Female-Led Films Outperform Male-Led Films At The Box Office & I'm So Here For It

by Alice Broster
Warner Bros. Pictures

Did you love Wonder Woman, Lady Bird, or The Post? Because me too! Over the last couple of years it feels like we have been spoilt for choice when it comes to really great films and for me, seeing a woman take centre stage to lead her own story is massively appealing. As the New York Times reports, new research by the Creative Arts Agency and shift7 has shown that between 2014-2017, female-led films outperformed male-led films at the box office. This completely dispels the archaic belief that women's stories don't sell.

The study also found that films that pass the Bechdel Test did far better at the box office than the films which failed the test. The Bechdel test was created by comic Allison Bechdel in her strip Dykes to Watch Out For in 1985, and measures how women are portrayed on screen. To pass the test, a film must meet the following criteria: "(1) it has to have at least two women in it, who (2) who talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man."

The study looked at the top 350 grossing U.S. films released between Jan 2014 and Dec 2017, and used budget data collected by Gracenote to split the films into five categories:

  • Under $10 million
  • $10 million - $30 million
  • $30 million - $50 million
  • $50 million - $100 million
  • Over $100 million

They found that over the 350 films, every film that had a woman listed as a lead actor performed better in the worldwide box office averages.

The research was led by Head of Pascal Pictures and former Chairman of Sony Pictures, Amy Pascal. She said in a press release, “this is powerful proof that audiences want to see everyone represented on screen…decision-makers in Hollywood need to pay attention to this.”

The study also provided some interesting data around the Bechdel test. Off the 88 movie releases in 2018 listed on the Bechdel Test website, only 58 pass the Bechdel test. This means that some of the biggest cinematic hits of this year — including Bohemian Rhapsody and Solo: The Star Wars Story, as theWashington Post reports — did not feature two female characters having a conversation about something other than a man. Those that did include Ocean's 8, Crazy Rich Asians, and To All The Boys I've Loved Before.

Liza Chasin is the Producer and Founder of 3dot Productions. Speaking about the importance of the Bechdel Test in a press release about the study, she explained:

The Bechdel Test is a low bar to clear, and it’s surprising how many movies don’t clear it. Understandably, the studios think about the bottom line, so it’s great to see a growing body of data that should make it easier for executives to make more inclusive decisions.”
'To All The Boys I've Loved Before'/Netflix

Since 2012, all films that have made more than $1 billion in box office revenue have passed the Bechdel Test, according to the study. It is so clear that diverse stories sell. Women go to the cinema too, and with the rise of the TIME'S UP movement, the outdated, damsel in distress stereotype just won’t fit anymore. For decades little boys have had the opportunity to go to the cinema and watch male superheroes save the day (and usually a woman in need.) As I sat in the cinema watching Wonder Woman, I felt that sense of excitement and adventure that comes with watching someone that looks somewhat like you kick ass. It was the film I needed growing up, and the film girls deserve.

The CEO of shift7, Megan Smith said in a press release:

“What we see on screen affects how we see ourselves and each other, and can increase or decrease confidence. When people who have been traditionally under-represented are stereotyped, or left out of the story entirely, we diminish confidence and deprive people of role models and directly hold back the country’s economic and social potential.”

This research shows that diversity in casting isn’t just good for viewers — it sells — which means it is great for studios. It is incredibly important that different stories get told and hopefully, with more research like this, more films will actually pass the Bechdel Test.