Movies With Strong Female Roles Make More Money

2013 movies that passed the Bechdel test did better at the box office

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Gemma La Mana / 20th Century Fox

It’s time to put the notion that men won’t pay to see movies starring women to rest.

Vocativ analyzed the highest grossing movies of 2013 to see if they passed the Bechdel Test — whether two or more women have a conversation in a film about something other than a man. (You’d be surprised how few movies pass this test.)

Here’s what they found: out of 50 total movies analyzed, 17 (36 percent) passed the test. Another seven technically passed the test but have an asterisk next to them thanks to “dubious” dialogue (i.e. very limited dialogue about things other than men).

But those movies that did pass the test had significantly higher domestic box office numbers than the movies that didn’t pass. Featuring strong female characters in a film earned studios billions of extra dollars. Vocativ breaks the numbers down in an infographic here.

The Bechdel test — named after cartoonist and graphic novelist Alison Bechde,l who wrote about the test in her popular comic Dykes to Watch Out For — isn’t perfect. Gravity, for example, technically fails the Bechdel test since there are only two onscreen characters. But the fact that a movie in which Sandra Bullock is alone onscreen for hours at a time grossed $254.6 million domestically is clearly a win for feminists.

The test is still a good barometer for Hollywood’s gender bias. It tests not how many women feature in films, but the complexity of their stories. And, historically speaking, Hollywood could use a lot of help creating deep female story lines. One study has found that in 855 of the most financially successful U.S. films from 1950 to 2006, there were, on average, two male characters for each female character — and that ratio remained stable over time. Female characters were also twice as likely to be involved in scenes with explicit sexual content.

But 2013 was a good year for women with big box office wins like The Heat and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. The Hunger Games especially has been credited with breaking barriers by portraying a young heroine (Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen) in a non-stereotypical way and simultaneously inspiring a young generation of girls. Even traditionally macho action pics like Fast & Furious 6 and G.I. Joe passed the test last year.

It’s not all good news though. Of the 50 highest grossing movies, only one (one!) was directed by a woman: Jennifer Lee co-directed Frozen. Maybe now that we’re finally seeing women onscreen, it’s time to get more women behind the camera too.

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