Bechdel Test 2013 02

Hollywood Movies With Strong Female Roles Make More Money

The biggest blockbusters of 2013 scored pretty well on the Bechdel Test, a measure of quality onscreen time for women—but even better at the box office

Dear Hollywood: We know how you can make more money in 2014.

Put more women onscreen.

We analyzed the top 50 biggest box office movies of 2013 to see if they passed the Bechdel Test, which evaluates whether a movie has two or more women in it who have a conversation about something other than a man. It’s named after cartoonist Alison Bechdel, who wrote about it in her popular comic Dykes to Watch Out For. (Bechdel actually credits her friend Liz Wallace with the rule.)

On Our Tumblr

Check out the highlights of our Facebook chat with the authors about Hollywood and the Bechdel test.

The three-part criteria for a movie to pass:

It has to have (1) at least two women in it, who (2) talk to each other about (3) something besides a man.

Out of 50 total movies we looked at, 17, or 36 percent, passed with flying colors. An additional seven technically passed, but are deemed “dubious” by Bechdel-watchers because of the dialogue (some of it was about a man, some of it wasn’t, but not much).

What we found is this: The grand total domestic box office number for the movies that passed is significantly higher than the domestic box office total for the movies that didn’t. We’re talking billions.

How We Know

Bechdel resources are widely available on the web. We scraped test scores and data from BechdelTest.com, online forums and blog postings. IMDB's list of the top-grossing feature films of 2013 in the U.S. can be found here.

N/A

The following films did not have Bechdel scores (let us know if you've seen them!).

  • Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
  • The Best Man Holiday

UPDATE: A reader tells us The Best Man Holiday passes the test. Now you know. (Its box office gross doesn't change the totals by much.)

Perhaps even more shocking is that every single director was male. We repeat: 50 movies, zero female directors. Maybe some more women behind the camera would be a good start, eh? (UPDATE: An astute reader informs us that Frozen was actually co-directed by Jennifer Lee, so make that .5 out of 50, with apologies to Ms. Lee.)

One huge caveat: As listed on the Bechdel Test website, Gravity technically fails. We did not include it in the fail list, as it’s a special case: There are only two main characters onscreen in the movie, and Sandra Bullock is one of them. She’s also onscreen way more than co-star George Clooney. It grossed $254.6 million domestically, so even if we had included it in the fail total, the clear victor would remain the same.

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Movies That Passed

If G.I. Joe can do it, anyone can (you would think). Fast and Furious 6? We’re impressed. (And RIP Paul Walker.)

The Heat is one of our favorites—classic cop duo schtick with two badass women: Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. They inspired many a female pair to dress up as cops for Halloween, which the movie’s official Twitter account documented in detail.

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Hunger Games: Catching Fire is another standout, inspiring little girls everywhere with Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss as the heroine of her world, but the sequel has the added bonus of Jena Malone’s fierce Johanna Mason, who some would love to see replace Peeta and Gale as a love interest.

The Twitter Games

12/31/13 11:06 UTC@Gossip_Central_

Women Warriors and Soft Men: Lessons from The Hunger Games, Hobbit and Other Fantastic Offerings - The... http://t.co/EbBItRPUIu

| |

12/31/13 02:52 UTC@mikaeluhhh

"I like this because it's about women's rights" - my stepdad on the hunger games

| |

12/13/13 06:42 UTC@hungergamesnet

Jennifer Lawrence, Suzanne Collins & Nina Jacobson make Women in Entertainment Power 100 List: http://t.co/eZxOvx7PGV http://t.co/t1K2EY6t3O

| |

11/22/13 16:07 UTC@filmdotcom

Girls on Fire: Katniss Everdeen and the Revolutionary Women of Film: http://t.co/H0CBAD5eOk

| |

Movies That Technically Passed, But Need Some Work

Iron Man 3! It had such potential. Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is a strong female lead but this time around, she didn’t have Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), to bounce ideas off of. Same with Thor 2: Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster stands her own against Thor’s rather intimidating father (Anthony Hopkins), but most of her conversations with MILF Frigga (Rene Russo) or her intern Darcy (Kat Dennings) are, well, about Thor.

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One thing the Thor filmmakers did do: Marvel partnered with the National Academy of Sciences to sponsor a contest for young female scientists, inspired by astrophysicist Foster in the movie. The “Ultimate Mentor Adventure” picked 10 winning girls out of 300 entries to visit Hollywood, meet the cast and get mentoring from real-life women scientists.

Movies That Failed

Ron Burgundy and Captain Kirk, we need to talk.

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We want to give Peter Jackson some credit for snubbing purist Tolkien fans and adding in an entirely made-up character to The Hobbit just so there would be a woman onscreen (there isn’t one in the book). The she-elf Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lilly, is able to slay orcs just as well (and dreamily) as Orlando Bloom’s Legolas, but she’s also stuck in the middle of a love triangle. For her part, Lilly says she wasn’t a fan of the idea and that it was added in later reshoots.

As for the stoner epic This Is The End, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg get some points for Rihanna slapping the shit out of Michael Cera and for Emma Watson standing up for herself against rapey talk. But still a pretty stunning fail by Bechdel standards.

Here’s to a better 2014.

Respond Now
  • Reading most of the comments on this piece makes me despair. I was a teenager in the 1980′s and amongst my peers, feminism was the norm – the Punk ethos endured and that meant sexism was absolutely no-go if you wanted to be cool. I cant help thinking that the casual misogyist language and imagery of gangsta rap culture has, in a mere 2 decades, wiped out the progress of three previous generations (from the Suffragettes to the ’60′s bra-burners)…Cue mindless accusations of racism/ageism/militant feminism.. To my further despair. Why cant people THINK anymore?!?!?!

  • Wow.Put more woman on screen.”? Seriously? There are so many woman in movies and on television. Wanting more woman put onscreen would not be equal rights, it would be special treatment. And don’t go calling me sexist, I am a female… 

    1 Reply - Reply Now
    • Being a woman doesn’t mean that you aren’t a sexist. I think that what they want women are always concerned with men and love.

  • Is the choice of a movie poster showing a very-slimmed-down-via-Photoshop picture of Melissa McCarthy for your headline picture ironic?    

  • Seems very one-sided: I’d like to see the reverse measured as well (eg. “there are two or more men, but they only talk to each other about a woman”)

  • jetzt wird gebechtelt!

  • That is one of the most poorly-made graphs I’ve ever seen.  

  • Show More
  • And here I was, thinking that 17 out of 50 is 34%.

  • Actually, Family Friendly movies are cheaper to make and make MORE money…but then Liars have to lie to get face time and avoid the “Family thing”.

  • Much agreed, more women in films and directing films please. However, The Heat was a terrible movie. Had so much potential but was poorly built.

  • Please see a trailer we created, which has Tammy Gunn as our older female character. I know aging isn’t fun for actors, but look at the positive side, we can illustrate different ages of our lives on film. http://www.anopendoorfilm.com Peter Daniels.

  • 17 out of 50 is 34% not 36%.

  • I copied the data from the table above and performed a linear regression, to see if Bechdel and revenue are actually correlated. Unfortunately, not really: Spreadsheet Link

  • Oz the Great and Powerful did NOT have women talking together at any time about anything but Oz himself or the dead King of the realm. I won’t go into its quality here, but sticking just to the criteria of the test, it fails despite having three female leads.

  • First off, something that isn’t mentioned in the article that maybe should have been cleared up is that the test requires two named female characters to talk about something besides a man. There are plenty of characters who are female and talk, even about something besides a man, but often they aren’t named. For instance, Anchorman 2. Yes, there are 2 women, yes they speak, but only about Ron. The other “converstations” Veronica has were with unnamed female characters that are pretty close to extras. That is why it would fail. Secondly, to address people who say this test is superficial and useless, you seemed to have missed the purpose of the test in the first place. It is not to say whether the movie is good or not, and certainly not to say whether a movie is feminist or not. The purpose is to show how under represented women are in film. Passing the test doesn’t mean it’s a film with a good moral message, it just means that it meets the 3 tiny requirements to pass the test. The requirements are super easy to pass, and yet Hollywood struggles to pass again and again.  The point it to show how few meaningful female roles and plots there are in Hollywood. For some reason, it seems to be a crazy idea to equally (or even close to equally) cast both male and females in meaningful film roles. If you can’t see why that is a problem, then it is no wonder you see no value in this test.Also, I don’t think the point of this post is to say what movies to see or not see, that is not the reason the information was collected. Again, it is to show how we are under representing women in film roles, and in this case to also show that films with a better female representaion are actually what is making more money. It is also to show what films you would think should pass, but didn’t. Like Startrek. There is no reason the creators of the new Startrek couldn’t have made this film a strong pass. Same with Anchorman. The women were there, why weren’t they better utilized?The point is to make you think. Maybe even start a conversation…

  • This test is fairly superficial and useless, especially if you’re trying to glean any sense of sexism in the industry.Yay, lets all look down on Captain Phillips, a non-fiction account, while holding up GI Joe, whose main female fharacter is used as sex bait midway through the movie, while the camera stares longingly at her bosoms?  Come on.

    1 Reply - Reply Now
    • Anchorman 2 did. Kristen Wiig and June Diane Raphael’s characters spoke about work.

  • It’s worth studying, but so far you’ve got a data-set of exactly one year, which is meaningless.You’d need multiple years going back decades to get any useful data from this sort of ‘research’. Otherwise you can’t make any judgement about possible reasons why people would see one movie over another, for example. A lot of these are sequels to popular franchises for example. That skews why people go. Bad science. Bad, bad Science. 

    2 Replies - Reply Now
    • Applying the same analysis to the top 50 movies from 2012 shows that movies that failed the Bechdel test earned 34% more on average* than movies that passed the Bechdel test. That this analysis can vary so much from one year to the next shows how poor of an explanatory factor the Bechdel test is for predicting the relative performance of the top-grossing movies in any year. This is not really a failure of the Bechdel test, per se. Indeed, the very meagerness of its criteria is precisely what makes the it so rhetorically powerful. It really doesn’t take much to pass… However, it remains highly doubtful that mere tokenism (as is the case for most of these movies that pass) leads to higher grosses. Women are smarter than that.

    • There are issues with the science, but I think the choice to limit the data to a single year is a valid one, because the culture changes over time. Going far enough back to span multiple generations, for example, is going to produce different results. If our mission is to study how movies are doing with the intent to apply what we learn to new movies we make, it makes sense to weigh more heavily recent films.

      1 Reply - Reply Now
      • Yes and no. Culture changes, but there should be a general trend across years as culture changes. The real point to be made is that the Bechdel is a poor test of meaningful representation of women in film. The culture doesn’t change THAT much in one year.

  • List is wrong. Anchorman 2 did have 2 women talking to each other.

  • I really like this test. My friends discussed it after watching The Wolf of Wall Street, which fails miserably (though I still really liked the movie). I would want to defend Pacific Rim (and of course the test doesn’t have to be perfect either way), as its main female character is strong and independent in my opinion, and never kisses the supposed male love interest or anything. Shouldn’t that count for something? At the very least, is it worth debating?

  • Frozen was co-directed by Jennifer Lee!  Not that your point doesn’t stand, but let’s not take away the first female director of a Disney animated film!

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