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.)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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