The perception in Hollywood that it’s not good for box office returns to have a female lead has been greatly called into question by a recent study that found the top movies in recent years starring women earned more on average than films starring men. Last year’s breakout hit Wonder Woman naturally comes to mind with its $820 million global box office haul, but it turns out this could be part of a larger trend rather than an outlier.
Globally, women make up roughly half of all movie ticket sales but their representation in leading roles on screen is still grossly unequal. Recent hits like Ocean’s 8, Beauty and the Beast, and Moana have done well to help display the power and economic viability of women-led films, but it is estimated by San Diego State University that women only accounted for a quarter of lead protagonists and a third of major characters overall in 2017’s top films. While they also estimated that the number of speaking roles for women in top films dropped from 2016 to 2017, a separate report revealed the number of female directors increased.
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In a study documented by The New York Times, the Creative Artists Agency and technology partner shift7 discovered that the top films featuring female leads out-earned their male counterparts from 2014-2017. Using Gracenote, a Nielsen-owned data company, the C.A.A. and shift7 report evaluated the top films and their lead actors based on the performer listed first on the platform. The analysis looked at 350 films, 105 led by women and 245 led by men, and broke down the results by budget size for a level comparison. With the exception of films in the $30 million to $50 million budget bracket, the women won out for both average earnings and median take. What’s more, films that also passed the Bechdel test – a sign that two or more female characters talk about something than a man – outperformed those that didn’t.
The report is part of a broader effort in the wake of the Time’s Up and the #MeToo movements to help get more women and people of color on the casts and crews of Hollywood films. The methodology of using Gracenote, however, isn’t an exact science, as films like Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: The Last Jedi were both designated as male-led by the platform despite Daisy Ridley’s role as the new trilogy’s protagonist and the rise of women shaping the franchise. Similarly, films like the CGI-heavy Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and animated ensemble Trolls both counted toward the female-led category since Megan Fox and Anna Kendrick, respectively, are listed first on Gracenote.
Regardless of the minor holes that could be poked in some of the methodology, there’s no question that the earning power of women-led films is on the rise and Hollywood is taking note. Upcoming films like Mary Poppins Returns, Alita: Battle Angel, and Captain Marvel have an opportunity to further bolster this trend as a new standard.
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Source: The New York Times