Despite Hollywood’s love for testosterone-dominated movies, a recent study has found that movies with a strong female component actually perform better at the box office and cost less to make.
Nate Silver’s ESPN blog FiveThirtyEight used the Bechdel test, a barometer of gender equity invented by cartoonist Alison Bechdel, to scrutinize 1,615 films released between 1990 and 2013. It compared the number and significance of female roles in a film to the movie’s budget and box office haul.
In order to pass the Bechdel test, movies must feature at least two named women having a conversation with each other about something/somebody other than a man.
The data showed that the films that passed the Bechdel test actually grossed more at the box office than those that failed. The median gross return for a film that passed was $2.68 for each dollar spent, as opposed to $2.45 for a film that failed the test. However, the median budget of passing films was 35 percent less ($31.7 million) than that of flunking films ($48.4 million), showing to no one’s surprise that male-dominated pics get higher budgets to work with.
Contrary to the popular assumption that women aren’t box office draws in international markets, findings were the same overseas. Movies that passed the Bechdel test made $1.17 per dollar of their budget overseas, while pics in which women only talk to each other about men — or don’t talk much at all — earned $1.06 per dollar.
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Thanks to female-powered films like Disney’s “Frozen” (at $1 billion-plus, it’s the highest grossing animated film of all time), “The Hunger Games,” “Divergent” and “Twilight,” more films are passing the Bechdel test than ever before. But overall, only 53 percent of movies have passed the test between 1970 and 2013.
This could be attributed to the huge discrepancy in the number of women in writing, directing, producing and financing roles in Hollywood.
According to a 2013 study by USC associate professor Stacy Smith, women accounted for 4.1% of directors, 12.2% of writers and 20% of producers in 2012’s top 100 grossing films.
After her best actress win at this year’s Oscars, Cate Blanchett advocated for more female representation in films during her acceptance speech.
“Those of us in the industry who are still foolishly clinging to the idea that female films with women at the center are niche experiences, they are not [niche experiences],” the “Blue Jasmine” star said. “Audiences want to see them and, in fact, they earn money. The world is round, people.”
Only four of this year’s nine best picture Oscar nominees passed the Bechdel test.
Then again, many have called for the rudimentary test to be improved as “Gravity,” which is carried almost entirely by Sandra Bullock, fails the Bechdel test, while “American Hustle” passes because of a scene between Jennifer Lawrence and Elisabeth Rohm’s characters talking about nail polish.