Study: Female Characters Under-Represented in Movies

Sandra Bullock Oscars Best Actress Nominees

The latest study on women in front of the camera finds that female characters are still significantly under-represented on the big screen.

The numbers underscore why pics like “Gravity” (pictured), toplined by a Sandra Bullock, remain a rarity at the multiplexes. Female characters accounted for only 15% of protagonists in the 100 highest-grossing domestic films of 2013, according to the study “It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World” by veteran researcher Martha Lauzen, exec director of the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State U.

FULL REPORT: “It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World”

The femme protagonist stats are up 4% from 2011, the last time the survey was conducted, but down 1% from 2002.

Female actors accounted for 30% of all speaking parts in the survey, which has examined some 7,000 screen characters across 300 pics since 2002. Only about 13% of 2013’s top 100 pics featured an equal number of female and male characters.

“Overall, we have seen little movement in the numbers of female protagonists and females as speaking characters over the last decade,” Lauzen said.  “Moreover, female characters are less likely than males to have identifiable goals or to be portrayed as leaders of any kind .”

The numbers for minority females are even lower. African-American female representation on screen climbed to 14%, from 8% in 2011, but down from 15% in 2012. Hispanic characters were flat fro 2011 at 5% and up from 4% in 2002. Asian-American female characters are few and far between, accounting for 3% in 2013, down from 5% in 2011.

Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 105

Leave a Reply


Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. JeffreyPtr says:

    Are you suggesting anything should be done to change this? Hollywood doesn’t seem to believe that female centered movies can make money or there would be more of them. The movie going public doesn’t care.

  2. Buffalo says:

    Who care!

  3. Vince says:

    I want to see lots of females as long as they are Asian

  4. gunluvr says:

    That’s cause no man is going to pay his money to see a woman trying to act like a man. Anybody ever wonder why there’s never been a Wonder Woman full length movie made? Women can get away with that superhero con only on TV.

  5. J Rogowski says:

    Yep… We need movies inspired by special interest statistics. What is this … the old Soviet Union where propaganda films flourish?

  6. Whining Progressive Losers Make Me Puke says:

    Maybe because the myth of super woman has become so passé and repugnant that they can’t even sell DVDs? Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a da*n.

  7. Dave says:

    I saw gravity. It wasn’t that great. Chicks need to get over themselves, really.

  8. WagTheDog says:

    That seems just about right. Women are a bit over 50% of the population, while blacks are about 15%, yet blacks seem to predominate on TV and film and represent at least 50% of the faces you see as you scan all the channels (commercials included). Somehow there’s a balance in all this, not that it makes any sense, but it’s there nevertheless, and we are the witnesses.

  9. freudulant says:

    Did you not think it might be relevant to take into account that the first weekend box office sales are the only thing that counts towards what kind of movies will be made and perhaps then look at what type of movies tend to blitz the first weekend sales? I always thought that violent action movies and otherwise masculine themes seem to predominate blockbusters and wouldn’t it make sense for those to have predominantly male characters?

  10. Jason says:

    You know, instead of writing columns like this preaching to America about the lack of women in film and how it’s everyone’s fault, why don’t you name names? I would respect your opinion more if you came out and said the problem is because of these executives at this studio, or that Speilberg or Coppola refused to direct this woman centric film. But no you get up on your soap box spouting statistics about gender representation in movies as if the average American had a equal share of the blame. People are going to like whatever they want, and if that means they won’t go see more movies with female leads then so be it, learn to live with it because Hollywood is going to make what consumers want, not what you personally desire.

  11. Dan says:

    Hollywood’s war on women.

  12. Ellie Funt says:

    What’s the problem, aren’t the scripts written to appeal to movie goers? If they’re re-written to put more females in leading rolls that will reduce the appeal, right?
    If they truly believe more women will make for better movies, fine, go for it. If the plan flops I don’t want to hear women complaining that men mysteriously sabotaged it for them.

  13. NoGuff says:

    No surprise. Try selling a screenplay with a woman (not “female”) in the lead. You might as well try to pull the producer’s teeth out right there in his office. Why? Such movies making good money at the box office is rare. As a man I have no problem with such films, like “La Femme Nikita,” “Aliens,” or “Columbiana.” But women especially don’t go see such movies unless they’re a real “chick movie” like “Pretty Woman” or “Steel Magnolias.” So don’t blame men for it.

  14. cmolster says:

    I’m also tired of seeing attractive people in movies. Most people don’t look like that. Ugly people are underrepresented, as well as plain, normal people. How come so many movie stars are good-looking? What is it with Hollywood, telling us what to want, telling us what to wear, what to look like, how to act? Why do we keep paying to see this propagandistic trash?

  15. cmolster says:

    I like how they mention “Gravity” as an exception, without commenting on how weak and whiny Sandra Bullock’s character was in that movie. Continually depicting women as weak, emotional and whiny goes against the feminist ideology too, doesn’t it? Perhaps even more… it’d be better to not portray women at all, than to continue to portray them as naturally helpless.

  16. Frank says:

    What’s “a Sandra Bullock”? Is it a type of cyborg? “The numbers underscore why pics like “Gravity” (pictured), toplined by a Sandra Bullock…”

    “The numbers for minority females are even lower. African-American female representation on screen climbed to 14%,” That’s not lower. That’s far larger than the % of “African- American” females in the population as a whole. The CDC estimates that African-Americans made up 14.2% of the U.S. population in 2012. About half of all people in America (50.2%) were women. So AA women are about 7.1% of the population. How much more than double the % in the general population should movies represent AA women?

    • WillOfThePeople says:

      Facts like that have no place in this clearly emotional argument.

    • cmolster says:

      Yeah Frank, but… fat single-mother AA women are extremely under-represented in movies, and this is a huge problem. We must have social justice.

  17. John Shea says:

    Not to mention women being under-represented in jails. Which I won’t mention…

  18. annademo says:

    And most of those roles are as prostitutes. That’s what liberal Hollywood thinks women are or should be. how else to explain all those Oscars for women portraying pros?

  19. muhdik says:

    Boy am I getting sick and tired about women whining about not being “represented” in this and that. Women are over-represented in society, as is welfare and whole programs just for THEM! It’s for women that I have to carry pre-natal and female contraception on my insurance now. You know, because it was such a “travesty” that they pay more than men…but them going to the doctor all the time for nonsense reasons, and mandated coverages had nothing to do with that travesty…not at all…

  20. Tom Paine says:

    Apparently, only movies with an R rating or lower were included…

    • muhdik says:

      Oh goody! Now you broads will have something ELSE to kvetch about! Why is it that attractive women are underrepresented in feminist circles? I wonder…

  21. Shlomo Shunn says:

    So, in the REAL WORLD, how many divorced fathers have custody?

    If it’s not half the time, why aren’t feminists upset?

    Oh, right: they’re only concerned about sexism when it hurts females.

  22. Pouteria says:

    Jeez you think women are under-re[presented as main character. What about dwarves, midgets, short men, and fat people

  23. Shlomo Shunn says:

    White men under-represented in NBA.

    Feminists to march in protest.

  24. Kevin Stowell says:

    Maybe both sexes just aren’t that interested in female protagonist? Sometimes, PC is stranger than reality.

  25. I’m all for strong female lead performances – always have been! That’s why I put together the Lethal Ladies of Horror Film Fest in Westwood at the famed Crest Theatre Saturday March 29, 2014 at 6pm. Featuring strong performances by women in horror not playing the victim! Drag Me To Hell w/Lorna Raver in person, Night of the Comet with Kelli Maroney and Catherine Mary Stewart in attendance and Christine with the 1958 Plymouth Fury in person! go to for details – via la strong women!

  26. johntshea says:

    I’m completing writing a Young Adult Steampunk trilogy. I’ll give all the male characters sex changes immediately, just in case it’s ever filmed. Thanks Variety!

  27. equipment guy says:

    Just wrapped production on an indie CAWDOR with a female lead (Shelby Young). She is not just an accessory but a fully developed character that has a back story and saves herself and others and doesn’t need the “guy” to save her. The problem is when you pitch the distributors at AFM for pre-sales the first thing they want to know is who is the GUY. That is the fight as a Producer/Director you fight. My next project is also about a female and her fight to climb the corporate ladder on Wall Street. So I’ll keep taking my swings at bat and hope entertaining stories with female leads finds an audience.
    Phil Wurtzel

  28. Jenny says:

    Not only are actresses underused, they’re often handed badly written, bland, one-dimensional love interest roles. Not just in film, but television as well.

  29. Not sure how you can BS facts. Women are being beyond under used.

    The Evil Dead (reboot may I add) film used a great twist to bring the female character into the lead and it was well done. Look at superhero films, you will find it hard to name more superhero films with leading ladies on one hand, yet male lead superhero films…. you could be here for a while naming them all.

    Women in film are treated as inferior to men, you do on occasion have some films that prove otherwise (Hunger Games, Gravity, Alien etc) but with every one female lead film you get another 15 male lead films with women as either sexual objects or pointless plot devises.

    Thankfully I think that will be changing in the coming years. Women tend to do better on TV than in films, Buffy, Charmed, Dawsons Creek (let’s face it, the woman made the show), Revenge, Once Upon a Time, 2 Broke Girls, New Girl, and so on. It would be nice to see that translate to the big screen.

    • Milton says:

      Name one film where women are treated as inferior to men. Even Iron Man was regularly emasculated by his former personal assistant. Anyway, you seem to take things a bit too seriously.

More Film News from Variety