Despite The Hunger Games’ box office domination and the incredible drawing power of Disney’s Frozen – both starring strong, lead female characters – there is still an underlying belief in America that audiences prefer male-anchored films.
The typical thinking is that when you’ve got a strong male lead (think Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, Tom Cruise) – and the plot revolves around them, cash registers will sing. This Hollywood wisdom also suggests hat that international markets don’t want to see women in film.
The reality of women in movies has been mapped in a 2013 study by Stacy Smith, an associate professor at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California: the top 100 grossing films of 2012, women accounted for 4.1 percent of directors, 12.2 percent of writers and 20 percent of producers, according to. Of 4,475 speaking roles in those films, 28.4 percent were women.
Using the Bechdel Test which measures gender equality in film-making, Walt Hickey of ESPN’s blog FiveThirtyEight analyzed 1,615 films released between 1990 and 2013. For a movie to pass the test, it must feature at least two named women having a conversation with each other about something or somebody other than a man. (Multi Oscar-winning sensation Gravity failed the test because Sandra Bullock could only talk to herself while lost in space).
Hickey reports that contrary to conventional Hollywood school of thought, movies that passed the Bechdel test were found to be just as likely to be profitable than those that didn’t, and also appeared to outperform expectations.
“We found that the data doesn’t appear to support the persistent Hollywood belief that films featuring women do worse at the box office. Instead, we found evidence that films that feature meaningful interactions between women may in fact have a better return on investment, overall, than films that don’t.
“It’s another case of tired, institutionalized thinking that has no basis in reality. In this case, because men dominate movie studios and have done so for decades. But maybe, just maybe, seeing the dollars will help them see sense.”