Female-led films outperform at box office for 2014-2017

 

 

The data also indicates that films that pass the Bechdel Test, which measures the portrayal of women in film, surpass the box office returns of films that fail this test.

 

The analysis below uses box office revenue and production budget data from Gracenote, a Nielsen company, for top-grossing U.S. films. The team examined the 350 top-grossing films released between 2014-2017, for which budget data had been reported in Gracenote's Studio System offering. Further data on the Bechdel test was available for 319 of these films, and was sourced from bechdeltest.com.

This analysis builds on previous work from CAA about the positive correlation between global box office returns and racial/ethnic diversity in casting.1 Others highlighting diversity and inclusion in film include the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, FiveThirtyEight, USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, USC Viterbi School of Engineering - Signal Analysis and Interpretation Laboratory, the UCLA Division of Social Sciences, The Black List, and The Pudding.2

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BOX OFFICE REVENUE

Of the 350 films in this dataset, 105 are listed as female-led and 245 are listed as male-led in Studio System. On average, female-led films lead global box office revenue at every budget level for 2014-2017. [3]

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THE BECHDEL TEST

Films that passed the Bechdel test - where two female characters have a conversation about something other than a man - made more revenue at the box office at every budget level than films that failed the test. [4]

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Since 2012, all films that have made more than $1B in box office revenue have passed the Bechdel Test.

This test is a low bar, yet 40% of the films in this study do not pass it.

 
 

FAQs 

 

Where does information on female leads come from?

  • Gracenote, a Nielsen company, has been gathering and reporting box office and related data by way of its Studio System offering since 1985. Today, Studio System is widely recognized as one of the entertainment industry’s most trusted data providers. Their analysts estimate budget information using distributor sources, comparable film data, trend analysis, and entertainment trade media reporting. Studio System clients include all major film studios in the U.S.

  • Studio System defines a “female lead” as a woman who is listed first in official press materials. Where Studio System has not received official press materials and there is no opening credit sequence where the leads are listed, Studio System relies on trailers or one-sheets to help determine the proper cast order. More information can be found at www.studiosystem.com.

  • Many films feature co-leads or ensemble casts. However, for consistency, and because this designation is generally reflected in the marketing of the film, this analysis uses the first actor listed by Studio System as the lead actor. Some films were billed with a male lead though audiences may perceive the film as being female led. For example, Studio System lists Harrison Ford as the lead in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Mark Hamill as the lead in Star Wars: The Last Jedi though audiences may think of Daisy Ridley as the lead in both.

  • Gender identity in this dataset was based on the gender listed in Studio System as of November 2018. Studio System is in the process of adding non-binary along with male and female to its gender listings in their datasets. It is important for industry data systems to reflect the full spectrum of humanity's gender identities.

 
 
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How many films are in each category?

 

Count of female-led and non-female-led films within budget ranges

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Count of films that passed and failed the Bechdel Test within budget ranges

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Does the analysis change if medians are used instead of averages?

 

Using median instead of average, films with a female lead generated higher box office for all categories except $30M to $50M.

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If we use median instead of average, movies that pass the Bechdel test generated higher box office for every budget category except $10M - $30M.

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Is the data from bechdeltest.com accurate?

 

Data from bechdeltest.com are crowdsourced from users, and the website lists thousands of films. FiveThirtyEight used this data set for the period 1990-2013. The new analysis by CAA and shift7 looks at films from 2014-2017. Crowd-sourced data are commonly used in applications from Wikipedia (online crowd-sourced encyclopedia) to Waze (app for crowd-sourced traffic).

 

All movies that made $1 billion+ in global box office revenue from 2014-2017 passed the Bechdel test. What are those movies?

 

From 2014-2017, eleven films crossed the billion dollar mark. All eleven passed the Bechdel test. Not all are female-led.

Of those, eight are action movies, two are animated movies, and one is a live-action family film.

In descending order of revenue:

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Furious 7, Beauty and the Beast, The Fate of the Furious, Captain America: Civil War, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Zootopia, Finding Dory

Have there been billion dollar movies that failed Bechdel?

 

The last movie to make more than one billion dollars that did not pass the Bechdel test was The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in 2012. In the time period covered in this analysis (2014-2017), all films that made more than $1 billion passed the Bechdel test. See the box-and-whisker chart.

How to read the chart: The bottoms of the grey boxes on the chart indicate where the 25th percentile is for that category, and the tops of the grey boxes show the 75th percentile of the distribution of data points. The “whiskers” extend from the 5th to the 25th percentile at the bottom, and from the 75th to the 95th percentile at the top. The red dots show where the films are above the 75th and below the 25th percentiles.

How to read the chart: The bottoms of the grey boxes on the chart indicate where the 25th percentile is for that category, and the tops of the grey boxes show the 75th percentile of the distribution of data points. The “whiskers” extend from the 5th to the 25th percentile at the bottom, and from the 75th to the 95th percentile at the top. The red dots show where the films are above the 75th and below the 25th percentiles.


Footnotes

1

In 2017, CAA released data showing showing “diverse casting increases box office potential across all budgets.”

2

The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, a project of Mount Saint Mary’s University, has done important work highlighting representation in children’s films - also showing that female led-films outperform male-led films. In 2014, FiveThirtyEight did analysis showing films passing the Bechdel test performed better than films that did not. Dr. Stacy Smith and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative who have done extensive work showing inequality across films - both in front of and behind the camera. Dr. Shri Narayanan and his Signal Analysis and Interpretation Lab at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering have done work on diversity and dialogue in film. UCLA annually puts out the Hollywood Diversity Report, which recently highlighted that “America’s increasingly diverse audiences prefer diverse film and television content.” In 2015, The Black List published research on the success of female-driven movies. In 2016, The Pudding published analysis on gender and dialogue, and in 2017, on films passing and failing the Bechdel test.

3

Studio System defines a “female lead” as a woman who is listed first in official press materials. Where Studio System has not received official press materials and there is no opening credit sequence where the leads are listed, Studio System relies on trailers or one-sheets to help determine the proper cast order. More information can be found at www.studiosystem.com.

4

Bechdel test ratings taken from bechdeltest.com. Of the 350 films in this dataset, 319 have Bechdel scores available on Bechdeltest.com. Of this set, 192 films pass the Bechdel test (60 percent), and 127 films (40 percent) do not. For context, the Bechdel Test - also known as the Bechdel-Wallace Test -originated with a 1985 cartoon by Alison Bechdel. The test itself is an admittedly low bar - e.g., films can pass with a single line of dialogue. That fact makes it perhaps even more surprising that so many films still fail to pass this low bar. FiveThirtyEight published twelve additional tests to measure inclusivity in December 2017 looking at gender on screen and on set, as well as additional screens for intersectionality.


This research has been supported in part by Schmidt Futures.

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