Bechdel Test-Passing Films Make More Money So Here's To The Ladies
We all know by now that Hollywood has a bit of a lady problem. From behind the scenes to the trope-y ways they're represented on screen, the struggle has been an ongoing, all-encompassing one. But according to brilliant numbersman, Nate Silver, Bechdel Test-passing films make more money. It seems the long-held belief that "no one but ladies want to watch lady films which means they don't make enough money" is — wait for it — complete and utter bullshit when those female characters pass the oft-discussed test. Turns out? The opposite is true! Oh hell to the yes, y'all.
For those unaware of just what in the heck the Bechdel Test is, it comes from cartoonist Alison Bechdel, who proclaimed that if a movie can satisfy three criteria — there are at least two named ladies in the film; those characters chat with each other at some point; the aforementioned conversation is not about a male character — it passes "The Rule," meaning its female characters have been allocated a bare minimum of depth and realization in their roles. You'd think this wouldn't be such a hard thing to do, but Hollywood has failed this test more times than it's passed it. YUP!
But Silver went and looked at the math, breaking it down to reveal that — oh wait! Those films that do pass the test actually have more bang for their buck. Say what?! Humans want to see women as more than sexual objects, old maid-y moms, and uptight "can have it all"ers?! NAY! How can that be true when the standard model of human is a white male and the rest of us are mere accessories to their existence?!
Alas, it is true. (Please excuse us while we barely contain our utter glee.) Silver and his team over at the FiveThirtyEight blog looked at 1,615 films released from 1990 to 2013 "to examine the relationship between the prominence of women in a film and that film’s budget and gross profits." What they found was fascinating. Not only were the median budgets of the movies that passed the test lower than the average — "substantially" (35 percent) was his exact word if you needed a bit more fuel for your feminist firepit — but, in a twist that requires a choir of angels to usher it in (click here and press play while you read) in fact have a better return on investment, overall, than films that don’t.
The total median gross return on investment for a film that passed the Bechdel test was $2.68 for each dollar spent. The total median gross return on investment for films that failed was only $2.45 for each dollar spent.
And though the belief that female-fronted films "don't travel well" (a.k.a. don't play over to international audiences), Silver and his team found that not only are they "comparable," but actually found a decrease on the dollars-earned if the films have women only talking about the men or they don't talk to each other at all ($1.31 in the U.S. and Canada vs. $1.06 Internationally and $1.22 vs. $1.17, respectively). And when you consider that the newly crowned highest earning/most successful animated film of all time is Disney's spectacularly feminist Frozen, well all we can say is this: PUT THAT IN YOUR DEEPLY-ENTRENCHED ERRONEOUS BELIEFS PIPE AND SMOKE IT, HOLLYWOOD.
Now all we've got to do is fix those atrocious representation numbers and you might really be onto something, Hollywood. Namely: telling stories that both make money and represent the other 51 percent of the population. How novel!