brainwashing left obsessively in love with her abuser. Fans will have to wait until Suicide Squad's release in August to see if she's got brains to go with those short-shorts.

There's still a long way to go, though, for gender equality behind the camera if this year's major releases are anything to go by.

The Heat's Katie Dippold contributes the screenplay to Ghostbusters and Sharon Maguire returns to direct Bridget Jones's Baby.

Nia Vardalos and Linda Woolverton both return to pen respective sequels My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Alice Through the Looking Glass, and a potential hit lies with Erin Cressida Wilson's adaptation of the bestseller The Girl on the Train. Individually celebratory, but together they form a paltry list of female directors and writers for this year.

The earliest candidates for the Oscars 2017 race bear the usual - male - contenders; Martin Scorsese's Silence and both of Terrence Malick's films are sure to dominate the conversation.

But there's a host of new work from some of the field's leading female filmmakers: Andrea Arnold's American Honey, Niki Caro's The Zookeeper's Wife, Amma Assante's A United Kingdom, Mira Nair's Queen of Katwe, and Kelly Reichardt's Certain Women. If there's anything to be done to help women in film, it's to ensure these deserving works form part of the awards hype. It's a shame Lynne Ramsay left Natalie Portman's Jane Got a Gun, as its potential could have included it in that list.

One more film worth noting is Nicolas Winding Refn's The Neon Demon. Vampiric cinema has allowed women freedom of late to vocalise that kind of hungry, feminine sexuality society expects us to reject as immoral. Demon follows hot on the heels of Byzantium, Kiss of the Damned, and A Girl Walks Home Alone. Refn's film will riff on the mythology of Elizabeth Bathory, the 17th-century serial killer known as Countess Dracula, fusing vampirism, voodoo and cannibalism and featuring Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Christina Hendricks and Keanu Reeves. Plus, Refn's vision will be guided by cinematographer Natasha Braier, undoubtedly proving girls know how to shoot all that blood and gore.

This year may not look so hopeful to the eyes of cinematic women but, then again, some of the greatest triumphs of last year came as a complete surprise.

Fingers crossed, hearts open; let's raise the benchmark of gender equality and get the work of these wonderful women the recognition they deserve.

Local film industry supports women

SCREEN Australia recently announced a $5 million investment over the next three years to address the gender imbalance within the local industry.

The funding body's Gender Matters plan will include a Women's Story Fund, an Enterprise Women's initiative, industry placements and a matched distribution guarantee.

An experienced Gender Matters Taskforce, headed by Screen Australia deputy chair Deanne Weir and including actor Miranda Tapsell and TV producer Imogen Banks, will act as industry champions and advocates.

Screen Queensland has also launched a gender equality initiative to get more women in front of and behind the camera.

The five-point plan will help to remove barriers to female filmmakers, with new programs launching this year to include a women's filmmaker showcase, mentor and leadership opportunities, creative attachments and an annual incubator featuring international leaders in the industry.

This year will see two Hollywood blockbusters filmed in the state - Thor: Ragnarok and Kong: Skull Island.

Screen NSW has also joined the push, setting a 50:50 gender equality target in its development and production funding programs by 2020.

Mental health survey for our entertainers

Mental health survey for our entertainers

Findings will be used to develop a prevention framework

Circa's new performance is a Peepshow

Circa's new performance is a Peepshow

The new production will have a Northern Rivers world premiere

Man arrested after 3 hour pursuit

Man arrested after 3 hour pursuit

The offender has been evading police since February 23.

Local Partners