Rey taking care of business.
Image: Disney

To listen to the way that internet trolls go on about how women becoming the central characters of franchises like Star Wars have somehow “ruined” the movies, one might be tempted to entertain the idea that women are bad for business. Common sense would tell you that isn’t at all the case, and now there’s statistical evidence to back that up.

According to a new study conducted by Creative Artists Agency digital strategy firm shift7, movies that feature female leads reliably perform better at the box office compared to those that don’t meet those criteria. For the sake of the study, a movie qualified as having a women in a leading role if it passed the Bechdel test, meaning that it had at least two female characters who talked to one another about something that wasn’t a man.

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The study looked at the 350 top-grossing movies released between 2014 and 2017 and broke the movies down into five categories based on their overall budgets, ranging from under $10 million to over $100 million. Movies factored into the study include Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Jurassic World, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Avengers: Age of Ultron—you get the point. A great deal of the movies included in the study fall under the genre category, because Hollywood as an industry and we as a culture are at a point where “genre films” aren’t niche products for a small audience. They’re mainstream products, and the more representative they are of the people going to see them, the better.

A graphical breakdown of the box officer performance of movies with female leads versus those without.
Image: CAA/shift7

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Producer Liz Chasin, one of the study’s leads, accurately pointed out the test is a “low bar to clear,” but also expressed her belief that spelling these sorts of things out in cold, hard numbers is ultimately for the best:

“It’s surprising how many movies don’t clear [the Bechdel test]. 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.”

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The study’s findings aren’t in the least bit surprising to anyone who’s actually bothered to pay attention to the fact that women, like men, love big-budget, silver screen spectacles populated with characters who are like them, but Hollywood has always been rather loathe to take that very basic, valuable wisdom to heart. Perhaps now with the data laid out plainly and a slate of even more superhero movies led by women are on the horizon, more studio execs will finally, finally stop dragging their feet and get with the times.


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