Movies featuring men in lead roles still outnumber those with women, but a new study from Creative Artists Agency and the digital strategy company Shift7 reveals that’s not exactly good for business. The study found that top movies from 2014 to 2017 starring women in lead roles outperformed those starring men, regardless of budget. The data also found films that passed the Bechdel test, meaning two women characters had a conversation about something other than a man, outperformed those that didn’t.
Creative Artists Agency and Shift7 calculated the data with help from the Neilsen-owned technology provider Gracenote. The “lead actor” was determined by the performer listed first on Gracenote, which means films like the new “Star Wars” movies were not listed as female-led. Gracenote had Harrison Ford as the lead in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and Mark Hamill as the lead in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” even though Daisy Ridley appears in a primary role in both. Given how well both “Star Wars” films performed at the box office, the findings could even be considered conservative.
Overall, 350 films were factored into the study (105 led by women, 245 by men).
“The perception that it’s not good business to have female leads is not true,” CAA agent and researcher Christy Haubegger told The New York Times. “They’re a marketing asset.”
When the data was broken down by budget size, such as films made for over $100 million, less than $10 million, $10 million to $30 million, and so on, the average earnings in each budget region for female-led films outperformed those of male-led films at the box office.
As far as the Bechdel test is concerned, the study found that 60% of 319 films used in the research passed. No film since 2012 has made $1 billion at the worldwide box office without passing the Bechdel test. Head over to The Times for more findings form the survey.